Florida’s school mask debate enters another week, with more challenges afoot

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
The fight over whether Florida schools should require masks for students and staff shows no sign of abating, as legal maneuvers continue on both sides of the debate.
The fight over whether Florida schools should require masks for students and staff shows no sign of abating, as legal maneuvers continue on both sides of the debate. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Sept. 7, 2021

Florida schools have been open for nearly a month now, working to overcome missed lessons from a year ago while also dealing with another year of quarantines that take children and teachers away from their classrooms. You might be forgiven, though, if you view the school year as focusing on fights over masks. It’s the debate that keeps flaring up and keeping attention from other important issues. Maybe this week will be different.

School officials continue to grapple with higher numbers of coronavirus cases than in the past. The Tampa Bay area districts neared the number of cases from all last year before completing the first month of the new academic year. • The state’s new case load has started to decline, but deaths remain high, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

Many continue to push for school mask mandates to slow the spread. The Alachua, Broward and Orange county districts filed a request for an administrative judge to review the Department of Health’s emergency rule barring such mandates, arguing it’s an “invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority,” Main Street Daily News reports. It’s very similar to a suit the Miami-Dade County district brought against the health department last month. • Duval County’s mask mandate takes effect today, WJXT reports. More from the Florida Times-Union.

Some districts continue to talk about their rules. The Volusia County School Board, which adopted a mask requirement last week, has called a special meeting for Sept. 9 to again review its approach, WKMG reports. There’s been some debate over who qualifies to write medical exemption letters for students under the district’s current policy, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Lake County School Board also will meet Thursday to consider a staff recommended mask mandate, the Daily Commercial reports.

Parents are pushing back. An Indian River County parent group is mounting an effort to remove the district’s superintendent and three School Board members who supported a universal mask mandate, TC Palm reports.

Florida’s university leaders have not joined the effort to stiffen virus protocols. They say the state has tied their hands. • Florida State University received more than 7,000 air purifiers to install in common areas across campus, WTXL reports.

As quarantines mount, school faculty and staff want to protect their leave status. The Florida Education Association is pressing districts to grant workers days off for COVID quarantines that are not counted against earned vacation, WINK reports. • Teachers are rallying with union leaders to call for more protections at work, Reuters reports.

Concerns have mounted in some corners as observers count the virus-related deaths of school employees. The Miami-Dade County school district recorded 15 employee deaths in a 10-day period, the Huffington Post reports. • A Duval County school bus driver recounted that two co-workers had died of the virus, WJXT reports.

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Stop the game. A Broward County high school football game was called off at halftime after officials became aware one of the players had COVID-19 symptoms, USA Today reports.

It’s not just Florida. School quarantine numbers are soaring all over the nation, NBC News reports. • A federal judge blocked Tennessee’s ban on school mask mandates from taking effect in one county, based on the federal education rights of students with disabilities, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. Similar cases are pending in other states including Florida. More from NPR.

Other school news

School boards are in the midst of adopting multimillion-dollar budgets. The Citrus County School Board will vote on its spending plan and tax rates tonight, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

Three seniors at a Bay County high school spent weeks painting murals in their school’s restrooms. Vandals struck soon after classes resumed, the Panama City News Herald reports.

It’s fair game to call the 2018 Parkland school shooting a “massacre” during the upcoming trial of Nikolas Cruz. But a judge has ruled it’s out of bounds to call Cruz, the alleged shooter, an “animal,” the Associated Press reports.

Don’t prank the Sheriff’s Office. An 11-year-old Flagler County girl faces charges after allegedly making false calls about an active shooter in school, WPEC reports.

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