Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Palm Beach boards risk sanctions by rejecting state’s mask order, and more

Defiant list grows to five: School boards in Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties voted Wednesday to defy the state’s rules and require students to wear face masks in schools with opt-outs allowed only for medical reasons. The recently adopted state Board of Education rule requires parents be given the freedom to opt-out for any reason. The three school boards join the Broward and Alachua boards in choosing mandatory masking and, in doing so, run the risk of being sanctioned by the state. Penalties could include removal of superintendents and school board members, withholding of funds and more. All three boards pointed to the escalating rate of local cases of the coronavirus and the growing number of students and staff absent from schools because of positive tests or being placed under quarantine as justification for their decisions. “The right thing includes, in my opinion, a mandatory mask policy,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “This is not a political statement. This is a protective tool.” Miami Herald. WPLG. WLRN. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. WUSF. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the state Board of Education’s decision to penalize school districts for disobeying its rule on masks, saying they’re “not defying me, that’s defying the state of Florida’s laws. At the end of the day, you have local officials who do not believe they need to follow the law. That’s what this is about.” He added, “If you make it about me, you get on CNN, we know that, right?” He also said that school districts should stop quarantining some asymptomatic students. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. WPEC. The Biden administration said Wednesday it is prepared to take legal action against governors who are trying to prevent school districts from imposing mask mandates. Miami Herald. New York Times. The 74. Education Week.

No temporary injunction: A Fort Lauderdale judge has denied a request for a temporary injunction against Gov. DeSantis’ executive order intended to prevent school districts from requiring students to wear face masks in schools. Broward Circuit Judge Fabienne Fahnestock declined the request from Miramar parent Elvin Dowling, instead agreeing with the governor’s counsel that the proper venue for any legal action is Leon County because that’s where DeSantis is based. In a lawsuit already in Leon courts, a group of parents is alleging the order is unconstitutional and that the governor’s power is not absolute in responding to the state’s motion to dismiss the case. Leon County Judge John Cooper will hold a hearing today to consider the state’s request. If the judge dismisses the motion, the trial begins Monday. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Only a teacher and a student refused to wear masks on the first day of school in Broward County, eight classrooms in Lee County have been closed because of coronavirus cases, Gov. DeSantis appoints an evangelist and former chair of the Alachua County Republican Party to that county’s school board, the state Board of Education says it is “finishing up” its plan required to claim federal coronavirus relief funds, Palm Beach County schools may boost pay to combat a shortage of substitute teachers, the Flagler County School Board approves a big increase in school impact fees, and a Miami-Dade school police officer will be fired after a run-in with an officer from another jurisdiction. Here are details about those stories and other from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A school district police sergeant will be fired for a run-in with Doral police outside a restaurant four months ago. Doral police were called to a restaurant when two unruly patrons refused to leave. When confronted, those patrons, Sgt. Dubraska Guevara and another school officer, turned over their guns and left. But outside they argued and struggled with the officers before finally being picked up by a friend. The other officer was disciplined, but not fired, because her involvement was minimal. WSVN.

Broward: About 258,000 masked students showed up for the first day of school in the state’s second-largest district. “Mask wearing today in Broward County Public Schools was not an issue,” said interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright. “Our students complied and our visitors to campus also complied.” Only one teacher and one student refused to wear face masks, she said. Cartwright said the district received just 11 requests from parents for the new state voucher that allows students who feel bullied or harassed by a district’s mask mandate or other coronavirus rules to attend a private school. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR. WPLG. WTVJ. Florida Politics.

Palm Beach: Substitute teachers are in such short supply that on any given day, the school district can only find subs to fill half of the classrooms left empty when teachers call in sick. Thousands of students are being taught by counselors and other school employees or are squeezing into another teacher’s classroom. To help ease the problem, school board members considering a $1 an hour pay raise for subs, and $3 an hour in schools where subs are especially hard to come by. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The district has launched a drive to have eligible students and employees vaccinated in clinics at various schools. The program, called Duval Vax of Kindness, started Wednesday and continues through Sept. 3. Florida Times-Union.

Lee: Eight classrooms were closed during the first week of school because of COVID-19 cases, the district announced. Six schools were affected, and three of the classrooms were at Villas Elementary School. Others affected were Pelican Elementary, North Fort Myers High School, Cypress Lake Middle School, Mariner Middle School and Trafalgar Elementary. Students in those classrooms will be assigned work through the Google Classrooms program, said district spokesman Rob Spicker. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

Osceola: Students in pre-K through 8th grade will have to wear face masks in schools unless their parents provide a written note to opt their children out. No masks will be required for high school students because they are eligible for vaccinations, district officials said. The new policy begins Monday and will be in effect for 30 days. Orlando Sentinel.

Collier: A district teacher of students with special needs has been placed on administrative leave after being videoed recently cursing and shouting racial slurs from her car at a mother and her two sons as they were walking in the Kings Lake neighborhood. District officials said they are investigating the incident involving Patricia Schmidt. WINK. WBBH.

Lake: The school district is partnering with the health department to offer free first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccines to all employees, eligible high school students and members of the community at schools across the county. The program begins Aug. 24 in the South Lake High School gym, and concludes Sept. 23 at the Tavares High gym. No appointments are necessary. Daily Commercial.

Okaloosa: Ninety-five students and 19 employees tested positive for the coronavirus during the week of Aug. 10-17, district officials said Wednesday. WEAR. An 18-year-old woman has been killed and her two children were injured Wednesday when the car she was driving slammed into the back of a stopped school bus. The driver of the school bus and two 10-year-old passengers suffered minor injuries. WEAR. WMBB. WJHG.

Leon: More than 640 district students have been placed in quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus. Deerlake Middle School had the most with 68, and it ranks fourth in face mask opt-outs with 201. Chiles High has the most opt-outs with 458. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WTXL. A 17-year-old student at the Ghazvini Learning Center in Tallahassee has been arrested and accused of having a gun at school. He told deputies he brought it for protection. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: The former chair of the Alachua County Republican Party has been appointed to the school board by Gov. DeSantis. Mildred Russell, 72, replaces Diyonne McGraw as the District 2 representative. McGraw was removed after it was confirmed that she lived outside the district she was elected to represent. Russell is an evangelist who started Miracle Life Ministries with her husband in 1990, as well as churches in Georgia and England. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. WGFL. WJXT.

Flagler: School board members unanimously approved increases in impact fees on new construction, effective Dec. 1. The fee for a single-family home will go from $3,600 to $7,175, and will jump from $931 to $1,774 on apartment units and from $1,066 to $5,279 on mobile homes. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Unvaccinated students at Florida Southern College must have a negative test for COVID-19 before they’ll be allowed to start the fall semester, and will be tested randomly during the semester. All students and employees are required to wear masks in classrooms, student housing and other communal indoor areas. Lakeland Ledger.

State finishing plan: The state is “finishing up” its plan that details how it plans to spend $2.3 billion in federal relief funds intended to help schools deal with the effects of the pandemic. The deadline for the Florida Department of Education to file the plan was in June. The U.S. Department of Education has received 44 state plans and has approved 28 of them. The approval is needed to release the funds to the states. Florida Phoenix.

Scholarship expansion: The Florida Board of Education approved a rule change Wednesday that will make state K-12 education choice scholarships available for more children of military families. Now eligible are children of military reservists. Before the change, only children of active members of the military could apply. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state’s scholarship programs. redefinED.

Most support masks in schools: About two-thirds of Floridians agree that students, teachers and other employees should wear masks in school, according to a new survey conducted by Florida Atlantic University. But 51 percent said the decision to mask children should be made by their parents. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics.

Education podcasts: Two Hillsborough County charter school principals talk with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about the school board declining to renew their contracts, then reversing course after being pressured by the Florida Board of Education. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: COVID cases are skyrocketing. Hospitals are under siege. By continuing to minimize this tragedy, Gov. DeSantis puts human life in danger, but he has time to toy with removing school board members from office for requiring masks. That would be an extremely reckless step and a direct assault on the home rule powers of local government. But with this governor, anything is possible. Sun Sentinel. Anti-maskers seem to argue that their freedom to spread germs trumps your child’s health. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Gov. DeSantis’ attack dogs at the state Board of Education are all bark, no bite. Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff