Trial begins Monday as state’s motion to dismiss mask lawsuit is denied, Alachua’s opt-out doctor and more

Motion to dismiss denied: A Leon County circuit judge has denied the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order on face masks, and the expected three-day trial begins Monday. Judge John Cooper rejected the state’s contention that the case should be dismissed because law gives parents the right to manage their children’s health care and that the state’s decision is a political one that a court should not be involved in. The group of parents suing argue that the order is unconstitutional because it usurps the authority of local school boards and prevents schools from providing a safe and secure educational environment. “I do believe they have a right to challenge the governor,” Cooper said after a three-hour hearing. “I’m not deciding whether they are right or wrong. We’ll have to see what the evidence shows.” Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Phoenix. About 37 percent of the state’s K-12 students attend schools in districts that now require them to wear face masks indoors. That’s more than 1 million students in four of the state’s largest five districts – Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Palm Beach – and Alachua, the 26th-largest. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Orange County School Board members will consider imposing a face mask mandate with opt-outs only for medical reasons, Gov. DeSantis said Hillsborough’s mask mandate was “political” and “not justified,” Palm Beach County schools have already had 25 percent of the number of coronavirus cases as they had in the last school year, a single doctor is responsible for nearly half of the medical face mask opt-out forms submitted by Alachua County parents, homecoming dances have been suspended in Brevard schools and attendance at extracurricular activities limited, and 5th-graders at a Glades County school are switching to online learning for two weeks because of the surge in COVID cases. Here are details about those stories and other from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: Gov. DeSantis said Thursday that the Hillsborough County School Board’s decision to require students to wear face masks, with an opt-out permitted only for medical reasons, was done for political reasons. “I think it’s more political. I think it’s to get on CNN and stuff for some of these local controlled politicians, but I think that is not something that is justified,” he said during a news conference to announce that monoclonal antibody treatment sites were being set up in Tampa and Hudson. “My view is that the parents understand for their kids. Some of these kids, particularly young kids, don’t even wear the mask properly. I mean, let’s just be honest here, a kindergartner is not going to wear it even properly.” WFLA.

Orange: Several school board members said Thursday that they believe Gov. DeSantis’ executive order on masks is both irresponsible and illegal, and a majority expressed their support for a student face mask mandate with opt-outs permitted only with a note from a health professional. “I agree we need to pursue every legal means possible,” said board member Melissa Byrd. “I just respectfully disagree that we need to wait and allow what is happening in our schools to continue with kids not masked. It’s getting worse and worse.” Attorneys are researching the board’s options and are expected to report back at the next regular meeting Tuesday. If the board does approve the more restrictive policy, it would be the sixth in the state to do so. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WMFE. The district is considering offering $2,500 bonuses to attract more school bus drivers. WOFL.

Palm Beach: More than 3,400 district students have been asked to stay at home because they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, district officials said Thursday. “The numbers are growing at an alarming rate,” said interim superintendent Michael Burke. “We’re only two weeks into the school year and we’re already at 25 percent of the number of cases we had all of last year.” Palm Beach Post. When must a student be quarantined? The district follows a set of rules issued by the Florida Department of Health before schools opened, and adapted into a flow chart produced by the Florida Department of Education. Palm Beach Post. Late Wednesday night, the school board approved what is likely the most restrictive face mask policy in the state. Unlike the policies approved by Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Alachua school boards, the district’s policy does not allow students to opt-out for medical reasons. Only by getting a federal disability exemption, which can take weeks, can students go to schools without wearing masks. “We need to join our colleagues around the state and protect our students and employees,” said board member Karen Brill. “We have no choice. We must mandate the wearing of face masks throughout our district.” Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Gov. DeSantis, said Thursday that “it is disappointing that the school board chose to change their mask policy — which had previously protected the freedom for parents to opt their kids out, in compliance with Florida law.” Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Polk: With coronavirus cases surging, school board member Kay Fields is pushing for a special meeting to discuss how the district can better protect students. So far, none has been scheduled. The district has reported 112 students and 156 employees with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID. But Fields said the county health department is reporting that 412 students and 233 employees have the virus, and more than 2,000 students and nearly 200 employees have been sent into isolation. She acknowledged the higher numbers have yet to be verified. “They are working on verifying the data. I would imagine the numbers will be higher than reflected here,” Fields said. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: The increase in the number of coronavirus cases has caused district officials to suspend homecoming dances and large field trips, and attendance at other extracurricular activities will be limited to 50 percent capacity. “The leadership team at the district level have made this difficult decision, based on the increase in COVID cases in our community and our schools,” the district announced in a press release. Florida Today. WESH.

Volusia: The school board is being sued by the family who allege a teacher put their 7th-grade son in a chokehold while breaking up a fight at DeLand Middle School. Jayquan Hightower, a black student, was fighting with a white student when the teacher, also white, intervened. Jayquan contends he nearly passed out while being choked, and that the incident was captured by a security camera video that the district will not release. The suit seeks the release of the video, and the family also wants the teacher disciplined. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: In the first week of school, 234 students and 61 employees tested positive for the coronavirus, district officials announced. That’s 15 percent of the 1,582 student cases reported during the last school year. Quarantine cases are not routinely tracked by the district. Naples Daily News. Patricia Schmidt, the exceptional student specialist at Lely Elementary School who was recently videoed cursing and shouting racial slurs from her car at a mother and her two sons as they were walking in a neighborhood, has been fired. WBBH. WINK.

Sarasota: School board members meet today to review the district’s face mask policy. It’s unclear if there’s support to mandate face masks with opt-outs only for medical reasons, as a handful of other districts have done. Superintendent Brennan Asplen supports following the governor’s executive order, and has told board members he thinks they have two options: Keep masks optional, or make masks mandatory but allow parents to opt-out for any reason. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: More than 1,000 Treasure Coast students have been asked to quarantine because they were exposed to someone with the coronavirus. That’s creating challenges for teachers who no longer have a real-time online learning program available to use so students at home can keep up with their studies. The state’s order allowing those programs expired, leaving quarantined students to work without real-time instruction. “It’s this constant worry of, ‘How am I going to continue the education I want to give?’ “said Colleen Peterson, a 2nd-grade teacher at St. Lucie West K-8. “I understand why we have to (quarantine), but there’s only so much you can do when you’re not physically with them.” TCPalm.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: A shortage of 120 school bus drivers in Escambia’s school district has meant some children getting home as much as 90 minutes later than usual, while a lack of school cafeteria workers in Santa Rosa County has cut down on the food options for students. “We’re doing the very best we can, of course,” said Darlene Hart, the transportation director for Escambia schools. “We’re just double, triple, quadrupling (routes) sometimes to try to get kids to school.” Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: A single doctor is responsible for nearly half of the medical opt-out forms submitted by parents who don’t want their children to wear masks in school. Dr. Ronald Emerick, a pediatrician in Alachua, has signed 18 of the 39 forms submitted to far. He did not respond to a request for a comment. Superintendent Carlee Simon said most of the opt-out forms cite mental health issues, such as anxiety. Others mention autism and asthma. “We are concerned, even for some of the explanations for the justification of why it should be an exemption, and so we are collecting this documentation and we will be submitting it to the medical board,” Simon said. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Lynn Haven planning officials have rejected a proposal for a marine science to be built on the campus of North Bay Haven Charter Academy. They cited traffic concerns. School principal Michael McLaughlin said the building would add 10 cars for administrative people who would work there, and that it wouldn’t expand the campus since it would be built where portable buildings now sit. Panama City News Herald. The old Oscar Patterson Elementary School will reopen as the Oscar Patterson Academy, a naming committee announced Thursday. WJHG.

Hernando: Superintendent John Stratton has repeatedly said teachers in the district do not teach critical race theory. At a recent school board, though, he and members of the board were bombarded with complaints from county residents who don’t believe him. Suncoast News.

Citrus: From Aug. 10 to 18, the school district recorded 163 cases of the coronavirus among students and 19 among teachers and other employees. “It’s definitely more than what we started with last year. However, knowing how aggressive this new variant is, this isn’t shocking,” said district spokeswoman Lindsay Blair. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: School board member Janet McDonald is calling for the district’s relationship with the county health department to be severed, but a majority of the board has signaled it is unwilling to consider it. Flagler Live.

Monroe: Twelve percent of the district’s 8,788 students have opted-out of wearing masks in schools, according to district officials. The district has recorded 58 cases of students contracting the virus, and five of employees. As of Wednesday, 252 students have been quarantined. Miami Herald. Key West Citizen.

Glades: Fifth-graders at the West Glades School will switch to online learning because of the number of coronavirus cases and quarantined students. The switch begins Monday and continues through Sept. 6. WBBH.

Colleges and universities: A new program at Jacksonville University offers students a nursing degree in a year. The program is the result of a partnership between the university and Baptist Health, and is geared toward students who already have a bachelor’s degree in any field and some life experience. Florida Times-Union. About $5.8 billion in federal student loans taken by 323,000 Americans with severe disabilities will be canceled, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced Thursday. Politico. CNN.

Content-rich curriculum: At least 30 private schools who serve disadvantaged students are switching to a content-rich curriculum, which merges history, art, science and other subjects into reading, writing, speaking and listening. “We have kids who have never been to a museum, who have never been exposed to art,” said Mark Majeski, associate superintendent of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. “So our goal in this is to not only raise achievement levels, but more importantly to enrich their minds.” redefinED.

Opinions on schools: Has the Florida Board of Education lost its collective mind? How else do you describe the idea of punishing local school districts for protecting children and teachers from the spiking pandemic? Even for a state board mired in politics and out of its depth, this is a master class in bullying, ignorance, overreach and bad judgment. Tampa Bay Times. Ron DeSantis is a governor uninterested in actually governing, a lawyer with little respect for the law, an anti-elitist with an Ivy League education and a hypocrite unbothered by inconsistency. Populist politics, not public policy, is his long suit. So it is not surprising that he has made a monumental mess of masking in public schools. Mac Stipanovich, Tampa Bay Times. Children, for the most part, understand the benefits of masks better than the governor does. Barry Golson, Tampa Bay Times. In choosing a stringent mask mandate, Miami-Dade County School Board members absolutely did the right thing. And it’s absolutely horrifying that Florida’s governor thinks that what they did was wrong. Miami Herald. Educators trying to help keep kids safe in a trying time of rising infections find themselves under attack from the governor on the state level and angry anti-mask, anti-vaccine and anti-whatever-you-got activists on the local level. Instead of fighting the disease, state authorities and local activists are fighting the fighters. A crazy situation. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff