Eight districts told to drop mask mandates or face penalties, state applies for federal aid, and more

Eight districts sanctioned: Eight Florida school districts have been given 48 hours to get their face mask policies aligned with the state’s rules or face financial penalties, the state Board of Education decided Thursday. If the Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval, Brevard, Leon and Alachua districts choose not to allow parents to opt-out of local face mask mandates for students, the state will withhold funds equal to the monthly salaries of their school board members. And if the Biden administration tries to reimburse those funds withheld by the state, as they already have for Broward and Alachua, the state will further penalize the districts by an equal amount. “If the federal government can simply backfill or [bypass] all school districts with grants, then this board’s enforcement authority is in essence neutralized, nullified, and abolished,” said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. “Floridians should be offended by the Biden administration’s use of federal taxes in an attempt to make the enforcement of Florida’s laws so ineffective.” News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Tallahassee Democrat. WJXT. WTXL. WJCT. Gainesville Sun. WGFL. WMFE. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix. WUSF. Florida Politics. Forbes. CNN. Before the BOE meeting, state agriculture commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried released state data that she said showed students in districts with optional mask rules were almost twice as likely to be infected with COVID-19 than students in districts with strict face mask mandates and nearly four times as likely during the peak of the Delta variant. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office disputed the data. Sun Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. Capitol News Service.

More legal challenges: The Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Duval, Leon and Alachua school districts have joined together in a lawsuit challenging the state health department’s recent emergency rules, which ban school districts from enacting mask mandates and give parents the authority to decide if their asymptomatic children should be quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19. The lawsuit contends that the rule, issued by new Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, is an “invalid exercise” of legislative authority. News Service of Florida. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. Parents of students in the Orange and Brevard school districts are petitioning an appeals court to order those districts to follow Florida’s rules on face masks and quarantines. WKMG. Florida Today.

State finally applies for aid: Florida has finally filed a plan on how it intends to spend $2.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid for schools. The decision late Wednesday came just days after the state received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education asking why it hadn’t submitted a proposal, which was due in June, for the final installment of aid. The delay also drew intense criticism from educators around the state. According to the plan, Florida will use the money to close the achievement gap by hiring up to 2,000 reading coaches, offering summer school to students who need the most help, improving assessments to identify student progress, expanding virtual instruction capacity, paying for SAT and ACT tests for 200,000 students, and buying supplies to keep schools and students safer. The state also said it will spend $35 million to increase capacity for vocational training programs in the state’s college system, and $11 million more for equipment for K-12 and post-secondary vocational programs. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Around the state: A 30-day mask mandate in the Nassau County schools ends today because of a decline in the number of coronavirus cases, Marion school officials said the drop in the infection rate could lead to a change in its mask policy in a couple of weeks, on Monday the Santa Rosa County School District will welcome back volunteers and end capacity restrictions at indoor extracurricular events, and the Volusia school district is struggling to hire classroom teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and substitute teachers. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Ellen Bloch Davis, an actor who taught theater and drama at North Miami High School, North Miami Beach High and the New World School of the Arts for 36 years and then as an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College’s North Campus, has died at the age of 94. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: A former high school dropout who later returned to college to earn two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. and became a teacher is starting a private, inclusive school in Tampa next fall that will welcome autistic students and focus on brain performance through physical activity. In a Q&A, Gretchen Stewart talks about her plans for Smart Moves Academy. reimaginED.

Orange: Meeting before the state Board of Education voted Thursday to sanction the district for its face mask mandate, the Orange County Public Schools Medical Advisory Committee reiterated its support of the mandate. “I feel that this committee feels overwhelmingly that the benefits of universal mandatory masks outweigh the potential risks,” said Dr. Vincent Hsu. WKMG.

Brevard: Barbara Row, who was a teacher and principal in the county school system for four decades before retiring in 2000, has died at the age of 83. Space Coast Daily.

Volusia: The county school district is struggling to hire classroom teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and substitute teachers. “This started five years ago,” said Superintendent Scott Fritz. “It’s difficult to get people to go into this profession at all, and it’s getting more difficult.” The district has 77 classroom vacancies, 31 openings for media center specialists, counselors or academic coaches, and 129 for paraprofessionals who help students with special needs. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Masks are now optional for adults in county schools, Fritz said this week. “Due to the overall downward trend of COVID numbers in our community, I have made the decision to make face coverings optional and voluntary for all adults,” Fritz wrote in an announcement on the district’s website. WKMG. WESH.

Collier: More than 200 Champions of Learning grants totaling $101,747 were handed out to teachers at 50 schools this week to finance projects for their classrooms. Naples Daily News.

Marion: School officials said Thursday that if the rate of coronavirus cases continues to decline, masks could become optional in a few weeks and volunteers will be allowed back in classrooms. Ocala Star-Banner. Several children were injured Thursday morning when a school bus collided with a pickup truck in Silver Springs Shores. Two girls, 16 and 14, who were in the truck were hospitalized with serious injuries. One of the 32 students on the bus was taken to a hospital for treatment of a minor injury, and several others said they were injured. Troopers said the pickup truck pulled in too soon after passing the school bus, and its right rear clipped the left front of the bus. Ocala Star-Banner. WCJB.

Santa Rosa: Starting Monday, volunteers will be welcomed back into schools and indoor extracurricular events will expand to 100 percent capacity. Superintendent Karen Barber said the changes reflect the declining number of coronavirus cases. “As of Sept. 28, our schools were at 3 percent positivity for students and 6 percent for staff,” she said. “We’re excited to see this decline and pleased to be able to resume many of our normal operations.” WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. A student at Avalon Middle School in Milton was honored this week for coming to the rescue of her school bus driver. After the bus driver pulled over Sept. 17 because she had a medical event, Emily Jones used the bus radio to call for help. The bus driver recovered. WEAR.

Martin: Two teenagers have been arrested after threatening on social media to “shoot up” Martin County High School. The teens, 17 and 14, do not attend the school, according to sheriff’s deputies. TCPalm. WPTV.

Nassau: The district’s face mask mandate ends today after school officials reported a “significant decline in the number of COVID cases and quarantines in the Nassau County School District.” A 30-day mask requirement had been put into place after multiple outbreaks of the coronavirus among students and staff. WJXT.

Around the nation: Pfizer is asking the Food and Drug Administration for approval to start distributing COVID-19 vaccines intended for children 5 through 11 years old. Pfizer said it could start offering the shots within weeks of getting approval from the FDA. Associated Press. Politico. The 74. More than half of Americans support mandatory vaccinations for students 12 and older, according to a Politico-Harvard poll. Politico. About 321,000 undocumented children enrolled in America’s K-12 schools between 2016 and 2019, according to a report by the RAND Corp. More than 20,000 of them were in Florida. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Arizona, the state that has the largest growth of public schools in the country, largely fueled by charter schools, also led the nation in academic growth for both low-income and middle-to-high income students. Variety is the spice of life. It just might be the spice of schooling as well. Matthew Ladner, Education Next.