DeSantis warns that mask mandates could cost districts, $200 vaccination payments, and more

DeSantis threatens district funding: School districts that impose face mask mandates this fall risk losing funding from the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Friday. DeSantis signed an executive order that allows parents or guardians to choose if their children will wear masks, and could financially punish districts that require them. He said the order expands on a new state law that details parents’ rights on educational and health-care matters for their children. “The question is, shouldn’t this be something the parent is best to evaluate?” he asked. “As of today, very few [school districts] are requiring it. Nevertheless, we have a lot of push from the CDC and others to make every single person, kids and staff have to wear masks all day. That would be a huge mistake.” Broward and Gadsden are the only school districts known to require students and employees to wear masks when schools start this month, but the recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases has several others reconsidering earlier decisions to make masks optional. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Fox News. Tallahassee Democrat. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. News Service of Florida. WFSU. Meanwhile, Florida broke its single-day record with 21,683 coronavirus cases on Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The previous record was 19,334 on Jan. 7, before vaccinations were available. Sunday, the state reported 10,207 hospitalizations, also a record. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. DeSantis has claimed that the science doesn’t support wearing masks in schools. But what do the health experts say? Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WLRN.

School year 3 of the virus: The soon-to-start school year will be the third affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This year coincides with a recent surge of the virus in the state, especially among children, fueled by the spread of the Delta variant. Here’s what parents and students can expect when schools open.  CNN. WPEC. Palm Beach Post. NPR. WUSF. WTSP. One positive to be drawn from the pandemic is that technology required for online learning became more integrated into education, and many of the lessons learned will be carried forward into the future. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: The Orange County School District is offering $200 to any of its 23,000 employees who can show proof that they’ve been vaccinated before Oct. 31, Duval district officials will require all adults to wear masks when in schools for the next 30 days, another Duval County School District employee has died of complications from the coronavirus, the ACLU is urging the St. Johns County School District to make further revisions to its school dress code to remove all sex-specific terms, Polk County schools still have 150 unfilled teaching positions with schools reopening next week, and Marion County school officials expect two persistently struggling schools to improve their school grades from the state to a C. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: School board members remain at odds about the district’s masking policy. Superintendent Addison Davis has said that face masks will be optional when schools open Aug. 10, and board chair Lynn Gray has e-mailed parents who want mandatory masking that the “board is unanimous in backing superintendent Davis’ decision to make masks optional for the start of the school year.” Board member Jessica Vaughn disagrees with Gray. “I am not in support of (Davis’) stance. I’m pretty sure that I’ve made that clear. I’ve gone on record that I am very concerned about our students who are unvaccinated and protecting them. I think we need masks, absolutely.” She’s suggested that another option would be to separate masked and unmasked students in schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: School officials will use federal coronavirus relief funds to pay $200 to any district employee, fulltime or part-time, who can show proof of vaccination before Oct. 31. If all 23,000 district employees claim the payment, the cost will be just under $5 million. WKMG. WMFE.

Duval: Starting today and continuing for the next month, all school district employees, visitors to schools and vendors with the district will have to wear face masks in schools. They remain optional for students. Superintendent Diana Greene said her decision was prompted by “soaring” COVID-19 rates, and that it would have extended to students if the governor hadn’t issued his executive order. “While I can not require the wearing of masks,” she said, “we will continue to strongly encourage students to wear facial coverings when indoors.” Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJAX. The second member of a family of school district workers in Jacksonville has died of complications from the coronavirus. Mark McCall, a maintenance worker, died Friday. His son Britt, who also worked in maintenance, died a week ago. McCall’s wife Sherry, a media specialist, is still recovering in a hospital. None was vaccinated. Florida Times-Union. Taylor Richardson, an 18-year-old student at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, has raised $11,000 that will be distributed to four organizations and used to buy backpacks and school supplies for students in need. WJAX.

Polk: About a week before schools reopen, the district still has 150 unfilled teaching jobs. Anita Carson, a 6th-grade teacher at Lake Alfred Polytech Academy, who has worked for the district since 2013, called it “the worst shortage I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here.” WFLA.

Manatee: The historic Parrish Schoolhouse, which was built in the 1920s and closed about 50 years later, is now the home of a private preschool. The Forza Child Development Center opens today. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: The American Civil Liberties Union is recommending that the school district revisit its just-revised school dress code “to immediately remove all sex-specific terms, but also to root out provisions that reflect and reinforce gender stereotypes.” The ACLU’s letter specifically mentions the “unrealistic limits on lengths of bottoms” that have a discriminatory impact on girl students. About 83 percent of all dress code violations in the district were issued against girls. WTLV.

Sarasota: The “extended school year,” as district officials called summer school, lasted only 16 days because the last school year ended later than usual. That caused the district to condense as much learning as possible to address the “COVID slide.” Alta Elementary School principal Barbara Shirley said, “This year was more focused. We looked at kids who just were not performing on grade level.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: District officials said two persistently struggling scores are both expected to get a C when the state issues school grades this summer. Evergreen and Oakcrest elementary schools have been on the state’s watch list for years and need the C to get off the list. For Evergreen, the news comes too late. The school board voted two months ago to close it because of its lagging state test scores and declining enrollment. Ocala Star-Banner.

Colleges and universities: Most colleges and universities in the state are planning on a return to normal operations this fall, despite the recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases. News Service of Florida. Lakeland Ledger. Two central Florida colleges have decided to require face masks for students and employees when classes resume. Seminole State College in Sanford and Rollins College, which had both previously announced plans to makes optional, reversed course last week. Orlando Sentinel. Florida A&M University announced Saturday that it is canceling more than $16 million in debt for its students. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. The University of Central will become the first school to use hologram technology in its classrooms for students training to become speech therapists. WKMG.

More on test scores: More on students’ test scores on the language arts and math portions of the Florida Standards Assessments, which declined sharply in most districts. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Daily Commercial. Citrus County Chronicle.

Around the nation: Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and two colleagues have introduced a bill to “protect students from racially hostile school environments caused by critical race theory.” The bill would allow students who believe they’ve been taught that they’re part of the “oppressor class” to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: Gov. DeSantis’ latest announcement is nothing more than a governor throwing a tantrum after the Broward County School Board approved a mask mandate last week, defying his threats of taking legislative action. If only he showed the same vigor to encourage more people to get vaccinated as he does for keeping them maskless. Miami Herald. Dear President Biden: I am an ancient Berkeley law professor, long absent from the classroom but still scribbling, mostly about the schooling of children. My enduring hope for this country is the ever-delayed empowerment of not-so-rich parents to be trusted – like the rest of us – to choose the school for their own children. John E. Coons, redefinED. Teaching Florida students about the Ocoee Massacre of 1920 should be just the start of what they learn about this country’s racial history. Orlando Sentinel. Finding the right school superintendent is a tough assignment, made more difficult as Palm Beach County isn’t the only school district seeking a transformative leader. The board would be wise to cast a wide net through a national search that would include interim Michael Burke and other in-house aspirants, with the idea of landing the best candidate to take on an increasingly thankless position. Palm Beach Post.