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State withholds funding for two districts, DeSantis likes appeal’s chances, more mask mandates, and more

State withholds funds: Despite a judge’s ruling Friday that the state cannot legally prohibit school districts from imposing face mask mandates for students, the Florida Department of Education has withheld an amount equal to the monthly salaries of school board members in Broward and Alachua counties for their mask policies. DOE officials said the funds would be withheld until each school board complies with state laws and rules. “We’re going to fight to protect parents’ rights to make health care decisions for their children,” said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. “What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so.” Broward and Alachua are two of more than a dozen state districts that now require students to wear face masks with opt-outs allowed only for medical reasons. School board members in Broward make $46,000 a year, and Alachua’s are paid $40,000 annually. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. WCJB. WGFL. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. WSVN. WTXL. WJCT.

DeSantis confident of appeal: Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed confidence Monday that the state will be successful in its appeal of Friday’s ruling. Speaking at a news conference in Jacksonville, the governor said, “Obviously it’s (the ruling is) problematic. I think we’re going to have really good grounds to appeal. We’ll end up getting it back. At the end of the day, ultimately, we’re just trying to stand with the parents.” The judge’s ruling does not go into effect until it’s put into writing, which is expected in the next day or so. Florida Politics. WTVJ. WPTV. WPEC. WKMG. Legislators are considering calling a special session to rework the law so the state can punish school districts that have defied the governor’s order on masks. Miami Herald. More legal battles against the state’s position on face mask mandates are lining up in the courts. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: School officials in Brevard and Lee counties have imposed 30-day face mask mandates for students and employees while Osceola’s school board rejected a proposal for a strict mandate, three school employees in Marion County and a teacher in Manatee County have died of complications from the coronavirus, the FDLE is investigating an undisclosed number of teachers at Hudson High School in Pasco County, schools in Taylor County will be closed Thursday and Friday because so many teachers are either sick or in quarantine, the first day of mask mandates in several districts drew protests from parents and students, and state university systems presidents say they don’t have the authority to order face mask mandates. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Two weeks into the school year, district officials have reported that more than 350 students and employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 4,000 students are quarantined and getting their assignments through the district’s web portal. WFOR.

Orange: The district’s new face mask mandate for students began Monday and continues through the end of October. The occasion drew protests from some parents and their children who were scheduled to be in school. WKMG. WESH.

Lee: Lee’s interim superintendent has ordered a 30-day face mask mandate for all students and employees, starting Wednesday. “To those that are angry with this decision today, I will likely not be able to assuage your frustrations,” said Ken Savage. “I can only say if we can save even one additional life that would have otherwise perished, then this extraordinary additional effort will have been worth it.” The mandate will replace the previous policy, which required face masks but allowed parents to opt-out. More than 3,000 coronavirus cases have been reported since schools opened Aug. 10. During the last school year, the district didn’t record its 3,000th case until April. After the mask decision was announced, deputies had to break up several fights outside the school board meeting room. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Pasco: Several teachers at Hudson High School have been placed on administrative leave pending the results of a fraud investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The teachers were not named and details of any allegations were not released, but FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the teachers’ work is the focus and that no students were physically harmed. District spokesman Steve Hegarty said the activities under review occurred before 2020. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Brevard: Face masks will be mandatory for all students and staff for the next 30 days, the school board decided Monday. Opt-outs will be allowed only for students with a signed note from a licensed medical professional. The vote was 3-2 in favor. The deciding vote cast by board chair Misty Belford, who had previously voted against any mask mandate. “We have a very serious crisis on our hands,” Belford said. “And I think that we have a very small window of opportunity to do something to break this cycle and get some relief. In full transparency, I anticipate (Gov.) DeSantis is going to appeal the ruling from the judge … but right now, we have a small window to try to interrupt the spread.” Florida Today. WKMG.

Osceola: A proposal to require students to wear face masks was squashed Monday by the school board after a motion by board member Terry Castillo could not draw a second. The motion was greeted with shouts of disapproval from some of the audience and a rebuke from board member Jon Arguello, who accused Castillo of inappropriately using the death of a school employee to support her proposal. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV.

Seminole: School board members will meet in an emergency session Thursday to consider whether to make face masks mandatory for all students. The district’s current policy requires students to wear masks but parents can choose to opt-out, and about 17 percent of students have. But with the number of coronavirus cases rising quickly, board member Kristine Kraus said she hoped a more restrictive policy would win the board’s approval. What the district is doing, she said, “is not working. We have to do something else.” Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia, Flagler: Nearly 1,100 students in the Volusia and Flagler school districts have contracted COVID-19 since schools opened earlier this month. Volusia has recorded 617 and Flagler 446. Last year at this time, Volusia had reported 39 cases and Flagler 27. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Volusia school board will hold an emergency meeting today to discuss the district’s face mask policy. WOFL. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Larry Conlon, an English teacher at Bayshore High School in Bradenton who previously taught at the Manatee School for the Arts and Johnson K-8 School of International Studies, has died of complications from the coronavirus. He was 59, and had not been vaccinated. He tested positive for the virus on Aug. 10, the first day of school, and went into quarantine. He’s the first teacher in the county to die from COVID this year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Six schools have shut down a classroom under a recently adopted district rule for dealing with COVID. If a classroom has at least three COVID cases in a day or in two consecutive days, it is shut down and the students are quarantined for a week. Between last Tuesday and Friday, classrooms were closed at Tillman, Willis, Williams, Rogers Garden-Bullock, McNeal and Mills elementary schools. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

Lake: Another 570 students and employees have tested positive for the coronavirus last week, and a special school board meeting has been scheduled Friday to review the district’s COVID data and discuss its face mask policy. Masks are currently optional, though district officials strongly encourage students to wear them. Daily Commercial. WMFE.

Sarasota: Only a few students were sent home for not wearing a face mask to school Monday, the first day the new policy was being enforced. School officials said most of the students were taking part in a protest organized by the group Moms for Liberty that called for students to remove their masks at 10 a.m. and inform their teachers that they would not comply with the policy. District spokesman Craig Maniglia said he didn’t have districtwide numbers of students who chose not to comply, but did say at Sarasota High, which has 2,300 students, just 35 refused to wear masks and 26 of them decided to mask up after their parents were called. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. A Venice chiropractor has been signing medical exemption forms for students who don’t want to wear a mask in school. On Monday, more than 100 people waited in line to get their medical opt-out forms signed. “The people that I will sign exemptions for are the people that qualify for conditions within my scope of practice,” said Dr. Dan Busch. “The parent and child come in, we evaluate what their conditions are, see if they have a valid legitimate condition that would warrant a mask exemption. If they do not, they have to go on their way.” WWSB.

Marion: Three school district employees died last week of complications from the coronavirus. Joel Hartley, a media relations videographer, and two Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary School food service workers, Virginia Perry and Rhonda Brasher Lehman are the latest of seven district employees who have died of COVID-19 since July 29. Ocala Star-Banner. Gov. DeSantis has appointed businessman Donald Browning to fill a seat on the school board that opened when Beth McCall resigned in June and moved out of her district. WCJB.

Leon: School board members meet Thursday to decide their next step in the legal confrontation with the governor over the district’s face mask mandate. Students in pre-K through 8th grade are required to wear masks, with opt-outs permitted only for medical reasons. In the past 14 days, 413 positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported by the district and 1,242 students have been quarantined. Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare officials said four children under the age of 17 have been hospitalized with the coronavirus, and three of them are critically ill and being treated in the intensive care unit. One of the children hospitalized is in the 0-5 age group, and the other three are between the ages of 13 and 17. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: Rutherford High School students are building and distributing “tiny libraries” throughout the community as part of a school project. Twenty-one have already been built and handed out. Panama City News Herald.

Hernando: Chauncey Nash has been named the principal at the BEST (Brooksville Engineering, Science and Technology) Academy, a charter school for grades 6-8. Patricia Laird had been the acting principal after Andre Buford resigned earlier this year. Hernando Sun.

Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin: A face mask mandate for all K-8 students began Monday in Indian River County schools and continues through at least Sept. 15. Superintendent David Moore said high school students make up a small percentage of COVID positive cases, and will continue to have the choice whether to wear masks. WPTV. More than 500 students and 100 employees tested positive for the coronavirus in the St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River school districts between Aug. 23-30. Since the school year started, 1,140 students have been infected. TCPalm.

Charlotte: School board members will hold a workshop meeting Friday to discuss the district’s policy on face masks. Public comment won’t be allowed and no votes will be taken. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: Face masks will continue to be optional for students and employees, district spokeswoman Lindsay Blair said. The next school board meeting is Sept. 7, but masks are not on the agenda. Citrus County Chronicle.

Taylor: Schools will be closed Thursday and Friday because of a shortage of teachers who are quarantined or home with a child who has been quarantined, Superintendent Danny Glover announced Monday. “We believe this closure will allow us to reset and proactively devise plans for continued learning for our students this year, whether in schools or at home on quarantine,” Glover wrote in a letter to parents. WTXL. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: As more people call for the state’s public universities to impose stronger safety protocols against COVID-19, including face masks, university presidents said they don’t have the authority to do so and that the state’s Board of Governors does not appear ready to grant that authority to them. News Service of Florida. The University of Florida misappropriated $640,273 in grant money from the National Science Foundation, according to an audit by the foundation. UF officials dispute the findings of the audit but paid back about $226,000. Gainesville Sun. Bala Rathinasabapathi, a horticultural sciences professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has been named graduate educator of the year by the American Society of Horticultural Sciences. Gainesville Sun. Gov. DeSantis has appointed Teresa Martinez, the president and founder of the Institute of Spanish Communication, and Mark Turner, a lawyer and partner with Straughn and Turner, to the board of trustees for Polk State College. Lakeland Ledger. Peter Collins has been elected as the chair of the board of trustees at Florida State University. Tallahassee Democrat.

Around the nation: The U.S. Education Department is launching civil rights investigations of five states that have banned face mask mandates, saying that could discriminate against students with disabilities or health issues. Florida is not one of the states, since a Leon County judge ruled Friday against Gov. DeSantis’ order banning face mask mandates for students. Associated Press. NPR. The 74. Education Week. Chalkbeat. Universal masking and regular testing could cut the number of infections in K-12 schools in half, according to researchers at North Carolina State University. CNN.

Opinions on schools: The efforts to reshape public education in a more pluralistic and productive system are taking shape in both gradual and sudden ways. We have the chance to live to see the flourishing of a humane system of American schooling during our lifetimes among other wondrous things. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. School choice is the wave of the future. It is time to label its opponents as generators of race and class discrimination. Bill Donohue, Catholic League. The court ruling to block Gov. DeSantis’ ill-conceived mask mandate ban was a welcome example of simple common sense carrying the day. It should also serve as yet another sign that it’s time for DeSantis to stop ignoring common sense in leading Florida’s still-shaky fight against the lethal Delta variant. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff