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Broward given until Friday to reverse mask mandate, Pinellas school boosts grade from F to A, and more

Around the state: Eleven more state school districts welcomed students Wednesday and several districts are already reporting positive coronavirus tests among students and employees, Broward school officials have been given until Friday by the state to reverse the school board’s decision to require students to wear face masks or risk financial consequences, a St. Petersburg elementary school improves its grade from the state from an F to an A, parents protest outside the Miami-Dade school headquarters in favor of mask mandates for students, four Marion County School District employees have died of coronavirus-related illnesses in the past two weeks, the Diocese of St. Petersburg has  reversed course and announced that face masks will be required for its 13,000 students, a Bay County school for students with physical and/or intellectual disabilities postpones its opening by almost a week because of positive COVID tests, and private school enrollment in Florida declined by 8.4 percent last year. Here are details about those stories and other from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A group of parents protested outside the school district offices Wednesday to demand that students be required to wear face masks when schools open Aug. 23. School officials are still monitoring coronavirus positivity rates and trends before making a mask decision next week. If the district follows the wishes of the protesters, it will be in violation of the state’s new emergency rule that states parents must be allowed to opt-out. State officials are threatening to withhold pay from superintendents and school board members whose district’s don’t comply. WTVJ. WPLG. WSVN.

Broward: School officials were given until 5 p.m. Friday to reverse their decision to require students to wear face masks when schools open Aug. 18 or risk financial consequences, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said. The mandate, approved at Tuesday’s school board meeting, requires everyone to wear masks in schools and on buses. The only students who can opt-out are those with medical conditions or individual education plans. District officials said they will hire outside legal counsel for advice. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. Nearly two years after a school resource officer slammed a 15-year-old girl to the floor at a school for children with mental, behavioral and learning challenges, he’s been fired by the sheriff’s department. Deputy Willard Miller was seen on a September 2019 surveillance video slamming the girl to the floor and placing his knee on her back at Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach. Sun Sentinel. WFOR. WTVJ.

Orange: The football program at Evans High School has been shut down after several players and an assistant coach tested positive for the coronavirus Aug. 2. Players are still under quarantine, and practice can’t continue until Aug. 16, which is four days before the first game was scheduled. It’s been canceled. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Palm Beach: Four teachers and a maintenance worker have tested positive for COVID-19, school officials said Wednesday. The district’s coronavirus dashboard showed that the teachers are from Eagles Landing Middle in Boca Raton, Howell L. Watkins Middle in Palm Beach Gardens, John I. Leonard High in Greenacres and Olympic Heights Community High in Boca Raton, but the work location of the maintenance employee was not specified. The dashboard is updated every day at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. The first day of the school year was Tuesday. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: One student and one employee tested positive for the coronavirus on the first day of school, district officials said. The student is enrolled at Twin Lakes Elementary while the employee is at Sandalwood High School. Florida Times-Union. WTLV. WJXT. School bus driver shortages led to students being picked up late, or in some cases not at all, school officials acknowledged. Superintendent Diana Greene said the district expected some problems, but not to the extent seen. Florida Times-Union. School officials said this week that Bobby Rivers, the assistant principal of the Arlington Middle School PRIDE program, has died. No cause of death was announced. WJXT.

Pinellas: St. Petersburg’s Lakewood Elementary School made the rare leap from an F grade from the state in 2019 to an A grade this year. Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement Wednesday during a visit to St. Petersburg, where he also passed out $1,000 bonus checks to teachers and principals. Superintendent Michael Grego assured DeSantis that the improvement is not temporary. “This school will remain a high-achieving school,” he said. “This is not a fluke.” Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. Officials from the Diocese of St. Petersburg have reversed course and announced that face masks will be required for the 13,000 students at the diocese’s 46 schools and early childhood centers in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Parents will be allowed to submit opt-out forms for their children. “We have to act in the manner that’s best going to serve our children and families,” said Superintendent Christopher Pastura. “In difficult times, we have to make difficult decisions.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: The face masks issue has been settled for now, with students having the option to wear them, but school officials are already predicting that the district’s quarantine rules will become the next area of contention among parents. While quarantines are generally shorter this year, there are certain circumstances when they can be longer.  Florida Today. A toddler wandering alone near a road in Canaveral Groves was scooped up by a school bus driver and two aides on Tuesday and held until police arrived. “This could have saved this small child’s life,” said district spokeswoman Katherine Allen. The boy was reunited with his mother, who had left the child in the care of a roommate while she took two other children to school. WKMG.

Volusia: Masks are optional for students this fall, but all employees, parents and visitors will be required to wear them in all district buildings where social distancing cannot be maintained. That policy will continue at least until Sept. 11. Classes start Aug. 16. “I will re-evaluate this decision as more information comes in,” aid Superintendent Scott Fritz, “and we will relax the requirement as soon as it is practical.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. A former teacher at New Smyrna Beach High School has pleaded no contest to a charge of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Megan Parris was arrested in 2019 following an investigation that found she had sex with a 16-year-old student. WESH.

Marion: Four district employees have died in the past two weeks from COVID-related illnesses, prompting school board member Eric Cummings to renew a call for mask mandates until the latest surge in the number of cases slows. The board voted this week to make masks optional. Kevin Clayton, a school bus driver, and Lynn Peterson, a 4th-grade teacher at Emerald Shores Elementary, died Wednesday. Marion Technical College instructor Jose I. Rivera died July 30, and Dunnellon Middle School custodian Gloria Robinson died July 29. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: Parents and educators are hopeful that a more “normal” school year, with fewer restrictions and less quarantining, will help students recover from learning losses that happened since the spring of 2020, when the pandemic set in and upended education. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Two positive tests for the coronavirus were reported by school officials on Wednesday, the first day of school. The cases were reported on the district’s COVID dashboard, which will be updated daily, according to assistant superintendent Alan Cox. Officials at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare also reported that three children have been hospitalized with COVID, and one is in the intensive care unit. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: In a letter responding to Education Commissioner Corcoran justifying the district’s decision to require students to wear face masks, school officials cited a “20-fold” increase in COVID cases in the past six weeks and rising hospitalizations among children. Superintendent Carlee Simon and board chair Leanetta McNealy also pointed out that withholding funds would hurt students. “Neither the Florida Department of Education nor the (State) Board of Education control the payroll distribution of school districts. Your action would, however, remove funding from our district’s general fund and would be a reduction of allocation.” News Service of Florida. Many Alachua private schools are also requiring students to wear face masks, at least at the beginning of the academic year. “The speculation is that the peak of this is going to be Aug. 23 and then once it kind of [shows] that the peak is returning back down, it just seems like it’s not as unmanageable at the hospital level, then we’ll probably start reevaluating,” said David Leino, headmaster at the Cornerstone Academy. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Margaret K. Lewis School officials have decided that because of a high number of students and staff being quarantined after testing positive for COVID, the opening will be delayed to Aug. 16. The school for students with physical and/or intellectual disabilities was supposed to open Tuesday. “It’s not what we want to do, but these children are children with serious needs and you can’t just walk a substitute in there and take care of these children,” said Superintendent Bill Husfelt. Panama City News Herald. The district resumes negotiations next week with the teachers union over bonuses for educators who weren’t eligible for the $1,000 checks being sent by the state this month to about 180,000 Florida educators. WFSU.

Walton: Masks are optional for district students this year, while social distancing will be observed when possible and cleaning protocols will continue, said Superintendent A. Russell Hughes. The district expects about 400 more students than it had last year, he said. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Monroe: Masks will be mandatory for students and employees when schools open today, but parents can sign opt-out forms for their children. District officials will revisit the policy at the Aug. 24 meeting and at every subsequent school board meeting. No visitors are allowed into schools for the first two weeks. Miami Herald. Key West Citizen. WPLG. WTVJ. Monroe County School District. Spectators will not be allowed to use the bleachers at Tommy Roberts Memorial Stadium at Key West High School because of safety concerns. For the next two seasons, school football games will be played at the recently renovated Backyard field behind the stadium. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Stetson University is requiring all employees to be vaccinated by Sept, 30, president Christopher Roellke announced Wednesday. Tampa Bay Times. The United Faculty of Florida is calling on Gov. DeSantis to require face masks on all state college and university campuses. Tallahassee Democrat.

Private school enrollment: Private school enrollment in Florida declined by 8.4 percent last year to end a string of steady growth since the 2010-2011 school year, according to a new report from the Florida Department of Education. The state counted 82 fewer schools, and private education’s share of the state’s total preK-12 enrollment dropped from 12.2 percent to 11.5 percent. Public school enrollment was also down last year, by 2.9 percent, while home education and Florida Virtual School both showed sharp gains. redefinED.

Around the nation: About 1,600 U.S. children were hospitalized with the coronavirus last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the highest ever in a seven-day period and an increase of 27 percent over last week. Florida doctors said they’re also seeing an increase in the number of children in hospitals. Politico. Associated Press. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he supports mandatory vaccinations for teachers and other school employees. Politico. California has become the first state to require vaccinations or weekly COVID testing for all teachers and other school employees. NPR.

Education podcasts: Nevada state Sen. Heidi Gansert talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about the growth of charter schools in her state, the expansion of the state’s tax credit scholarship in the last legislative session, and more. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: It’s refreshing to see local governments standing up to a governor who time and again has not only demonstrated a personal lack of interest in containing COVID-19, but a fierce determination to prevent anyone else from trying to save Floridians from sickness and death. Orlando Sentinel. Florida officials need to spend more time fighting the coronavirus instead of bullying school districts over mask mandates. Gainesville Sun. Since Gov. DeSantis seems to have such an aversion to modest public safety measures to protect against contracting COVID, would he and his family be willing to spend the first week or so of the school year embedded with a large public school system, 8 to 10 hours a day every day, mingling maskless with students, faculty and staff? Daniel Ruth, Tampa Bay Times. What must change in order for the adults in the room to say enough is enough? If it takes the voice of a kid, then I will scream it from the rooftops and I urge my fellow students to join me. We need students to return to school safely. We need to follow science. We need to wear masks to protect ourselves and others from transmitting the virus. Alana M. Nesser, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff