Judge’s ruling on masks expected Friday, more suits in works, opt-out forms for sale in Leon, and more

Trial ruling coming Friday: Closing arguments are today in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order intended to prevent local school boards from requiring students to wear face masks. Wednesday, the state called on parents who oppose masks to support DeSantis’ position that they should be the ones to decide if their children wear masks, not school districts. Judge John Cooper said he expects to issue a ruling Friday morning. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. USA Today Florida Network. Capitol News Service. WFOR. Florida Phoenix. WFSU. DeSantis again warned Wednesday that the 10 districts defying the state rule on masks would be penalized, though he did not say how. “You can’t go above the law and take away people’s rights, and that’s what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re taking away parents’ rights, and there will be consequences.” In a separate interview, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran added, “We’re not joking.” News Service of Florida. WKMG. Florida Politics. WFOR. Capitol News Service. Politico Florida. Florida’s not the only state fighting lawsuits over laws and rules than ban school districts from imposing face mask mandates for students. Politico.

Around the state: Palm Beach School Board members vote to explore legal action against the state over its rule banning districts from imposing face mask mandates for students that don’t allow parents to opt-out for any reason, a 51-year-old teacher in Sarasota dies of complications from the coronavirus, a second school in Duval County has been switched to virtual learning because of a rising number of COVID cases, an emergency room doctor in Leon County has been fired by offering to supply signed mask opt-out forms for $50, student test scores declined this spring in both Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and a mask opponent is arrested for shoving a student at a Fort Lauderdale High School. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: State test scores showed a significant decline among Miami-Dade and Broward students this year. Broward officials were particularly concerned with the algebra results. Only 23 percent of high school students scored at an acceptable level, down 19 percentage points from 2019, and in middle school scores were down 21 percentage points. Miami-Dade high school students earning a satisfactory score declined from 40 percent in 2019 to 32 percent this year, and middle-schoolers fell from 88 percent satisfactory in 2019 to 71 percent this year. Miami Herald. A 50-year-old mask protester was arrested Wednesday at Fort Lauderdale High School after pushing a mask-wearing student. Police said Dan Bauman was trying to video-record the student when she tried to grab the phone. Bauman allegedly pushed her shoulder and grabbed her hand, twisting her arm in the process. He is charged with aggravated child abuse. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ. WFOR. Two students at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Broward were arrested Wednesday and accused of making threats against the school. The boys, 15 and 16, said on the Instagram that they planned to “terrorize” the school in Pembroke Pines. Miami Herald. WPLG. WFOR.

Orange: Students who refuse to wear masks after being warned could receive an in-school suspension, district officials said a day after the school board approved a mandatory face mask policy for students with opt-outs permitted only for medical reasons. The offense will be treated as a dress code violation. WOFL.

Palm Beach: School board members voted Wednesday to explore legal action against the state over its rule banning districts from imposing face mask mandates for students that don’t allow parents to opt-out for any reason. The decision came after the board heard four hours of comments, mostly from people opposed to a mask mandate. Broward County school officials have also indicated they could pursue legal action, and Orange officials said they are considering it. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC. Florida Politics. WFOR. Interim superintendent Michael Burke has apologized for a joke he made Tuesday when asked during a community meeting if residents could do anything for the district. “Yes, send lawyers, guns, and money please,” he said, referring to a song by Warren Zevon. Before Wednesday’s school board meeting, he apologized. “While this response was made in jest to send lawyers, guns, and money, it was fully intended to be a lighthearted quip,” he said. “But I understand guns should not have been referenced in any manner. I apologize and take full responsibility for my inappropriate comment.” WPTV.

Duval: A second school has been closed to in-person learning. Fletcher Middle School is switching today to remote learning, which will continue through Sept. 1. Thirty-three positive COVID cases have been reported at the school. Tuesday, Baldwin Middle-Senior High was closed for in-person learning because of growing number of cases. The district has reported more than 1,000 cases of COVID in schools in the three weeks they’ve been open. Last year a total of 2,498 cases were reported. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. WJCT. WTLV. Young Men’s and Women’s Leadership Academy at Eugene J. Butler is one public school with coronavirus protocols that have been effective so far this school year. One case of COVID has been reported among the 300-plus students and employees. Among the safety protocols: Students wear masks, are not seated across from each other, are escorted from class to class to avoid interaction, and water fountains are used only for bottle and cup refills. Florida Times-Union.

Lee: More than 6,000 reports of the coronavirus among students and staff have been reported in the school district already this year. “In 14 days we have seen more than half of what we saw in four months last year,” said Lauren Stillwell, chief of staff for the district. Additional safety protocols have been ordered, and district officials will review all the measures and their face mask policy on or before Sept. 10, said interim superintendent Ken Savage. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

Brevard: The school board has promised to look into ways to expand testing for COVID-19 for students who are out of school because they were exposed to someone with the virus, so they can return as soon as possible. As of Tuesday, 1,862 students and 387 employees have tested positive, one school has been closed, and 11,704 students and staff have been quarantined. Florida Today. WKMG.

Volusia: School board members have scheduled an emergency meeting for next Tuesday to consider whether to enact a face mask mandate for students. Masks are optional now, but board members point to the growing number of coronavirus cases and quarantines as reasons to take another look. After the first week of school, the district had counted 358 cases of COVID, and 242 students and employees were quarantined. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto: Michelle Cook, a veteran teacher who was starting a new job this year at the Suncoast School for Innovative Studies charter school in Sarasota, has died of complications from the coronavirus. She became infected a week before school started and died Tuesday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. She was 51. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Nearly 950 students and employees have contracted the coronavirus already this school year. Sarasota has reported 606 students and 60 employees have tested positive. Charlotte officials said the district had 168 cases, and DeSoto has reported 90 students and 19 employees infected. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: The conflicting messages being issued about the coronavirus are confusing and getting in the way of managing the pandemic, Marion County School Board members said at this week’s meeting. “The clear direction is that medical folks will help guide all of us through this,” said board chair Nancy Thrower. “And sadly, what seems to have transpired, is that there’s lack of clarity, a lack of trust, and there is confusion.” Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: Health officials said the largest number of new COVID cases being reported are among school-aged students. The county is averaging 300 new cases a day, and most are them are children between the ages of 5 and 14. The overall positivity rate in the county doubled in the past week and is now at 43 percent. WPTV.

Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa: More than 1,200 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in these three counties since schools opened. Escambia has counted 182 cases, with 139 of them among students. In Santa Rosa, 495 cases have been reported, and Okaloosa has had 583. The rise in the number of cases has prompted districts to tighten up their coronavirus safety protocols. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: More than 150 students were diagnosed with the coronavirus during the first two weeks of classes. About 225 students were quarantined in the first week of school, and 406 during the second. Sixty-nine cases have been reported among employees. Clay Today. WJXT.

Leon: An emergency room doctor who was selling medical opt-out forms for $50 has been fired by Capital Regional Medical Center. Dr. Brian Warden posted a notice on a statewide anti-mask site inviting parents to contact him if they needed a medical exemption letter. In another post, he said he’d provide a medical opt-out letter on signed stationery for $50. “We act with absolute integrity in all that we do, and it is our expectation that providers behave in a way that is consistent with those values,” said CRMC spokeswoman Rachel Stiles. “Immediately upon learning of this physician’s actions, we began the process of removing him from providing services to our hospital patients.” Tallahassee Democrat. WCJB.

Monroe: Students will continue to have the option of wearing a face mask, school board members decided this week even as the number of COVID cases continues to grow. As of Wednesday, 116 students and 18 district employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. There were 286 total cases in the district during the 2020-2021 school year. Key West Citizen. Miami Herald. Scores on the Florida Standards Assessments tests were down for students across the board this year, said Dave Murphy, executive director of the district’s assessment and accountability. He said the dip was expected, but that it was “down a little further than I would have liked it, relative to other counties.” Florida Keys Weekly.

COVID ‘harassment’: Only 68 Florida families have applied for state scholarships because of “COVID harassment,” according to Step Up For Students, which helps administer the scholarships and hosts this blog. But with more districts instituting strict face mask mandates for students, that number could be going up. Florida Phoenix.

Education podcasts: Melissa Demain, a Palm Coast woman who educates her daughter at home, talked with Step Up For Students about how an education savings account gave her the flexibility to customize her daughter’s education and how an expansion of ESAs could give students access to enrichment activities and instruction in the arts. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: More state school districts must confront the reality of the dangers they face. There is strength in numbers, especially when the obstacle is Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has abdicated his duty to protect all Floridians, and a bureaucracy more interested in punishing local officials than protecting unvaccinated kids. Sun Sentinel. Forget feeding hungry kids. Our governor is busy fighting over face masks and transgenders in school sports. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. To build on the momentum of recent legislative efforts, education choice advocates should update their vision for school choice. It is time they move beyond seeing it as primarily an escape hatch that enables kids to leave underperforming neighborhood schools. Christian Barnard, The 74.