Broward’s and Palm Beach’s ‘COVID slide,’ mask rule challenge, classical school revival and more

Around the state: Broward and Palm Beach school districts report a stunning “COVID slide” in test scores, Miami-Dade school officials file a petition to overturn the Florida Department of Health rule blocking districts from requiring students to wear face masks without giving parents the option to opt-out, Duval’s school board sets standards on coronavirus positivity rates that must be met before the district’s face mask mandate will be loosened, Lee County schools have now counted more coronavirus cases in four weeks than they had during the 2020-2021 school year, Brevard school officials have until today to comply with the state’s mask rule or risk losing funding, coronavirus rates dropped sharply last week in Marion County schools, St. Johns Superintendent Tim Forson warns that schools could be closed if coronavirus infections continue to spread, and classical education is going through a resurgence that’s been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Two separate petitions have now been filed asking an administrative law judge to overturn the state Department of Health rule that blocks districts from requiring students to wear face masks without giving parents the option to opt-out. Miami-Dade school officials filed the request Tuesday to the Division of Administrative Hearings, following Friday’s joint request by the Broward, Orange and Alachua school districts. “The DOH’s rulemaking authority is limited to ‘governing the immunization of children against, the testing for, and the control of preventable communicable diseases.’ It does not extend to enforcing parental rights,” attorneys representing Miami-Dade School Board wrote in a filing. All four districts, and at least nine others around the state, have mandatory face mask policies for students that require a note from a medical professional to opt-out. Politico Florida. A private kindergarten and day-care operator in Miami was shut down abruptly Friday when a developer bought the building and told the school and a dry cleaner to vacate the property immediately. Now the KLA Schools of Brickell is scrambling to find online options for the 200 children who no longer have classrooms. Miami Herald.

Broward, Palm Beach: The depth of the so-called “COVID slide” is evident in state test scores this spring from the Broward and Palm Beach school districts. If Broward had elected to receive grades from the state this year, almost half its schools would have received a D or F. In Palm Beach, about a third of schools would have gotten a D or F. Twenty-five schools would have received an A in Broward, down from 105 the last time grades were issued two years ago. The number of schools getting a D would have jumped from 13 in 2019 to 83, and the number of F schools would have gone from 1 to 58. In Palm Beach, 31 schools would have received an A, down from 89 two years ago, while D schools would have increased from 4 to 44 and F schools from 0 to 24. “This is deeply, deeply concerning to us,” said Broward’s chief academic officer Dan Gohl. Sun Sentinel. How many Palm Beach County teachers and other school employees are vaccinated? The district isn’t sure, but Superintendent Michael Burke estimates it’s more than half and could be as high as 60 percent. Doctors say it’s not enough. “Universal masking and vaccines for all students over age 12 and teachers/staff are what will help us win this battle and save our children, their parents and our teachers,” said Dr. Shannon Fox-Levine. Her comments came in a letter written on behalf of the Palm Beach Pediatric Society. Palm Beach Post.

Orange: Two 14-year-old girls walking to Colonial High School were hit by a sports utility vehicle Tuesday morning. Both were taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital, where they’re listed in stable condition. The 59-year-old driver told troopers that the girls “darted out in front of her,” but the 9th-graders have not yet been interviewed. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Duval: School board members decided Tuesday that the face mask mandate for students will remain in effect until December unless the county’s coronavirus positivity rate drops into the “moderate” range. The positivity rate is now in the 13 to 14 percent range, and the board decided it will have to fall into the range of 5 to 8 percent before the face mask mandate ends. “The goal is to get to moderate,” said Superintendent Diana Greene. “At that time, we’ll suspend the mask requirement.” She said 76 classrooms and three schools have been closed because of high COVID transmission and exposure rates. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Lee, southwest Florida: The Lee school district has counted more cases of the coronavirus in four weeks of school than it did during the entire 2020-2021 school year. Since schools opened Aug. 10, 4,371 cases have been confirmed, and 88 percent of them have been students. Last year, about 4,000 cases were reported. Interim superintendent Ken Savage announced last week that face masks would be mandatory for students for the next 30 days, with opt-outs permitted for medical reasons only. Fort Myers News-Press. Some southwest Florida child-care centers are requiring students to wear face masks and are implementing other coronavirus safety protocols to prevent shutdowns caused by the pandemic. Naples Daily News.

Pasco: School board members met Tuesday to hear arguments for and against masks and an update from their attorney about mask rules and lawsuits in the state. But the board took no action to change the district’s current masks-optional policy. Superintendent Kurt Browning said he was reluctant to recommend any change. “We’re doing what our charge is to do, and that is to educate kids,” he said. “That is in spite of COVID.” Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Brevard: School officials have been ordered to respond today to a letter from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran spelling out how the district is complying with the state health department’s rule requiring parents be given the option of opting their children out of its face mask mandate for students. If the district doesn’t comply with the DOH rule, Corcoran said he would recommend that the Florida Board of Education authorize the Department of Education to “withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for all the members of the school board” until the district follows the rule. WKMG.

Volusia, Flagler: Volusia school officials are reporting 1,056 cases of the coronavirus so far this school year, while Flagler has counted 873 with 2,234 students quarantined since schools opened. At the same time in the last school year, neither district had even 100 cases. Starting Monday, masks are required in Volusia schools at least until Oct. 15. Flagler has a masks-optional policy. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

Lake: Another 660 students and 160 employees tested positive for the coronavirus in the week ending Aug. 30, the school district has reported. More than 3,670 students and 22 employees are currently under quarantine orders. Thursday, the school board will consider a proposal from Superintendent Diane Kornegay that would impose mask mandates in schools with a COVID positivity rate of more than 5 percent. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: Superintendent Tim Forson said at Tuesday’s school board workshop meeting that if the number of coronavirus continues to skyrocket, some classrooms or even entire schools may have to switch to remote learning. While some speakers at the meeting wanted the district to impose a face mask mandate, district officials said they have no plans to do so. St. Augustine Record. WJXT.

Marion: The seven-day total of coronavirus cases in the school system dropped 26.5 percent last week, school officials announced, and the number of students and employees under quarantine fell by 40.5 percent. School board chair Nancy Thrower said the decline is encouraging, and so is the leveling off of the number of parents who are opting their children out of the face mask requirement. “We only had a 1 percentage point increase in the opt-outs for the face coverings,” she said. “We went from 20 percent to 21 percent. So, we’ve pretty much topped out.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: The school district set a record Tuesday with 55 students and six employees testing positive for the coronavirus, Superintendent Rocky Hanna told school board members. “If things continue to get worse, I think we’re going to have to make requirements of all of our students, whether that be at sports events or in the classrooms,” said board member Rosanne Wood. For now, no changes are being recommended in the policy for wearing masks, which is required for K-8 students and optional for high school students. WCTV. WTXL.

Alachua: Four bomb threats have been called in at Buchholz High School since Aug. 19, prompting the school district and sheriff’s office to write a letter of warning to students and their families that details the severity of the threats and the repercussions for those who make them. “It’s a huge strain not only on the district, but the (sheriff’s office),” said sheriff’s detective Art Forgey. “When these were received, they obviously have to be taken seriously. The school district ends up having to shorten their school day usually by evacuating the students, we end up sending multiple units over to assist the students sometimes involving other agencies.” Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Bay: Sixth-graders at the Bay Haven Charter Academy have been sent home for the rest of the week because of a COVID outbreak. They’re expected to return to school Monday. WJHG.

Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin: Nearly 700 students and 85 school employees tested positive for the coronavirus during the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5. In St. Lucie, the count was 365 students and 42 employees, and since schools opened Aug. 10 the district has had 819 students and 208 employees test positive. In Martin, it was 127 students and 18 employees last week for a yearly total of 365 and 67, and in Indian River there were 198 students and 25 employees testing positive, taking the total since school started to 740 and 170. TCPalm. The St. Lucie County School District has created a quarantine support staff to help students who are forced to learn from home. WPTV. The closing of two schools because of the rising number of coronavirus cases has presented parents with challenges balancing work demands with staying home with younger children. While some parents have enough flexibility in their jobs to be able to deal with last-minute changes, many others do not. Superintendent David Moore said he understands those challenges, which is why the decision to close schools is an “absolute last resort.” TCPalm.

Walton: School officials have begun a rapid-results coronavirus testing program for students and employees at four school testing sites. “We know that we are in a health crisis in our community so they can’t get to these testing sites, they can’t get to their pediatrician, they can’t get to their physicians,” said Superintendent Russell Hughes. “So we brought it to them.” The goal is to get quarantined students and staff back to school quicker. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: The Bay County public bus system is now offering free rides to Florida State University Panama students. Panama City News Herald.

Classical school revival: Classical education is going through a resurgence that’s been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. About half of the 220 classical charter schools across America have opened in the past five years. Florida has at least 15, and nine of them have opened in the past three years. “Classical education brings education back to its roots,” said Josh Longenecker, a former public school teacher who founded and leads The Classical Academy of Sarasota. “We teach kids how to think, not what to think. Parents are hungry for that.” reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: State lawmakers have responded to families and turned to school choice in a big way this year. They saw the problem with relying on the current one-size-fits-all K-12 education system, which is supposed to serve the needs of a diverse population, and gave families of another 1 million students better alternatives. John Schoof, Daily Signal. In the short term, most students will likely leave learning pods to return to some sort of “normal” school model, but the lessons of these small learning communities have the potential to persist in new ways. Alice Opalka, The 74. Passion and concern are important when it comes to the education of our kids. But shouting matches on the street and hours-long school board meetings about face mask mandates are not the answer. Bill Mick, Florida Today. Even as some Florida school board members are being responsible by favoring mask mandates only as a means to slow the spread of the coronavirus and keep students in schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis has pledged to spend as much public money as possible opposing the very conservative principle that local officials should make local decisions. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel.