Key decisions expected in Florida’s school mask fight as Biden wades in

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee could decide as early as today whether the DeSantis administration may enforce a ban on strict school mask mandates while appealing a ruling that found the effort unlawful. [Times file photo]
The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee could decide as early as today whether the DeSantis administration may enforce a ban on strict school mask mandates while appealing a ruling that found the effort unlawful. [Times file photo]
Published Sept. 10, 2021|Updated Sept. 10, 2021

There’s rarely a dull moment in Florida’s heated battle over school mask mandates. Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to push his position in court, while President Joe Biden jumped back into the fray with a new grant and thinly veiled potshots at DeSantis. Read on for the latest on that story, plus more Florida education news.

Having lost a round over masks in circuit court, DeSantis turned to the friendlier 1st District Court of Appeal to keep his ban on mask mandates in place. Lawyers filed a 41-page brief asking the appellate bench to reinstate DeSantis’ order while he fights Judge John Cooper’s interpretation of the Department of Health mask rule and the Parents’ Bill of Rights law. The plaintiffs had until 8 p.m. to file a response, with a decision anticipated some time today.

The DeSantis legal team also is fighting a federal lawsuit in which parents argue his ban on mask mandates violates the education rights of children with disabilities. A judge heard arguments Wednesday and could rule by the end of this week.

Biden’s administration set up a new fund to financially support school districts that implement strict mask mandates despite DeSantis’ efforts. “We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said.

Districts adjusted their approaches as they kept their eye on the courts. The Hillsborough County School Board extended its strict mandate through Oct. 15. • The Volusia County School Board canceled an emergency meeting where it had planned to reconsider its mask mandate after reviewing Cooper’s rulings, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Lake County School Board adopted a mask mandate with parental opt-out, the Daily Commercial reports.

The issue isn’t on the Pinellas County School Board agenda for Tuesday. But there’s this ...

Hello, Tuesday, September 14th at the School Board Meeting, I intend on proposing a mask policy with a medical opt-out....

Posted by Caprice Edmond, Pinellas County School Board Member, District 7 on Friday, September 10, 2021

Do the mandates work? Hillsborough County officials stated that quarantines dropped in their district after the mask requirement went into effect. • Duval County schools reported less than 1 percent of students submitting a medical exemption to the district’s rule, the Florida Times-Union reports.

They remain unpopular among many, though. About 20 people burned masks outside the Brevard County School Board meeting to protest their district’s mandate, Florida Today reports. The board met to adopt its annual budget.

Many colleges and universities have not required masks. The Alachua County Commission asked the University of Florida and Santa Fe College to implement mandates to stem the spread of COVID-19, the Gainesville Sun reports.

More coronavirus concerns

School districts see vaccination as another critical component to reducing the coronavirus spread on campuses. The Miami-Dade County School Board is exploring an offer of a $275 stipend to employees who get vaccinated, the Miami Herald reports.

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Staffing shortages remain critical throughout Florida school districts. Schools are struggling to find bus drivers, substitute teachers and other workers as the pandemic keeps many applicants away, the News Service of Florida reports. • The Orange County school district had 34 bus routes without an assigned driver, WKMG reports.

It’s not just Florida. The Los Angeles, Calif., School Board voted to require all students age 12 and older to be vaccinated by January, the Los Angeles Times reports. • President Biden urged states to mandate vaccines for school staffers, in a wide ranging speech about pandemic response that received equal parts criticism and praise, the Washington Post reports. • Tennessee also is battling over mask mandates in court, Chalkbeat reports.

Other school news

Palm Beach County charter schools are in for a multimillion-dollar infusion. A judge agreed they are entitled to a share of the school district’s local option tax revenue, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

Elected or appointed? Two Florida Democrats in the state Legislature are pushing to return to an elected state education commissioner, Florida Politics reports. The position has been appointed for the past 20 years.

Florida school boards operate in the Sunshine. A lawyer for the Flagler County board tried to prevent the public from recording a board training session, Flagler Live reports.

Have something to say about a Sarasota County School Board member? You’d better keep it civil if you plan to speak at a board meeting, the Herald-Tribune reports.

Stick around. The Osceola County School Board extended superintendent Debra Pace’s contract through 2025, Around Osceola reports.

Show them the money. The Manatee County school district is asking voters to consider renewing a local property tax that helps boost teacher and staff pay, WFLA reports.

Bay County schools have had troubles keeping employees. The district is offering a four-part seminar to staff to help them with home buying in the area as a way to have them stay, the Panama City News Herald reports.

Some St. Johns County parents and students want their school district to change the dress code. They’ve started tracking incidents where they see students being treated unfairly, WJXT reports.

From the police blotter ... Two Lee County teens were arrested on allegations of plotting a mass shooting at school, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

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

Before you go ... Do we really need another Matrix sequel?

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