School mask policies getting another look, being adjusted and may end up in court, raises and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Around the state: Some districts are reconsidering whether to continue with mandates requiring students to wear masks at school, others are updating or extending their policies, a group of parents in Sarasota County are raising money to hire a lawyer to sue the district over its face mask mandate, teachers in Leon County are getting raises, priorities are set for repairing and replacing Duval County schools if voters approve the addition of an extra half-cent to the sales tax, the Lee County School District will rely on the state to post coronavirus cases updates instead of doing its own, and more positive coronavirus tests are affecting schools. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: The Maritime and Science Technology Academy, a magnet high school in Miami, reopened Tuesday after closing for a day when two students tested positive for the coronavirus. The school was sanitized Monday. It’s the only Miami-Dade school to close so far, though most students have been in classrooms for less than a week. WSVN. WFOR. WPLG.

Broward: At least two students and 45 teachers and other employees have tested positive for the coronavirus in the four days since some students returned to classrooms for face-to-face instruction. The second phase of the reopening was Tuesday, and more students will return by Friday. Superintendent Robert Runcie expects 20-25 percent of students will return, with the rest continuing to learn remotely. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. Michelle Kefford, a Broward County high school principal who was one of three finalists for the 2021 national principal of the year award presented by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, lost out to Richard Gordon of Paul Robeson High School for Human Services in West Philadelphia. Kefford was the principal at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines when she was chosen as a finalist, and has since moved to the same job at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Chalkbeat.

Orange: Kindergarten, 2nd- and 4th-grade students at Avalon Elementary School in Orlando will switch temporarily to remote learning after four positive coronavirus cases were reported at the school Tuesday. Their return to school is scheduled for Oct. 26. Thirty-eight students have been placed under the quarantine order. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. More than 16,000 district students resumed in-person instruction Tuesday, but many came back to different teachers. Nearly 140 teachers have resigned or retired since Aug. 21, the first day classrooms reopened for students. WKMG. School board members approved an update to the district’s face mask policy, detailing the specific circumstances when students do not have to wear them. WKMG.

Duval: The school district has established priorities for how it intends to spend the money generated by an extra half-cent in the sales tax if it’s approved by voters Nov. 3. “Schools with the greatest needs and oldest facilities will be prioritized, and every school will equally benefit with safety and security measures within the first three years,” according to a statement released by the district. Individual spending plans have been set up for each of the 160 schools. The tax is projected to generate nearly $2 billion over 15 years. WJXT.

Polk: The school board will hold a series of forums for the community and employees this month to solicit recommendations for the qualities and experience the board should be looking for as it begins a search for a new school superintendent. A survey has also been posted online and can be completed before Nov. 12. Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd has announced her retirement effective June 30, 2021. WFTS.

Pinellas: School board members tentatively agreed Tuesday to extend the emergency rule requiring students to wear face masks in schools, despite hearing from nine speakers who argued against the mandate. The original 90-day rule was passed Aug. 11 and expires Nov. 9. The board unanimously agreed to discuss the issue again at a workshop Oct. 20 and then take a final vote Nov. 10. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Lee: School officials have decided to remove the coronavirus dashboard from the district’s website and instead provide a link to the Florida Department of Health’s statewide count. The change was made because the state’s data “is more detailed,” said district spokesman Rob Spicker. “We believe it just provides extra information that increases the transparency of the reporting.” Between Sept. 6 and Oct. 10, 127 students and employees from 65 schools were diagnosed with the coronavirus. In the week of Oct. 4-10, 31 cases were reported. Fort Myers News-Press. A Lee County middle school student was sent home to quarantine for 10 days after she told a nurse she was fatigued because her period had started. “This what it’s come down to, so every month I have to come when she’s on her cycle? It’s just ridiculous at this point,” said the girl’s mother. WFTX. District 3 school board incumbent Chris Patricca is being challenged by Jacqueline Perez in the Nov. 3 runoff. Both are parents who became activists for causes affecting their children. A primary difference is their assessments of Superintendent Greg Adkins. Perez thinks the board should hold Adkins accountable for problems, while Patricca believes the metrics show positive movement forward for the district. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: School officials are condemning the unauthorized use of the school board’s logo in a political text message issued by the campaign of state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Beach. The message criticized Fine’s opponent for the District 53 House seat, suggesting Phil Moore wanted to close all county charter schools and end the state’s voucher programs. Moore has denied it, and filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission. In a Facebook statement, the district said: “In general, unauthorized use of the School Board’s logo is a violation of its common law trademark rights, common law service mark rights, and trade name rights.  The district does not get involved in political campaigns nor do we support the use of our schools, staff or students for political purposes.” Florida Today.

Osceola: A teacher has been pulled from the classroom as the school district investigates remarks she made during an online class at Poinciana High School in Kissimmee. Social studies teacher Tracey Brown was heard on a video saying she had a right to “dislike black people” because she had been attacked by a gang on an Atlanta train when she was a teenager. WFTV.

Volusia, Flagler: Twenty-eight positive coronavirus cases were reported last week in Volusia schools and two in Flagler schools. That brings Volusia’s total since schools reopened to 96, and Flagler’s to 33. One of those infected in Volusia was school board chair Ida Wright, who said “it will literally knock you down” but that she’s feeling better. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Flagler Palm Coast High School “Guard Dogs” group has donated 200 tourniquets to the county’s fire department. The student group collaborated with the Generation Impact Group through United Way and received funding through a social innovation fund grant. WJXT.

Manatee: Seven new coronavirus infections have been reported by the school district, resulting in 83 exposures and quarantines. Four of the cases were students at Palm View K-8 School, which sent 70 people into quarantine. The district has now reported 106 infections since schools reopened Aug. 17, and 1,231 exposures and quarantines. Bradenton Herald. Elementary school playground equipment that has been closed because of the coronavirus will open to students in grades 3-5 on Oct. 20 with new safety guidelines in place. Bradenton Herald.

Sarasota: A group has raised more than $11,000 to hire a lawyer to sue the school district over its policy requiring students to wear face masks. “We are taking action to have the mask mandate decision reversed immediately for the physical, emotional and social well-being of our children,” said the petition for the GoFundMe campaign. “The decisions made by the board are not in the best interest of the people they serve.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: All 16,700 students who opted for remote learning to start school can return to the classroom if they choose, Escambia school officials announced this week. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas predicts about 10 percent will return to the classroom, joining the 17,753 in-person learners. Parents and their children must decide by Oct. 20. The first grading period ends Oct. 27. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Starting teachers will be paid nearly $6,000 more a year after the school board approved a contract agreement between the district and the union. First-year teachers will be paid $43,304, up from $37,500, and current teachers who weren’t making $43,304 will also be boosted to that level. Other teachers making that or more will get raises of up to $3,000. School board members also learned this week that a shipment of 2,500 Chromebooks have arrived. About 34,000 were ordered, and will arrive in batches every couple of days. WTXL. WCTV.

Okaloosa: Fort Walton Beach High School sent 177 students and employees home to quarantine last week after 11 students and five employees tested positive for the coronavirus and seven other employees had extended exposure with an infected person. Northwest Florida Daily News. School Superintendent Marcus Chambers and Choctawhatchee High School principal Michelle Heck explained to the school board and community members attending the board meeting Monday why they decided last week to pull a book from the curriculum. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo, was removed from the curriculum for a senior English class because it hadn’t been approved for use. They said there’s a rigid process for approval. “When you’re in a school, you have to have a process so not just anything and everything is brought into the school district,” Chambers said. “This is not something we should shy away from,” Heck said of the book’s topic. “But I believe in a process that allows us to review something so that we understand what we’re getting into.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: District officials have banned face masks that have an exhalation or vent. “They can still wear the gaiter, they can still wear the regular mask but just not with the filter in them,” said Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “All we’re going to do if we get someone and say, ‘look, here’s another mask, please wear this one, don’t wear that one.’ We’re not looking to punish anybody.” WJHG. WMBB.

Indian River: Comments from the public about the district’s requirement that students wear masks at school took so long Tuesday that the school board decided to adjourn without taking a vote. The meeting will resume Thursday at 8 a.m. Forty-three people spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, starting at 6 p.m. A majority wanted the mask mandate to remain, but others want the board to make the masks optional. The public comments ended around 9 p.m., and the board then began to read 263 emails it had received about the issue. That lasted until midnight. WPBF. WPEC.

More on the coronavirus: Officials from U.S. school districts that have already reopened, such as Florida’s, share their experiences with those still preparing for the first day. They said mask-wearing has been less of a problem than expected, but that many teachers are struggling with simultaneous teaching of students online and in-person. Education Week.

FLVS board: Four people have been appointed to the Florida Virtual School board of trustees by Gov. Ron DeSantis. They are: Robert Kornahrens, president and chief executive officer of Advanced Roofing Inc.; Edward Pozzuoli, an attorney and chief executive officer of Tripp Scott, a Fort Lauderdale law firm; Linda Reiter, a deaf and hard of hearing specialist who worked as a teacher for the Miami-Dade school system for 36 years; and John Watret, chancellor of worldwide campus at Embry-Riddle. DeSantis didn’t say when he’d appoint the final three members. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Middle class suburban families, once likely opponents of education choice, are now rallying behind the right to choose where to send their children to school. All it took was a pandemic that suddenly limited their options. Will they now join the fight for education equity? One can hope. Keith Jacobs, redefinED. The Palm Beach County School District must stop allowing principals to decide what to teach students about the Holocaust. The debacle of the principal who declared he couldn’t say the “Holocaust is a factual, historical event” because he was a school employee is a teachable moment that must not go to waste. Sun Sentinel.

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