Judges says surgeon general doesn’t have to testify in mask case, transgender bill filed and more

Battle over mask deposition: Surgeon General Scott Rivkees will not have to give a deposition in the legal fight over the state’s rule to prevent school mask mandates. Attorneys for several school boards and other plaintiffs have challenged the rule and wanted to question Rivkees, the head of the Department of Health. They claimed that Rivkees’ past statements on masks conflict with the state’s rule that bans districts from imposing face mask mandates without allowing parents to opt-out. A DOH attorney successfully invoked the “apex doctrine,” which generally protects high-ranking government officials from giving depositions if the information they would be expected to give can be obtained from other sources. “Dr. Rivkees shall not be deposed in this proceeding unless, and until, those requesting his deposition have demonstrated that they have exhausted other discovery, that such discovery is inadequate, and that Dr. Rivkees has unique, personal knowledge of information discoverable in this consolidated rule challenge proceeding,” Judge Brian Newman ruled. The next hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled Sept. 24. Rivkees is scheduled to step down as surgeon general on Monday. News Service of Florida. At least 676 requests from students for medical exemptions to school district face mask mandates have been rejected by those districts. WFTS. A poll done for the physicians’ group Committee to Protect Health Care shows 73 percent of Floridians say local school districts should be able to impose face mask mandates. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics. Here’s the state of mask mandates in Florida school districts. Sun Sentinel.

In the Legislature: A bill has been filed that seeks to repeal the state law forbidding transgender female athletes from competing in high school and college women’s sports activities. State Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, filed the bill, which has no companion legislation. The legislative session starts Jan. 11. Florida Politics. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, has filed the Senate’s version of a bill that would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment making school board elections partisan. They are currently nonpartisan. State Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, filed the House version of the joint resolution earlier this week. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A para-educator at an alternative school is the latest Polk County school employee to die of complications from the coronavirus, at least 13 school employees in northeast Florida have died of COVID-19 since July, Treasure Coast school districts report that the number of coronavirus cases in the first month of school this year is more than 100 times the number last year, Palm Beach County’s school superintendent is suggesting daily testing for students exposed to COVID to cut down on the time they’re out of school, and federal relief money will be used to set up online after-school tutoring sessions in Alachua County. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Michael Stokes, who retired in 2010 after 48 years as a teacher and coach at Ransom Everglades High School in Coconut Grove, has died at the age of 81. He was a social studies department chair who taught history and economics and started the outdoor experiential learning program that turned into the Outward Bound experience for 9th-graders. Miami Herald.

Palm Beach: Interim superintendent Michael Burke is suggesting daily testing for students who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. A “test-to-stay” policy could cut back the school time missed by those students. “There’s a lot of logistics behind that if we were going to do that kind of volume, if we were to turn that around quick enough, so we’re sorting through that,” Burke said. WPEC. In a Q&A, a mother of three students attending Florida Virtual School talks about how the children have adapted to a different way of schooling, and the benefits it offers. reimaginED.

Northeast Florida: The coronavirus is taking a toll on teachers and other school employees in Duval and other northeast Florida districts. At least 13 have died since July. WJAX.

Polk: Cynthia Kasey, a 58-year-old para-educator at the REAL Academy in Lakeland and a licensed practical nurse, died Wednesday of complications from COVID-19. She’s the seventh known employee of the district to die of COVID since schools opened Aug. 10. Her friend Michelle Heisig Montero said Kasey contracted the disease at the alternative school. Lakeland Ledger. A 15-year-old Bartow High School student has been arrested and accused of vandalizing a school bathroom as part of the “devious licks” TikTok challenge. The boy said he did it to “look cool,” according to police. WKMG. WTVT.

Brevard: The conservative parent group Moms for Liberty has begun a fund-raising drive to sue the district over its face mask mandate, which requires students to wear masks and allows opt-outs only for medical reasons. The group’s goal is to raise $15,000 for an attorney to file for an emergency injunction against the school board. School board members are scheduled to reconsider the district’s mask policy at Tuesday’s meeting. Florida Today.

Seminole: Six students were arrested for fighting Thursday at Seminole High School. Sanford police said the brawl broke out in a group of female students, and school officials said the students will be disciplined according to the district’s code of conduct. WKMG. WOFL.

St. Johns: The Florida Department of Transportation has denied the school district’s request to allow busing of students who live within 2 miles of Liberty Pines Academy because the walk to school is too dangerous. The state’s order concluded that “no statutory hazardous conditions exists,” so students in grades 3-8 will have to walk, bike or be driven to school. Parents of children who attend the school have been lobbying the district to provide transportation since 2018, when an extension of State Road 9B was completed. St. Augustine Record.

Marion: The school district and local nonprofit organizations were the beneficiaries of $300,000 in supplies donated by CC’s Wish List, a nonprofit under the Lavin Family Foundation, which has expanded its work from Illinois to Florida and the Ocala area. Books, markers, pencils, shoes, clothes and more were available Wednesday at the Lillian F. Bryant Community Center. LeAnn McEarchern, principal of Greenway Elementary School, said she was “blown away at the kindness” of the donations and said, “If the kids are comfortable and they’re warm and they have all the supplies they need, then they actually can feel good about learning.” Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: A month after schools opened in 2020, the three Treasure Coast school districts had reported 28 cases of the coronavirus among students and employees: Martin had 13, St. Lucie 12 and Indian River 3. After the first month this year, the districts have reported 3,279 confirmed cases of COVID: 1,406 in St. Lucie, 1,143 in Indian River and 730 in Martin. The rapid spread “is significantly different than last year,” said Indian River County Superintendent David Moore. “This is serious.” TCPalm.

Alachua: The school district is launching an online after-school program, Beyond the Bell, that offers tutoring Monday through Thursday in language arts, science, math and social studies. The program is being funded with federal relief money. WCJB. WGFL. A teacher at A Child’s Dream Preschool in Gainesville has been arrested on charges of sexual battery against a victim under 12. Police said Trevor Hruby, 23, sexually abused two 3-year-old girls. WCTV. WCJB. WGFL.

Citrus: Between the first day of school Aug. 10 and Sept. 15, school officials reported 1,281 cases of COVID-19. Students account for 1,172 of the cases. The number of cases and quarantines has generally been trending downward since Aug. 25. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: During a workshop meeting this week, county commissioners expressed skepticism that the school district needs an increase in the impact fee it collects on new construction. The district is asking the commissioners for approval to double the impact fee, pointing to University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research’s population projections of 23 percent population growth in the next 10 years, which would boost school enrollment by about 19 percent. School officials will now meet with individual commissioners about the district’s proposal. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Florida A&M University Board of Trustees have approved a contract extension for president Larry Robinson through 2022. He’s led the school since 2017. The extension will have to approved by the Florida Board of Governors. WTXL.

Opinions on schools: The University of Florida’s top-5 ranking reflects what’s possible when the state sets an ambitious goal and rallies hard to achieve it. Tampa Bay Times. The familiar American story of disruption spurring new capacity and innovation has three lessons for shaping the future educational landscape: parents want a new “normal,” they want K-12 system transparency, and online learning and technology innovation will continue. Bruno V. Manno, Real Clear Education. Decoupling where students receive their education from where they live is a key to undoing the racist roots of the educational system. Derrell Bradford, National Association of State Boards of Education. With an uncommon and welcome show of bipartisan agreement, Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders are embarking on a major policy change in Florida’s public school system. It’s good to see them talking about students, rather than face masks, and agreeing on a new approach to measuring learning. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. Online science classes don’t work very well, because face-to-face collaborative learning among students and face-to-face interactions with instructors are more effective ways than learning in online isolation. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff