Oct. 5 reopening proposed for Broward, lawsuits over masks, enrollment shortfalls and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Suing over masks: Lawsuits have been springing up in Florida and around the country against the mandatory use of masks by students in schools. One of them was filed in Hillsborough County by a Facebook group called Moms Against Mask Mandates. Grace Warniment is one of those moms. She claims masks are disgusting and could put her elementary-aged sons at risk. “Why would I cover my children’s face when they’re healthy?” she asked. “You’re only going to lower their immune system. The masks are what are hurting people.” The suit alleges that masks aren’t effective, that children are unlikely to spread the virus, that the mask mandate interferes with parents’ rights to direct their children’s medical care, and that it violates the state constitution by denying students access to a free public education. The 74.

Coronavirus and students: More than 54,400 Florida children under the age of 17 have tested positive for the coronavirus since March, with more than 11,600 of those being diagnosed in the past month, and eight have died, according to data from school districts and health officials. A majority of the cases have been of students instead of employees, and nationally, children make up about 8 percent of all coronavirus cases since March. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study said that minority children account for 78 percent of pediatric deaths from COVID-19, and that 75 percent of all children who have died had at least one underlying condition. WKMG. WFOR. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: The president of the largest teachers union in the state said more substitute teachers are needed, Broward’s schools could open for in-person learning Oct. 5, the Palm Beach County School District is in disarray just days before it reopens for students, more districts are reporting lower than projected school enrollments, and more school districts are closed today because of Hurricane Sally. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools:

Broward: Superintendent Robert Runcie is recommending that the school board approve Oct. 5 as the day to welcome students back into classrooms. Runcie said he will present his proposal to the board at its Sept. 22 meeting. Runcie said a decline in COVID-19 rates and the state’s decision to move the county into Phase 2 of the reopening prompted the decision. “We recognize there’s a population that wants to come back to our schools and those families should have that option,” he said. Learning has been online-only since March. Runcie also clarified a recent memo written by his chief of staff that said teachers have to return to classes or take a leave of absence. “We recognize not all our educators can return to the classroom. Requests for accommodations or appropriate leaves will be considered,” Runcie said. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. An arbitrator has ruled that a sheriff’s deputy who was fired after taking cover behind his truck and then driving away from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018 should be reinstated with back pay. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay: Head counts at school districts in the Tampa Bay area show that enrollments are down by thousands of students from projections made before the beginning of the school year. Hillsborough is missing about 20,000 students, Pinellas 5,000 and Pasco is still verifying the count but acknowledges its enrollment is also declining. Some of those missing students have opted for private schools, home-schooling or Florida Virtual School. “The deficit at the state level is really pretty terrifying,” said Pasco school board member Alison Crumbley. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County has reported 15 new cases of coronavirus this week, while Pasco has reported eight. Florida Politics. WUSF. WTSP. The first week of high school football with spectators in the Tampa Bay area went well, with most fans following the safety procedures by wearing masks and social distancing. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Dr. Raul Pino, the county’s health department director, said Tuesday there have been no severe coronavirus cases among students and no secondary transmission in schools. WMFE. School officials blame an international backlog for the shortage of electronic devices to hand out to students for virtual learning. WOFL.

Palm Beach: The district reopens for students Monday, but principals still don’t know who will be teaching classes, teachers are rushing to ask for permission to work from home, administrators are trying to build virtual-only classrooms, and computers and electronic smart boards are in short supply. The chaos can be traced to the willingness to outsource the decision on when to reopen schools to the county commission and governor, and to allow as many as 10,000 employees to ask for waivers to work from home. Palm Beach Post. County health official Dr. Alina Alonso told county commissioners Tuesday that she’s worried that mixing students, teachers and other employees could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus. Alonso said a third of all new cases in recent days have been reported in people between the ages of 15 and 25. She said rapid-results tests are needed for schools but aren’t available right now. Palm Beach Post. Teachers will be asked to teach in-person and virtual learners simultaneously, and they have doubts whether they’ve been adequately prepared by the district. WPEC. Brian Sheridan, the head football coach at the American Heritage School in Delray Beach, has died at the age of 45 of cancer. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPEC.

Duval: Families have until Sept. 25 to decide whether their children will attend schools in-person or choose the Duval HomeRoom virtual option for the second quarter of the academic year. HomeRoom allows students to stay enrolled in their assigned or chosen school and follow their classes remotely. About 13,000 students have already switched from HomeRoom to in-person learning. Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville city leaders are considering recommending that one of the nine county schools now honoring Confederate leaders be renamed after Earl Johnson Sr., a civil rights attorney who took cases seeking the desegregation of schools, hospitals and more. WJXT. An appeals court heard arguments Tuesday in the Duval case challenging the use of armed “school safety assistants.” The lawsuit, filed by parents, students and the League of Women Voters of Florida, alleges that the state’s school guardians program is a violation of the law that bans anyone other than a sworn law enforcement officer from carrying a weapon on a school campus. News Service of Florida.

Polk: The number of coronavirus infections in the school district now stands at 119, with 54 schools affected. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School Superintendent Michael Grego talks about the closure of schools because of the coronavirus, the reopening and his thoughts about the rest of the 2020-2021 academic year. St. Pete Catalyst. Four more cases of the coronavirus have been reported at four schools, which resulted in quarantines of 21 classrooms. Thirty students and 26 employees have tested positive since schools reopened Aug. 24, and at least 90 classrooms have been quarantined. Florida Politics.

Lee: A student has been arrested and charged with threatening a mass shooting at East Lee County High School. Deputies said the student, a junior, posted the threat on social media. WFTX. WBBH. WINK.

Brevard: Nineteen more coronavirus cases have been reported by the school district since Friday, bringing the total to 109 since schools reopened Aug. 24. The latest cases, which included 15 students and four employees, prompted 175 people to be quarantined. Another 29 were advised to quarantine after exposure to someone with the virus at home or in the community. Florida Today.

Seminole: Students taking classes from home will be required to return to schools to take assessments tests. District officials said the tests are needed to identify children who need additional support, and cannot be taken remotely. WFTV.

Volusia: Thursday’s school board meeting will be open to the public for the first time since March. The board met virtually 17 times since March 27, shortly after the pandemic closed schools, and also has held meetings in the board room without spectators. Members of the public have been calling for open meetings since schools restarted with masks required for students and employees. Attendance will be limited, masks will be required, temperatures will be checked and social distancing will be observed. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Fifty-five cases of coronavirus have been reported at 29 traditional public schools have been reported since classes began Aug, 17, and 787 people were reported to have been exposed to those affected. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: School board members have approved the district $803 million budget, which is about $100 million more than last year’s. The millage rate was dropped slightly, but taxes for schools will increase for most homeowners because of rising property values. Daily Commercial. The school district has acknowledged that it failed to notify parents after an employee at Rimes Elementary School recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Four people who were in close contact with the employee were advised to quarantine. “When there is a positive case, we notify board members and then we notify parents,” said district communications officer Sherri Owens. “We did all of that in this case with the exception of notification to parents, and that was an oversight on our part.” WFTV.

Sarasota, Charlotte: Sarasota County School Board members have begun the process to extend the mandatory use of face masks in schools for the rest of this academic year. The current 90-day mask policy is due to expire in November. The board will vote next month on the proposed extension. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. Sarasota schools have now reported 25 positive coronavirus tests this school year. Five cases have been confirmed in Charlotte County schools, and the district has sent home about 920 students. Charlotte Sun.

Northwest Florida: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Bay, Okaloosa, Franklin, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Calhoun, Washington and Walton schools are closed today because of the projected impact of Hurricane Sally, which is expected to make landfall soon in the area between eastern Mississippi and western Florida. Northwest Florida Daily News. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. WTXL. WMBB. WJHG. WCTV. Panama City News Herald. Florida Department of Education.

Clay: Six students and six employees tested positive for the coronavirus last week, sending 136 students and 29 employees into quarantine. WJXT.

Monroe: At least 68 percent of the district’s students were in classrooms for in-person learning when schools reopened Monday, according to communications coordinator Rebecca Herrin. About 800 fewer students than expected showed up for the first day, but Herrin said that’s not an unusual number. Miami Herald.

More on the coronavirus: Open and frequent communication has a critical role to play in the success of remote learning, according to a survey from the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning. redefinED. More U.S. school districts have decided to help set up so-called pandemic pods for low-income families and at-risk students as a way to help address potential equity issues. Education Dive. As virtual learning expands, so do the number of hackers who are targeting K-12 schools in ransomware attacks. Sinclair.

Judges won’t drop off case: Two 1st District Court of Appeals judges said they will not recuse themselves from hearing an appeal from the state in the lawsuit over its order to reopen schools. The Florida Education Association, which brought the suit, wanted judges Lori Rowe and Timothy Osterhaus to withdraw from the case because they were under consideration for Florida Supreme Court seats. Neither was chosen for that open seat. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: A study has shown that America’s oldest urban private school choice program had the vital effects of steering young adults away from both crime and out-of-wedlock births, thus laying a strong foundation for them to live more successful lives. That’s a big deal. Patrick J. Wolf, redefinED. Hillsborough County’s new school superintendent, Addison Davis, is on the right track in a sensitive quest to control the budget. Hillsborough needs to bring its spending in line, and that requires a closer examination of individual campuses. Tampa Bay Times. The pandemic has not disappeared, and we need to keep wearing the masks, keep our social distance, and err where we can on the side of caution, especially in schools. But neither should we pretend the sky is falling to the extent it was a few months ago. Gil Smart, TCPalm.

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