Heavy COVID-19 toll among Miami-Dade school employees, student death, mask hearing, and more

Next mask hearing is Wednesday: A flurry of activity late last week has left the state’s ban against school district face mask mandates in place, but another court hearing is set for Wednesday that could change the status quo again. To recap: Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper issued his written ruling Thursday that said the state could not bar districts from imposing mandates. The state quickly appealed, placing an automatic stay on the judge’s ruling. Then parents who brought the lawsuit challenging the ban filed a request to Cooper asking him to lift the stay, arguing that the appeals process could take a month or more and that districts needed to be able to act quickly to require masks to keep students safe if they think local conditions demand it. Cooper scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to consider the request. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. Capitol News Service. Friday, school boards in Broward, Orange and Alachua counties asked an administrative law judge to invalidate the Florida Department of Health’s ban on face mask mandates. WCJB. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Charlotte County School Board members announce that an unidentified student has died of complications from COVID-19, several districts are reporting more coronavirus cases already this year than they had in the entire 2020-2021 school year, more districts are holding special board meetings this week to consider their face mask policies, a group of parents in Indian River County is lobbying the governor to remove the school district’s superintendent and three school board members over the face mask mandate, and Lee school officials get a letter from the state notifying them that they’re under investigation for the district’s mask policy. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Fifteen employees of the school district have died of complications from the coronavirus since the school year started Aug. 23, according to Sonia Diaz, a spokeswoman for several unions whose members work in the district. School officials have not released the identities of employees who have died, or what caused their deaths. The Florida Education Association teachers union has kept records of state teachers and other employees who have died from COVID-related illnesses. Sunday, its report showed 27 teachers and 27 other district employees have died from COVID-19 since July. WTVJ. A student at Beacon College Prep in Opa-locka was arrested Friday after the charter school’s principal found a gun inside of his backpack. The student said he brought it for protection. WPLG. WSVN. The number of new coronavirus cases has declined in nearly every age group, according to the Florida Department of Health’s weekly report. A notable exception is in residents under the age of 20, who made up about one-third of all new cases during the week ending Aug. 26. The number of cases of children under 12 were up 58 percent, and 45 percent among those in the 12-19 age bracket. Miami Herald.

Tampa Bay area: Another 4,036 cases of the coronavirus were reported last week in the area’s four school districts. That brings the year-to-date total to 15,795, a number the districts didn’t reach until a few days before the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: In under a month, the school district has reported more cases of the coronavirus than it did during the entire 2020-2021 school year. As of Friday, 3,908 cases have been confirmed: 3,396 students and 512 employees. Last year the district counted about 3,800 cases. WPTV.

Lee: State officials are investigating the school district over its newly enacted face mask mandate for students, according to a letter sent last week by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to interim superintendent Ken Savage and school board chair Debbie Jordan. Corcoran said the district is in violation of the state’s order that requires parents to be able to opt their children out of wearing a mask. The district has been given until Wednesday to respond to the letter. If it fails to comply, Corcoran said, the state will withhold an amount equal to the combined salaries of school board members. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

Brevard: The number of coronavirus cases and quarantines dropped about 40 percent last week from the previous week, the district reported Friday. The number of coronavirus infections was 470, with 1,851 students and employees placed into quarantine. Florida Today.

Volusia: The just-approved face mask mandate for students, with opt-outs only for medical reasons, will be the topic of discussion at an emergency meeting of the school board Thursday. School board attorney Ted Doran said with all the legal wrangling last week over the mask mandate, “the board wants to get back together and consider where they are at this point relative to the fact that there is an appeal and the order is now stayed.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. The district’s new mask policy requires students to have a note from a medical professional if they don’t want to wear masks in schools. But the policy does not define who counts as a medical professional, or what kind of condition warrants an exemption. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: School board members will meet in a special session Thursday to vote on a face mask policy proposal from Superintendent Diane Kornegay. She wants to take a targeted approach, school by school, based on positivity instead of having a districtwide rule. Her plan would call for a face mask mandate, with parental opt-outs, at schools with a case positivity rate of 5 percent or higher. Masks would be worn until that rate drops below 5 percent and is maintained for 14 days. If the policy was in effect now, seven schools would be in the “red” zone and students and employees would have to wear masks. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: In the first 14 days of the school year, 881 cases of COVID had been reported among students and staff in district schools. That’s 25 times the number of cases reported after the first 14 days in 2020. “It cannot be understated that the Delta variant is much more aggressive, as all areas of our community are seeing higher numbers than a year ago,” said district spokeswoman Christina Langston. WJCT.

Sarasota: There have now been more confirmed cases of COVID-19 among district students and employees in four weeks than in the entire previous school year, district officials have reported. As of Friday, the district had counted 2,185 cases among students and 315 among employees since July 1, surpassing last year’s total of 2,266. “It’s frightening, and that’s why we are trying to do everything we can,” said school board member Jane Goodwin. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Indian River: A parents group is lobbying Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove Superintendent David Moore and school board members Brian Barefoot, Peggy Jones and Mara Schiff, who recently voted to impose a face mask mandate on students. The group claims the mandate violates DeSantis’ executive order, the Parents’ Bill of Rights law and the Florida Department of Health’s rule that masks can be mandated only if parents can opt-out. A GoFundMe page has been started to raise money for legal fees and support candidates in the 2022 school board elections. TCPalm. Beachland Elementary School, which was closed Aug. 26 because of an outbreak of the coronavirus, will reopen for students Tuesday. Another school, Treasure Coast Elementary, was closed for the same reason a week later. It is now scheduled to reopen for students Sept. 13. TCPalm.

Charlotte: The first known student in the school district has died of complications from the coronavirus, members of the school board said Friday during their meeting to discuss the district’s face mask policy. No information about the student was released. Board members decided to leave the district’s mask-optional policy unchanged. Charlotte Sun. WBBH.

Flagler: Nearly half of the county’s total coronavirus infections were of school district students and employees. The county reported 789 positive COVID cases last week, with 341 being students and 27 district employees. The district has reported 873 infections among students and employees so far this school year. Flagler Live. An 11-year-old student at Rymfire Elementary in Palm Coast has been arrested for falsely reporting last week that a shooting was taking place at the school. The girl called 911 on Thursday morning and reported that she could hear multiple gunshots from her classroom. Flagler Live.

Budget outlook brightens: A long-range financial outlook report presented by the state Revenue Estimating Conference to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission shows that economists have “increasingly gained confidence that the economy is largely returning to normal.” House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said the report indicates “the state’s budget is in great shape,” but that legislators shouldn’t plan on using the extra revenue to create new programs. The legislative session begins Jan. 11. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: Teacher unions maintain their thriving dominion over the lower-income family, meanwhile pretending to be its true political champion against those ever-grasping rich. John E. Coons, reimaginED. When is freedom for some people, not others, more important than safety? And who should make that call? Laurence Reisman, TCPalm.