Florida governor says closures don’t work, schools stay open

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds a press conference on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla., regarding education and COVID-19 at Boggy Creek Elementary School.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds a press conference on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla., regarding education and COVID-19 at Boggy Creek Elementary School.
—Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel via AP


Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Monday that schools will be required to remain open despite the rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, arguing lockdowns and closures have not worked.

DeSantis also said the state was not considering any further restrictions on businesses that could lead to layoffs or financial loss.

DeSantis said countries like Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland all kept children in schools with positive outcomes, and argued that some studies show the virus can spread more when children don’t go to school because they socialize off campus. DeSantis criticized those who are pushing again for closures as cases rise.

“Closing schools due to coronavirus is probably the biggest public health blunder in modern American history,” he said at a news conference. “People who advocate closing schools for virus mitigation are effectively today’s flat-earthers.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that the spread of the virus among children “is not really very big at all” and is now advising to get children back in the classrooms.

The governor said schools will continue to offer online classes for families who have chosen not to physically return, but school districts will require students who have fallen behind in the virtual mode to go back in person.

“The virtual learning is not the same as being in person,” DeSantis said.

Florida has seen cases rise again, now totaling more than 990,000 confirmed cases since the pandemic began earlier this year. More than 18,700 people have died with COVID-19 since March.

The governor acknowledged the rise in cases, but said a surge in other states is more concerning. He also compared the current COVID-19 hospitalizations at 4,100 to about 10,000 reported in the summer.

“We’ve seen cases increase but look at all the other states that are seeing them increase way, way more,” DeSantis said. “If you look at the per-capita hospitalizations, we are not even close to the top of the stuff. So I think people should put it in perspective.”

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Florida mayors plead with governor to take action on virus

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Five Florida mayors on Wednesday said they were extremely concerned about the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state, and begged Gov. Ron DeSantis to change his approach to the virus in hopes of slowing the spread.

Following a monthslong decline from its huge summer spike in the outbreak, Florida has seen a mid-autumn climb in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Still, the governor has resisted a return to statewide restrictions in place earlier in the year.

“What Florida is doing right now isn’t working,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, during a sharply worded news conference on Zoom. “We’re failing pretty horribly … Positive cases are rising steeply and it’s spreading everywhere. We don’t believe it’s going to change unless we do something different.””

Over the past week, Florida averaged more than 6,500 newly reported cases per day, a steady increase since numbers of about 2,250 at the start of October. Hospitalizations have gone from between 2000 and 2,200 for most of October to more than 3,500 on Wednesday, according to a state online census of hospitals.

The seven-day average of reported deaths is about 62, up from 54 a week earlier. That compares to a peak of 185 in early August. A total of 17,861 people have died.

Gelber was joined by the mayors of Hialeah, Miami Shores Village, Sunrise, and St. Petersburg. The group called for consistency in statewide regulations and made four specific recommendations:

1. Implement a statewide mask mandate;

2. Allow cities and counties to be able to enhance local measures, such as additional penalties for not wearing masks;

3. Restore state testing facilities to full capacity;

4. Beef up contact tracing and use a Covid tracking app developed by Google and Apple.

All of the mayors said they share the governor’s goal in keeping the economy open.

“We understand the economic impact that potentially some of these orders could have but we’re also trying to look at this from a long term basis as opposed to short term.” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “If we don’t deal with this now, the economic catastrophe that we are facing will be worse if we have to go to a complete shut down.”

Said Miami Shores Village Mayor Crystal Wagar: “Give us the tools we need, to get to the vaccine with the fewest deaths.”

The mayors were especially concerned about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Families want to gather, they said, and folks come to Florida from the north.

“I am so fearful,” said Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez.

It’s unclear what, if anything, DeSantis will do in the wake of these recommendations. On Sept. 25, DeSantis signed an executive order that prevented municipalities from fining people for violating a mask ordinance and has stated that he’s not going to have any more lockdowns.

On Wednesday, DeSantis tweeted that he met with Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar this week to talk about distribution of a vaccine. “We also discussed the availability of the new monoclonal antibody treatment & the promising prospects of this new therapeutic,” he wrote.

Florida’s education commissioner on Wednesday gave some sign of flexibility at the state level with the difficult situation. Richard Corcoran said during a state Board of Education meeting in Tallahassee that students will be allowed to attend classes online through the end of the school year due to the pandemic.

The state’s K-12 pandemic plan for the second semester of classes will be laid out in a new emergency order, probably before Thanksgiving, Corcoran said.

“I think we are on a pretty good schedule to get that done,” Corcoran said.

While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older patients and those with other health problems.


Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Virus worries latest hurdle in Florida school shooting case

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Concerns about the coronavirus in jail emerged Tuesday as the latest roadblock in the death penalty case against Nikolas Cruz, who is accused in the 2018 massacre that killed 17 people at a Florida high school.

Defense attorneys said at a hearing they want written health safety procedures from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office before Cruz’s lawyers and mental health experts enter the jail to evaluate him. A lawyer for the sheriff’s office said it is working to accommodate those issues.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer asked both sides to work toward a solution and set another status hearing for Dec. 11.

Cruz, 22, is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder in the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. His attorneys have said he will plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence, but prosecutors have rejected that offer and insist on a trial.

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Widow of Florida massacre victim elected to school board

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The widow of a teacher killed in the 2018 Florida high school massacre has won election Tuesday to that county’s school board, joining the mother of a slain student.

Debra Hixon, the widow of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School athletic director Chris Hixon, easily won election to the nine-member Broward County school board. She joins Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa also died in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting. Fourteen students and three staff members were killed.

Debra Hixon is a longtime educator. She currently runs a maritime technology and marine science program at a suburban Fort Lauderdale high school. Her husband died trying to confront the shooter, a former Stoneman Douglas student.

She and her son Corey appeared in a campaign commercial supporting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The commercial used video from Biden comforting Stoneman Douglas survivors in 2018. Corey, who has a developmental disability, runs after Biden as he is leaving and they embrace. Biden kisses Corey on the forehead and comforts him.

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Principal in Holocaust controversy fired again in Florida

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida high school principal was fired again on Monday over a comment he made to a student’s parent last year regarding the Holocaust.

The Palm Beach County School Board’s vote on Monday morning reversed an earlier decision to reinstate Spanish River High School Principal William Latson.

Latson was fired in October 2019 after sparking outrage when he told a parent he “can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” because he wasn’t in a position to do so “as a school district employee.”

He appealed his firing and an administrative law judge ruled in August that the school board had gone too far in firing him. That prompted the school board’s 4-3 vote to reinstate him last month.

On Monday, the board reversed course and voted 7-0 to fire Latson following outrage in the Jewish community, the Palm Beach Post reported.

A formal rejection of the recommendation to rehire Latson is expected to come via a “final order” in a separate vote Nov. 10, the newspaper reported.

“I am so at peace that I am going to rescind my vote from the Oct. 7 meeting,” board member Barbara McQuinn said as the meeting began. “What Dr. Latson did was open the door for the students whose parents are Holocaust deniers for generations to come to deny the atrocity of the Holocaust.”

The Germans under Nazi rule killed 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. The Nazis also exterminated another 5 million people during World War II, including Slavs; Roma, also known as Gypsies; gays and people with disabilities.

The board initially agreed to fire last year Latson on ground of ethical misconduct and failure to carry out his job responsibilities. The official justification for his termination was failure to return messages from school district officials in the days after his comments made international news.

Latson was reassigned from the Boca Raton school to a district office job because of the outcry over his email to a mother who inquired whether the school’s students study the Holocaust.

Latson, who had been at Spanish River for eight years, replied to the mother that as an educator his job was to be “politically neutral.”

The mother, thinking Latson had expressed himself poorly, wrote back, saying, “The Holocaust is a factual, historical event. It is not a right or belief.”

Latson replied, “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.” He added, “You have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”

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Mask-refusing moms removed from Florida school board meeting

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Several mothers in Florida were removed by law enforcement from a school board meeting Tuesday after they ignored repeated requests to wear masks during a discussion on whether the school district should extend its mandatory mask policy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

No one was arrested, but seven people were trespassed, which means they can’t return to the property for one year, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

“I’ve never put a mask on my face, and I never will,” one of the women, Rachael Cohen, said in a Facebook video of the meeting. “It’s just absolute tyranny.”

The Volusia County School Board adopted a mandatory mask policy that applies to students, staff and visitors on school district property, but it expires early next month. School board members were voting on whether to extend the policy at Tuesday’s meeting.

The school district made many attempts at diplomacy, but the group of women made it clear they were taking a stand against face coverings, said Cindi Lane, a district spokeswoman.

It was “quite disruptive,” Lane said.

Florida health officials reported nearly 4,300 new virus cases on Tuesday as the number of patients hospitalized with the COVID-19 disease also ticked upward over the past few days.

The Florida Department of Health has reported at least 16,709 deaths since the pandemic began.

The additional cases announced Tuesday bring the state’s total virus cases to more than 786,000. That brings the seven-day average of new cases above 3,600, similar to levels in late August when the state’s outbreak was coming down from its summertime peak.

There were 2,333 people being treated for the disease in Florida hospitals in the late morning Tuesday, according to a state online census of hospital beds. That figure reached nearly 10,000 in late July, then declined steadily until late September when it began hovering between 2,000 and 2,200 for several weeks.

The numbers of deaths per day have continued to decline, averaging about 57 a day over the past week, down from a high of 185 in early August.


Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Florida students with disabilities adapt to COVID-19 changes

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Luther Smith doesn’t say much, but his teachers know that COVID-19 is stressing him out.

The 16-year-old student at Oak Park, Sarasota’s school for children with disabilities, has autism and is nonverbal, so he uses a touch-screen tablet to communicate. The device gives him a voice, allowing him to tap out answers to questions by clicking on pictures and symbols.

And the technology gives his teachers a better understanding of what he’s thinking as he takes in the array of changes that a pandemic has brought to his world.

“The general sense is that he just wants things to be normal,” said his teacher, Jayson Rawley. “There’s this feeling of looming anxiety that we have all kind of felt, and just because he is nonverbal doesn’t mean he isn’t having the same feelings that we are.”

Since schools in Sarasota County reopened on Aug. 31, students have had to acclimate to new protocols. Mask mandates, one-way hallways and desk dividers are now just a part of the school routine, like fire drills or chicken nuggets in the cafeteria.

At Oak Park, the challenge of reopening is magnified. Many of Luther’s classmates are also nonverbal. Some are medically fragile and more prone to the virus. Other students with emotional-behavioral disorders are adjusting to new rules that can irritate even the most even-keeled adult. And others just crave hugs from their teachers.

On a recent school day, Jane Jansson, a paraprofessional at the school, led a group of students into the cafeteria. Two boys clung to her elbows, and two more trailed close behind her. As she took a 30-second break while her sidekicks got breakfast, she talked about how teaching children with autism had changed because of the virus.

“It’s been hard. It’s really been hard. They don’t understand. We are trying to teach them to be social, but with the virus we have to be separate,” she said. “Plus having the mask, being autistic, they don’t have a good ability at reading the face, and this messes it up even more.”

But if anyone is up for dealing with unexpected challenges, it is the students and staff at Oak Park, said Principal Jamie Lowicz. A pandemic makes life tougher, but having to use a wheelchair or not being able to talk has already toughened up these kids.

“They have had challenges their whole life, so this is just something else that has to be overcome and dealt with and faced,” Lowicz said. “Our kids are the champions when it comes to adversity … that makes a virus look fairly simple. It’s a challenge for everybody, but they are masterful at this.”


Lowicz gathered a team of staff members over the summer to figure out how to reopen school and keep their students safe.

They knew that some of the new rules that leaders at traditional schools have mandated were simply impossible at Oak Park. Teachers can’t socially distance themselves from students who need help, and they knew many children would struggle with mask mandates.

“What’s the safest way that we can do this, knowing our population, knowing that there are special needs that exist that are unlike anywhere else in the district?” Lowicz said they asked themselves.

They prepared for the year by restructuring parts of the school day, trying to maintain as much student independence as possible. Students at Oak Park learn how to make decisions and advocate for themselves through simple routines like picking out their food in the cafeteria. School leaders tried to keep in mind how any new mandates would affect students’ development.

“Everything we do here, it is essential it be transferrable to other environments,” Lowicz said.

Many of the new measures are not that different from what every school is doing. One-way hallways, signs reminding students to stay six feet apart and mask requirements are all in place, and the staff spent the first four weeks of school focused on ingraining these new rules into Oak Park culture, Lowicz said.

Students who have sensory issues and are uncomfortable wearing a mask are building up to that, by first wearing a face shield or something more comfortable.

In order to create more outdoor spaces where students can take a break from wearing their masks, the school purchased 15 wheelchair-accessible picnic tables to go in the outdoor courtyard adjoining each classroom.


Recently, when workers installed the new picnic table next to Savannah Jones’ classroom, the 16-year-old could not contain her excitement. Savannah uses a wheelchair, and the new picnic table allows her to eat lunch next to Luther, her best friend in the class who uses the tablet to help him communicate.

Savannah, who is in the district’s curriculum for students with severe cognitive disabilities, said she was thrilled to be back at school after five months off. She said “work” is her favorite part of school, while listing quizzes on which she had scored 100% and laughing as her teacher, Mr. Rawley, teased her.

“I don’t want to be stuck at home,” she said.

When schools closed abruptly in March, parents of children with disabilities had to add home schooling to their responsibilities. At Oak Park, roughly half of the school relies on assistive technology, ranging from the iPad that Luther uses to complex sensors that help make sense of seemingly involuntary movements.

School staff set up Zoom sessions to help parents use the devices for home schooling, and about 30% of the students opted to continue with remote learning once schools reopened in August. While fears about COVID-19 transmission in such a vulnerable population are real, many parents and students desperately wanted to return to the social environment that provides so many lessons.

Kathryn Shea, the recently retired executive director of the Florida Center, knows how vital a routine is for children with disabilities, and how much the parents need a break. Her son, Seth Winners, 31, graduated from Oak Park.

Winners has developmental delays and lives with his parents. COVID-19 has upended his life and theirs – he normally spends his days at The Haven’s residential program, but the program shut down before reopening part time in the last month.

Shea said that having Seth home with her all day is extremely challenging, as he asks every day for her to tell the story of COVID-19. He fills his time with Legos, playing in the pool and taking Ninja lessons through Zoom, but he misses the structure that his program provides.

“He just can’t process that the disease is here,” Shea said. “It’s just so hard for him to process that.”

Being able to attend school each day is a respite for both the parents and the child, Shea said.

“They can learn much faster cognitively when they feel safe and secure emotionally,” Shea said. “It is true for all of us, but it is so much more important for them because their brains function differently.”

At Oak Park, a pay bump for paraprofessionals helped ensure the school was fully staffed this year, despite the challenges. And while COVID-19 has complicated life for the teachers and staff at the school, virus mitigation remains a small hurdle compared to the ones they overcome daily.

“There is not a better example of the adaptability and flexibility than what our staff does here,” Lowicz said. “It may not be perfect, and it may not be the way you want it right now, but you do what you need to do.”

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Number of COVID-19 cases ticking up in Miami-Dade schools

MIAMI (AP) — The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen to 90 among students and teachers in Miami-Dade County’s public schools since classrooms reopened for face-to-face learning, according to the district’s dashboard.

Some parents and teachers worry that the number is significantly higher, saying that the district has not been transparent enough about the severity of the issue as the school system enters the third week of brick-and-mortar classes, the Miami Herald reported.

“We’ve been kept in the dark,” Jennifer Desa, whose son attends Air Base K-8 Center in Homestead, told the newspaper. She said parents received robocalls from the school informing them of positive cases on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But the school still wasn’t listed on the COVID-19 dashboard on Tuesday morning.

On Friday, the dashboard reported 29 staff members and 19 students had tested positive for the coronavirus since students returned to face-to-face learning the week of Oct. 5. By Tuesday morning the numbers had climbed to 54 employees and 36 students, according to the dashboard.

United Teachers of Dade, the district’s teachers union, tweeted its concerns on Monday, asking for answers from the school system.

“We need answers — When is the public health great enough to go back to MSO?” MSO is My School Online, the district’s online learning program.

Union president Karla Hernandez-Mats told the Herald they aren’t yet calling for schools to close, but would like for the district to be less opaque about the actual numbers. She also asked for a more cohesive plan as to what happens when schools have positive cases.

She pointed to MAST Academy, which had two cases last week and closed for a day for cleaning. Other schools with cases remained open without explanation.

“People should know what to expect, and people should know that X amount of cases means the school is closed down for deep cleaning,” Hernandez-Mats said.

The school district adds cases to the dashboard after they are confirmed by the Florida Department of Health.

In neighboring Broward County, where some students have returned over the past week to face-to-face learning, the COVID-19 dashboard is updated twice a week. The dashboard listed 9 staff and 11 students who have tested positive since Oct. 9. It also says there have been 61 cases at 46 sites over the past 30 days.

The two South Florida school districts were the last in the state to let students choose to return to classrooms.

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Florida theater, teachers collaborate during the pandemic

CRESTVIEW, Fla. (AP) — “Tarzan,” “Annie,” “Freaky Friday” and “The Addams Family” were all shows high school theater students in Okaloosa County rehearsed for many hours for three months but never got to perform.

When the pandemic started, the curtains were closed on spring shows and many theater students were separated from a place they call their second home and the people who they treat like family. And now that school has returned, four teachers want people to understand why theater is equally as important – if not more – than it was before the coronavirus outbreak.

Theater teachers Ritchie Jackson of Niceville High School, Karen Monroe of Choctawhatchee High School, Jason Blanks of Fort Walton Beach High School and Brittany Zick of Crestview High School want the community to know high school theater isn’t the drama class of yesteryear — it prepares their students for college.

“Our level of instruction is higher,” Jackson said. “In this area, in Okaloosa County, if people are not going to their local high school shows, they’re missing out on some quality entertainment. I think it’s time for the community to give high school theater in Okaloosa County another look.”

“The caliber of what our students are doing and what they’re capable of, I don’t think the community realizes it until they come out and see what we’re doing,” Monroe added.

If allowed, local theater teachers hope to host spring performances in 2021 with smaller casts.

Niceville High School Theater rented the Sprint Theater at Northwest Florida State College for its January production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town..” Although the show will offer limited seating to meet social distancing guidelines and the audience is required to wear masks, the students are excited to perform in front of an audience again, Jackson said.

“They need this as much as I do,” Jackson said. “We are all mourning the loss of theater.”


True to their theatrical fashion, Jackson, Monroe, Blanks and Zick jokingly compared themselves to the cast of the 1985 movie “The Breakfast Club.” While seemingly unlikely allies, they don’t compete against each other but instead have forged a friendship and support system to strengthen their programs.

“We decided, ‘Hey, why don’t we just meet regularly?’ ” Jackson said. “ ‘Do you need a prop? Maybe I’ve got it. If I need a costume, maybe you’ve got it.’ “We collaborate on lesson plans and resources. We’ve found that we get along really well and it was productive for our programs to be intertwined. It’s just taken off. Now it’s like these three are my family. We mesh really well.”

“We’re also the only theater teacher at our school, so it can feel like you’re living on an island by yourself,” Blanks said. “Sometimes it’s nice to have other theater teachers close by.”

Their collaboration has paid off.

In Zick’s first year teaching theater at Crestview, an organization built the set for a show in a way much different that how she envisioned. She called Blanks and they all came to her rescue.

“He was like, ‘Come and get whatever you need to build whatever,’ ” Zick said. “He was there to lend a hand and an ear and offer ideas of ways to fix it and coached me on ways to communicate properly what I wanted. They could’ve let me crash and burn, but they didn’t.”

And their students have mimicked the friendly behavior. Some travel as a group to the Festival of the Arts held at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando to take workshops from professionals.

“My kids follow their kids on Instagram,” Jackson said. “They get together and hang out. You would never get that with the football teams. You’d never get Crestview players hanging out with Fort Walton.”

The students have a community in theater, and the lessons they learn there last. Improv class, for example, which most of them teach, translates into almost every aspect of life.

“What I’ve discovered about improv is that it detaches kids from this idea of right and wrong and the pursuit of false perfection,” Blanks said. “They just make the best of whatever situation they’re in. There’s so much ridiculous pressure on kids now. They learn to make decisions confidently instead of waiting to make the right decision; they know it’s important to just make a decision and then do your best with it.”

Improv helps with conversational skills because students “think on their feet,” Jackson said. Zick witnessed exactly that ability in this past year’s performance of “The Outsiders.”

“The set was not changed and my lead kid had to improv in the moment knowing what was coming up, what had happened and be able to perform to give my stage hands 30 more seconds to flip that scene,” Zick said. “Had he not had that background and that knowledge, lights would’ve come up.”

The concept of improv changes their outlook.

“The basic premise of improv is ‘yes, and … ’ where you agree with the person and then you help them do whatever they have decided,” Blanks said. “It’s not about focusing on yourself, but focusing on the other person and making them look good and getting kids out of their ego world.”

It simultaneously helps them understand why things are effective on stage and in life.

“We get into, ‘Why is this word better than that word? Why is this phrase better than that?’ ” Blanks said. “(It’s) the specificity. They live in such a general ever-changing world. This is disposable culture. The idea that certain things will always be funny and always be true is really attractive to them.”

Theater breeds collaboration. Every production is a team effort.

And because students spend so much time rehearsing together, they leave their high school stereotypes at the door of the theater room.

“One of my favorite stories is this nerdy boy I taught was in the same class as the football quarterback,” Blanks said. “He was a goofy kid and the quarterback secretly was, too. They had a lot of fun in class. One day in the hallway, the goofy kid was getting harassed and the quarterback strode up and put a stop to it. That kid’s life changed that day. He realized the friends he made in class would echo through his life.”


It’s not uncommon to hear the words “Mom” or “Dad” thrown around in high school theater.

Unless mid-scene, the students are referring to their teacher, a role model who not only shows them how to get into character but also how to develop their own. They teach them how to empathize with others, how to communicate effectively and how to cope with life’s trials and tribulations (COVID-19), so that when they step off the stage they can just be themselves.

Zick said her students call her “Mama Z,” and Monroe said she is “Mama Monroe.”

Each teacher has a special relationship with his or her students, sometimes being the person to check on their grades in the core classes and tutoring them in those subjects after school, other times bringing them together for bonding at special events like “Blanksgiving” and often being the person they confide in, maybe the only person they tell that their parent has died or they’re living in their car.

For some students, theater is their only home. They need it.

“Our kids are artistic and creative kids,” Zick said. “They pour so much of their art out. Oftentimes, especially without theater, nothing would ever get poured back into them. How many of these kids work two and three jobs but will still be at rehearsal every day on time? The level of resilience they have and determination — the world has attacked them, but yet they still show up for rehearsal.”

It’s their outlet. Zick believes theater can improve mental health.

“We’re able to say, ‘It’s OK to feel stressed. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. We’re going to take that energy and make something beautiful that also other people can relate to,’ ” Zick said. “I think that’s something so special about what we do. They might walk out of our classroom whenever they graduate and never look back, but I feel like we’ve taught them mechanisms to handle life.”

Zick asked one of her students where he found peace.

“He said that his moment of peace was right before the show opened when he could hear the audience and he was sitting on the stage,” Zick said. “He was like, ‘Just that feeling. It was like warm water pumping through my veins. I was so happy to be in that moment.’ That’s why I do what I do, because that kid would’ve never felt that if he had not taken the chance and believed in himself.”

Zick gets it.

“I loved theater in high school, but I didn’t understand why,” Zick said. “When I became an adult, I was given the notion I needed to get a real job, a real education, because theater would never feed me. I constantly sought the same validity that theater gave me and that same sense of home and peace in everything I did.”

She remembers searching for work in professional theater after a hiatus.

“As soon as I walked back in the auditorium, I was like, ‘This is where I was supposed to be,’ ” Zick said. “Whenever you create and you like to create and that’s your art form, you express yourself in that way. I think it’s important because whether you’re listening to music, watching something on TV or reading a book, all of those are artists. If you were to bring 100 people in a room and ask them how they find peace, it’s going to relate to art in some way.”

Not everyone wants to play soccer.

“Theater is sports for kids who don’t do sports,” Blanks said. “We’re always recruiting. We’re always trying to make sure our numbers stay up. We’re always trying to justify our programs to others and ourselves, and to make sure everyone knows there’s a space for them, but they have to come claim it.”

“Football coaches, volleyball coaches and softball coaches sign athletes,” Zick said. “I think it’s time we start signing some actors. I want people to leave my classroom and I know they’re going into the professional world, breaking into Broadway, going to a college they want to. I want to help them get there.


Theater students were distraught that spring shows were canceled after they had worked so hard, Jackson said. And he admits this school year is a challenge.

“Many of our theater kids tell us they come to school because of theater or that they look forward to our class all day, and that’s because it feeds them and nurtures them,” Jackson said. “Theater is a tight-knit family of sorts, and now having to balance how to keep everyone close but at a distance has presented its own challenges. But we are pressing on as best we can, and our kids tell us they are just happy that they are here.”

Despite a much different schedule and approach, Blanks is impressed with their resilience.

“Theater, like life, will always find a way,” Blanks said.

Zick thinks her student William Hannah, said it best: “It’s still theater, just 6-feet apart.”

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South Florida school closes after 2 students test positive

MIAMI (AP) — A marine magnet school in South Florida on Monday told students not to show up for in-person classes, just days after Miami-Dade schools reopened to brick-and-mortar classes, after two students reported having the COVID-19 virus.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools tweeted that physical classes at Mast Academy had been cancelled and students should report to school online. Mast is a maritime and science technology magnet high school.

“We are officially back online fully. Do not show up to school. The campus is closed till further notice,” the school tweeted.

The Miami Herald reported that students, parents and employees were told that two students had tested positive for the virus.

Schools spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said that anyone who came into contact with the two students was being notified using contact tracing protocols.

“The school has been thoroughly sanitized,” Gonzalez-Diego said. “The well-being of our students and employees is our top priority at Miami-Dade County Public Schools.”

Florida on Monday reported an additional 1,533 cases, raising the state’s total number of coronavirus cases since March to 736,024. Florida also reported four dozen new deaths on Monday, raising the death toll in the state from coronavirus to 15,599 cases.

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