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Three boards unite to fight state’s mask order, more districts investigated, Gulf school district closing, two more COVID deaths and more

Districts unite to fight state: School boards in Alachua, Broward and Orange counties have decided to band together to fight the state’s order prohibiting school districts from imposing face mask mandates for students without giving parents an option to opt-out. The districts have hired Greenberg Traurig, a South Florida law firm, to represent them. Alachua spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said they are awaiting the written court order from Circuit Court Judge John Cooper before moving ahead with any legal action. At issue are the mandate ban and the state’s decision to withhold funds from Broward and Alachua, despite Cooper’s ruling Friday that the state’s order was unconstitutional. Florida Phoenix. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WGFL. Gainesville Sun. A dozen or more state school districts have defied the state’s mask order, and the Florida Department of Education has notified at least five of them that they are under investigation and risk losing state funds because they enacted mask mandates with opt-outs only for medical reasons. Bay News 9. WKMG. WJCT. WPTV. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. In another case, a federal judge in Miami has scheduled a hearing Sept. 8 to hear arguments for an preliminary injunction against the executive order on masks issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Parents of disabled children are alleging that the order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and two other federal disability laws. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Two more Polk County school employees have died of complications from COVID-19, the Gulf County School District will be closed until after Labor Day due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases, Treasure Coast Elementary School in Indian River County has been closed by a coronavirus outbreak, Volusia school board members vote to require students to wear face masks from Sept. 7 to Oct. 15, a state legislator threatens the Flagler school district over its quarantine policy even though it’s within state guidelines, and the state’s Charter School Appeal Commission is recommending the state Board of Education overturn the Leon school board’s denial of a charter school application. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Only 58 students have filed medical exemption forms so they don’t have to wear masks in schools, according to school officials. The district is the largest in the state and the fourth-largest in the United States with about 350,000 students. WFOR. Karina Diaz, a teacher for nine years at the Creative Learning Center in Miami, was among three people killed in a car crash Tuesday morning in southwest Miami-Dade. Her husband and mother also died in the accident. WTVJ.

Broward: Interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright said at Tuesday’s school board meeting that the district would continue its policy of requiring masks for all students unless they produce a medical opt-out form, despite the state’s decision to withhold money equal to the pay of board members. WFOR. WPLG. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: At today’s meeting, school board members are expected to approve the hiring of the national law firm Boies Schiller Flexner to “provide advice and discuss strategy on all issues regarding the school board’s mask mandate.” The proposal would authorize spending up to $50,000 for the legal representation. The district has been notified by the state that it is under investigation for its policy that requires students to wear face masks and allows opt-outs only for medical reasons. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. School board members also will decide whether to set up two drive-through coronavirus testing sites on school properties. The goal is to provide greater access for quicker results. WPBF. WPTV.

Duval: The school district counted nearly 1,500 cases of the coronavirus among students and employees last week, an increase of nearly 500 from the week before. Cases among students total 1,319, and 177 have been reported among employees. During the entire 2020-2021 school year, the district reported 2,498 cases. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Two more school district employees have died in the past week after contracting the coronavirus over the summer. Erica Miller, 40, was a music teacher at Chain of Lakes Elementary School in Winter Haven. School bus driver John Croy, 70, had been with the district for about nine years and drove for Bartow High, Bartow IB, Summerlin Academy, Gause Academy and Crystal Lake Middle. Lakeland Ledger. The number of district students quarantined nearly quadrupled between Aug. 17 and 27, going from about 2,200 to 8,228. The district has counted 1,061 confirmed coronavirus cases among students and staff. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: School officials said the first day went well under the new face mask policy requiring everyone to wear a covering unless they had a medical exemption. They also denied accusations from state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, and others that some students without masks were denied entry into schools, and others were being denied lunch. Students who don’t want to wear masks have been given five days to obtain a medical excuse. Florida Today. In its twice-weekly report, the district counted 502 new cases of the coronavirus among students and staff and 2,748 people have been quarantined. The number of positive cases is the lowest it’s been since Aug. 17, but remains much higher than at the same time a year ago. Florida Today. WFTV.

Osceola: The district’s school resource officer task force has been asked to review and suggest operating rules for the school guardian program, now that the sheriff’s office and the Kissimmee Police Department have removed their officers from charter schools. “The idea of guardians or public safety officers all of a sudden getting new guidelines without us looking at it made us a little questioning of what was going on,” said task force member Steven Montiero, who is a reserve Florida Highway Patrol trooper and WKMG-Channel 6 traffic analyst. “My concern is that I do not support a guardian program and yet we’re still doing it, but I want to make sure safety is still a priority in schools.” Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: School board members voted Tuesday to require all students to wear face masks from Sept. 7 until Oct. 15. Students can opt-out if they have a note from a health professional. Face masks had been optional for students. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Lake: A special school board meeting has been scheduled for Thursday to discuss the rise in coronavirus cases in the district and the current, optional face mask policy. Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: District officials said they will now accept face mask medical opt-out forms only from doctors in select medical professions. They made the move after reports that people were lining up at a Venice chiropractor’s office to get signed forms. Dr. Dan Busch insisted his willingness to sign the forms was not a political statement. “I am not an anti-mask person or an anti-vax person, but I am a pro-freedom, pro-choice person,” he said. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. WWSB.

Escambia: School bus drivers are getting a pay raise of at least 4 percent this year, and starting pay is increasing by more than $2 an hour, to $14.72. The agreement between the district and the union representing drivers still has to be ratified, then approved by the school board. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. An alternative academy opens next week to help students who have dropped out to earn a high school diploma. The Escambia County Acceleration Academies will take students up to the age of 21 and provide a mix of online and in-person learning that’s tailored to the student. “If you think that you’re a student that dropped out and it’s too late for you to go back to high school, but you’re still eligible to graduate, it’s not too late,” said director Maria Jacobs. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: The state’s Charter School Appeal Commission has recommended that the Florida Board of Education overturn the Leon County School Board’s decision to deny an application for a charter school. The Red Hills Academy applied in February to start a school with a diverse school enrollment that would offer a second language for 30 minutes a day. The bid was rejected in April, but school officials appealed to the charter appeal panel, which ruled Tuesday that there was no “substantial competent evidence” to deny the application. If the BOE agrees, the school is expected to open next August. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Newly appointed school board member Mildred Russell talks about her philosophy and goals in a Q&A. Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: School board members voted 3-2 Tuesday night to impose a face mask mandate for students, but stay within the state’s rule by allowing parents to opt-out their children by filling out a form. The new policy takes effect Monday, and the board will revisit the policy in October. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WTVT.

Indian River: Treasure Coast Elementary School in Sebastian has been closed through Sept. 10 by a coronavirus outbreak, district officials announced Tuesday. It’s the second district school to be closed because of the high number of infections among teachers and staff, said Superintendent David Moore. The school’s 600 students will get their assignments through the district’s online portal, and free meals will be available for pickup at the school. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Flagler: A state legislator has sent a letter to the school district threatening “legal repercussions” for its quarantine policy – even though the district is following protocols established by state health officials. State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, wrote after a family claims they were unfairly quarantined when their son was exposed to COVID at Indian Trails Middle School. “It is apparent there are two classes of students in the Flagler County School System, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated,” Sabatini wrote. Students who are vaccinated or had COVID in the past three months do not have to quarantine if they’re exposed. Unvaccinated students who are exposed must quarantine for 7 to 10 days. Daytona Beach News-Journal. From Saturday to Monday, the school district counted 166 new student cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total this year to 612. At the current rate, the district will surpass the total from the 2020-2021 academic year in the first four weeks of school this year. Flagler Live.

Walton: The number of COVID-19 cases and quarantines among students and employees more than doubled between Aug. 19 and 26, according to district officials. Confirmed cases of the coronavirus jumped from 165 to 407, and the number of students and staff under quarantine rose from 405 on Aug. 19 to 911 a week later. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Gulf: Superintendent Jim Norton announced Tuesday that all district schools are closed until Sept. 7 because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases. “We are working in tandem with local health authorities and have made the decision to close schools on Wednesday, Sept. 1, Thursday, Sept. 2, and Friday, Sept. 3,” Norton said in a news release. “This will prevent our students from getting further behind on course work and provide those who are ill the opportunity to rest and heal.” He estimated that 20 percent of students are sick or quarantined, and that 30 teachers and other employees are unable to come to school. Port St. Joe Star. WMBB. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: The University of West Florida and Miami Dade College have formed a partnership to expand cybersecurity workforce development. The schools will work together to build a curriculum and explore mutual grants, faculty training, and industry and student scholarship opportunities. Pensacola News Journal.

Opinions on schools: School choice is not going away anytime soon. Instead of wasting resources fighting against education reforms that are widely supported, teachers unions should join the rest of the world by innovating and being responsive to parents. Valeria Gurr, Washington Examiner. Florida’s children deserve protection, and the governor should stop fighting local school officials who are trying to provide it. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff