Duval joins districts defying mask order, masks issue now in court, transgender ruling review, and more

Masks in the courts: Arguments began Monday in the trial challenging the constitutionality of the state’s mask order. Attorneys for the state pointed to research that they said shows masks do little to prevent community spread of COVID and that children are at a low risk to catch and spread the disease. Attorneys for the parents who brought the suit contended that research was done before the Delta variant become the dominant strain, and that they’re simply asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow local school boards to decide what’s best in their communities. The trial continues in Tallahassee through Thursday, when the judge is expected to make a decision. USA Today Network. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Florida Phoenix. WFSU. Florida Politics. Capitol News Service. A hearing was also held Monday in a second suit in a Miami court, where the parents of two students with disabilities allege that the state’s mask order puts their vulnerable children at a greater risk of becoming infected with COVID. Florida Phoenix.

Transgender decision review: The full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated an earlier ruling by a panel of three of its judges that concluded the St. Johns County School Board violated the rights of a transgender student in 2017 by denying him access to boys bathrooms. The full court will now rehear the case of Drew Adams, a transgender male who attended Nease High School. In the appeal of the 2-1 ruling July 14, attorneys for the school board contended that the panel ignored the broader issue of “whether a definition of sex founded in the real and enduring biological differences between boys and girls substantially advances the important privacy interests of students to use the bathroom free from members of the opposite biological sex.” News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A 5th-grade teacher in Polk County has died of complications from the coronavirus, a 3rd-grader in Leon County has died although the district is not confirming it’s COVID-related, Palm Beach school officials aren’t immediately enforcing the face mask mandate, 22 teachers at one elementary school in Lee are out of the classroom because of COVID-19, the entire 6th-grade class at a Lake County school has been put into isolation and will learn remotely until Sept. 7, a state legislator from Brevard County was sanctioned by Facebook after his post on face masks last month included the personal cell phone number of a school board member, Sarasota’s school superintendent said enforcing the new face mask mandate is “almost impossible,” and Day 1 of classes in Miami-Dade went well with students wearing masks and no protests from parents. Here are details about those stories and other from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Day 1 of the district’s school year went well, with masks in place and no parents complaining about that. “People are happy to be back in school after 18 months of isolation,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “I am thrilled that the sleeping giant is fully awake, and we have 350,000 kids back in school as we speak. … On the very first minutes of elementary school, middle and senior high, I saw firsthand teaching and learning taking place in an orderly fashion with no reported disputes or confrontations specific to our protocols. It turns out that these have been controversies led by adults that have had no impact on the school environment or learning.” The district will re-evaluate the mandatory face masks policy weekly. Miami Herald. WPLG. A district school bus mistakenly dropped a 3-year-old nonverbal autistic girl at the wrong house, more than a mile from her home. The people in that house called police and the girl was reunited with her family an hour later. District officials said the driver faces disciplinary action “up to and including dismissal.” WSVN.

Orange: School board members are expected to discuss the district’s face mask policy at today’s meeting. Students are required to wear face masks but parents may opt them out for any reason. There’s support for making the opt-outs for medical reasons only, but a majority of the board also are considering following the current rule but taking the state to court over the issue. Orlando Sentinel. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 make up about 20 percent of the new COVID cases in the county, according to officials from the health department. “This is a change from the previous picture of what we had seen,” said Alvina Chu, an epidemiologist with the department. “The 25 to 44 (age range) remains very high, but within the last few days, the largest age group that contributes to the newest cases is the 5- to 14-year-olds.” WKMG. WESH.

Palm Beach: District officials are delaying the enforcement of the new mandatory face mask policy, saying they won’t penalize students not wearing masks because their priority right now is educating parents. Dozens of parents gathered Monday at district headquarters to protest the mandate that allows opt-outs only for medical reasons. More than 5,000 students have been sent into quarantine because of exposure to the coronavirus and 1,346 students have tested positive since schools opened, school officials reported. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. Real-time online learning for quarantined students ended last year for the district. But some teachers are continuing the practice, unofficially and in a limited way, to try to keep students from falling further behind. “We were trying to come up with some ways we could try to not leave quarantined students behind,” said Wellington High School debate teacher Paul Gaba. “If we lose them now, we’ll never get them back. It’s early in the year.” The connections let students listen in, and it’s a gesture that school leaders are encouraging while not requiring. “We’re not trying to bring back the full dual-teaching like we had last year, but we feel like it would be a nice supplemental thing,” said Superintendent Michael Burke. “We’re just going to kind of appeal to the teachers’ generosity, and I do think a lot of teachers will want to help the kids.” Union officials aren’t objecting as long as the practice isn’t mandatory. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: School board members voted 5-2 on Monday to make face masks mandatory for students in schools, with opt-outs permitted only with a note from a doctor. The decision was “two weeks too late,” Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at UF Health Jacksonville and at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, said at the meeting. Board member Darryl Willie, who had requested the meeting, said, “Every day, our students and employees are becoming sick with a life-threatening virus.” The new policy is in effect for 90 days. Duval joins Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Alachua and Leon counties in defying the governor’s mask order that parents be allowed to opt-out for any reason. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJAX. WCJT. WTLV. Teachers and some parents say ongoing school ventilation problems are pushing them to raise money, either their own or through an online campaign, to purchase air purifiers for classrooms. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Kelly Peterson, a 5th-grade teacher at Lake Shipp Elementary School in Winter Haven, died Monday of complications from the coronavirus. She was 41, and had been advised by her doctors to not get vaccinated because she had a weakened immune system. She taught virtually last year. Grief counselors will be available at the school for students and employees. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board members are not expected to follow the lead of other large Florida districts and require students to wear face masks with only medical excuses accepted for opting-out. The issue is not on the agenda for today’s board meeting, and board chairwoman Carol Cook said, “We don’t pick and choose when we follow the law.” During the first week of school, 629 positive cases of COVID were reported, 461 of them students and 168 employees. WTSP. St. Pete Catalyst. WUSF.

Lee: Twenty-two teachers at Pelican Elementary School in Cape Coral are out of school after testing positive for the coronavirus or being exposed to someone who has. That’s more than a third of the school’s teachers. Parents wonder if there will be enough teachers to keep the school open, but district officials said they are sending help to the school. WINK.

Brevard: A state legislator from Brevard was sanctioned by Facebook after his post on face masks last month included the personal cell phone number, publicly available on the Internet, of Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, who wants a mask requirement for K-12 students. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who opposes mandatory masks for students, was suspended from posting for 24 hours after Jenkins made a complaint to the state attorney that the post was made as an incitement to harass her. Fine said he wasn’t told why he was deplatformed, and will propose changes to a state law governing how tech companies discipline users that was recently struck down by a federal judge. Orlando Sentinel. Today’s board meeting is expected to be another lengthy one debating face masks, even though the issue is not on the agenda. Florida Today. Students exposed to the coronavirus will soon have access to tests that could cut down the amount of time they’re quarantined. Health officials are offering the tests starting Wednesday. A student can be tested after his or her fifth day in quarantine and, if the test is negative and the student is asymptomatic, can return to school. WOFL.

Lake: The entire 6th-grade class at Round Lake Charter School in Mount Dora is being quarantined because of COVID cases. The 88 students will switch to remote learning until Sept. 7. The school district also reported on Monday that last week, the second week of classes, 368 students and 109 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. On the first week it was 72 students and 60 employees. The district’s coronavirus dashboard shows 2,676 students and 39 employees under quarantine after the first week. WKMG. Daily Commercial. The district’s face mask policy was not on the agenda for Monday’s school board meeting, but dozens of parents spoke against or for masks. WESH.

Sarasota: Now that the school board has approved a policy requiring students to wear face masks in schools, it’s up to Superintendent Brennan Asplen to implement it. He said he and school administrators would carry out the new policy, but called it “almost impossible.” Asplen said the policy will create further divisions in the community, attract unfavorable publicity, bring new lawsuits and require time and effort that his team doesn’t have to deal with the state Board of Education. His position has put him at odds with the board majority and one of them, Shirley Brown, reminded Asplen in an e-mail who is in charge. “I’d like to remind both our superintendent and our attorney that they work for the school board,” she wrote. “When (the) school board adopts a policy, (you) should work to accommodate the policy, not your personal preferences.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: The school district did not opt-in to receive school grades from the state this year, but state Rep. Michelle Salzman, R-Pensacola, calculated them using test scores and the Florida Department of Education’s formula. She said nine county schools would have gotten A grades, three would have received a B, 22 a C, seven a D and 11 an F. NorthEscambia.com.

Leon: A 3rd-grader at Canopy Oaks Elementary School in Tallahassee has died, school officials announced Monday. Principal Staci Mortham shared the news, but said she would not divulge any details due to medical privacy laws. Monday, a spokesperson at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital said “(the hospital) can confirm two pediatric deaths associated with COVID-19. One was a child under 5 and the other was between 5 and 12.” Tallahassee Democrat. Superintendent Rocky Hanna on Monday reiterated the district’s position on masks, saying, “I understand that I may be in violation of a state rule, but I am also responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the 30,0000 students in the Leon County School System and that will always be my top priority.” Gov. DeSantis, at a news conference Monday in Fort Pierce, called school districts with mask mandates “anti-science” for not recognizing “immunity conferred through prior infection.” WTXL.

Alachua: Superintendent Carlee Simon confirmed Monday that the district had replied to the state’s demand that it explain how its policies are in compliance with emergency rules passed by the state Board of Education. Simon said her point is that masks are key to keeping schools open during the spread of the Delta variant of COVID. In the past 14 days, 273 students and 63 employees have contracted the virus, and almost 1,200 students and staff are in quarantine. Gainesville Sun. Years of complaints about elementary school teacher Gregg Steven Fissenden’s unwanted touching and rubbing of students, plus warnings, reprimands and being put on probation, he’s still employed by the school district and many parents are wondering why. In 2019 he signed an administrative settlement on a complaint and received two years of probation from the state, was fined $1,000, sent to a recovery program and given notice of the “three strikes” law that escalates penalties for continued misbehavior. Today, he’s an online-course creator for Alachua eSchool, and his teacher certifications are valid until June 2022. Independent Florida Alligator.

Walton: More than 400 district students and staff were quarantined during the first week of school because they were exposed to someone with COVID. More than 250 were exposed in school, district officials said. Between the first day of classes Aug. 10 and last Thursday, the district counted 165 confirmed cases of COVID. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: What’s next in the world of education choice? A demand from families for more customization and how that will be accomplished. Many families will be ready to go back to the traditional brick-and-mortar school. But many families will discover that they like the flexibility and customization that the pandemic forced them to develop. Step Up For Students founder and CEO John Kirtley, Florida Trend. The public-school system has tied itself in knots over a COVID intervention that is less effective than opening some windows and far less effective than getting a higher percentage of people vaccinated. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. The Flagler school district’s dress code is frankly irrational, outdated, unfair and sexist. It limits individual expression, it’s an utter waste of time, and it places a greater burden on females than males on how they dress for school. Flagler Palm Coast High School student Jack Petocz, Flagler Live.

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BY NextSteps staff