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CDC says masks should be worn in schools while governor and others push back, rezonings and more

Masks on, CDC recommends: Students, employees and visitors should wear face masks in schools this fall even if they have been fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday in reversing guidance it issued just two weeks ago. The surge in coronavirus cases, especially of the highly contagious Delta variant, prompted the change. The CDC also recommended that in areas hardest-hit by the latest outbreaks, such as Florida, masks should be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status. “This is not a decision we at CDC have made lightly,” said the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “This weighs heavily on me.” The CDC’s decision drew a quick rebuke from the office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “It isn’t based in science. There is no indication that areas with mask mandates have performed any better than areas without mask mandates. In fact, this policy could actually backfire,” said DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. New York Times. Politico. NPR. CNN. Fox News. USA Today. WPEC. Education Week. Chalkbeat. Even as health professionals and others urged Florida to consider requiring masks in schools, DeSantis was holding a closed-door roundtable Monday with his own medical advisers, a parent of a charter school student and a private school student who had to wear a mask in school last year but no one from public schools, to discuss why students should be unmasked. “Our confidence in some of the pediatric leadership and some of the medical leadership has been shattered by how these people have reacted to this pandemic by not following data, ignoring countervailing evidence, sticking to their script, regardless of the outcomes, ignoring harms, particularly for young people and being willing and even delighting and imposing really unspeakable burdens on the most defenseless and least dangerous segment of our society in terms of this, the kids,” DeSantis said during the meeting. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. USA Today Florida Network. WTXL. Florida Politics. WPTV.

Around the state: School districts around the state debated face mask policy at Tuesday board meetings but so far no school board has voted to require face masks in schools next year, Hillsborough school board members agreed to spend up to $475,000 for a consultant to help them redraw school attendance boundaries, several racially charged incidents have cost a Palm Beach County high school principal her job, 11 charter schools in Osceola County are switching from school resource officers to school guardians, St. Johns County schools have a proposed new student dress code, and the State Board of Governors and university presidents are encouraging students to be vaccinated before returning for the fall semester. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district is willing to reconsider its decision to make face masks optional when schools start. “In light of the recent release of updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we believe it is prudent to take this conversation back to our task force of medical and public health experts,” he said. “This is an important decision that cannot be rushed and must continue to be evaluated based on the scientific information available.” Schools open Aug. 23. WTVJ.

Broward: A scheduled school board meeting to discuss the issue of face masks in schools this fall was canceled Tuesday when about 20 protesters gathered outside the board room and refused to put on masks even when asked to do so by security. When it became clear the protesters would not comply, the meeting was canceled because speakers at board meetings must wear masks, said district spokeswoman Kathy Koch. She said the issue would instead be discussed at today’s regularly scheduled board meeting, where at least two board members said they are willing to consider making masks mandatory in schools. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. WPLG.

Hillsborough: School board members have tentatively agreed to spend up to $475,000 to a consultant to help the district redraw school boundaries. Some suburban schools are overflowing while others in the urban areas are half-empty, and at least 40 schools are operating at less than two-thirds capacity. Board members defended the hiring of a consultant by arguing that any one of many recommendations he or she is likely to make could save the district millions,  and relying on experts could shield the district against lawsuits from parents unhappy with rezoning. Tampa Bay Times. Board members and district officials got an earful about masks at Tuesday’s meeting. Comments ranged from disbelief that the district is not following CDC recommendations to those who said masks don’t work and cause their children psychological harm. Superintendent Addison Davis said as of right now, wearing masks will remain voluntary. The district will continue to publish its COVID-19 dashboard, do contact tracing and use quarantines. He said he hoped the reopening plan would be finished and released to the public later this week. Schools open Aug. 10 . Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. Four schools are getting new principals: James P. Harris at Alonso High, Kimberly Cook at Bing Elementary, Wallace Selph at Robles Elementary, and Skylaar Guyar at West Shore Elementary. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Several school board members said Tuesday they are willing to reconsider their decision to make face masks optional after some parents pleaded with them to make the change to protect their children. But others were hesitant. “We live in a country where you have the right to choose,” said board member Vicki-Elaine Felder. Rules adopted July 14 making masks optional give Superintendent Barbara Jenkins the authority to require masks if the CDC recommends doing so or other “government entities” require it. But she said she would only issue such an order if four or more school board members ask her to. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

Palm Beach: Several racially charged incidents near the end of the academic year at Atlantic High School have cost principal Tara Dellegrotti her job. She was accused of minimizing the incidents and then doing too little to respond to them, and some students said there was a “culture of systemic and blatant racism on campus.” District officials announced in June that Dellegrotti would not be back at Atlantic High, and subsequently terminated her contract. Two school board members said the punishment was excessive, and are trying to block her dismissal. Palm Beach Post. A former history teacher at Congress Middle School in Boynton Beach has been sentenced to a year in prison for lewd or lascivious conduct by an authority figure of a school. Eric Lavon Wakeley, 37, admitted sending a sexually suggestive message to a 14-year-old student in 2015. She also said they had sex in his car off campus. The Florida Department of Education has revoked Wakeley’s teaching license and he’s permanently ineligible to reapply. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: An online petition has been started by mask mandate advocates to convince the school district to change its policy for the coming school year. The school board has made masks optional, but upgraded that recommendation last week to “strongly” recommending students and employees wear them. WTLV.

Pinellas: Face masks continue to be a flashpoint, with some parents saying at Tuesday’s school board meeting that they would pull their children from schools if they are forced to wear them, and campaign against board members who vote to make masks mandatory. Tampa Bay Times. The school board unanimously approved an agreement with 13 law enforcement agencies that supply resource officers for schools. Some members of the community were critical of the agreement, saying it gives police too much authority. School district police chief Luke Williams said while the contract isn’t perfect, “We’re not in the schools to take your children to jail. There’s nothing nefarious about the agreement, nothing nefarious about what we’re trying to do.” Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Lee: Passionate arguments for and against face mask mandates were made at Tuesday’s school board meeting, but board members said they will keep the mask-optional policy and continue to monitor local conditions. WFTX.

Osceola: Eleven charter schools are switching from having sworn school resource officers to school guardians. Cost was the deciding factor, with the schools paying twice as much for law enforcement officers. WESH.

Volusia: Local health officials have recommended that the school board follow the latest CDC guidance and require face masks when schools reopen in August. The current policy makes masks optional, and the board made no changes. Spectrum News 13.

Manatee: Decisions on coronavirus safety protocols are expected to be voted on Friday by the school board. A survey showed that parents are split on whether face masks should be optional, with about half saying they’ll mask their children. The board is considering whether to separate masked and unmasked elementary students, since children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccinations. WTVT. WFTS. A summer camp at Braden River Elementary School has been shut down for two days after a coronavirus case was reported. It’s expected to reopen today. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: School board members said Tuesday that they plan to stick with their decision to make face masks optional for the school year that begins next month. District policy encourages unvaccinated students to wear masks on school buses, and social distancing and other safety protocols will be in place. WINK.

St. Johns: School officials submitted a draft of a new district dress code for school board members to review at Tuesday’s meeting. Among the rules: no clothing, piercings or accessories that show profanity, violence, sexually suggestive phrases or symbols of tobacco, drugs or alcohol; no pajamas or lingerie; and no hats or sunglasses. It also requires clothing to cover areas from one armpit to the other, and extend at least to mid-thigh. Tops must have shoulder straps and cover the midriff. Paul Abbatinozzi, senior director for school services, said he’d like to have a final code approved by early August. WJXT. WJAX.

St. Lucie: Masks became the main topic at the school board’s budget meeting Tuesday, with many parents pleading for board members to protect students by requiring masks in schools while others threatened to pull their children out of school if masks were mandated. The mask issue was not on the agenda and was not otherwise addressed. The district’s policy is that masks are optional for the next school year. WPTV.

Escambia: New starting times for 44 county schools because of a shortage of school bus drivers have drawn concern from parents who now have to rearrange their schedules, and those of their children. For Bebe Ahmadzai, the 35-minute earlier starting time at Scenic Heights Elementary School means she’ll have to find a new preschool for her 4-year-old so she can get her 8-year-old to school on time. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: After hearing three hours of complaints about the school board’s decision to make face masks optional for the coming school year, board members decided to stick with their decision. “If we make masks mandatory, we are shutting down one group’s options, and that is not what we are about in Leon County,” said board member Alva Striplin. Some speakers also criticized the quarantine policy, which they said discriminates against unvaccinated students and employees. Unvaccinated students who are exposed to the coronavirus must quarantine for 10 days, or seven if they test negative. Vaccinated students won’t be quarantined or tested. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: Masks will be optional this school year for students and employees, physical distancing will be observed whenever possible and cleaning and sanitizing protocols remain in place, Superintendent Bill Husfelt said in a letter to parents. He added that students and staff will be quarantined according to guidance from state health officials, and that the district will do its best to minimize classroom time lost due to quarantines. WJHG. WMBB. The school board has tentatively approved a drop in the property tax millage rate from 5.968 to 5.847. “(The millage rate) has gone down consistently year to year and that’s because your property values have gone up so you don’t have to levy as much millage to generate the same amount of dollars,” said chief financial officer Jim Lloyd. The budget and the millage rate will get a final school board vote in September. Panama City News Herald. Ground has been broken for the new fine arts center at Bay High School. Construction is expected to take 18 months. WMBB.

Hernando: The Brooksville Engineering Science and Technology Academy charter middle school is in financial trouble because of declining enrollment, uncollectible debt and improper spending, according to an annual review. School board members said they don’t want to see the school closed, and expressed confidence in the ability of new acting principal and board chair Patricia Laird. Hernando Sun.

Flagler: The school district will begin offering rapid-results coronavirus tests to students after schools open Aug. 10. The tests will be given by health officials at the health department offices and the county airport. Flagler Live.

Sumter: Superintendent Rick Shirley said Tuesday that the surge in coronavirus cases could force the district to make face masks mandatory when schools reopen Aug. 10. He said a decision would be based on information from the CDC, the health department and the Florida Department of Education. Villages-News.

Columbia: The county sheriff’s office’s has been honored as the agency of the year by the Florida Association of School Resource officers for its school resource officers program. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: College students are being urged to get vaccinated before returning to campuses this fall. Doing so will protect all students and prevent disruptions, school presidents and the Florida Board of Governors wrote in a letter to students. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. Nova Southeastern University in Davie announced Tuesday that employees must be vaccinated by Sept. 20 or risk losing their jobs. Sun Sentinel. The University of West Florida (UWF) is joining Florida A&M University in offering prizes and cash incentives to be vaccinated. WEAR. UWF also said its 9,000 students can now apply for grants from the university’s $11.6 million federal coronavirus relief fund. The money can be used for tuition, rent, food or anything else. Pensacola News Journal.

Around the nation: The pandemic widened achievement gaps and pushed student test scores lower, according to a new study by the NWEA. Black, Latino and low-income students were hit the hardest, according to the findings. Chalkbeat. Children who attend schools with high suspension rates and strict discipline policies are more likely to be arrested and jailed as adults, according to a study by researchers from Boston University, the University of Colorado Boulder and Harvard University. “Our findings show that early censure of school misbehavior causes increases in adult crime – that there is, in fact, a school-to-prison pipeline,” the researchers wrote. “Any effort to maintain safe and orderly school climates must take into account the clear and negative consequences of exclusionary discipline practices for young students, and especially young students of color, which last well into adulthood.” Education Next. U.S. News & World Report.

Education podcasts: Marie Echevarria, a public school teacher and single mom in Orlando who is sending her son to a Catholic school, talks about her decision, the district’s reaction to it, and how the recent change in state law on state scholarships will benefit her and other Florida families. redefinED.

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BY NextSteps staff