State may issue vouchers to students who object to masks, bonus checks, school closes and more

A no-mask voucher: Students who don’t want to wear face masks in public schools could soon be eligible to use the state’s Hope Scholarship to leave districts that impose mask mandates. Today, at an emergency meeting, members of the state Board of Education will consider adopting a rule expanding the eligibility requirements for Hope Scholarships, which were established to provide money for bullied students to change schools. A notice of the meeting posted Thursday said, in part, that the change is being considered to provide parents “with a mechanism to transfer a child to a private school or another school district under a Hope Scholarship when a school district’s COVID-19 health protocols, including masking, pose a health or educational danger to their child.” Gov. Ron DeSantis had previously issued an executive order threatening districts that required face masks with a loss of state funding. Several districts have proceeded with plans that appear to be in conflict with that order. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Phoenix. WLRN. Florida Politics. Capitol News Service. WTXL. State Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, has written a letter to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that contends the proposed BOE action is illegal. “The governor does not have the statutory authority to instruct your department to engage in rulemaking, nor does your department have the authority to do so on this particular issue,” Farmer wrote, adding that the DOR can only develop and adopt rules passed by the Legislature. The BOE says it can make rules without the Legislature’s involvement in emergencies. Florida Politics.

Around the state: The $1,000 bonus checks going to 180,000 state teachers, principals and first responders will not carry the governor’s logo or take out taxes, a 16-year-old in Jacksonville has died of complications from the coronavirus, the superintendent and a school board member in Marion County and a board member in Leon test positive for COVID-19, a Polk County elementary school is closed for cleaning after eight employees contract the coronavirus, 80 Alachua County school employees are put under quarantine after being exposed to people with COVID-19, Palm Beach County teachers object to the district’s plan to have quarantined students listen in on classes from home, and more districts are tightening up their policies on wearing face masks. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Palm Beach: Teachers are objecting to the district’s plan to have quarantined students listen in on classes from home. Union president Justin Katz said teachers are concerned about being recorded without their knowledge and being required to do extra work to accommodate homebound students. “Last year there was a tendency by school administrators to stretch the (agreement) governing blended learning past limits we ever envisioned,” Katz said. “So we are extremely hesitant to sign on for more working condition changes over fears of repeat overreaches.” Palm Beach Post. The district has held several job fairs, but is still has about 100 school bus driver positions unfilled. If they can’t find drivers before schools open Tuesday, school officials said, there will be delays as some drivers will have to handle more than one route. WPEC. The new, private K-3 Foundations School is integrating visual and performing arts into helping its 60 students improve their reading skills and comprehension. redefinED.

Duval: A 16-year-old has died of complications from the coronavirus, officials at Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville announced Thursday. The child had not been vaccinated. Sixteen children with COVID-19 are being treated at the hospital, and four are in the intensive care unit. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Polk: Spessard L. Holland Elementary School in Bartow was closed Wednesday after eight employees tested positive for the coronavirus. District officials said the school is being deep-cleaned and will be ready for students when it reopens to staff Monday and classes start Tuesday. Lakeland Ledger. WTSP. Bay News 9. All school orientations scheduled for today will be held virtually instead of in-person, announced school officials, citing the rise in the number of COVID cases and the closing of Holland Elementary. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: The Diocese of Venice is requiring students, employees and visitors to wear masks at schools in counties with a 10 percent coronavirus positivity rate. Once the rate drops below 10 percent, masks will again be optional, said Bishop Frank Dewane. WBBH. The interim superintendent of the Lee County School District, Ken Savage, said he won’t challenge the governor’s executive order intended to deter districts from requiring students to wear masks. WBBH.

Brevard: Longtime educator and activist Rosa L. Jones, who died in 2008, will be honored with a mural highlighting her life and community work. The mural consists of three 5-foot by 7-foot panels that will be positioned along a roundabout near the First Baptist Church of Cocoa. Florida Today.

Seminole: School district employees, vendors and contractors will be required to wear masks on school properties beginning today. District officials also announced that no visitors will be allowed on campuses before Aug. 24. “Based on the information from the Seminole County Emergency Management Department, our community continues to see an increase in the positivity rate for COVID-19 cases, which are fueled by the Delta variant,” Superintendent Serita Beamon wrote in a message to families and staff. “It is imperative that we take mitigating precautions in the interest of student and employee health and safety.” WFTV. Orlando Sentinel. The school district is partnering with the county to offer vaccinations to students every day next week at various high schools. Clinics will offer the Pfizer vaccine for students 12 and older, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for those who are at least 18. Schools reopen Tuesday. WKMG.

Manatee: A special school board meeting has been scheduled Monday so board members can discuss back-to-school recommendations from the Florida Department of Education and the county health department. New recommendations are expected after today’s state Board of Education meeting. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: A group of parents has organized to try to convince the school district to make face masks mandatory for students this fall. The district’s current policy is that masks are optional for students when schools start Aug. 16. But parents are trying to make a case to tighten the policy by pointing to the rising number of coronavirus cases and neighboring Duval’s policy adopted this week that makes masks mandatory for students but allows parents to opt their children out by filling out paperwork. WJCT. WJXT. St. Augustine Record.

Marion: With coronavirus cases soaring, some school board members say it’s time to revisit the board’s earlier decision to make face masks optional for the school year that begins Tuesday. “I think this discussion needs to be had,” said board member Eric Cummings. “We just need to make sure that we keep these kids safe.” This week, it was learned that both Superintendent Diane Gullett and board member Allison Campbell were recently diagnosed with COVID-19. “Despite being fully vaccinated, I tested positive for COVID-19 and have been quarantined for several days,” Gullett wrote in an e-mail. “I’m focusing on opening our schools next Tuesday and know our team is doing the same.” Campbell had not been vaccinated. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Seven schools in Escambia County and three in Santa Rosa will have new principals when classes resume. Aug. 10 is the first day in Santa Rosa, and Escambia starts a day later. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: School board member Rosanne Wood has tested positive for COVID-19, and she’s blaming it on unmasked and unvaccinated people at the last board meeting. “I was exposed and I was unlucky,” Wood said. “Because of my asthma, those people who were seeking their freedom denied me mine.” Wood said she’s been fully vaccinated. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Alachua: Eighty school district employees have been placed under quarantine because of exposure to people with the coronavirus. The district reported 25 positive tests in the past 10 days: 17 among employees, five among students and three among vendors. The 80 placed in quarantine were not vaccinated, said school spokeswoman Jackie Johnson. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: The number of students attending classes in person when schools open Tuesday is expected to be at least 1,000 more than the number who finished the last year in classrooms. Even as the number of COVID cases is spiking, 20,187 students have registered to return to schools. The increase has school officials busy reworking schedules for teachers and students and adjusting spaces in classrooms. Panama City News Herald. Science students at Surfside Middle School in Panama City will learn about aquaponics through a grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture. Seventh-grade science teacher Erin Elliott will use the grant to buy a 10-foot by 16-foot aquarium, which will be stocked with catfish and placed outside the school with plants to show how nutrients from the fish feed the plants, which help filter the water before it’s returned to the tank. WMBB.

Citrus: When the new school year starts Tuesday, students and teachers will have the option of wearing face masks, students can learn either in person or online through the Citrus eSchool, sanitary protocols will be carried over from last year and isolation rooms will be available for students who have COVID symptoms. Citrus County Chronicle.

Jackson: Marianna High School students are helping the community rebuild from Hurricane Michael in 2018 through the district’s Building Construction Program. “Our local community saw a need and they reached out to some different funding sources, career source being one of them, and saying ‘hey we need people educated in the trades so that we can be self-sustaining,’ ” said program director David Castleberry. The current project is fixing the high school’s old science labs. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: A court challenge to the law requiring colleges and universities to conduct annual surveys to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” has been filed in federal court by a group that includes the United Faculty of Florida, the nonprofit group March for Our Lives Action Fund, four professors, a university lecturer and four students. The defendants are Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education. “Without regard for the First Amendment, the law permits the state to collect the private political beliefs of students and compels faculty both to espouse and promote views they do not share and carefully consider whether and how to discuss views that they do,” the suit says. News Service of Florida. More than 100 Florida State and Florida A&M students tested positive for the coronavirus last week, according to school officials. At FSU, 41 students and four employees tested positive, and at FAMU it was 52 students and 14 employees. Tallahassee Democrat. The president of the University of North Florida, David Szymanski, is resigning Sept. 17 to become the CEO and executive director of UNF MedNexus, which will help form partnerships between UNF’s Brooks College of Health and health providers around the state. WJXT. News Service of Florida.

Educator bonuses: The $1,000 bonus checks going to 180,000 state teachers, principals and first responders will not carry the governor’s logo or take out taxes, a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said Thursday. Instead, the checks will include the state seal of Florida. The $3.6 million contract the state signed with Jacksonville-based Fidelity Investment Services to write and mail the checks had stipulated that they had to include an “office of the governor graphic design” approved by the DEO. The checks could be sent out this month. Tampa Bay Times.

Vaccinations for students: The Biden administration is making a new push to get students 12 and older vaccinated before schools open this fall. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wants doctors to offer vaccinations when they’re giving physicals and is urging schools to hold vaccination clinics. Politico. While the number of children contracting the coronavirus has been rising steadily this summer and now makes up 19 percent of the nation’s cases, pediatricians say severe illness or death is still uncommon. “However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects,” concludes a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. WLRN.

Opinions on schools: Gov. DeSantis’ determination to stop mask mandates in schools is a death trap. He should do more to encourage vaccination among younger populations instead of patting himself on the back about vaccination rates among Florida’s elderly population. Sun Sentinel.