Court reinstates ban on face mask mandates, child COVID deaths up, officer dies, and more

Mask mandate ban back on: The state’s on-again, off-again ban against face mask mandates imposed by school boards is on again. Friday, an appeals court again overruled a Leon County judge who had vacated the stay it had issued that said the state had the authority to prohibit districts from imposing bans without allowing parents to opt-out, and to withhold funds from those districts. In issuing the ruling, the First District Court of Appeal judges also questioned the original lawsuit brought by parents. “Upon our review of the trial court’s final judgment and the operative pleadings, we have serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters,” their order said. “These doubts significantly militate against the likelihood of the appellees’ ultimate success in this appeal.” Gov. Ron DeSantis quickly tweeted, “No surprise here – the 1st DCA has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children. I will continue to fight for parents’ rights.” At least 13 school districts have defied the state’s order with face mask policies. The Biden administration has said it will offer grants to those districts to replace withheld funds, but some have indicated they will reconsider their policies. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. CNN. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Florida’s ban on face mask mandates is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education as a possible violation of the civil rights of students with disabilities. Miami Herald. Politico. Education Week. Florida Phoenix.

Child COVID deaths: Ten Florida children under the age of 16 have died from COVID complications since July 30 when the Delta variant became the dominant strain, according to state Department of Health data. In the prior 15 months, from the beginning of the pandemic, Florida reported seven deaths among children. Dr. Mobeen Rathore, the chief of pediatric infectious disease and immunology at the Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, said more children are being admitted to intensive care units and getting intubated. “Unfortunately, some of these children will not survive,” he said. Politico Florida. Wearing masks in schools does curb the spread of COVID-19 from student to student, according to several studies over the past year. NPR.

Around the state: A Hillsborough County school resource officer has died of COVID complications, Broward school officials are accusing the state of withholding $234 million in federal coronavirus aid earmarked for the district, several school districts say they will continue to enforce their face mask mandates despite the appeals court ruling, the number of COVID cases declined last week in several school districts, some Brevard parents are having trouble finding doctors willing to issue medical exemptions to the district’s face mask mandate, speakers at Sarasota County School Board meetings will no longer be allowed to criticize individual board members, and Florida is apparently the only state that hasn’t applied for federal food aid for students. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: Broward school officials are accusing the state of withholding $234 million in federal coronavirus aid earmarked for the district. State officials said the district hasn’t spent all the money it’s already received. “We really aren’t sure why the school district would accuse the state of sitting on federal funding when the school district is actually sitting on $9.2 million,” said Jared Ochs, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education. WLRN. Politico Florida. WFOR. WTVJ. Miami-Dade and Broward school officials said they will continue to require students to wear face masks, with opt-outs only for medical reasons, despite an appeals court ruling in favor of the state’s prohibition against such actions by districts. In an appearance on Sunday’s Face the Nation, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, “(Children) are being used as political pawns in this political chess game, and that is reprehensible.” Miami Herald. CBS News. The shortage of school bus drivers in south Florida school districts has left some students waiting for hours for their ride. Sun Sentinel. A 14-year Broward boy has been arrested and accused of making threats against St. Brendan High School in Miami. Deputies said the boy, who does not attend the school, was mad about losing a game of Fortnite. WFOR. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Sgt. Gary Gobernik, who spent 12 years in the sheriff’s office before becoming a school resource officer at Bryan Elementary School in Plant City in 2018, died last week of complications from the coronavirus. His coworkers said he had been vaccinated and wore a face mask. But he contracted the Delta variant in mid-August and was put into the intensive care unit Aug. 31. He appeared to be improving before suffering a relapse. At least 34 Florida law enforcement officers have died from the coronavirus. Tampa Bay Times. The number of coronavirus cases in schools in the four-county area of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando dropped last week to about two-thirds of the level of the previous week. Hillsborough cases fell from 2,160 to 1,348, and some school officials say the tightened face mask policy played a part in the decline. Hernando cases dropped from 375 to 185 last week, when its face mask mandate took effect. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: District officials said their face mask mandate, with opt-outs allowed only for medical reasons, will continue to be enforced despite Friday’s ruling by an appeals court. Orange schools’ policy is in effect until the end of October. “The district is continuing to monitor the situation in the court,” school officials said in a phone message to parents. WKMG. District and health officials are reducing weekend hours at two COVID testing sites, but said they are working on a plan to offer testing in every school by December. Spectrum News 13. Despite the incentive of a $3,500 bonus to attract applicants for school bus driving jobs, only 19 people applied at last week’s job fair. School officials will try again tonight. The district is short 100 drivers. WKMG. Calvin Perry, a former teacher and longtime football coach and athletic director at Jones High School in Orlando, died Friday of congenital heart failure and kidney failure. He was 80. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: School officials said despite Friday’s appeals court ruling supporting the state’s prohibition of districts banning face mask mandates without parental opt-outs, they will continue to enforce their policy today. Palm Beach schools allow opt-outs only for medical reasons. WPBF. School district chief of staff Jay Boggess, who helped form the district’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, announced Friday that he had been vaccinated after previously being noncommittal. “I’m a private person,” he had maintained. “I could tell you I was or that I was not, but that would have no bearing on the work I’ve done or continue to do.” Some members of the community disagreed. “Leading by example is critical,” said Peter Cruise, chairman of the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission. “If it becomes quickly apparent the guy who is supposed to motivate people to get vaccinated doesn’t do it for himself or his family, it looks like the school district isn’t wholly committed.” Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Tommy Hazouri, a school board member from 2004-2012 and also a former state legislator, Jacksonville mayor and current member of the city council, has died at the age of 76. He had recently been treated at the Mayo Clinic to be treated for complications from a 2020 lung transplant, and was released last month to return home for hospice care. WJXT. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: The number of coronavirus cases in the district dropped significantly last week, according to school officials. There were 499 student and 59 employee cases reported last week, down from 1,127 students and 148 employees the week before. Since Aug. 23, the district has counted 2,239 students and 330 employees testing positive for COVID. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board member Caprice Edmond could not persuade a majority of board members on Aug. 24 to support her call for a face mask mandate in schools with opt-outs only for medical reasons. But she’ll try again at Tuesday’s meeting. “I intend on proposing a mask policy with a medical opt-out,” Edmond wrote Friday on her Facebook page. “If that fails, I will request a special meeting to discuss a mask policy with a medical opt-out.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Some parents in search of medical exemptions to the district’s face mask requirement for students are finding that many doctors are reluctant to issue them. Some are unwilling to discuss their decision. But Dr. Maged Farid, owner and practicing physician at Florida Pediatric Group, said, “We are following science, not bringing politics, personal belief, or religion into the practice. I don’t tell the school system what to do. As a medical office, I have to follow the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and the scientific entities.” Florida Today. A 17-year-old student at Palm Bay High School was arrested Friday and accused of having a handgun at school, Melbourne police said. Officers said the gun had been reported stolen from the city of Palm Bay. Florida Today.

Seminole: The restrictions on visitors to district schools have been extended through Oct. 9 because of the continuing spread of the coronavirus. “This extension does not prohibit the conducting of legitimate school business with parents and legal guardians, and visitors who are approved for an essential function before arriving on campus, as determined by school principals and their designees,” the district said in a statement. WKMG.

Volusia: Face masks will be required for all students and staff today, despite than appeals court backing the state ban on such mandates without allowing parents to opt-out. Volusia accepts only medical excuses as a reason for students not to wear masks. School board members are expected to talk about the masks policy at Tuesday’s meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A new coronavirus testing site has opened for students and school and government employees. The testing site at John H. Marble Park in Bradenton is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The district counted 2,395 confirmed cases between Aug. 10 and last Thursday. Bradenton Herald. The district’s charter schools have established their own coronavirus safety rules. While some have followed the district’s face mask mandate, with parents permitted to opt-out, others have chosen stricter or looser rules. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled last week that the Collier County School Board violated the state’s Sunshine Law by excluding the public from meetings of committees that evaluated and ranked textbooks for the district. The nonprofit Florida Citizens Alliance and three individuals filed the lawsuit in 2017. News Service of Florida.

St. Johns: Officials from the Care Connect+ social health organization operated by Flagler Health+ said the number of school district students who need behavioral health services is up 20 percent over last year. “COVID is certainly exacerbated some of the need, but what’s most surprising to us, it’s the same issues, or maybe the needs that arise,” said Care Connect+ executive director John Eaton. “And so, whether it’s depression, anxiety, relationships – those are the common reasons why students are identified and how we support them.” WTLV.

Sarasota: Criticism of individual school board members by speakers at board meetings will no longer be permitted, according to board vice chair Jane Goodwin. She said she’s putting an end to “personal assaults” on board members, which she is defining as any criticism, by cutting speakers off and ejecting repeat offenders. “This is not McCurdy’s Comedy Club,” Goodwin said. “This is a professional board meeting. … It has to be tightened up in terms of what people are allowed to say.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. School officials said the face mask mandate for students, with exemptions only for medical reasons, will continue despite an appeals court decision Friday to reinstate the order allowing the state to financially punish districts that don’t allow parents to opt their children out of wearing masks. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The district is also extending the suspension of field trips and the ban of nonessential visitors and volunteers in schools. WWSB.

Marion: Faced with a daily shortage of teachers and substitutes, school officials are considering paying workers a $200 bonus to get vaccinated and increasing daily pay for substitute teachers. Daily subs would get an increase from $75 to $100, while a sub asked to cover a classroom for 10 or more days would receive $110 a day and subs with degrees would get a raise from $85 to $125. School board members said they hoped the bonuses for vaccinations would cut down on absences but also trim soaring health insurance costs. The district is self-insured, and treatment for COVID cases has cost more than $3 million. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: School board members have approved a 15.6 percent increase in pay for substitute teachers. Pay will now range from $75 a day for subs with a high school diploma to $105 a day for those with a master’s degree or doctorate. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: The school district is asking an administrative law judge to strike down the state Department of Health’s rule requiring districts that impose face mandates on schools to allow parents the option to opt-out. The petition to the Department of Administrative Hearings contends that giving parents the final say on masking is an overreach of the state’s authority. The Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Alachua districts have also challenged the rule through the administrative process. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 24. Tallahassee Democrat. News Service of Florida. Leon High School students say they don’t feel safe at school because of the pandemic, and liken the atmosphere at the school to The Hunger Games. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: While student enrollment has declined since the 2019-2020 school year, it has increased since last year. In 2019, the district reported enrollment of 29,968. That dipped to 25,463 last year, but is up to 26,273 this year. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: School officials said the district’s job fair last week was successful, with more than 200 open positions tentatively filled pending background checks. Panama City News Herald.

Flagler: The school board approved a $212 million budget last week that includes a slightly lower tax rate of $5.865 per $1,000 in taxable property value, down from $6, but will yield more revenue because of rising property values. Flagler Live.

Columbia: Columbia City Elementary School in Lake City is closed today because of a water main break in the building. WJAX.

Colleges and universities: Princeton is considered the top university in the United States in the latest rankings from U.S. News & World Report. The University of Florida, at 28th, was the highest-ranking state school among national universities. U.S. News & World Report. Forbes. The presidents of the University of Florida and Santa Fe College have told Alachua County commissioners that they won’t honor the commissioners’ request to have students and employees wears masks because they don’t have the authority to do so. Gainesville Sun. A push to diversify the student body at the University of South Florida has taken a step forward with the incoming class. The school is reporting an increase from last year of 16 percent in black students, 3 percent in Hispanic students, 14 percent in Asian students, and 17 percent in students who self-identify as two races or more. Florida Politics. A Florida Gulf Coast University professor has received a $356,000 grant to determine if pumping oxygen into blue-green algae will help break apart algae blooms. Fort Myers News-Press.

Florida stands alone on food aid: Florida is now the only state that has not applied for federal food aid for children from low-income families, and Gov. DeSantis is getting criticism for the decision from state Democrats. The state received $1.2 billion from the program during the last school year and is eligible for another $820 million this year. DeSantis hasn’t offered a public explanation for not applying for the benefits, though his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, recently suggested that Florida children didn’t need the aid because they’re back in school. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: The latest version of legislation being considered in the U.S. House Education & Labor Committee would provide universal pre-K education, expand federal Pell Grants for college students, and offer two years of free community college. The $760 billion initiative is part of the Biden administration’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation measure. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: Here’s a legislative proposal that should die a swift death: making school board elections partisan. The last thing local school boards need is the encroaching influence of national politics. This wrong-headed idea should never make it to the ballot. Tampa Bay Times. It is my conviction that the political party – one either existing or to come – which can deliver the ordinary family from its purgatory of impotence with its own children will capture the respect of our individual state electorates and of our nation. John E. Coons, reimaginED. Oh, poor Floriduh King DeSantis, chief instigator of the mask divide. He doesn’t know how mask-wearing became political. Maybe he should review his campaign website’s merchandise. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. A group of parents recently announced plans to remove three Indian River County School Board members and the superintendent after a two-week face mask mandate for students and employees was approved. This is the wrong tactic at the wrong time for the wrong reason. TCPalm.