Florida schools stick with mask rules as court cases advance

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Florida's battle over school mask mandates remains its most high profile debate over methods to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has seen quarantine numbers far exceed those of a year ago.
Florida's battle over school mask mandates remains its most high profile debate over methods to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has seen quarantine numbers far exceed those of a year ago. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sept. 13, 2021

Have you been able to keep up with the flood of news from Florida’s ongoing school mask debate? Let’s start there, then head over to other education stories from around the state.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order banning school mask mandates will remain in effect for now. So said the First District Court of Appeal.

The Biden Administration suggested the ban violates the education rights of children with disabilities. It launched a civil rights investigation into Florida shortly after the appellate court issued its ruling.

Plaintiffs in the state case aimed for a quick resolution to the underlying questions. Late Friday, they asked the state Supreme Court to take over and consider the issues. • Eyes also remain on the federal courts, where the Southern District of Florida could rule on a mask case before it as early as today.

Caught between the politics and legalities, Florida school districts warily assessed their options. Most of the districts with the strictest rules planned to hold firm in their procedures, Florida Phoenix reports. More from the Miami Herald, Tallahassee Democrat, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Herald-Tribune. • A Pinellas County School Board member announced she would make another effort to move her district away from voluntary masks to a mandatory policy. The Pinellas board meets Tuesday.

Who’s in charge here? State lawmakers from the Tampa Bay area weighed in on their opinions on school masks and who needs to be making the decisions about wearing them. • A southwest Florida state lawmaker has called on the governor to fire the Lee County school district’s appointed superintendent over Lee’s mask mandate, while the courts weigh the merits of the mask lawsuit, Florida Politics reports.

Are masks having an effect? Positive case counts declined in Hillsborough County, which has a strict mandate in place. • Polk County schools, which do not have a mandate, also saw their numbers dip, the Ledger reports. • The Manatee County school district opened a new virus testing site as its numbers continued to rise, the Bradenton Herald reports.

Some districts allow students to go without masks only with a doctor’s note excusing them. Some Brevard County physicians are refusing to provide exemption letters, Florida Today reports.

More coronavirus concerns

Many students and parents are frustrated with the way their schools are handling the pandemic. The latest virus variant is more contagious, yet they worry schools seem to be doing less to confront the resulting spread.

Charter schools don’t face the same rules for virus protocols as do district schools. The way they handle cases varies from campus to campus, the Bradenton Herald reports.

Schools are still limiting outside visitors. The Seminole County school district extended its restriction through Oct. 9, WKMG reports. • The Sarasota County school district’s ban on nonessential visitors also includes a suspension of field trips, WWSB reports.

Teachers don’t want to be penalized if forced to quarantine. The St. Johns County school district tentatively agreed to grant teachers eight COVID leave days separate from their regular earned time off, the St. Augustine Record reports.

Florida’s school staff shortage

It includes bus drivers. Some Broward County students are waiting hours for their rides, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • The Orange County school district, which needs about 100 drivers, had 19 people show up for a recent hiring fair, WKMG reports.

Subs remain in short supply. The Escambia County school district boosted substitute teacher pay by 15 percent in hopes of attracting more applicants, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

Really, vacancies are in most positions. Districts across the Tampa Bay region have hundreds of open school jobs open, WUSF reports.

Some districts have found success hiring lately, though. The Bay County school district filled hundreds of job vacancies at a hiring fair, the Panama City News Herald reports.

Other school news

Public input matters in textbook selection. An appellate court ruled that the Collier County school district erred in not including the community on a committee that evaluated classroom materials, the News Service of Florida reports.

Enrollment is holding steady. The Alachua County school district saw its student numbers approach pre-pandemic numbers in its annual fall count, the Gainesville Sun reports.

Feed the children. Several Democratic state lawmakers called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to apply for federal benefits to get children free meals while they’re not in school, WJCT reports. Florida is the only state not to seek the money.

From the court docket ... A former Palm Beach County private high school basketball coach has filed a discrimination complaint against the school, alleging he was improperly fired after allowing players to wear Black Lives Matter shirts during pre-game warmups, the Palm Beach Post reports.

Before you go ... Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could get a welcome home from school like this one?

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