Orange and Indian River school boards are latest to defy state mask rules, more COVID closures, and more

Around the state: The Orange and Indian River school boards joined at least eight others Tuesday when they approved face mask mandates with opt-outs only for medical reasons, schools in Duval and Osceola counties and 26 classrooms in 14 Lee County schools have been closed by COVID-19, Palm Beach County school officials said they will begin enforcing the district’s new face mask mandate for students next week, Broward school officials tell the state that they believe they are in compliance with the masks order and that the state is overreaching its authority, a Collier charter school teacher and a Volusia County school guardian have died of complications from the coronavirus, Florida still hasn’t applied for $820 million in federal food assistance for 2 million children who have missed meals during the pandemic, the constitutionality of the state’s rule on face masks is debated for a second day in a Leon County courtroom, and the state is asking a federal court to dismiss a suit challenging the new Florida law that bans transgender females from competing on high school and college women’s sports teams. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School officials told the state Tuesday that its face mask mandate follows Florida law giving school boards the authority to impose dress-related requirements, including masks, to protect the safety of students and staff, and they are sticking with the mandate. The state contends Broward is out of compliance because it requires a note from a medical professional to opt-out instead of letting parents make that decision. “In our reply, what we had stated to them is we do believe that it is an overreach of their authority, that we are legally compliant,” said interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. WSVN. WPLG. Parents angry with the district over its coronavirus protocol rules are now protesting a proposal to conduct COVID testing in three schools. They claim the chemical used to sterilize the swabs for those tests, ethylene oxide, is the main ingredient used in antifreeze and causes cancers. Scientists say that is not true. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: A school resource officer who was fired for using the n-word twice last November, once at Middleton High School when he detained a student who was resisting arrest and once at home in a private conversation with his wife, is being reinstated. Tampa’s Civil Service Board voted 3-0 this week to reinstate Delvin White, calling the penalty imposed by the Tampa police chief too harsh. White, who is black, was assigned to patrol instead of returning to his old job. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: A majority of the Orange County School Board supports a proposal to require students to wear face masks in schools at least until Oct. 30. Parents could opt-out of the mandate only with a note from a medical professional. Orange joins at least nine other districts in defying the rules adopted by the state Board of Education, which allow mandatory masks only if parents can opt-out for any reason. Board member Angie Gallo said the mandate is needed to keep schools open. “Delta has come in and kicked our rear ends,” she said. “I have concerns about schools shutting down. We want our kids to be in school. That’s where they belong. That’s where they learn best.” The district has already counted 1,810 positive student cases and 520 among employees. At the current rate, the district will have more cases by the end of September than it had in the past 12 months. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV.

Palm Beach: A new policy requiring students to wear face masks in schools should be fully enforced starting next week, according to district officials. “We do understand the strong feelings on both sides, so first is a conversation regarding the mandate and letting them know that’s the policy in place in this district,” said deputy superintendent Ed Tierney. When enforcement begins, Superintendent Michael Burke said, students who refuse to wear face masks could be isolated from their classmates or given suspensions. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. Some charter schools in the county are ignoring the district’s mask mandate and enforcing their own rules. WPEC.

Duval: A surge in the number of coronavirus cases at Baldwin Middle-Senior High School has forced the closing of the school. “Due to the number of cases at Baldwin Middle-High and the resulting close contacts exceeding the 20 percent threshold, we are informing families that beginning tomorrow, learning will shift online through Aug. 31,” said district spokeswoman Tracy Pierce. The school had at least 40 cases as of Monday night, but school officials say that number will go up when the district’s coronavirus dashboard is updated.  It’s the first school in the district to close, said Superintendent Diana Greene. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. Thomas Lester Hazouri Jr., a 41-year-old former teacher at Mayport Elementary School and son of a former Jacksonville mayor, has pleaded guilty to charges of distributing child sexual abuse videos. He could be sentenced to five to 20 years in prison. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV.

Polk: Debate over face mask mandates was vigorous during a public hearing in the school board meeting room Tuesday among board members and advocates and critics. Masks are now optional, but the district has an opt-in option in which parents can request their child be required to wear a face covering. If the students remove the masks, the district will notify the parents. A motion by board member Kay Fields for an emergency mask mandate went unanswered. Another public hearing will be held before the board takes a final vote Oct. 24. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: The school board voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to not revisit its decision to make face masks optional for students this school year. Member Caprice Edmonds wanted to schedule a special meeting later this week to consider requiring students to wear face masks, with opt-outs only for medical reasons, for 90 days. But a majority voted against the proposal. “Here’s the bottom line. I took an oath to uphold the law,” said board member Eileen Long. Bill Dudley added, “A large number of people want masks. A large number want choice. To me, the mandate is choice. That’s my feeling on it.” Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT.

Lee: Twenty-six district classrooms have been closed at 14 schools because of exposure to the coronavirus. Pelican Elementary has six classrooms in quarantine and Villas Elementary five, but district spokesman Rob Spicker said no schools have been closed. Some of the classrooms will be reopened by the end of the week. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: More than 625 new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in schools and 3,401 students and staff have been quarantined since Thursday, district officials said Tuesday. The total number of cases since the first day of school Aug. 10 is now up to 2,249, with 1,862 of them students and 387 of them employees. More than 11,700 students and employees have been put into quarantine, and 80 percent of them came into contact with someone who tested positive at school. Florida Today.

Osceola: The Celebration K-8 School is closing for the rest of the week because of a burst of cases in the school. Last week there were 52 cases and 247 quarantines among students and 11 cases and 13 quarantines among employees. “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted multiple students, teachers, and staff members at Celebration K-8 during this past week,” the district said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, the Osceola School District has decided to move all students and teachers at Celebration K-8 to digital learning through TEAMS starting Wednesday, Aug. 25, through Friday, Aug. 27.” Spectrum News 13.

Volusia, Flagler: A Volusia County school guardian died Tuesday of complications from the coronavirus. Steven Copsidas was a guardian at Horizon Elementary School and had previously worked at the Daytona Beach Police Department for two decades. WKMG. WOFL. During the first week of school, Volusia reported 358 COVID cases among students and staff, compared to 20 at the same time last year. Flagler has reported 238 cases in two weeks, compared to nine at the same time last year. Flagler schools have reacted by limiting non-essential visitors and on-campus activities, but Volusia officials said they have no plans to adjust its protocols though they will meet Aug. 31 to discuss the issue. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WESH. Flagler school officials are proposing to rezone school districts. Two public forums are being held this week to get community feedback. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: The district’s mandatory face mask policy, with parents retaining the ability to opt their children out, was extended to Oct. 29 by the school board in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night. More than 5,300 students have already opted-out, the district said. More than 1,000 cases of the coronavirus have been reported since schools opened two weeks ago. For the entire 2020-2021 school year, 1,119 were confirmed. WWSB. Bradenton Herald. WFLA.

Collier: A kindergarten teacher at the Collier Charter Academy has died of complications from the coronavirus. Jayla Smith was admitted to the hospital Aug. 4, placed on a ventilator Aug. 14 and died Aug. 20. WINK.

Lake: Face mask protesters clashed outside the school chambers before Tuesday’s school board meeting, bringing Tavares police to the scene to head off any escalation. At the board meeting, 12 people spoke in favor of a mask mandate while 26 spoke against it, even though the issue was not on the board’s agenda and the district has a mask-optional policy. The board took no action. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: The school district is implementing a mandatory face mask policy for employees and visitors, which goes into effect immediately and continues for 30 days. Masks had been optional for both employees and students, and will continue to be for students. “Again, this year we find ourselves working in the midst of the COVID pandemic,” Superintendent Tim Forson wrote in an e-mail to employees. “Although many conditions have changed, we are still in a situation that calls for us to be vigilant in our efforts to protect ourselves and the children we serve.” St. Augustine Record. WJXT. School board members and county commissioners hold a joint meeting today to discuss adjusting district boundaries because of the census. St. Augustine Record.

Escambia: District officials have suspended field trips, school visitors, student assemblies and open houses because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases. “We were set for students to participate in field trips and for volunteers to return, but COVID-19 case numbers have continued to increase since the first day of school,” said Superintendent Tim Smith. Pensacola News Journal. During a recent assembly at West Florida High School in Pensacola, a dean told female students to “dress the way you want people to address you.” Rachel Simmons also said, “They like for you to dress up (like) the magazine cover, all that stuff. Oh that’s nice as long as they can have you in the back seat of their car or behind the dumpster or in the bathroom at school, but you don’t get to meet mamma. So that means they don’t value you. Now at the end of the day, you need to value you more than anybody else. You have to be the most important person to you. And if you allow them to devalue you, then that’s on you.” Simmons’ comments sparked a social media uproar among parents and students, and an online petition was started demanding that she apologize. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: An attempt to have the school board order Superintendent Rocky Hanna to comply with the state mask-optional rule failed on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night. Sunday, Hanna announced that the district would require all K-8 students to wear face masks in schools, with exceptions made only for those who presented a doctor’s note. That announcement put the district at odds with the state, which has threatened financial consequences for districts that fail to comply. Board member Dee Dee Rasmussen made the motion to force Hanna to backtrack. “I want that on the record,” she said. “I don’t want there to be any appearance that I tacitly approve of the action taken by the superintendent.” Only Alva Striplin supported her. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WTXL. WCTV.

Okaloosa: Substitute teachers who had been getting paid $90 to $115 a day are getting a raise. Tuesday, the school board approved a proposal to raise pay for subs to $150 a day as a way to address a shortage. WEAR.

Alachua: Coronavirus cases continue to surge in the district, with 318 students and 66 employees testing positive in the past 14 days. More than 1,370 students and 40 employees are under quarantine. Gainesville Sun. Two school buses were involved in accidents on Tuesday. In Hawthorne, metal cutters had to be used to extract two people from a car after it ran into a school bus. No one aboard the bus was injured. In Gainesville, a tractor-trailer and a bus collided, sending both drivers to the hospital for treatment. No students were on the bus. Gainesville Sun. WCTV. WCJB.

Bay: Two weeks into the school year, the district has reported 114 cases of COVID-19 and 587 students and staff being under quarantine. Lyndsey Jackson, the district’s supervisory nurse, said a few classrooms have had to be closed but otherwise there hasn’t been much of an interruption to operations. Panama City News Herald. District officials said they are ending the mask mandate for teachers and other employees, starting today. WMBB. WJHG.

Martin: Indian River State College is proposing to use an anonymous $40 million donation to build a charter high school near Indiantown. It would be the college’s second charter high school. The college got the approval of county commissioners to build the school on county land, and now takes the proposal to the Martin County School Board. TCPalm. WPTV.

Indian River: Pre-K through 8th-grade students will be required to wear face masks at school for two weeks, school board members decided Tuesday. Only students who provide doctor’s notes can be exempted. The policy takes effect Monday and will be reconsidered Sept. 14. “For me, it’s about one thing and that one thing is ensuring we can provide a free and appropriate public education for students, and if we do not change or modify (what we’re doing) relatively quickly, you will see closure of classrooms, grade levels and closures of schools,” Superintendent David Moore told board members. All district school employees also have been ordered by Moore to wear masks inside all school buildings when social distancing can’t be maintained. Workers can opt-out only with a medical excuse. TCPalm. WPTV.

Citrus: Board members and district officials are working on a new set of procedures to follow so that students can be reunited with their parents after an emergency at a school. An agreement was reached to set up a chain of command for coordination and to establish a location for reunification. Citrus County Chronicle.

Franklin: Nearly 170 students and staff in the district are now being quarantined because they were exposed to the coronavirus. Tuesday, 25 students and five employees tested positive for the virus. Masks remain optional in the district, though Superintendent Steve Lanier said he encourages everyone to wear them when social distancing isn’t possible. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida is in talks with government officials about building a campus in West Palm Beach that would offer graduate level courses in science, engineering and business. “This is not another undergraduate campus,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James. “They’re looking to put together some very tailored, targeted programs for graduates. Graduate programs, professionals and executives.” WPTV. A presidential search  committee has been appointed and a search firm hired by the University of South Florida Board of Trustees to find a successor to Steve Currall. Tampa Bay Times.

Masks in court: Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis argued in a Leon County courtroom on Tuesday that face masks do little to protect anyone in schools from the coronavirus, and could hinder the development of children. “I don’t think masking or unmasking children, or providing parents the option to opt-out, will have any predicable effect on the direction of this virus,” testified Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford. The state’s legal team is defending against a legal challenge from a group of parents who say the governor’s mask order is unconstitutional and that masks are needed to slow the spread of the Delta variant. The trial is expected to conclude today, with a decision being announced Thursday. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. A group of religious leaders is calling on DeSantis to end his battle against school districts that have enacted face mask mandates with no parental opt-outs. “We firmly believe that the right thing is to allow local governments to make their decisions,” said Rev. Dr. RB Holmes Jr. with the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Capitol News Service.

Transgender ban in court: The state is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that claims Florida’s law banning transgender females from competing on high school and college women’s sports team is unconstitutional and violates the Title IX federal law that prohibits discrimination in education programs based on sex. The suit was filed on behalf of Broward County middle school students. Florida contends the law is not discriminatory, and will ensure athletic opportunities for biological females. News Service of Florida.

Food help still unclaimed: Florida still hasn’t applied for $820 million in federal food assistance for 2 million children who have missed meals during the pandemic. The state applied for and received $1.2 billion to feed 1.2 million children from August 2020 to June 2021, but when the program was extended the state did not apply. There’s no deadline, but sign-ups began in April. Florida is the largest state that still hasn’t applied. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel.

Private school enrollment: Private schools around Florida are reporting enrollment increases, and Catholic schools are starting to get close to or exceeding pre-pandemic numbers. Jim Rigg, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Miami, attributes some of the rebound to political squabbling about masks and curriculum in public schools and the state’s expansion of K-12 scholarship programs. redefinED.

Around the nation: Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect a coronavirus vaccine for children 5-12 until the end of the year. NPR. Masking in schools has provoked a standoff between Republican governors who are trying to prohibit schools from invoking face mask mandates and the Democratic Biden administration, which argues that schools should be able to impose mandates. Politico. A poll by Quinnipiac University says about two-thirds of Floridians believe that school districts should be able to decide if they need face mask mandates. Sun Sentinel. Another poll shows about 6 in 10 Americans support school mask mandates and vaccinations for students and teachers. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: The tinhorn tyrant in Tallahassee should learn about what happened to the last governor who held Florida schoolchildren hostage to political ambitions. Sun Sentinel. Gov. DeSantis could have been the hero on education during the pandemic. He could have helped the state. He could have helped himself. Doing so, however, would have meant offending the anti-science zealots who underlie the current Republican Party. Outperforming potential 2024 opponents matters more to DeSantis than doing what’s best for Florida. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel. Even though masks are the biggest K-12 issue in Florida right now, we must be ready to talk to our high school parents in October and November about registering their students for chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus when they are asked in February to choose courses for the 2022-23 school year. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.