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Mask case fast-track sought, Leon teacher dies of COVID, parents sue district over masks, and more

Court maneuvers continue: Parents who are challenging the constitutionality of the state’s executive order and rules prohibiting districts from imposing face mask mandates without giving parents an option to opt-out have filed a request that the case be fast-tracked to the state Supreme Court. The case is currently awaiting a hearing before the 1st District Court of Appeal, but the parents contend that “there is a palpable urgency for immediate review by the Florida Supreme Court in this matter” because “children have died from contracting COVID-19” and more are at risk by any delay. State districts are currently banned from requiring face mask mandates, although about a dozen have defied the order despite being threatened by the state with a loss of state funding equal to the monthly salaries of school board members. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A 40-year-old physical education teacher in Leon County died Monday of COVID complications, Lee County school officials will pause enforcement of the district’s face mask mandate and allow parental opt-outs while an appeals court considers the issue, a group of parents are suing Palm Beach County school officials over the district’s face mask mandate, an audit discloses that Miami-Dade school officials misrepresented the state of the district’s driver’s education programs to qualify for grants, Collier County schools have canceled homecoming dances because of the pandemic, and thousands of parents attended a mask-exemption event in Venice over the weekend where two doctors were signing medical opt-out forms for students who don’t want to wear masks at school. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School officials misrepresented the state of the district’s driver education program between 2011 and 2016 to qualify for $6.2 million in grants, according to an audit by the district’s inspector general. District officials claimed that 36 or 37 campuses had working programs. Most of those districts offered classroom and virtual instruction but only six included behind-the-wheel training, which was required to be eligible for the grants. Money for the grants was raised through a $3 fee on every county traffic ticket. Miami Herald.

Broward: Three 12-year-old students at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines have been arrested and accused of making social media threats to commit a mass shooting at the school. School staff notified authorities Sunday that the students, two boys and a girl, had exchanged messages on Snapchat talking about taking a gun to school and shooting up the 6th grade. Sun Sentinel. WFOR. WPLG.

Tampa Bay area: With fewer protections in place against the coronavirus, the number of COVID cases soaring and fewer learning options, students, teachers and other school workers are already overwhelmed and frustrated just a month into the school year. Parents who see more children falling ill or being quarantined are questioning the safety decisions made by school boards and wondering why districts have cut back on virtual learning options. Some are angry that masks aren’t required. Some are angry that they are. School districts are trying to satisfy the state’s rules on face masks and parental demands for tighter, or looser, protocols. “We are trying to strike a balance between keeping kids healthy and keeping healthy kids in school,” said Pasco school spokesman Stephen Hegarty. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: A group of parents has filed a lawsuit against school officials challenging the constitutionality of the district’s face mask mandate. The suit alleges the requirement violates federal and state constitutional rights, including due-process and equal-protection rights. “This action stems from the defendants’ infringement upon the constitutionally protected rights of the plaintiffs, including parental rights and the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights to due process, equal protection, bodily autonomy, privacy and right to an education without being muzzled by experimental medical devices detrimental to life and liberty,” the parents contend. A similar case was filed last week by Duval County parents. News Service of Florida. WPTV. The former girls basketball coach at American Heritage School in Delray Beach has filed a discrimination complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations against the school over his dismissal in June. Brett Studley had allowed his players to wear Black Lives Matter shirts during pregame warmups as a protest against what they perceived to be the school’s failure to appropriately address racial issues among students. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel.

Lee: School board members Melisa Giovanelli and Cathleen Morgan said Monday that the district plans to restore the parental opt-out to the face mask mandate for students and in the meantime will stop enforcing its face mask mandate while an appeals court considers the issue. Still, in an e-mail to parents, interim superintendent Ken Savage pleaded to have children wear masks anyway. Employees will continue to be required to wear masks through the end of this month, when the issue will be reconsidered. On Sept. 1, the board approved a 30-day mask mandate with opt-outs only for medical reasons. WINK. WBBH. WFTX. Florida Politics.

Osceola: Osceola has the highest rate of students in charter schools among the largest urban school districts in Florida, at 22 percent. There are now 25 charter schools in the county educating more than 15,000 students, an increase of 45 percent in the past five years. That growth has been especially beneficial to Hispanic students, who make up 44 percent of enrollment at the county’s charter schools. Many say they are attracted by the smaller charter schools with high academic expectations. reimaginED.

Volusia, Flagler: Volusia schools have now reported 1,425 cases of the coronavirus in the first month of school. That’s about 20 times the number they had at the same time last year. Flagler has reported 1,048 cases, which is 26 times what it reported after a month last year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Volusia school officials said the first day of the mandatory face mask policy went smoothly, with students complying and relatively few incidents. “There were some schools that had some issues where the parents came and took their kids home,” said district spokeswoman Kelly Schulz, “but there were some schools that had no issues.” Two weeks ago the school board approved the face mask policy that allows opt-outs only for medical reasons. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: Homecoming dances at county public high school schools have been canceled by the school district because of the pandemic. “Through the conversations we’ve had with local medical professionals, the Department of Health-Collier, it was the unanimous decision that right now we’re holding on the dances from a health perspective,” said district spokesman Chad Oliver. WINK.

Lake: Reported coronavirus cases dropped significantly in the school district last week from the previous week. The number of students testing positive was 286, down from 660, and the number of employees infected was 57, down from 160. Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: Thousands of parents attended a mask-exemption event Sunday in Venice, where two doctors were writing notes so students won’t have to wear face masks in school. School spokesman Craig Maniglia said the district was expecting as many as 2,000 requests for medical exemptions to the face mask mandate to be turned in early this week, and they will be accepted as long as the doctors who signed the forms met the qualifications. “If the physicians meet the requirements and the intent of the policy, they will be accepted,” Maniglia said. “There’s not much we can do.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Shannon Donovan, a physical education teacher at Pine View School in Osprey from 1979 to 2013, has died of COVID-related complications. She was 72. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: The number of coronavirus cases in the school district has declined by 50 percent in the past two weeks, and the numbers of quarantines is down 66 percent, according to the latest district report. Three weeks ago 733 cases were reported among students and staff. Two weeks ago it was 539, and it dropped to 367 during the week of Sept. 3-10. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Community leaders issued a plea to school officials Monday to toughen the district’s face mask mandate by dropping the parental opt-out. From the first day of school until Monday, 1,094 students and 241 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and the highest daily count of cases last week was among individuals ages 12-19. “Without significant preventative measures like mask wearing, social distancing, testing, screening and/or vaccination, we will continue to compromise the health and safety of our children,” said Stephanie Taylor, director of pharmacy for Florida Community Health Centers and a St. Lucie school district parent. The board is expected to discuss the mask policy at today’s meeting. TCPalm. Last week, 550 students and 84 employees in the St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River school districts tested positive for the coronavirus. In August, more than 1,100 students and staff tested positive in the district. By Monday, that total had jumped to 2,590. TCPalm.

Leon: Logan Hurst, a physical education teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary in Tallahassee, died Monday of complications from the coronavirus. He was 40. It was the second COVID death at the school. A 3rd-grader died Aug. 21. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV. WTXL. School bus driver Naesha Williams-Mathis was honored Monday for rescuing a toddler who had wandered into a roadway. Williams-Mathis stopped her bus, took the child’s hand and led her into the bus, then sang songs to her until officers arrived. The child had wandered away from her grandparents’ home and was lost. WCTV.

Alachua: A 17-year-old student at Buchholz High School in Gainesville has been arrested and accused of making a series of false bomb threats against the school. Deputies said the boy has been charged with possession of cocaine, making false bomb threats, and using a two-way communication device to commit a felony. Since school started last month, Buchholz has received four bomb threats. WCJB. WGFL.

Monroe: Alexandria Suarez, a prosecutor with the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office, has filed to run for the 5th District school board seat held by Sue Woltanski, who has yet to announce if she’ll run for a second term. Suarez ran an unsuccessful campaign in 2020 for a Florida House seat as a Republican. Key West Citizen. Florida Politics.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida tied for fifth place among the nation’s top public universities in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. Florida State University was 19th in the same category, the University of South Florida 46th and the University of Central Florida 67th. Gainesville Sun. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Florida A&M University is again the top-ranked HBCU in the nation, according to the rankings. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland was the top-rated southern public college in the U.S. News rankings, and was third nationally. Florida Politics. Here are reports on how other state colleges and universities were ranked. Miami Herald. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFOR.

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BY NextSteps staff