State appeals latest ruling on masks, Palm Beach charter schools win share of tax funds, and more

Masks and the courts: Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis filed an emergency motion with an appeals court late Wednesday asking that it reinstate a stay forbidding school districts from imposing a face mask mandate for students without allowing parents to opt-out. Parents who brought the suit challenging DeSantis’ executive order will also have the chance to counter the state’s argument. Earlier Wednesday, a Leon County judge vacated the stay, which allowed districts to continue adopting face mask mandates with opt-outs permitted only for medical reasons. News Service of Florida. CNN. Capitol News Service. NBC News. The Hill. A federal judge could rule as soon as today on the state’s motion to dismiss a separate case challenging the state’s mask rule on the grounds that it puts children with disabilities at risk by attending school with unmasked students and therefore violates the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and parts of the Rehabilitation Act. Miami Herald. Florida school districts that lose state funding because of their face mask policies can apply for federal grants to replace the money, the Biden administration announced Thursday. Politico. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. WGFL. Education Week. NPR. Chalkbeat.

Around the state: Florida’s Supreme Court allows a lower court ruling stand that requires the Palm Beach County School District to share extra money generated from a 2018 tax referendum with charter schools, a school bus monitor in Duval County has died of COVID-related complications, two Lee County students are arrested and accused of plotting a mass school shooting, Hillsborough’s school board extend the district’s face mask mandate for another 30 days, less than 1 percent of Duval’s in-school students have gotten a medical exemption to opt-out of wearing a mask, Lake County School Board members adopt a policy that requires masks in schools once their coronavirus positivity rate reaches 5 percent, two Democratic state legislators file a resolution that would ask voters to change the education commissioner’s job from an appointed position to an elected one, and budgets were adopted by school boards in Miami-Dade, Brevard and Bay counties. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board members approved a budget of more than $7 billion for this fiscal year, a jump of almost $2 billion over last year’s. The tax rate was dropped from $7.12 for every $1,000 of assessed property value to $7, but higher property values and federal relief funds increased revenue. Some board members expressed concern about what will happen with the district when the federal money runs out, since enrollment is also declining. Miami Herald. The school board also approved a $275 payment to all district employees who can show proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: School board members voted 5-1 Thursday to extend the district’s face mask policy for another 30 days, through Oct. 15. Students will continue to be required to wear masks in schools, with opt-outs permitted only for those who get a note from a medical professional. Superintendent Addison Davis said that since the stricter mandate was put into place, the percentage of students in isolation or quarantine has dropped from 5.61 to 2.33. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTVT. Kendrah Underwood, the founding principal of IDEA Victory College Prep in Tampa, talks about her background, educational philosophy, goals and her expressive style. reimaginED.

Palm Beach: Florida’s Supreme Court has let stand a lower court ruling that requires the school district to share extra tax revenue generated by a 2018 voter-approved referendum with charter schools. In its wording for the ballot, the district specifically excluded charter schools from receiving money from the tax for teacher raises, safety, security and mental health. Two charter schools sued. Two lower court rulings favored the district, but the 4th District Court of Appeals ruled in February that the district’s decision violated state law. District officials appealed to the state Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case and let the appeal court ruling stand. The county’s charter schools stand to collect at least $45 million for this school year and the next one. “This battle over equitable funding for all students sheds a light on how the school district treats children who attend a public charter school, a large percentage of which are minority students,” said Lynn Norman Teck, executive director of the advocacy group Florida Charter School Alliance. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Duval: Less than 1 percent of the district’s 104,000 in-school students have obtained medical exemptions to the face mask mandate, according to school officials. Those numbers do not include charter schools. On Aug. 23, school board members approved a change from the policy that allowed parents to opt-out to one that required a note from a medical professional for the exemption. Florida Times-Union. Estella Henry, a school bus monitor, died Aug. 29 of COVID-related complications. She worked for 15 years with the company that provides bus services to the district. WJXT. A 13-year-old boy riding his bike to school Thursday morning was struck by a vehicle in Mayport and taken to a hospital, where he’s reported to be in serious condition. The driver was cited for failure to yield. WJXT.

Lee: Two teenagers were arrested Thursday and are accused of plotting a mass shooting at Harris Harsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres. A teacher received a tip that one of the boys, who are 13 and 14, had a gun in his backpack. A search by a school resource officer found no gun, but there was a map of the school that marked security cameras. Further investigation disclosed that the boys had shown an interest in the Columbine school shooting in Colorado, and were trying to learn how to build pipe bombs and buy guns on the black market. A search of one of the boy’s home uncovered a gun and some knives. “This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages,” said Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Brevard: Protesters burned masks outside of school board headquarters before Thursday’s meeting, which otherwise was relatively uneventful. The district lowered its tax millage rate and approved a budget. Florida Today. School officials have set up a drive-through COVID testing site at the Mid-South Transportation Center in Melbourne for students and employees. Preregistration for testing is required. WFTV.

Osceola: School board members voted 4-1 this week to extend Superintendent Debra Pace’s contract through 2025. The majority of board members gave Pace ratings of 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale in her annual evaluation. Jon Arguello cast the only no vote and gave Pace ratings of 1 to 3 in the categories considered, citing internal conflicts of interest, upheaval in the district and a dispirited teaching staff. Osceola News-Gazette.

Volusia: An emergency school board meeting Thursday night to discuss the legality of the district’s face mask policy was canceled a few hours before it was scheduled to start. Board chair Linda Cuthbert said the meeting was “moot” after a court prohibited the state from penalizing districts for requiring students to wear face masks without giving parents a chance to opt-out. “I’d like the legal system to work and see where we are on Tuesday,” she said, when the board will discuss masks at its regularly scheduled meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Forward Manatee, a local political committee made up of educators and county leaders, is starting the campaign to ask voters to renew the extra 1-mill tax to supplement school funding. The measure was first approved in 2018 and has infused the district with more than $40 million a year to improve teacher pay, extended the school day by 30 minutes and enhanced STEM and arts programs. If approved in November, the tax will continue through June 30, 2026. WTSP. WFTS.

Lake: A face mask mandate targeted for schools with a coronavirus positivity rate of 5 percent or higher has been unanimously approved by the school board. Students and staff at those schools will be required to wear masks until the positivity rate falls under 5 percent and is maintained for 14 days. Parents can opt their children out of the requirement, and the mandate doesn’t apply to charter schools. Superintendent Diane Kornegay also announced that a new version of the district’s coronavirus dashboard will be released soon. Daily Commercial. WESH. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel.

Bay: School board members approved a $539 million budget that dropped the millage rate from 5.968 to 5.847 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. Increased property values and federal relief aid will lead to higher revenue overall, which board members hope to use to boost teacher salaries. WMBB. Bay County School District.

Charlotte: Babcock High School, which is in its first year, earned an A grade from the state, according to principal Shannon Treece, and the Babcock Neighborhood School received a B. Treece said improvement is needed in math and reading for students in the 3rd through 5th grades. Charlotte Sun.

Flagler: A training session workshop for school board members turned combative after less than an hour when the board attorney and two board members objected to the session being recorded. The session was halted to allow board attorney Kristy Gavin to call Pat Gleason, the attorney general’s special counsel for open government, who advised that recordings could not be barred. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Alachua County commissioners are asking the University of Florida and Santa Fe College to require students and employees to wear face masks indoors. Neither school has responded. Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Staffing issues: School districts across the state continue to report shortages of teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and employees in other areas, so much so that some districts have been forced to close schools and, in some cases, offer signing bonuses to attract applicants for jobs. News Service of Florida.

Elected education commissioner: Two Democratic state legislators from Tampa filed a joint resolution Thursday that would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment changing the job of education commissioner from an appointed position to an elected one. “Voters currently have no direct influence on state education policy, and this bill seeks to put an end to that,” said state Sen Janet Cruz of Tampa, who is working with state Rep. Fentrice Driskell. “You should remove personal agendas from the selection process. The commissioner of education needs to be a champion for Florida’s traditional education system.” The proposal would have to be approved by the Legislature and 60 percent of voters. The current education commissioner, longtime Republican legislator and former speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, was appointed by Gov. DeSantis. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Education podcasts: ReimaginED executive editor Matthew Ladner talks with EdChoice director of policy Jason Bedrick about micro-schools, how they differ from learning pods, and why they’re gaining a loyal following across the country. EdChoice.

Opinions on schools: Education will only improve if schools turn parents into partners. Justin Johnston, Project Forever Free. Florida is third among the states in K-12 achievement in the recent Education Week rankings. The state’s education leaders are now quite happy with exactly the way things are and they have no interest in changing course at all, which means the state will continue to do a poor job of preparing its K-12 students for college STEM majors. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.