What’s next for masks after state loses court case, four more school employees die of COVID, and more

What’s next for masks? Now that a judge has ruled that the state acted unconstitutionally by trying to forbid school districts from imposing face mask mandates and punish those that do, what comes next? Will more districts join the 10 already requiring students to wear face masks in schools with opt-outs permitted only for medical reasons? Nothing is clear yet, except that the state has announced it will appeal, Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared the ruling is “not based in science,” full of “incoherent justifications” and “discards the rule of law,” and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has continued to send letters to dissenting districts threatening to penalize them financially and ordering them to justify their actions. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Phoenix. Capitol News Service. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics. WLRN. WPBF. WFSU. NPR. New York Times.

COVID and kids: The latest coronavirus surge in Florida is being fueled by students. The state has reported 54,032 new cases in students 12-19 for the last three weeks, and for the week ending Aug. 19, cases in teenagers were up by 16 percent while falling in every other age group. As of Friday, 5,725 children under 17 had been admitted to hospitals in August. “It’s hard to determine if (the Delta variant) is more contagious in teens, or maybe it’s that they are mingling more now than in previous waves,” said Dr. Chad Sanborn, a pediatric infectious disease specialist affiliated with Palm Beach Children’s Hospital. Sun Sentinel. Children in south Florida schools talk about what it’s like to wear face masks all day. Spoiler alert: They don’t see why adults are making such a fuss about it. “It’s a little bit uncomfortable, but I see it as a small price to pay,” said Gabriela Carvajal, a senior at Everglades High in Miramar. “The vast majority are complying. It’s like a collective agreement to keep each other safe.” Sun Sentinel.

Around the state: The deaths of a teacher in Indian River County, a teacher and cafeteria manager in Duval who were mother and daughter, and a paraprofessional in Polk County were reported last week, the number of coronavirus cases counted in several districts continued to skyrocket and several district school boards meet this week to consider tightening their face mask policies, schools in three northwest Florida school districts are closed today because of effects from Hurricane Ida, and the Broward school district has opened an investigation into into its chief communications officer for organizing a rally for the indicted superintendent, during school time and on school property. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Two school district employees, a teacher and her cafeteria manager daughter, died this month of complications from COVID-19. Lillian Smith was a 1st-grade teacher at Dr. William A. Chapman Elementary School. Her daughter Lakisha Williams was the manager of a school cafeteria. Neither had been vaccinated, according to Williams’ husband Jermaine, who said both were admitted to the hospital in early August. According to the Florida Education Association, the teachers union that’s tracking school deaths from COVID, 40 school employees died between July and Saturday night, including 21 teachers. WPLG.

Broward: Chief communications officer Kathy Koch is under investigation by the district’s special investigative unit for her actions in organizing a rally in April on behalf of then-superintendent Robert Runcie after he was indicted for perjury. Koch was notified of the investigation Saturday through a letter that said, in part, “This correspondence is provided as a formal notice of investigation into an allegation of inappropriate conduct. It is alleged you were involved in the planning of a rally that occurred on April 23, 2021, for the former superintendent of schools, Robert W. Runcie, during your workday using district resources.” Prosecutors with the state Attorney General’s Office announced last week that they had subpoenaed Koch about her actions. Sun Sentinel.

Tampa Bay area: Last week, the Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando school districts reported 5,334 cases of the coronavirus, more than double the previous week’s total of 2,153. Since schools opened Aug. 10 and 11, the four districts have counted 10,387 cases. During the last school year, that number wasn’t reached until Feb. 20. Tampa Bay Times. The Diocese of St. Petersburg announced Friday that its 13,000 students in 46 schools and early childhood centers in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties will be required to wear masks even if they’ve been vaccinated. Only students with medical conditions may opt-out. Employees will also have to wear masks. The policy will be in effect until the weekly new case rate falls below 100 per 100,000 population and the positivity rate is under 10 percent. Rates are about twice that in all five counties. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. Quick work by a nurse and a school resource officer at Wharton High School in Hillsborough County saved the life of a student who collapsed last Tuesday. Nurse Alicia Robertson and deputy William Mellana used an automatic external defibrillator to shock the student back to life, then performed CPR until paramedics arrived. The student is doing well. WFTS. Parents in Pinellas County have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $27,000 so air filters can be placed in every classroom at Midtown Academy. The cost is about $400 a classroom, and parents hope the campaign can put filters in other schools as well. WTSP.

Orange, central Florida: Orlando’s mask mandate for K-12 students goes into effect today and lasts through October, and other central Florida districts will reconsider their policies this week. Osceola’s school board meets today and Volusia’s on Tuesday. Osceola requires students to wear masks now but parents may opt-out without a reason, while masks are optional in Volusia. Central Florida districts have struggled with the continuing spike in COVID cases.  Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. The growing number of cases prompted Orange County officials to move all public high school homecoming dances outside this year. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: The school board’s decision to adopt a mandatory face mask policy for students unless they have a medical excuse has narrowed the options for the 12,000 students who weren’t wearing masks because their parents signed opt-out forms for them. The state expanded the eligibility for Hope Scholarships to students who experience “COVID harassment” so they could attend private schools. But many of the private schools also are requiring students to wear masks. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases of students and employees in schools grew from 815 on Monday to 1,285 by Friday. That’s an increase of about 58 percent. Last Monday the school board voted to require face masks for all students and employees, with opt-outs allowed only for medical reasons. But that policy doesn’t go into effect until Sept. 7. Florida Times-Union. Parents who are worried about the district’s ability to promptly trace contacts of students who test positive for the coronavirus are setting up their own communication network through Facebook and other social media posts and by group text messages. Florida Times-Union. Dozens of high school students across the county walked out of classes last week in an organized protest against the district’s student dress code, which they called sexist, outdated and dangerous. Boys dressed in mini-skirts and crop tops, and girls wore shirts with spaghetti straps or that bared a shoulder. District officials said the dress code is already gender-neutral. Florida Times-Union. A student at Matthew Gilbert Middle School is facing charges after bringing an unloaded gun onto campus, according to school officials. Administrators said they got a tip about the gun, and found it in the student’s possession. WJXT.

Polk: Norma Reyes, a paraprofessional at Purcell Elementary School in Mulberry who was Florida’s school-related employee of the year in 2012, died Aug. 20 of complications from the coronavirus. She was 52. Six days later her husband, Elio Reyes Sr., also died because of the virus. Neither had been vaccinated. WFLA. Starting pay for new school bus drivers is going up from from $13.40 an hour to $14.50, and the newly hired will also get a $500 retention bonus. Veteran drivers are also getting raises under the agreement approved last week by the school board. The district is short by about 80 drivers, and officials hope the raises and bonuses will help attract workers. WFTS.

Lee: With coronavirus cases continuing to soar, the school board will meet today to consider tightening its face mask policy. Currently, students are required to wear masks unless their parents submit an opt-out form. More than 2,600 cases of COVID-19 have been reported since schools opened Aug. 10. For the 2020-2021 school year, Lee schools reported 4,200 cases, according to health department officials. Fort Myers News-Press. Students in Oasis Charter Schools in Cape Coral have been ordered to wear masks in schools starting Monday, unless they have an excuse from a doctor. The order was announced Friday by the Cape Coral Charter School Governing Board, after more than half the students and employees in the system were placed under quarantine and a judge ruled against the state’s ban on face masks. The order is in effect for 90 days unless the board sees a drop in infection rates. Fort Myers News-Press. WBBH. WINK. WFTX. The principal of the Lee Virtual School has been arrested and accused of battery. Details of the incident were not available, and the district is investigating. Albert Matthew Shilling has been the school’s principal since 2009. WINK.

Brevard: School board members have an emergency meeting today to discuss imposing a face mask policy. The district has none now, because board members voted 3-2 on Aug. 10 against requiring students to wear face masks but allowing parents to opt-out. On Friday, district officials announced that 784 students and employees tested positive for the coronavirus from Tuesday to Thursday last week, and 4,021 were quarantined. For the school year, 3,033 COVID cases have been reported, with 2,560 of them students, and 15,750 have been quarantined. More than 80 percent of those quarantined came into contact with someone with the coronavirus at school. Florida Today. WKMG.

Seminole: Students at Lake Mary High School got an unexpected three-day weekend after a contractor for Duke Energy hit a transformer and knocked out the power at about 10:15 a.m. Friday. The school is expected to reopen today. WKMG. WESH.

Manatee: An online survey of parents of students showed about two-thirds in favor of having some classrooms designated as mask-only. The feasibility of such a configuration is uncertain. Board attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum said he broached the subject with Matthew Mears, an attorney for the state Department of Education, and was told that the spirit and language of the emergency rules adopted by the DOE and state health officials “was to avoid segregation of students based upon the decision whether or not to wear a mask.” Bradenton Herald. The school district and MCR Health are partnering to offer a vaccination clinic Sept. 2 at Buffalo Creek Middle School for students 12 and older. Shots will be from Pfizer, and the second dose will be administered Sept. 23, also at Buffalo Creek Middle. WWSB.

St. Johns: Hundreds more students have gotten COVID or are being quarantined during the opening weeks of school this year than last year, according to school officials. Last year after two weeks, 23 students had tested positive and 491 had been quarantined. This year, 561 students have tested positive and 1,753 have been placed under quarantine. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: The district’s new face mask policy goes into effect today. It states: “Each student, employee, visitor, and vendor must wear a medical grade or COVID-style mask while at school, while on school property, during school sponsored activities, and during school board-provided transportation to and from school or school-sponsored activities, at all times while indoors or outdoors in a crowded setting.” It allows opt-outs only for medical reasons. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sarasota generally leans to the right politically, with a notable exception being the school board. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa: Schools are closed today in Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties because of expected weather problems caused by Hurricane Ida. Weather forecasters said the counties could see flash flooding, rainfall between 6-8 inches and possibly as many as 15, high winds and possibly tornadoes. WEAR. WJHG. WMBB. Pensacola News Journal. NorthEscambia.com. Northwest Florida Daily News. Florida Department of Education.

Bay: District officials said Friday they have no immediate plans to changes their masks-optional policy for students. But Superintendent Bill Husfelt said a review of the issue will be on the agenda for the Sept. 14 school board meeting. Panama City News Herald.

Indian River: Sarah Zevallos, a dual-language kindergarten teacher at Fellsmere Elementary School, has died of complications from the coronavirus. She was 45. Principal Ramon Echeverria said Zevallos tested positive for COVID on Monday and died Thursday. She’s was the second Indian River County teacher to die this month. Tabitha Blair, a teacher at Treasure Coast Elementary, died Aug. 19. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC. WPBF. A 16-year-old student at Vero Beach High School has been arrested and accused of resisting arrest with violence, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. Deputies said the girl had an altercation with an administrator, trashed two offices and damaged a piece of equipment on a school resource officer’s vest. WPEC.

Flagler: The district’s plan to rezone school boundaries is drawing criticism from parents. In April, the district decided to send all 6th-graders to middle schools, starting in August 2022. That will require zoning changes to even out attendance in schools and avoid overcrowding. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: University of Miami officials are offering prizes in weekly raffles for students who get vaccinated. Among the prizes are cash, a poolside cabana at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, a stadium suite at a football game and university-related items. Miami Herald. Florida International University is offering $150 campus credits for students to get vaccinated. Miami Herald. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is “strongly encouraging” but not requiring masks on campus this fall, a decision that prompted 75 percent of faculty members to vote that they have no confidence in the school’s COVID-19 policies. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Around the nation: The director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging school districts to follow its guidance to help get the spread of the coronavirus under control. “Particularly our recommendations for teachers as well as students aged 12 and over to be vaccinated, and for everyone, right now, to be masked,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Politico. A national teachers union, the National Education Association, is lobbying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to expand its coronavirus safety rule to cover workers in jobs outside the health-care industry, such as teachers. It wants the existing rule expanded to require employers to adopt universal masking, physical distancing, adequate ventilation and screening for COVID symptoms. Politico. A growing number of school board members around the United States are resigning rather than continue to be threatened over such issues as face masks in schools, vaccinations and how race is taught in history classes. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Isn’t it ironic that the very law Gov. DeSantis cited to justify his position that parents, not schools, should decide whether children must wear facial coverings was used to declare that his actions were unconstitutional? Miami Herald. A doctor who is also a mom says giving anti-maskers their liberty means giving everyone else – including children – a higher risk of illness and death. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. Let’s put politics aside and puts kids first in this fourth wave of the coronavirus. Tracy Kawa, Florida Times-Union. If you are well-off, you treasure and scrupulously practice your role of parent, to the great advantage of child, family and civil society; if you are not, both of you take whatever the commanding officers decide. This may be ideal; one sometimes gets lucky. But, instead, it just may make you and little Rosie mutually miserable for the next 12 years. And whichever comes, you are out of it – helpless, useless. John E. Coons, redefinED. While some charter schools can point to student success, oversight, accountability and adherence to federal civil rights law are uneven at best, particularly in Florida. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, Florida Times-Union.