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State appeals another judge’s decision on mask rule, food aid, new surgeon general, and more

New day, new appeal: Florida is again appealing a judge’s decision on its face mask rule. Monday, administrative law Judge Brian Newman denied the state’s motion to dismiss a challenge brought by five school boards and a superintendent to block the state’s rule that prevents districts from mandating face masks for students without offering parents an opportunity to opt-out. Newman rejected the state’s contention that the boards don’t have the legal authority to challenge the rule, citing past cases in which local governments had pursued rule challenges and writing, “Indeed, such challenges are routinely decided here at the Division of Administrative Hearings.” He did dismiss another challenge from the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the Florida Student Power Network and a group of individuals, agreeing with the state that they didn’t have legal standing. A hearing of the challenge by the school boards and superintendent is scheduled to begin Friday. News Service of Florida. In another case, the state is arguing that the legal challenge of the masks rule should not be fast-tracked to the state Supreme Court as the group of parents bringing the suit are asking. News Service of Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Dr. Joseph Ladapo as surgeon general on Tuesday. He’s a former UCLA researcher whose expertise is in cardiovascular health and preventive medicine, and was recently hired by the University of Florida College of Medicine. Ladapo, who has questioned the safety of COVID vaccines and the effectiveness of masks, said Florida is “done with fear” as a public health strategy. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Gainesville Sun.

Food aid application: The state has reversed course and decided to apply for $820 million in federal food aid money for children from low-income households. State officials had been saying the money wasn’t needed, but Tuesday the Department of Children and Families announced it would apply for the aid after all. Parents of about 2.1 million children could receive $375 to pay for food for their children through next summer. Florida participated last year, when $1.2 billion was available to cover food assistance from August 2020 through June 21. When the program was extended, Florida chose not to apply, and up to now was the only state not to apply for the extra aid. Tampa Bay Times.

In the Legislature: Florida students would have to be 18 to be able to drop out of high school under a bill filed for the legislative session that begins Jan. 11. The current age is 16. State Rep. Kevin Chambliss, D-Homestead, said the bill would align Florida with a majority of other states. News Service of Florida. State Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, was formally named caucus leader on Tuesday, putting him in line to become House speaker for the 2022-2024 term. In his speech, Renner said Washington is moving in the wrong direction and that Florida is an example of what the nation could be. “The best way to beat a bad idea is with a good idea, and Florida is lighting the way,” he said. “That’s why I’m so optimistic about the future of our state.” Associated Press. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. Lawmakers have the general outline of how Gov. DeSantis wants to replace the Florida Standards Assessments, and now the Senate Education Committee is awaiting more specifics from DeSantis and Department of Education officials before proceeding to write the bill. “What the progress monitoring will look like, what the testing will look like — we’ll have to wait for the details,” said state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Palm Beach County School Board members will consider establishing a process to use when deciding whether to commit students for treatment under the Baker Act, Broward’s top technology administrator resigns but then changes his mind and will take a medical leave instead, Brevard’s school board extends the district’s mask mandate without a parental opt-out for another 30 days, several districts report grades received by schools that chose to opt-in, seven students at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County have been identified as being responsible for verbal attacks Friday against gay students, and seven Florida schools have been designated as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2021. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A security monitor and assistant football coach at Carol City Senior High School in Miami Gardens has been arrested and accused of raping his 16-year-old goddaughter. Dominic Johnson, 36, has denied the allegation. A school official said the district will begin the firing process. Miami Herald. WSVN.

Broward: The top technology administrator in the school district said Tuesday morning that he was stepping down because of health considerations, but by Tuesday afternoon said he had worked out an agreement to take medical leave instead of resigning. Phil Dunn, 40, said he expects the district to appoint a temporary replacement while he’s out for an unspecified amount of time. Dunn became chief information officer in 2019, after Tony Hunter resigned and was later arrested on bid-rigging and bribery charges. Sun Sentinel.

Palm Beach: A proposal that spells out the circumstances in which students can be involuntarily committed for mental health evaluations under the Baker Act will be reviewed by school board members at tonight’s meeting. The policy calls for more training for educators and school police, requires principals be more aggressive in contacting parents during an incident, and mandates better documentation and follow-up for every incident. More than 1,200 students have been Baker-Acted from schools over the past four years, and advocates for disabled and minority children have sued the district, calling the commitments “excessive and illegal.” Sam Boyd, attorney for the Southern Policy Law Center, which has been critical of the district’s use of the Baker Act, called the proposal “definitely an improvement over the prior status quo, which was no policy.” Palm Beach Post. Tara Dellegrotti, who was removed as principal at Atlantic High School in June after racial discord erupted at the school, has been transferred to the district administration office and will work as a principal on assignment. Palm Beach Post. TikTok’s “devious licks” challenge has invaded south Florida schools, so much so that Palm Beach school officials sent a note to parents this week that said guilty students will be disciplined and their parents “may also be responsible for financial restitution.” Sun Sentinel.

Duval: Doctors and other medical professionals are crediting the district’s more restrictive mask mandate as a contributing factor in the declining number of coronavirus cases being reported among students and employees. On Sept. 7, the district adopted a policy requiring students to wear masks with opt-outs allowed only for medical reasons. The week before the new policy, an average of 135 cases a day were being reported. Since Sept. 7, that average is down to 36. “Mask mandates work,” said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at UF Health Jacksonville and at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Twenty-four of the Duval County School District’s nearly 200 schools asked for grades from the state this year. Sixteen of the schools improved their grades, with the biggest jump coming at Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary, which went from a D to an A. Six saw no change, one got its first grade from the state, and one declined from a D to an F. Florida Times-Union. Gretchin Hope Thompson, a former First Coast High School teacher, has pleaded guilty to a charge of felony battery for soliciting a romantic relationship with a student. She was sentenced to 12 months of probation, ordered to undergo mental health treatment and has agreed to give up her license to teach. WJXT.

Polk: The Lakeland Planning and Zoning Board has approved a school district plan to rebuild most of Southwest Middle School in Lakeland. The board’s unanimous recommendation now goes to city commissioners. The city’s sign-off is needed because the school is in a neighborhood zoned for residential use. Construction is expected to begin by the end of this calendar year or the beginning of 2022, with an August 2023 completion date. Students will continue to attend classes at Southwest Middle during the rebuild. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, school board members extended the face mask mandate for students without a parental opt-out for another 30 days. The only change is a provision that allows masks to be removed in circumstances when people can maintain social distancing of 6 feet. Two anti-mask protesters were arrested before the meeting. The two, who were unmasked, approached district headquarters and said they wanted to speak during the meeting without wearing masks. Both were handcuffed and removed from the property. Florida Today. WKMG. The TikTok “devious licks” challenge has found its way into Brevard schools, with a handful of soap dispensers being removed from school bathrooms. Florida Today.

Volusia: Thirteen district schools opted to receive grades from the state this year, and 11 of them received an A: Burns Science and Technology Charter School, Chisholm Elementary, Coronado Beach Elementary, Edgewater Public School, Ivy Hawn Charter School of the Arts, Ormond Beach Elementary, Osceola Elementary, Pathways Elementary, Pine Trail Elementary, R.J. Longstreet Elementary and Sweetwater Elementary. The other two, Starke Elementary and South Daytona Elementary, were given a C. For South Daytona, that was an improvement of one grade, while Starke maintained its mark. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A former English teacher at the IMG Academy in Bradenton has been arrested and accused of having sex with a 17-year-old student. Sheriff’s deputies said the school contacted them with the allegations against Taylor J. Anderson, 38, on Sept. 14. School officials said the student admitted the allegations were true, and Anderson was barred from the campus and later fired. Bradenton Herald. Tampa Bay Times.

Collier: The district maintained its A grade from the state this year for the fourth year in a row. Sixteen schools received an A grade, 12 got a B and six got a C. Nine schools improved their grades, and the biggest jump was at Pinecrest Elementary, which went from a D during the 2018-2019 school year to an A this year. No grades were given last year. Naples Daily News.

St. Johns: Seven Bartram Trail High School students have been identified as being responsible for verbal attacks Friday against gay students, according to school officials. The seven, all boys, will be disciplined according to the student code, with penalties ranging from school suspension to placement in an alternative school, as well as a mental health referral or even criminal prosecution. St. Augustine Record.

Marion: Eleven of the district’s elementary schools requested grades from the state this year, and two long-struggling ones both showed improvement. Oakcrest and Evergreen were awarded C grades after years of receiving D or F grades. Oakcrest will now no longer be in the state’s turnaround program, but Evergreen was closed this year after enrollment fell to 70 percent below capacity. Eighth Street, Madison Street, Dr. N.H. Jones and Shady Hill all earned grades of A. Sparr and Harbour View both improved from a C to a B, and Belleview, Reddick-Collier, Oakcrest, Evergreen and College Park all received C grades after being among the 300 lowest-performing schools in the state during the 2018-2019 school year. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: All three school districts received a B grade from the state this year, which represented no change for St. Lucie and Indian River but a drop for Martin from the A it received in the 2018-2019 school year. Only St. Lucie opted to be graded; the scores for Martin and Indian River were calculated using the data and the state’s formula, and most schools also chose to opt-out. About 75 percent of St. Lucie’s schools would have received a C or lower, and 24 would have dropped a letter grade. Nearly 60 percent of Martin’s schools would have received a C or D, and 13 would have dropped a letter grade. Sixteen of 24 Indian River schools would have received a C or D, and 13 would have dropped at least one letter grade. TCPalm.

Leon: If the school district had opted in to receive a grade from the state this year, it would have been a C, according to calculations based on state data. From 2016 to 2019, the district got B grades. Only Bond Elementary chose to receive a grade, and it improved from a D to a C. Twenty-eight schools would have dropped a grade, and five would have gone from a C to an F. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: Nurses from Health Hero Florida have been administering free vaccinations at schools this week. The program ends today, and shots will have been given in 17 middle and high schools. The nursing team will return to the schools in three weeks to administer second doses. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: Eight charter schools in Alachua were the only ones in the district to opt-in to receive grades from the state this year. Getting an A were the Micanopy Area Cooperative School, the Expression Learning Arts Academy, Alachua Learning Academy, Healthy Learning Academy, Alachua Learning Academy Middle and the Boulware Springs Charter. The One Room School House Project and Micanopy Academy received B grades. Gainesville Sun. About 1,700 air purifiers are being installed in county classrooms this week. Federal funds are being used to pay the $2.8 million cost. Gainesville Sun.

Clay: Two Clay County school buses were shot with a pellet gun minutes just two miles apart in Lake Asbury on Tuesday morning. A student, the driver and an attendant were aboard each bus, but no one was injured. WJXT.

Citrus: All high schools and several middle schools in the county have reported incidences of vandalism linked to the TikTok “devious licks” challenge. “I’ve got to tell you, I’m very disappointed in students who have gotten on the bandwagon,” said board member Doug Dodd. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: Tuesday’s school board meeting was expected to be so vitriolic that, before it started, deputies gave board members instructions on how to get to a safe room if things got out of hand. The issue of masks was not on the agenda, but it was on the minds and in the comments of those who oppose their use in schools, and board members did have to exit to the safe room when speakers got especially confrontational. Flagler Live.

Bradford: The head volleyball coach at Bradford County High School has been arrested and accused of sending explicit text messages to a student. Lainie Rodgers, 24, is charged with authority figure soliciting/engaging in lewd conduct with a student and transmission of harmful material to a minor by electronic device. She has resigned both positions. An arrest warrant has also been issued for a second district employee accused of sexual misconduct with a student. Autumn Rodgers, 24, a paraprofessional at Bradford Middle School, is expected to turn herself in today. Deputies said the two women are not related and the victims are different students. WJAX. WCJB. WJXT. WTLV.

Jefferson: School board members have adopted a budget of $11.3 million with a slightly lower millage rate that will nonetheless generate more revenue because of rising property values. Carol MacLeod, the district’s retired chief financial officer and current consultant, said the district has boosted its reserves from under 3 percent four years ago to 15 percent today. “You’re at a good starting point to have a conversation with the Florida Department of Education about taking back the schools.” Financial problems contributed to the state handing control of the district over to Somerset Academy, Inc., a South Florida charter school network, in 2017. Jefferson County Journal.

Colleges and universities: A University of South Florida presidential search committee has launched a seven-question online survey to get community feedback on what qualities it wants for the school’s new leader. The survey closes Sept. 30, and the committee will use the results to help with its search. A decision is expected in January. Tampa Bay Times.

Blue Ribbon schools: Seven Florida schools have been chosen as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2021 for their academic performance and progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. They are: AcadeMir Charter Middle School in Miami; Avalon Middle School in Orlando; the Center for International Education, a Cambridge Program school in Homestead; Charter School of Excellence at Davie in Pembroke Pines; Jacksonville Beach Elementary School; Somerset Academy Silver Pines in Homestead; and Terrace Community Middle School in Tampa. National Blue Ribbon Schools Program. Florida Times-Union. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the nation: Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday that testing shows a booster to its one-shot vaccine, given two or six months after the first shot, provides months of improved protection against the coronavirus. The results of the tests have not been published or reviewed. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: By introducing a bill in the state House that contains some of the most sweeping government-imposed speech restrictions on schools and public agencies that we’ve ever seen in a piece of legislation, Florida’s elected hypocrites continue to undermine the constitution they claim to love. Orlando Sentinel. The Hispanic community is tired of waiting for the traditional education system to improve and work efficiently. We are tired of being used for anyone’s political agenda. Indeed, we would like to see immediate solutions that won’t take years to implement. A child gets only one shot at a proper, quality education. Valeria Gurr, reimaginED. Others’ judgment of how you educate your child is not your problem. Let the school, teachers, and other parents have their thoughts. The burden and the beauty of home-school is that you are the principal, lead teacher, and guidance counselor. YOU get to decide. Tiana Kubik, Project Forever Free. Standardized assessments and accountability will remain, but Gov. DeSantis’ proposal is a positive opportunity for crafting a new approach to assessment that can best support schools and students. F. Chris Curran, Gainesville Sun. The rampant fear-mongering about school-choice programs operating at the expense of public education is entirely baseless. The reality is that spending on school-choice programs pales in comparison to recent increases in employee- and retiree-benefit costs for education systems across the country. Aaron Smith, National Review. I find the masks-in-schools argument akin to the debate over smoking in public places. You are allowed to smoke even though you know it may give you cancer. However, the government stepped in and passed laws that say that your right stops when your cigarette smoke affects others in a public space. Sarasota school board chair Shirley Brown, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Volusia school board members gave in to a small contingent of anti-vaxx bullies, and have put students and school employees at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff