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Florida health department calls for permanent school mask mandate ban

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Florida health and education department officials continue to seek ways to ban schools from imposing mask mandates without opt-out provisions. Some schools are taking other steps to keep virus spread down, including the use of plastic shields.
Florida health and education department officials continue to seek ways to ban schools from imposing mask mandates without opt-out provisions. Some schools are taking other steps to keep virus spread down, including the use of plastic shields. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published Oct. 18, 2021

Florida’s school mask rules are scheduled to head back to court this week, as six districts are asking an administrative law judge to rule that the Department of Health didn’t properly implement its emergency rule banning mask mandates without opt-out provisions. Last time this subject was headed to the same judge, the department abruptly withdrew its rule and issued a new one. A similar scenario appears to be playing out again. Read on for the latest on that story and more Florida education news.

The Department of Health took steps late last week to render its emergency rule moot. It advertised a proposed long-term rule to ban strict mask mandates, which would replace the existing order, the News Service of Florida reports. Find the rule here.

The Leon County school district scaled back its mask rule after the state threatened sanctions. It had funding withheld anyway, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

Alachua County district officials held firm to their mandate despite the penalties. Superintendent Carlee Simon called the sanctions an “exercise in futility,” Mainstreet Daily News reports.

Schools are looking for other ways to control virus spread. Polk County elementary schools have installed plastic partitions on 50,000 student desks, the Ledger reports.

One Miami-Dade County private school is going the opposite direction. It has told students who get vaccinated to stay home 30 days afterward, to avoid affecting others in the school, WSVN reports. Infectious disease experts criticized the approach as nonsensical.

In the classroom

Florida has a well-documented shortage of teachers in classrooms. A top state education official says teacher unions’ portrayal of a bad work environment doesn’t help with the recruiting effort. Teachers around the state did not accept the blame. • Gov. Ron DeSantis also took time Friday to blast teacher unions and school boards that oppose his initiatives, Florida Politics reports.

The no walls, open classroom concept is a relic of the 1970s. Some Pinellas County schools are still trying to overcome the obstacles it created.

Florida requires students to learn the history of African-Americans and the Holocaust. Some state lawmakers would like to extend the mandate to include Asian-American history amid a rise in discrimination, Florida Phoenix reports. • They’ve also proposed required lessons on social media literacy, the Ledger reports.

Safety and security

School security is not all about police presence. The Volusia County school district plans to focus its safety efforts on fencing, cameras and communication — not establishing a police department, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

Extra trained guards on campus can prove comforting, though. The Lee County School Board plans to discuss whether to join the state’s school guardian program as an extra security layer, WINK reports.

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Thousands of Miami-Dade County families received text messages telling them buses would be late Friday, if they showed up at all. The district didn’t send the message, the Miami Herald reports.

Other school news

The University of South Florida is taking steps to improve graduation rates of Hispanic students. “It’s about access for success,” university vice president Paul Dosal explained.

Moms for Liberty, launched in Florida, is pushing parental rights in schools across the nation. It could prove a potent force in elections, the Washington Post reports.

Before you go ... Pasco County elementary student Eva Williams felt bad watching schoolmates unable to participate at recess because of their disabilities. She decided to do something about it.

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