Judge issues mask mandate order, quarantine effect fears, Florida 3rd in K-12 achievement, and more

Judge issues written order: A judge’s ruling that the state acted unconstitutionally by forbidding school districts to mandate face masks for students without parental opt-outs was officially put into writing and issued Thursday. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper’s decision declared that the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped its authority by blocking local mask mandates, and that Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran violated the law by imposing financial penalties on districts without due process. The state had argued that the Parents’ Bill of Rights law gave the state authority for its actions, but Cooper wrote, “There is no prohibition in the Parents’ Bill of Rights against schools adopting mandatory face mask policies without a parental opt-out so long as the policy is reasonable and otherwise complies with the provisions of the law.” Later on Thursday, the state filed its appeal with the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Capitol News Service. WLRN. Florida Politics. WPTV. WKMG.

A quarantine quagmire: As more students crowd into Florida’s K-12 schools, they are increasingly being exposed to the coronavirus and being sent into quarantine. That’s causing logistical problems for working parents of younger children. But it also concerns educators who worry that another year of intermittent online instruction districts didn’t maintain from last year will lead to even further learning loss. “My biggest concern, other than kids really getting sick and teachers, is that loss of learning,” Orange County School Board member Angie Gallo said during a recent meeting about the impact of COVID-19 on school campuses. Orlando Sentinel. The 74. Chalkbeat. The number of children hospitalized with COVID rose tenfold when schools opened last month, University of South Florida College of Public Health professor Jason Salemi said Thursday. In early June, he said, about six children a day were hospitalized. By the last week of August, that increased to an average of 66 a day. Dr. Christina Canody, a BayCare health system pediatrician, blamed the increase on the convergence of schools reopening and the Delta variant sweeping through the state. News Service of Florida and WFOR.

Florida 3rd in K-12 achievement: Florida tied for 23rd among U.S. states in the latest Quality Counts rankings from the news organization Education Week based on K-12 achievement, chance for success and school finance. Florida was given a grade of C with a score of 75.6 points, which placed it just below the national average. The state’s best showing came in achievement, ranking third with a B-minus grade, and it also was among the states where the gap in NAEP reading test scores narrowed between students from wealthier families and those who are financially disadvantaged. Florida was one of only two states to score higher in achievement than in chance for success (C-plus) and school finance (D-plus). Education Week. reimaginED.

Around the state: School boards in Seminole and Clay counties opt not to change their face mask mandates, Lake County School Board members want more time to review the superintendent’s targeted mask plan before voting, four more school districts have sent the state their replies justifying their mask policies, a new quarantine policy in Brevard County schools could mean fewer students missing class time, a group of parents is suing the Duval district over its newly approved mask mandate, and some students in Pinellas County said they sit around school doing nothing all day because of a shortage of teachers. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: School district leaders have told the state that the face mask mandate they imposed on students was not adopted “lightly,” but that “it did so in light of the uncontrolled community spread of COVID-19 in Orange County.” More than 300 students who had medical exemptions from wearing a mask last year still have them, and another 115 had requested an exemption for this year. The state has threatened the district with a loss of some funding because its policy doesn’t allow parents to opt-out. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: While school officials maintain that they aren’t in violation of the state’s order on face masks because the Parents’ Bill of Rights law does not specifically prohibit them from being required, Gov. DeSantis said Thursday that the district is not following the law on mask mandates and he expects the Florida Board of Education will impose financial penalties against it. “I do think you’ll see the Board of Education, in the meantime, discipline the politicians similar to what they did in Alachua,” DeSantis said. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: About two-dozen parents have sued the school board over its new face mask mandate policy for students, which goes into effect Sept. 7. The suit alleges that the 90-day mandate violates constitutional protections and the right of students to a high-quality education, and asks the court to issue an emergency injunction to block it. WTLV.

Polk: More than 4,320 district students were placed into quarantine between Monday and Wednesday this week, according to the district’s new coronavirus dashboard. That takes the total for the school year to more than 12,500. More than 900 confirmed cases of COVID infections were reported among students and employees in the first three school days this week, putting the school-year-to-date total to nearly 2,000. At least four teachers have died since the school year began, though all four became infected before students returned to classrooms. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: The combination of as many as 200 teachers a day calling in sick and a shortage of substitutes has many students sitting around doing nothing all day in school, they say. “We aren’t able to actually learn anything,” said Countryside senior Matthew McCrary. “We aren’t doing anything. Basically, we are pretty much just sitting there doing nothing.” WTVT.

Lee: A man was arrested Thursday outside the Bright Beginnings School in south Fort Myers after he pried open the doors of a school bus, climbed aboard and began waving a gun and yelling at the bus driver. Deputies quickly took the man into custody, and school officials said no one was injured. WINK. WBBH.

Brevard: With masks now mandated, the school district is relaxing rules on quarantining that could significantly reduce the number of students out of school after they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The new rules state that students who are within 6 feet of an infected student for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period must still quarantine. But if a teacher confirms a masked student was 3-6 feet away from an infected student also wearing a mask, only the ill student must quarantine. Florida Today. The Florida Department of Education said it’s “looking into” reports that some Brevard students were denied meals at schools because they weren’t wearing a mask. WOFL.

Seminole: School board members decided at Thursday’s meeting to make no changes to the district’s mask policy, which requires students to wear face masks unless a parent has signed an opt-out form. It expires next week and until then, several school board members said they want to see how the various lawsuits play out in court before considering any changes. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL.

Volusia: After the school board approved a face mask mandate this week with opt-outs allowed only for medical reasons, the district is reopening enrollment today for students into Volusia Online Learning, its virtual school option. Sign-ups will continue through noon on Sept. 10. K-8 students who choose online learning must be enrolled for the entire year, through June 3, 2022, to get full credit, according to district officials. High school students must commit to staying online through Dec. 16. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG.

Lake: Superintendent Diane Kornegay’s proposal for a new district face mask policy targeted specifically to schools based on their COVID-19 positivity rates drew support from some school board members on Thursday, but they unanimously decided to hold another meeting to discuss the issue before voting. “We’re really, truly trying to do our due diligence,” board member Mollie Cunningham told the audience. “I speak first and foremost for myself and I hear the parents who don’t want government to tell them what to do. I hear the people who have real concerns about children being unmasked. But I think first everyone needs to realize that we have to make a decision, whether it’s today, or two days from now or three days from now.” Daily Commercial. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel.

Sarasota: An attorney for the school board told the state Thursday that the district’s policy requiring face masks is both legal and necessary to protect students’ health amid the current surge in the coronavirus. Dan DeLeo pointed to a clause in the law that says government bodies cannot infringe on parental rights “without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and that such action is narrowly tailored.” He argues Sarasota’s policy meets those criteria. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. Students who got a medical exemption from a Venice chiropractor so they wouldn’t have to wear a face mask in school have until Sept. 10 to get a new note from an approved medical professional. “Your current face mask exemption will be honored through that date,” the district told the 500-plus students who received notes from Dan Busch. “If a new form is not submitted complying with the above standards, a face mask will need to be worn in accordance with the policy.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Too many drivers are passing school buses when they’re stopped to pick up or drop off students, and Escambia and Santa Rosa school district and law enforcement officials have made plans to crack down on the violators. The Escambia sheriff’s office will step up its presence along bus routes, and Santa Rosa is using cameras all around the outside of its buses to record violators. The clips will then be sent to authorities. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: School board members voted Thursday to keep the district’s mask-optional policy after hearing impassioned remarks from residents both supporting and opposing masks in schools. To date, 231 students and 23 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus since schools opened Aug. 10. WJXT.

Leon: The school board voted unanimously on Thursday to hire an outside attorney to represent it in its fight with the state over the district’s face mask for students who don’t have a medical exemption. Up to $50,000 has been approved to hire Jamie Cole, of the South Florida-based Weiss Serota Hefman Cole & Bierman law firm, who is also representing the Miami-Dade School District. “I think this case needs to play out because it’s going to set a precedent for years to come,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. The district also responded to the state’s demand to explain how it was complying with the executive order to allow parents to opt-out by saying its decisions are intended to protect its students. “In order for us to comply … we would need to ignore guidelines from the CDC, face federal lawsuits, and act contrary to the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes. Thus, it is you that would be forcing us to ‘pick and choose’ what laws to follow,” the letter said. Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee Reports. WTXL. Florida Phoenix. WFSU. WCTV.

Charlotte: A former teacher was sentenced to four years in prison after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a student in a Charlotte County high school in 2017. Brendan Toop, 40, will also be on probation for eight years and forfeited his state pension. WBBH.

Colleges and universities: Commissioners in Palm Beach County and the city of Palm Beach approved plans this week for the University of Florida to build a campus near downtown that will offer graduate level courses starting in the fall of 2026. Palm Beach Post. Palm Beach State College will use federal pandemic relief funds to erase $2.3 million in debt for about 3,100 students. WPTV. WPEC.

Around the nation: A nationwide survey of parents indicates that only 43 percent want their children in a classroom fulltime this year. In late July, 58 percent of parents said they wanted their children in school fulltime. NBC News.

Opinions on schools: It is safe to expect that parents will not wait — because they will not have to wait — for districts to decide if or when to reopen in the face of COVID this fall. They will just leave. Jonathan Butcher, reimaginED. What do you think would happen to you if a circuit judge told you not to do something and you did it anyway? You’d be cited for contempt of court and be issued an orange jumpsuit. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff