Miami-Dade considers mask mandate with medical opt-out, 31,000 kids with COVID last week, and more

Around the state: Miami-Dade’s school board will vote Wednesday on the superintendent’s recommendation to impose a face mask mandate on students with an opt-out only for medical reasons, Hillsborough school officials will reconsider their mask policy after 6,000 infections and quarantines have been reported, Alachua County School Board members vote today whether to extend their mask mandate with an opt-out only for medical reasons, Florida recorded more than 31,000 cases of the coronavirus among people 19 and younger last week, face mask mandates with an opt-outs are approved in Manatee and Marion schools, 155 positive COVID-19 tests were recorded on the first day of school in St. Johns County, and at least eight northwest Florida school districts are closed again today due to the effects of Tropical Storm Fred. Here are details about those stories and other from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: After meeting with the district’s medical advisers, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is recommending the school board approve a policy requiring students and staff to wear face masks on campuses. The seven-member task force advised making the change from optional masks after reviewing the data that show a tenfold increase in the rate of cases per 100,000 people, from 73 to 740, since summer began. “The data speaks for itself, and not in a favorable way,” said Jaime Torrens, the district’s chief facilities officer. The proposed policy, like those passed in the Broward and Alachua school districts, would permit student opt-outs only for medical reasons. School board members will meet Wednesday to vote on the recommendation, which would not comply with the rules set up by the state last week. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. Florida Politics.

Broward: Students, employees and visitors at the Coral Springs Charter School will be wearing masks on the first day of classes Wednesday, said principal Gary Springer. The decision was made by the city commission, which is the governing board for the grades 6-12 school. Coral Springs Talk.

Hillsborough: With nearly 6,000 students and employees testing positive for the coronavirus or in quarantine, Hillsborough school board members will hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider their options for interrupting the growth of the virus. “We’re at that place. It’s unavoidable,” said board chair Lynn Gray. She said part of the discussion will be whether to tighten the face mask mandate, which now allows students to opt-out for any reason. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTVT. Florida Politics. Bay News 9. Icon Preparatory School opened four years ago in Tampa with 60 students and Dwayne Raiford’s dream of creating an “HBCU inspired” private school for children in underserved neighborhoods. Now the school has nearly 400 K-8 students, a waiting list of 60 and plans to replicate the school in another city next year. redefinED.

Orange: Less than a week into the new school year, the district has set a record for the most number of coronavirus cases reported in a single day. Friday, 97 cases were reported, breaking the record of 88 set Jan. 19. In all, school officials have reported 259 cases, and more than 380 students have been under a stay-at-home order. The number of students who have signed opt-out forms for mask-wearing is now at 13,900, or about 7 percent of total enrollment. Orlando Sentinel. A student at Lake Buena Vista High School has been arrested for having a gun at school, according to a school resource officer. A tip led the officer to the student’s backpack, where he found the weapon last Thursday. WKMG.

Palm Beach: While 1,400 students already have been ordered into quarantine because they were exposed to the coronavirus, county health director Dr. Alina Alonso said the spread of the disease has not been in classrooms. Yet. She has warned that could change quickly because of the combination of unvaccinated children, close proximity and many students declining to wear masks. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: All employees at the Schools of McKeel Academy in Lakeland have been ordered by director Alan Black to wear face masks, starting today. “South McKeel has now surpassed the total number of cases it had during all of last year,” Black said in an e-mail to parents. “If this data causes you to pause, it should.” Lakeland Ledger. Students in grades 1-3 at the Lakeland Montessori Schoolhouse are in quarantine after someone at the school tested positive for the coronavirus. Those students will take remote classes for the next week. Lakeland Ledger.

Pasco: There’s no face mask mandate for students and employees in district schools, but Superintendent Kurt Browning issued a plea Monday for them to put coverings on anyway. “I’ve been out visiting schools and what I have observed is mask-wearing that is sporadic at best,” Browning said. “Those of you who have been wearing a mask, thank you. However, people have been far too relaxed and the result is more and more cases affecting out schools.” In the first week of classes, 145 students and 46 employees tested positive for the coronavirus, and another 148 missed time because of quarantines. WTSP.

Lee: School board members are expected to vote today on imposing a face mask mandate on students with opt-outs only for medical reasons. More than 13,000 students are not now wearing masks because of the provision that allows parent-approved opt-outs for any reason. “Today, I received a phone call that there were 14 teachers out at one school. That’s just today,” said board member Debbie Jordan. “Tomorrow there could be another 14 out. Who’s going to be there to teach our children?” Only two districts in the state have a mask mandate with opt-outs permitted only for medical reasons, which does not conform with the state’s rules. State officials have threatened those districts with a loss of some funding. WFTX. WINK.

Brevard: The district’s school year began with 3,711 fewer students than expected, according to an initial count conducted Friday. “Our hope is that we’ll have more students come back in, but we are watching and evaluating, said district spokesman Russell Bruhn. “We have no expectations. We’re kind of just watching the numbers.” If those students don’t appear by October, the district could lose more than $28 million in funding from the state. Florida Today. About 8,000 laptop computers are being assigned to middle-schoolers this year as part of the multi-year effort to get computers into the hands of every student. Families with one student pay $20 for the district’s technology fee, and families with more than one student pay $40. Federal relief funds are being used to buy the computers. WKMG.

Osceola: About 170 students are now on the waiting list to get into the virtual school run by the district. District officials said there aren’t as many virtual teachers as there were last year, and teachers have had to get specialized training because remote learning is different than it was last year. WESH.

Seminole: More than 10,300 of the district’s students have opted-out of wearing face masks in schools, according to school officials. That’s 16.7 percent of the total enrollment. WKMG.

Manatee: Face masks will now be required in all county schools, after the school board voted 3-2 on Monday to adopt a stricter policy. There will be an opt-out option for parents who don’t want their children to wear masks. Board members Charlie Kennedy, James Golden and Mary Foreman said the number of coronavirus cases reported in the first four days of school — 177, compared to 17 during the first week of school in 2020 — required the change. Another 132 were reported by the district later on Monday. The new policy will be in effect until Aug. 25, and board members will discussion a possible extension at their Aug. 24 meeting. Bradenton Herald. WWSB. WFTS. WUSF. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Lake: Sixty school employees and 72 students were infected with the coronavirus during the first week of school, according to district officials. Stay-at-home orders were issued to 680 students and 22 employees. “We have to face the sobering reality that COVID is still very much a factor,” said Superintendent Diane Kornegay in her Sunday video. “We keep hearing about the rising numbers of positive cases and hospitalizations, particularly here in Florida. I’m concerned about the safety of our students and staff, and I know that you are too.” Daily Commercial.

Marion: School board members approved a face mask mandate for students at Monday’s meeting. Parents will be able to opt-out their children with a signed note. The mandate will be in place for 90 days. “Our goal is to keep our schools open,” said board member Kelly King. “And right now, if we keep doing what we’re doing right now, our schools will not be open and our students will not be getting an education.” Nearly 140 students and employees tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of school, sending 531 into quarantine. Of those infected, 93 were students and 46 were employees. Of those in quarantine, 456 were students. WMFE. WKMG. Ocala Star-Banner. WCJB.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: More than 160 students and employees in Treasure Coast school districts have tested positive for the coronavirus in the first week of school, according to district officials. Another 400 have been sent into quarantine because they were exposed. St. Lucie reported 106 students and staff becoming infected and 252 quarantined. In Martin County, 19 students and 12 employees tested positive and 185 students and three employees are quarantining, and Indian River County is reporting eight students and two employees testing positive and seven other students being told to quarantine. TCPalm. Ground was broken Monday for a new elementary school in Martin County. The unnamed school is scheduled to be opened in August 2023, said Superintendent John Millay. WPTV.

St. Johns: School officials are reporting 155 coronavirus cases after one day of classes. Ninety-five of the cases were students. Bartram Trail High School reported the most with 17. There were also 168 students and employees districtwide asked to quarantine. WJXT. WTLV. A shortage of school bus drivers has prompted the school district to offer signing bonuses of $1,000 to $3,000 for new drivers. District officials said they could use another 20 drivers. Most of the 20 largest school districts in the state also are reporting shortages of school bus drivers, resulting in late arrivals to school and some drivers covering multiple routes.  WJAX. Associated Press. WFTS.

Alachua: School board members will decide at a meeting today whether to extend the face mask mandate for students that has drawn threats of funding cutbacks from Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. The policy requires students to have a note from a doctor to opt-out of wearing masks, which the state said puts the district out of compliance with state rules that require opt-outs by parents with no reason needed. The district’s two-week mandate began Aug. 10. Gainesville Sun.

Colleges and universities: Valencia College of Orlando has backed off an earlier decision to require students and employees to wear masks on campus, saying there is “simply no practical way to enforce a mask requirement.” Orlando Sentinel. The University of Central Florida is receiving a $500,000 grant to support NASA’s Artemis program to send people back to the moon and “create a robust presence there over the next decade.” UCF is one of seven U.S. universities to be awarded the grants through NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project Space Technology Research Initiative. Orlando Sentinel.

Pediatric COVID cases: Florida recorded more than 31,000 cases of the coronavirus among people 19 and younger last week, and there were two deaths of children 16 or younger. The Florida Education Association, which is tracking cases in schools, said there have been 5,400 infections of students and school employees and more than 8,500 quarantines since Aug. 1, but FEA president Andrew Spar said the numbers are probably much higher because two-thirds of the state’s school districts aren’t reporting cases on their websites this year. Capitol News Service. The number of Florida children 12 to 19 who got vaccinated during the week ending Aug. 12 was nearly double the number reported during a week in mid-July, according to state health officials. About 44 percent of the children in this age group have now been vaccinated. Florida Today. Parents said they are declining to get their children vaccinated because of potential side effects, the lack of research on the effects of vaccines on children, and because they aren’t concerned about the Delta variant of the coronavirus, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Florida Phoenix.

School closures today: At least eight northwest Florida school districts are closed again today because of Tropical Storm Fred, which made landfall Monday afternoon near Cape San Blas in Gulf County and is expected to continue affecting weather in the area today. Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Jackson, Madison, Wakulla and Washington school districts all announced the closings for a second day. At least 15 districts and seven colleges or universities closed Monday. Florida Department of Education. Panama City News Herald. Port St. Joe Star. WTXL. WCTV. WMBB. WJHG. Madison County School District.

Program returns money: The Florida Department of Education’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has returned $21.5 million in funding it gets from the federal government to prepare mentally and physically disabled students for the workforce, apparently because of a complex application system and a shortage of workers. The VR program had a job vacancy rate of 22.6 percent during the fiscal year that ended in June. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: Public school districts don’t tend to replicate or expand high-demand schools. The reason, in a word, is politics. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. The oft-heated and irrational anger over masks carries over from school board meetings to the classrooms, causing anxiety and depression for both students and school employees. John A. Torres, Florida Today.

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BY NextSteps staff