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Race issues linger, even as Florida’s school mask debate holds center stage

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
The Florida State Board of Education discusses barring "critical race theory" from K-12 classrooms during a meeting June 10, 2021, in Jacksonville. The Hillsborough County School Board contemplated adding a similar policy to its rules on Aug. 12.
The Florida State Board of Education discusses barring "critical race theory" from K-12 classrooms during a meeting June 10, 2021, in Jacksonville. The Hillsborough County School Board contemplated adding a similar policy to its rules on Aug. 12. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published Aug. 13

Mask rules have so dominated school district debates in recent days that the whole “critical race theory” faceoff seemed to have disappeared. But it’s still around, as the Hillsborough County School Board demonstrated. Read on for that story and more Florida education.

Hillsborough board member Melissa Snively proposed a local policy to mirror state rules on teaching lessons about race issues. Her colleagues declined to go along.

Gov. DeSantis has talked about working to get rid of board members who don’t follow his political point of view on this and other issues. To that end, a state lawmaker filed a bill that would ask voters to convert school boards to partisan positions, the News Service of Florida reports.

Coronavirus concerns

DeSantis wants to financially penalize school district officials who defy him on masks. But the state doesn’t pay the salaries of school board members or superintendents. So he’s depending on the officials to cut their own pay. • The State Board of Education has called an emergency conference call meeting for 4 p.m. Tuesday to discuss how to handle the school districts that have not followed its rules. See the meeting announcement here.

His order faces a legal challenge. The first hearing in Leon County court takes place this afternoon, the Palm Beach Post reports. It’s a preliminary conversation, with no arguments or decisions anticipated.

State officials said families should get vouchers if they experience COVID-19 “harassment.” Six Alachua County students have asked for one so far, Florida Phoenix reports. • The Alachua school district told students without masks or a doctor’s note exempting them to go home, the Gainesville Sun reports.

Will charter schools face the same state sanctions? A Polk County charter school mandated all students wear masks for two weeks, the Ledger reports.

Medical experts continued to endorse masks and vaccines. The chief of pediatric infectious diseases at a Duval County children’s hospital says creating safe “cocoons” is the best way to protect unvaccinated children from the virus while in schools, the Florida Times-Union reports. • A group of more than 800 doctors sent an open letter to DeSantis calling for school mask mandates, Florida Politics reports. • A Tallahassee hospital confirmed its first child death from COVID-19, Florida Politics reports.

A Marion County School Board member repeated his request for mandatory masks. Four district employees have died of the coronavirus in the past two weeks, the Ocala Star Banner reports.

How are those opt-out clauses faring? About 4 percent of Palm Beach County students filed opt-out letters, the Palm Beach Post reports.

The football season is off to a shaky start. A second Orange County high school game was canceled because of quarantines, WKMG reports.

Stay away. The Sarasota County school district will not allow visitors for the first 30 days of the school year, as virus cases spike, the Herald-Tribune reports. Field trips also won’t be permitted. • The Manatee County school district issued another reminder to keep sick kids home, as its positive virus case report grew, the Bradenton Herald reports.

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Other school news

State data show an achievement gap for boys in Florida. A new task force will begin seeking solutions to better prepare boys as they move through schools, WJAX reports.

At least 50 Orange County schools are over capacity. The district is making plans to open new campuses, WKMG reports.

Growth continues in St. Johns County. Two new schools will open next week to help ease crowding, with more planned, the St. Augustine Record reports.

Bay County’s school enrollment is up by about 1,400 students. Officials said they don’t have enough teachers for the increase, WJHG reports.

The Jefferson County school district is working to take back control of its schools from the state-ordered outside provider. It hired former Leon County superintendent Jackie Pons to help with the transition, the Jefferson County Journal reports.

From the court docket ... An accounts manager who handled health care funds for the University of South Florida pleaded guilty to embezzling millions of dollars, most of the money going to an adult website.

Don’t miss a story. Here’s the link to yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... One last back-to-school inspired song. The weekend is upon us, so how about some Beastie Boys, who are looking beyond school to that party?

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