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Kids’ COVID cases soar, Districts cave on masks, $25M for school shooting, $132,000 to not work and more

COVID hospitalizations and kids: The latest surge of the coronavirus has put 32 Florida children a day in hospitals between July 24 and 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s rate of 0.76 children hospitalized per 100,000 residents is the highest in the country. Between July 23 and 29, Florida health officials reported 10,785 new COVID-19 infections among children under 12, an average of 1,540 new cases per day, and 11,048 new cases among children 12 to 19. Dr. Claudia Espinosa, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of South Florida, said she’s “terrified what’s going to happen” when children return to schools this month. Children are at a lower risk than adults, noted Dr. Allison Messina of All Children Hospital in St. Petersburg, but can still develop serious long-term complications. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Florida Times-Union. Florida Phoenix. News Service of Florida. WTVT.

Around the state: School officials in Broward and Gadsden counties said Monday that they will comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order and not require face masks in schools this fall, a bill is filed that would allow the Broward County School Board to pay $25 million to the families of the victims in the 2018 Parkland school shooting, only 40 percent of Orange County school employees have been vaccinated, a Palm Beach County principal who was transferred but never showed up for her new job was paid more than $132,000 over 11 months before anyone noticed, the Palm Beach County School Board attorney advises members that DeSantis’ order makes it impossible to enforce a mask mandate, school budgets get tentative approval in Polk and Bay counties, and Pensacola State College has reversed its July 28 decision to require all students and staff to wear masks indoors this fall. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School officials will meet with health advisers to consider whether the district should switch its optional face mask policy to become mandatory. But Gov. DeSantis’ executive order has complicated the equation because it threatens state funding for districts that have mask mandates, and may even force the district to back off its intent to require students to wear face masks on school buses. “We certainly hope to be able to craft protocols that ensure full funding of our children’s education, while simultaneously protecting their and their teachers’ health and well-being,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Florida Politics. CNN.

Broward: School officials announced Monday that they would comply with Gov. DeSantis’ order and drop the district’s previously announced face mask mandate in schools. In a statement, the district said, “The district will advocate for all eligible students and staff to receive vaccines and strongly encourage masks to be worn by everyone in schools.” The first day of school in Broward is Aug. 18. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.  A bill filed for the 2022 legislative session would clear the way for the Broward School Board to pay $25 million in compensation to the families of the victims of the 2018 Parkland school shooting. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, filed the bill to authorize the payment in return for a settlement of legal claims against the school board. The bill does not say how the money would be distributed. Seventeen people died and 17 others were wounded on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. The accused gunman, former Stoneman student Nikolas Cruz, is awaiting trial on murder charges. News Service of Florida.

Orange, central Florida: Only about 40 percent of the Orange County School District’s employees have been vaccinated, according to Superintendent Barbara Jenkins. Schools reopen in eight days, and the district is offering $200 payments to employees who can prove they’ve been vaccinated before Oct. 31. WKMG. Central Florida parents talk about why they don’t want their children to be forced to wear masks at school, or why they do. WESH.

Palm Beach: School board attorneys have advised the school board that Gov. DeSantis’ executive order against mandatory face masks makes it impossible for board members to enforce a mask mandate. Board chair Frank Barbieri said that the order doesn’t stop districts from requiring students to wear face masks in schools, but it does give parents the right to “disregard any board action requiring mandatory masking of their children. It’s the general counsel’s opinion that any mandate to mask students is unenforceable,” he said in an email, “and I agree with her opinion.” Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC. A longtime principal collected $132,490.92 over 11 months even though she stopped coming to work after being reassigned, according to a school district investigation. Bonnie Fox, who had been the principal at the now-closed Odyssey Middle School in Boynton Beach, was reassigned in February 2020 to work in the district’s charter school office. But she never reported for the job or to her supervisor from that time until she was discovered this spring. The inspector general said the episode exposed huge flaws in the district’s personnel policies, and faulted both Keith Oswald, then the deputy superintendent, and the district’s charter school director, Joe DePasquale. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: More than 200 students and staff at district summer programs tested positive for the coronavirus between June 3 and July 28, according to school officials. Those cases sent 193 students and 36 employees into quarantine between June 14 and July 23. WJXT. The Jacksonville-based Diocese of St. Augustine has changed course after Gov. DeSantis’ executive order and will make face masks optional for its 40 schools. Thursday, the diocese had announced masks would be required for all students, staff and visitors. Florida Times-Union. Sarah Park, a 13-year-old 9th-grader at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, has been chosen as one of 10 finalists in the national 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She developed a device that uses artificial intelligence to gauge the body’s response to music. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: School officials said the state’s broken promise not to roll back property tax millage rates this year will cost the district more than $5 million it could have used for staff raises or health insurance. “I think the thing that’s most difficult for me to understand is why would the state care if we’re asking our local residents to help us out a little bit more?” said school board member Lynne Wilson. “I’m just not sure why that would be relevant to them. Maybe at some point in time we could ask that question.” The district’s tentative 2021-2022 fiscal year budget is $2.2 billion. Lakeland Ledger. With just over a week before schools open to students, the district has 428 job openings, including 228 instructional jobs. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Safety protocols for the next school year include optional face masks, continued sanitization measures and the resumption of extracurricular activities. Vaccinated students and staff without symptoms won’t have to be quarantined if they’re exposed to someone with the coronavirus, but those who are unvaccinated and are exposed will have to quarantine for 10 days or until they test negatively. WFLA.

Volusia: Construction has begun on Beachside Elementary School in Daytona Beach. When it opens in late 2022, it will replace Ortona and Osceola elementary schools. Its capacity is expected to be about 765 students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: The district’s safety protocols for the coming school year include optional face masks, ongoing sanitization measures that include social distancing, and no quarantines for vaccinated, asymptomatic students or employees who come into contact with a positive case, school officials announced Monday. WINK.

Lake: Eustis High School is collaborating with Embry-Riddle Aeronautic University in Daytona and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to offer an aviation course for students this fall. About 100 students are expected to enroll in the program, which can lead to certified pilot’s licenses. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: Statewide test scores declined this year for district students, but the county led all 67 school districts in grade proficiency level and end-of-course individual subject testing. “I’m as very pleased as I can be about the results and the work that’s been done in such a challenging year,” said Superintendent Tim Forson. St. Augustine Record.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: School districts around the state are reporting a shortage of school bus drivers. That isn’t a problem in Treasure Coast districts. St. Lucie and Indian River districts are fully staffed, and the Martin district is short just six drivers. TCPalm. The St. Lucie School District is partnering with county health officials to offer vaccination shots to students this week and later in the month. Students 12 and older are eligible for the shots. WPTV.

Leon: What do the district’s students think about wearing masks in schools? Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: An appeals court has upheld a lower court’s decision that a former school superintendent who was suspended and later resigned is not entitled to have her legal fees paid by the school board. Mary Beth Jackson was suspended by Gov. DeSantis in 2019 and removed from office for her handling of a child abuse case, but the governor later rescinded the suspension. Jackson resigned and then filed a suit to have the school board pay her legal fees. News Service of Florida. The new Liza Jackson Preparatory School has opened at the site of the old YMCA in Fort Walton Beach. The K-8 charter school is the first new school built in the city in decades. It’s two stories, has 76,000 square feet and cost $20 million. More than 1,000 students attend the school. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: School board members have tentatively approved a $535 million budget, which is about $33 million below last year’s. Chief financial officer Jim Loyed said the difference is fewer expenses relating to 2018’s Hurricane Michael. The board will take a final vote Sept. 9. Panama City News Herald.

Jackson: School board members have approved a new dress code. Students can now wear polo shirts or hoodies that are gray, black, white or the colors of their school, and pants that are blue, black, khaki or denim. WMBB.

Gadsden: School officials who had approved a mask mandate for students in schools have reversed their decision to comply with the governor’s executive order. “Gadsden County schools will do as much as we can to follow CDC guidelines as the governor will allow,” a district spokeswoman announced. News Service of Florida.

Colleges and universities: Pensacola State College has reversed its July 28 decision to require all students and staff to wear masks indoors this fall. President Ed Meadows rescinded the mandate Sunday, citing Gov. DeSantis’ executive order threatening K-12 school districts with a loss of funding if they require students to wear masks. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. The University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University will require employees to wear face masks when the schools reopen. Miami Herald. Rhea Law has been confirmed as the interim University of South Florida president by the school’s board of trustees. Her term began Monday, though the Florida Board of Governors still has the approve the appointment at its Aug. 31 meeting. Law replaces Steve Currall, who cited health reasons for leaving the presidency after two years. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

Virtual school enrollment: Florida Virtual School is expecting to enroll 9,000 fulltime students this fall. That’s up from 5,193 during the 2019-2020 school year. Students can register for fulltime or part-time attendance. WFTS.

Around the nation: Students should be in classrooms this fall and wearing masks, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Monday. “That’s where students learn best,” Cardona said. “Schools are more than just places where students learn how to read and write — they’re communities. They’re like second families to our students.” NPR.

Opinions on schools: American school districts have a long history of mismanaging facilities, often building too many and (especially) systematically showing reluctance to close underutilized facilities. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. The state and the Alachua County School District need to prioritize education and safety over politics, not succumb to making policy based on false scientific attribution and work together, because COVID-19 transmission is thriving on division. Eric J. Nelson, Gainesville Sun. Preventable illness and death are the potential consequences of Gov. DeSantis’ latest executive order, effectively forbidding schools from requiring face masks even though there are still no approved COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12. Sun Sentinel. With age-appropriate instruction and materials, our children deserve to be taught about their country’s history — the good, bad and the ugly. Anita Moore, Florida Today. The governor is right when he says the evidence around K-12 school kids wearing masks has not been proven to be significantly safer than K-12 school kids with no masks. Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, Florida Politics.

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BY NextSteps staff