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DeSantis concedes he can’t withhold pay over mask defiance, partisan school board races, and more

DeSantis softens threat: The administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged Thursday that it has no authority to withhold the pay of superintendents and school board members of districts that are mandating face masks for students, as it has threatened to do. Instead, said spokeswoman Christina Pushaw, those local officials should voluntarily withhold their own salaries if the state Board of Education decides to hold back funds “in an amount equal to the salaries of the superintendent and all the members of the school board” from districts. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. One of two lawsuits filed against the state over the governor’s executive order intended to ban mask mandates in schools will get a hearing today in a Leon County courtroom. The suit was filed by parents who allege the order violates the state constitution by not providing safe schools and by usurping the authority of local school boards. USA Today Florida Network.

Partisan board elections: Local school board elections have been nonpartisan in Florida since 2000, but a joint resolution bill has been filed for the 2022 legislative session to ask voters to end that. State Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, is proposing a constitutional amendment to have school board candidates run with party affiliations starting in 2024. If HJR 35 is approved by the Legislature, it would go before voters on the November 2022 ballot. There it would then have to be approved by 60 percent of voters to be added to the state constitution, and would go into effect for the 2024 elections. In 1998, 64 percent of voters approved an amendment that created nonpartisan board elections and made several other changes to the electoral process. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Four educators in Broward County die of complications from the coronavirus in a 24-hour period this week, 440 Palm Beach County students are sent into quarantine after just two days of school and other state districts are also reporting cases and quarantines, a Polk County charter school is temporarily requiring students to wear face masks, enrollment is up by 1,400 in Bay County, Hillsborough County School Board members reject a proposal to adopt a policy mirroring the state’s rules on teaching about racial issues, and Florida is ranked fifth in the nation for equitability of district education funding. Here are details about those stories and other from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Three teachers and an assistant died of complications of the coronavirus this week within a 24-hour period, the president of the teachers union announced Thursday. Anna Fusco said all were in their 40s or 50s and that at least one had a pre-existing condition. Three of the four had not been vaccinated. “It’s a very sad opening of school,” she said. Wednesday is the first day of school in the district. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: School board members rejected a proposal to adopt a policy requiring the district to mirror the state’s new rules governing the teaching of racial issues in schools. District 4 board member Melissa Snively said her constituents wanted her to make the proposal. After a negative reaction from the other six board members, she withdrew the idea and conceded that it was unnecessary because of the state rules. Tampa Bay Times. Hundreds of coronavirus cases have been reported over the past month by Tampa Bay schools. In Hillsborough, 71 students and 198 employees have tested positive. In Pinellas, it’s four students and 23 employees; in Pasco, 85 students and 25 employees; and in Citrus, 25 students and six workers. WFLA.

Orange: COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of a second high school football game. Edgewater High’s game Aug. 20 against Seminole was canceled Thursday after several coronavirus cases were reported, though not confirmed. Earlier this week, the Evans-Jones game also set for Aug. 20 was canceled because a number of Evans players Evans are under quarantine. WKMG. WOFL.

Palm Beach: Just two days into the new school year, 440 district students have been asked to quarantine because they were exposed to someone with the coronavirus. The district has reported 51 confirmed cases of the virus, with 31 of them being students. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC. Almost 6,400 of the district’s 169,000 students have requested to opt-out of the requirement to wear face masks in schools. That’s a rate of about 4 percent, although some schools in the Jupiter area are reporting opt-out rates of 20 percent or higher. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: More than 13,000 students were reported absent on the first day of school Tuesday, according to district records. That’s an increase of 34 percent over the first day in 2020. District enrollment is just over 130,000. WJXT. Parents of some students at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville are suing the school, claiming it has “taken it upon themselves to usurp the fundamental rights of the parent to make medical and healthcare-related decisions that the parent determines that are in the best interests of the minor child.” WJAX. WTLV.

Polk: Students and employees at the South McKeel Academy charter elementary school in Lakeland have been ordered to wear face masks because of an increase in coronavirus infections. Starting today, masks must be worn when “indoors, regardless of vaccination status,” according to a statement from the school. Director Alan Black called it a “two-week mandate impacting one campus. Not a long term, systemwide mandate.” Lakeland Ledger.

Osceola: District officials said some students are being counseled through anxiety issues triggered by a return to classrooms. “We are expecting some nerves … some adjustment to being around people again, being in the classroom, some anxiety,” said Toni Rapinesi, supervisor of social services for the district. Social workers, psychologists and school counselors are available to help students cope and adjust, she said. WKMG.

Manatee: More than 100 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among students and employees in the first three days of school. Superintendent Cynthia Saunders ordered employees to “institute all protocols we had in place last year, except the mandated mask.” Some of the protocols include temperature checks of employees and visitors and random checks of students, a daily COVID-19 questionnaire for employees, and plastic dividers in elementary schools and cafeterias. “I need this up and going quickly,” Saunders said in an email sent Thursday to employees and school board members. “Should have all in place by Monday, if not sooner.” Bradenton Herald. WTSP. WWSB.

St. Johns: Two new schools are expected to be ready when classrooms reopen for students Monday. Tocoi Creek High School opens in the northwest part of the county for students in grades 9-11. The 12th grade will be added next year, taking the planned capacity to about 2,100 students. Pine Island Academy, a K-8 school, is in the northeast part of the county and can accommodate up to 1,500 students. St. Augustine Record.

St. Lucie: The city of Fort Pierce has announced plans to turn the old Means Court Elementary School in Lincoln Park, which was once the only county school for black students, into a community hub offering programs to help nearby residents start businesses, buy homes, prepare for a career and get financial advice. TCPalm.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Escambia school officials reported that 45 students and 44 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus in the two days since schools opened. Including quarantines, 135 students and 46 employees are out of school. Santa Rosa schools, which have been open three days, reported 64 students have tested positive and 94 have been exposed. The district is not reporting employee cases. WEAR.

Leon: Twenty-two students and employees have tested positive for the coronavirus since schools opened Wednesday, according to district officials. A majority were students. WTXL.

Alachua: Some families in Alachua, which is requiring students to wear face masks, claim they’re victims of “COVID harassment” and have filed for state Hope Scholarships so their children can attend private schools. Some of those schools report that they have no openings. Florida Phoenix. WCJB. A sister and brother were sent home from their Alachua schools this week because they weren’t wearing masks and refused to when offered face coverings by school officials. Their father said he sent in an opt-out form, but instead of including a note from a health professional as required by the district he attached a copy of the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights. “This is a power grab by the school district, when they are the only school district in the entire state refusing to listen to governmental orders,” said James Tomchak. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Enrollment is up by about 1,400 students over last year, school officials said this week, and classrooms are filling up because there’s a shortage of teachers. “Each of our schools is being very creative,” said personnel executive director Shirley Byas. “Other personnel on campus are filling in until they’re able to fill those vacancies, the district office is also assisting at schools that have shortages right now.” WJHG.

Flagler: An investigation into the activities by former Belle Terre Elementary School principal Terence Culver has found a “clear lack of standard accounting practices” but no evidence of criminal activity. The FDLE inquiry began in 2019 after Culver retired when a complaint was filed accusing him of nepotism, misuse of funds, sexual harassment and more. Flagler Live.

Glades: Fourteen students have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday, school officials announced. Another 12 have been placed under quarantine. Schools opened Tuesday. WBBH.

Jefferson: Jackie Pons, the former superintendent of the Leon County School District, has been hired as the Jefferson Somerset transition principal. Pons will share the job with Somerset principal Cory Oliver, and is expected to fill the job permanently after the district takes back control of the schools from the Somerset Charter School District next year. Jefferson County Journal.

Colleges and universities: Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson said he expects all students to wear masks inside campus buildings, and he’s “strongly encouraging” all students to get vaccinated. WCTV. University of North Florida’s trustees have appointed Pamela Chally as interim president. Chally has been with the university 28 years, most recently serving as the interim provost. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Palm Beach State College of West Palm Beach has received a grant of almost $1.9 million to resume operations, help students and improve workforce development. WPTV. A student and football player at the private ASA College in Miami Gardens was shot and killed Tuesday during an argument at the hotel where the college’s athletes are housed. One of his teammates, 19-year-old Jeremiah Trevon Harris, has been arrested and accused of second-degree murder and the attempted second-degree murder of two other men who were wounded. WTVJ. A former accounting manager at the University of South Florida has pleaded guilty to embezzling $12.8 million from the school between 2014 and 2019. Ralph Puglisi could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. WFLA. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

Kids and COVID: An expert at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville says the best way to protect young students who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated is to wear masks and establish a “cocoon” of vaccinated people around them. Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Wolfson and UF Health Jacksonville, said students over the age of 12 are best shielded by wearing masks, getting vaccinated and getting the people closest to them vaccinated. Florida Times-Union.

Enrollment decline: A new study by Stanford University researchers suggests that about 300,000 of the 1.1 million students who didn’t attend K-12 public schools nationally last year made the decision because their assigned school did not offer in-person learning. redefinED.

Education equity: Florida is ranked fifth in the nation in terms of equitability of district education funding based on two metrics: average household income and expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools per pupil. The rankings were published by the personal finance website WalletHub. redefinED.

Around the nation: The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, has announced it supports mandatory vaccinations for all U.S. school employees. But the nation’s second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, stopped short of embracing mandatory vaccinations, instead urging its workers to negotiate potential mandates with school officials. Politico. Students who don’t get vaccinated at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon could be fined $750 to help cover safety expenses, school officials said. Students who test positive for COVID and are unable to leave will be fined $250. WCTV.

Opinions on schools: When parents send their children to school, they have every right to presume that their kids will be well cared for. Schools must be permitted to educate and protect the children entrusted to their care. Rabbi Michael Sternfield, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff