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Biden steps in as Florida’s largest school districts defy state mask order

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
President Joe Biden holds a protective mask while speaking during an event in January. On Wednesday, he said his administration would support Florida school districts seeking to impose mask mandates over state opposition.
President Joe Biden holds a protective mask while speaking during an event in January. On Wednesday, he said his administration would support Florida school districts seeking to impose mask mandates over state opposition. [ AL DRAGO | Pool ]
Published Aug. 19
Updated Aug. 19

Mask mandates again dominated discussion in Florida’s schooling world. A day after the State Board of Education threatened two districts over their mandates without universal opt-out provisions, three more of Florida’s largest districts adopted such rules. Officials argued their moves were not about politics, but about pandemic health safety. Next up, a court case at 2 p.m. today will look into whether a parent lawsuit against the governor’s order on masks should be dismissed. Read on for the latest on this story and more Florida education news.

The Hillsborough County School Board held a special meeting to consider a mask mandate with a limited opt-out provision. After lengthy input and discussion, the board implemented a 30-day requirement.

Miami-Dade County’s superintendent told the State Board he would “do the right thing” to keep the virus at bay in his schools. He took the advice of health professional advisors to have a mandate with an opt-out based on medical reasons only. His board agreed.

Palm Beach County schools removed their opt-out clause, as well. The School Board’s surprise decision takes effect Monday, the Palm Beach Post reports.

Meanwhile, Broward County schools reopened with their mask mandate in place. Superintendent Vicki Cartwright said only two people refused to follow the rule, WPLG reports. • A Broward County parent wanted a local judge to stop Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order on masks. The judge declined, saying the case would be properly heard in Leon County, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

President Biden said he has the districts’ backs. He announced his administration is ready to take legal action against states that attempt to block district mask mandates. More from Education Week.

Some districts are sticking with broader parental opt-out rules. Among them are Osceola County (Spectrum 9) and Nassau County (WJXT).

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the districts aren’t defying him with their actions. He argued they’re breaking state law, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

It’s not just Florida. Arizona’s governor took steps to withhold money from school districts that impose mask mandates, the Associated Press reports. More from NPR.

More coronavirus concerns

The impact of the virus is much larger than at this time last year. Brevard County schools have quarantined about 3,000 students and staff after a week of classes, Florida Today reports. • The absence of live remote instruction has boosted numbers of in-person students, which has affected the rates in Palm Beach County, WPTV reports.

Absences are up. Fifty St. Johns County teachers called in sick for the first day of classes, the St. Augustine Record reports.

Some families are turning to virtual school as an alternative. There’s a waiting list in Osceola County, WKMG reports.

Not vaccinated? Prepare for random virus testing if attending Florida Southern College, the Ledger reports. • The Duval County school district will have voluntary vaccination clinics at middle and high school campuses, the Florida Times-Union reports. • The Lake County school district will offer free vaccines to students, staff and community members, the Daily Commercial reports.

Show them the money. Florida is months late in submitting a plan to access billions of dollars in pandemic relief for the state’s schools. Florida Phoenix reports.

Other school news

The Alachua County School Board has a new member. Gov. DeSantis appointed a former county Republican Party chairperson to fill a vacancy on the panel, WJXT reports.

The Hernando County school district is battling over “critical race theory.” Superintendent John Stratton insists it’s not taught there, while some parents and community activists insist it is, Suncoast News reports.

The Palm Beach County school district is struggling to find substitute teachers. It increased the hourly pay as an incentive, the Palm Beach Post reports.

The Flagler County School Board voted to double school impact fees on new construction. It’s the first such increase for the district in 16 years, Flagler Live reports.

Florida International University has introduced a new water sciences curriculum for schools. The Monroe County school district became the first to adopt it, FIU News reports.

Lawyers for accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz tried to have his trial closed to the public. A judge did not go along, the Associated Press reports.

Florida school districts have been removing the names of Confederate soldiers from campuses. More remain, Florida Phoenix reports.

Don’t miss a story. Yesterday’s roundup is just a click away.

Before you go ... Had enough watching meetings about mask mandates? You are not alone. So how about some cute cats?

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