Broward, Alachua boards found in violation with mask mandates and face state sanctions, and more

Districts found in violation: The Florida Board of Education unanimously decided Tuesday to consider sanctions against two school districts that it said had defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order and a state rule by requiring students to wear face masks in schools, with opt-outs permitted only for medical reasons. The rule gave parents the right to opt-out for their children without providing a reason. Sanctions could include a loss of funding, the removal of school board members and superintendents or withholding their salaries, increased accountability and more. Recommendations for sanctions will be made after further investigation by the state. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran had recommended that sanctions be imposed against the Broward and Alachua school boards, saying he had found “probable cause” they violated the state rule. “Every school board member and every school superintendent have a duty to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not,” he said. Biden administration officials have said the penalized districts could use federal relief funds to replace any payments withheld by the state. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. WCJB. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Forbes. Florida Politics. WPLG. WFSU.

Around the state: Broward school board members approve a face mask mandate and Alachua school board members extended theirs for another eight weeks, Broward’s school board has approved $250 bonuses for every employee who gets vaccinated before Oct. 20, coronavirus cases among Orange County students and employees more than doubled from Friday to Monday, a Duval teacher who was pulled from her classroom for refusing to take down a Black Lives Matter flag will be paid $300,000 in a lawsuit settlement, a bill is filed to make Lee County’s school superintendent an elected position, an Osceola County deputy who slammed a student to the ground will not be charged, the state has filed its motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its mask order, and the Jefferson County School Board has gotten the conditional approval of the state to retake control of the district from a charter school company. Here are details about those stories and other from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: More than 15,000 district teachers are finally starting to receive $100 gift cards promised to them a year ago for setting up an online learning platform before the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. K12 Inc. offered the cards to any of the district’s 19,200 teachers. When 15,761 met the deadline, the company sent the money to an educational foundation set up by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Earlier this summer, the district’s inspector general ruled that the payment, which was solicited by Carvalho, did not commit an ethics violation, though he urged the foundation to return the money. The foundation declined, and the gift cards began arriving Aug. 9. Miami Herald.

Broward: School board members voted to require students to wear face masks, with opt-outs only for medical reasons, at their meeting Tuesday night despite the threat of sanctions from the state. Classes begin today. The board also approved spending $5.5 million to classroom equipment so students who contract the virus or have to be quarantined can attend school remotely. WSVN. Bonuses of $250 will be paid to every district employee who gets vaccinated, the school board decided. The bonus will be available to any employee who can prove his or her vaccination status by Oct. 20. “If could do something to motivate and encourage people to be vaccinated, it’s so important that people be vaccinated,” said board chair Rosalind Osgood. “There’s a lot of hesitancy, and this is also a way to show some values to employees.” If all 27,989 employees participate, the cost would be $7.5 million. Federal relief funds will be used. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: More than 8,700 students and employees are now in quarantine or isolation because of exposure to COVID-19, which is up from 3,000 as of last Thursday. About 8,400 of them are students. The board meets today in an emergency session to discuss what measures it might take to contain the virus. Masks are mandatory for students but opt-outs are allowed, and 14,000 have chosen to do that. WTVT. WUSF. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS.

Orange: One school day after the district reported its most coronavirus cases in a single day, the record was shattered again. Monday, 238 students were diagnosed with the coronavirus, more than twice the 97 counted Friday. Fifty-three new cases were counted among employees, and 159 more students were asked to stay at home because of exposure. Since Aug. 2, the district has reported 903 coronavirus cases and 553 quarantines. School board members meet in a work session Thursday to discuss the district’s safety protocols. Orlando Sentinel.

Duval: The high school teacher who was removed from her classroom for refusing to take down a Black Lives Matter flag in March will receive $300,000 from the school board as part of her termination settlement. Amy Donofrio, who taught history at Riverside High School in Jacksonville, will get $240,000 and her lawyers $60,000  to settle the lawsuit she filed. She, in turn, agreed that she cannot apply for employment with the district. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. School board members considered tightening face masks rules at their Tuesday meeting, but decided instead to keep the current mask-optional policy until it expires Nov. 3. WJCT. The number of school district COVID cases jumped from 82 on Friday to 222 on Monday, district officials reported. More than half are students, and 134 of the cases were reported in elementary schools. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Wayne Green, the Duval County School District’s chief of schools, is leaving to take a job as deputy superintendent with the Polk district. The Polk County School Board is expected to approve the appointment next week. Florida Times-Union.

Lee: A proposal to require face masks for students with no option to opt-out was defeated by the school board on Tuesday. That leaves the current policy, which requires students to wear face masks in school but allows opt-outs for any reason, in place. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. WBBH. A state legislator is proposing a bill for the 2022 session that would ask voters to make the school superintendent’s job an elected one. Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, said, “What this local bill does is it gives those parents and voters in Lee County the choice.” If approved by the Legislature and signed into law, it would go on the November 2022 countywide ballot. If voters approve it, a superintendent would be elected in 2024. Florida Politics. School officials have started to develop a system to track the number of coronavirus cases in schools. Spokesman Rob Spicker said it will take a couple of weeks to get it up and running. The system will record and display the number of cases by day and show cumulative totals dating back to the first day of school. It will also break down the cases into students and employees. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: A group of parents in the PASCO Coalition protested the district’s practice of sharing information about students with the sheriff’s office, and are demanding changes. The sheriff has used that data to compile a list of students it considers possible future criminals. Failing a class or being a survivor of abuse are among the student experiences that can get them added to the list. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: More than 3,000 students were sent into quarantine between Friday and Monday, according to district officials. Since the district began reporting cases Aug. 2, 1,077 positive tests have been reported among students and employees. Eighty-seven schools of the district’s facilities have been affected by a case of COVID. Two schools have had more than 200 quarantines, eight have had more than 100 and 20 schools had 50 or more. No schools or classrooms have been closed, said spokesman Russell Bruhn.  Florida Today.

Osceola: The deputy who slammed a 16-year-old student to the ground while trying to break up a fight at Liberty High School in January will not be charged, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell said Tuesday. She said deputy Ethan Fournier’s “controlled takedown” of the girl was part of his training and “did not violate any laws in the State of Florida.” Sheriff Marcos López said his department will conduct an internal investigation. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. School board members have approved a mandatory face mask policy for elementary, middle and K-8 schools that allows students to opt-out. It will be in effect for 30 days and begin Monday. Masks remain optional for high school students. WKMG. WFTV.

Manatee: Another 132 cases of the coronavirus were reported Monday in the district’s schools., nearly doubling Friday’s total. Thirty-six schools or district buildings were affected by the cases, with 18 cases reported at Miller Elementary School. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: On the first day of school Monday, 155 students and employees were absent because they tested positive for the coronavirus, according to district officials. Ninety-five of them were students. Fifty teachers also called in sick. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: Coronavirus cases and quarantines have strained the ability of district employees to provide essential services, Superintendent Brennan Asplen told the school board on Tuesday. “At what point do we have to just shut down the system?” Asplen asked. “We have to be able to operate the school, and we have to have people to do that.” Since schools reopened Aug. 10, more than 500 students and 130 employees have contracted COVID, and more than 500 have been quarantined. An emergency meeting of the school board will be held Friday to reconsider the face mask policy. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. WUSF. WFLA. WWSB.

Clay: Eighty students and 29 employees tested positive for the coronavirus during the first week of school, district officials said Tuesday. WJXT.

Alachua: School board members voted Tuesday to continue the district’s face mask policy for another eight weeks. The vote was 4-0, and was taken on the same day that the state Board of Education decided to consider sanctions against the district because its policy requires students to wear face masks and allows opt-outs only for medical reasons. “This is life or death right here. That’s how I see this rule. And, you know, if it calls for losing my salary … losing my job, I would take that over saving the life of a child, or another employee,” said board member Tina Certain. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. WGFL.

Flagler: A proposal to restore a face mask mandate for students, with an opt-out provision, failed in a 3-2 vote of the school board on Tuesday. The proposal was pushed by Colleen Conklin and supported by Cheryl Massaro, but opposed by chair Trevor Tucker, Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright. Flagler Live.

Nassau: Students will be required to wear face masks in schools unless their parents sign an opt-out form, school board members decided Tuesday. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Bradford: Visitors who are considered “nonessential” won’t be allowed in district schools until further notice, school officials announced Tuesday.. WCJB.

Jefferson: The Florida Department of Education has given conditional approval for the Jefferson County School School to retake control of the school district. In 2017, after a decade of poor student performance, the operation of the school district was turned over to Somerset Academy Inc., a charter school company. State officials said for the turnover to be completed, the school board must develop a vision plan, adopt a budget and more. Jefferson County Journal.

Colleges and universities: Florida Gulf Coast University is offering $100 to students who show proof that they’ve been vaccinated, and those students also will be eligible for other prizes in random drawings. WBBH.

State files motion: The state of Florida has filed its motion asking a Leon County circuit judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the governor’s executive order that was intended to prohibit school districts from imposing face mask mandates on students. “Florida’s governor and Legislature have determined that it is in the best interests of the state to empower Florida parents with the right to manage the health-care of their children. This includes the freedom to choose whether they must be masked in public schools,” the motion argued. The state contends the decision is a political one and shouldn’t be made by the courts. A group of parents argue that the order is unconstitutional because it usurps the authority of local school boards and prevents schools from providing a safe and secure educational environment. Judge John Cooper said he will issue a ruling Thursday. If he denies the state’s motion, a trial will begin Monday, Aug. 23. News Service of Florida. WKMG. Florida Phoenix.

Hearings open in Parkland case: Pretrial hearings in the trial of the accused Parkland school shooter will be open to the media and the public, Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled Tuesday. Lawyers for Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 students and employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and wounding 17 others, argued that opening the hearings would jeopardize his right to a fair trial. Associated Press.

State tax revenues up: Florida will have an extra $8.6 billion to use in putting together an election-year budget, according to the latest projections from the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research. About $2.6 billion of that is in higher projected general tax revenue collections, and $6 billion is in unspent federal stimulus funds. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said it’s “always good to have positive news,” but he cautioned that the numbers could change because of the Delta variant of the coronavirus and unemployment levels. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Opinions on schools: The Osceola County School District has a corporate culture so counterproductive to effective administration that it is interfering with the delivery of education. Osceola school board member Jon Arguello, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff