Some K-12 schools in state closing, tax breaks package cut down, athletic protection and more

Coronavirus concerns: The latest coronavirus headlines include Pasco County’s Bishop Larkin Catholic School, Pinellas County’s Northside Christian School, Palm Beach County’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church & School and Hillsborough County’s Tampa Prep joining Tampa’s Farnell Middle School in closing while officials from the Miami-Dade, Duval, Collier, Alachua, Seminole, Leon and Broward districts said they are staying open as long as possible, Gov. Ron DeSantis calling for the postponement of all mass gatherings in the state and the Legislature setting aside $300 million to fight the virus, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos considering one-year waivers for school testing and accountability requirements, the state’s teachers could receive $200 stipends to be trained to educate students online, college graduations possibly being jeopardized by the outbreak, major sporting events and Disney World being among the high-profile cancellations and closings, more cases confirmed, and more. Associated Press. Washington Post. New York Times. News Service of Florida. WFTX. Education Week. WPEC. School districts around Florida are making plans to prepare for the virus and to work around it if necessary, as well as canceling  events. Tampa Bay Times. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. WJXT. Bradenton Herald. Tallahassee Democrat. Holmes County Times Advertiser. Space Coast Daily. Pensacola News Journal. Daily Commercial. WEAR. WKRG. WOFL. WPLG. WPBF. WJHG. Lakeland Ledger. Citrus County Chronicle. Northwest Florida Daily News. WPTV. MaxPreps. Are Florida’s virtual schools prepared to scale up operations if schools are closed? WJXT. Questions and answers about the coronavirus, and a glossaryFlorida Department of Health. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Today. Education Week. About 22 million K-12 students receive free or reduced-price meals at U.S. schools. The U.S. Congress is working to preserve the program even if schools are closed. Education Dive.

Tax breaks trimmed: The Florida Senate has given tentative approval to a scaled-down tax-cut package. The total of the tax cuts had swollen to a proposed $230 million on Wednesday. But Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said that number would be trimmed significantly to provide some extra reserves for the state fight against the coronavirus. The latest package offers $107 million in tax breaks, including about $40 million for a back-to-school tax holiday on clothing, school supplies and some electronics Aug. 7-9. Both the Senate and the House have to approve the bill once more. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Legislative negotiators working on the state budget have agreed to a $354 million capital spending plan for the state’s schools and universities. Charter schools will receive $170 million, up $12 million from last year. Budget talks will continue through the weekend. Florida Politics.

Protecting athletes: Legislators have unanimously approved a bill that would require school districts to do more to protect student-athletes from heat strokes, and it now heads to Gov. DeSantis’ desk. S.B. 1696 calls for districts to have a tub or large container with cold water to cool down players during practices and games, and a defibrillator for resuscitation. School employees would receive training to recognize the symptoms of and treat heat-related illnesses. The bill was renamed the Zachary Martin Act for a football player at Riverdale High School in Lee County who died of complications from heat stroke after a summer workout in 2017. News Service of Florida. WFSU.

Holocaust education: The House has approved a bill requiring the Florida Department of Education to establish curriculum standards for Holocaust instruction in K-12 schools, and the bill is now headed to Gov. DeSantis. The bill was initiated after a Palm Beach County principal told a parent in 2018 that he couldn’t say that the Holocaust was a factual event. H.B. 1213 also requires schools to teach students about the state’s policy banning anti-Semitism, have districts show proof to the state that they have complied with the law, and directs the DOE’s African American History Task Force to recommend ways to teach about the 1921 Ocoee Massacre. Florida Politics.

Expanding scholarships: The Florida Senate has agreed to vote today on a bill expanding and aligning two state scholarship programs that provide education choice to economically disadvantaged students, after turning away an amendment that would have increased the amount of information private schools would have to provide to the state. H.B. 7067 increases the allowed annual enrollment growth for the Family Empowerment Scholarship from 7,000 to 28,000, and aligns some of its income eligibility provisions with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. About 126,000 economically disadvantaged students are enrolled in private K-12 schools under the two programs this year. The House has already approved the bill, so if the Senate concurs it would then be sent to Gov. DeSantis’ desk for consideration. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarship programs. redefinED. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU.

Educators honored: Jonathan Motta, a geometry and algebra II teacher at NeoCity Academy in Kissimmee, has been named the Osceola County School District’s teacher of the year. Osceola News-Gazette. Six Lee County teachers have been chosen as Golden Apple winners: Brittany Camp, 12th-grade AP government and literature, Cypress Lake High; Jennifer Nargi-Kida, 3rd grade, Villas Elementary; Nancy Rossi, 3rd grade, Gateway Elementary;  Jaclyn Baker, 7th-grade civics and social studies, Three Oaks Middle; Mark Drew, engineering and technical design, Ida S. Baker High; and Laurie Nelson, Spanish, Gulf Middle. Fort Myers News-Press.

Options for bullied: Florida school districts are routinely breaking state law by not informing parents whose children are being bullied that they are eligible for a state scholarship, according to a new survey by the Learning Systems Institute. Seventy-one percent of the parents who were surveyed said they found out about the Hope Scholarship from private schools, social media or the Internet. Just 368 Florida students are using the scholarships this year. The program is in its second year. redefinED.

Accountability benefits: A new study by the Brookings Institution concludes that the federal No Child Left Behind Act and its school accountability requirements have had a positive effect in high school graduation rates. States with graduation exams have higher graduation rates, according to researchers, and the gap between the graduation rates of white and black students has narrowed significantly. Chalkbeat.

Seclusion rooms: The Escambia County School District’s continued use of padded seclusion rooms to calm misbehaving students has drawn criticism from a grandmother who says her 6-year-old special-needs grandson was traumatized when he was placed in one. School officials say they use the rooms only as a last resort, but that the tactic works. The Santa Rosa and Escambia districts use seclusion rooms more than any other districts in the state. WEAR.

School rebranding: Just Elementary School in Tampa was at just 44 percent of capacity last fall when Kevin McDonald became the new principal. He decided to rebrand the school as a STEM academy to try to lure back students. Hillsborough County school officials supported the plan by buying 106 desktop computers, 30 laptops, Lego robots, 3D printers and new furniture for the newly named Riverwalk STEM Academy @ Just Elementary, and the school now offers engineering and robotics clubs. It’s too early to know if the marketing idea will work, said McDonald. “But for our first year, we’re doing a lot.” Tampa Bay Times.

New school planned: The Santa Rosa County School Board has agreed to pay $1.5 million to buy 45 acres of land for a new school. The land is part of the told Tiger Point Golf Course in Gulf Breeze, and Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said he hopes to have a new school there in five to eight years. The district has bought about $11 million worth of property in the past two years for potential school sites. Pensacola News Journal.

Personnel moves: Three new principals are appointed at Volusia County schools, four new assistant superintendents have been assigned, and a new director of planning and construction services has been hired. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Recycling at schools: The Citrus County School Board is looking for help from the community to start a recycling program at schools. Last year, the board canceled the contract it had with a recycling vendor when the district was asked to pay another $23,000 a year. Citrus County Chronicle.

Students hurt in bus crash: Some children riding a St. Lucie County school bus were taken to a hospital after a crash between the bus and a vehicle Thursday afternoon in Fort Pierce. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: More must be done to recruit and retain teachers by improving compensation as well as reducing onerous state mandates and other conditions that make the job harder. Gainesville Sun. It’s a nice luxury to be able to bring your child to a neighborhood school, but the Alachua County School District needs to figure out how to better utilize available resources while at the same time working to eliminate disparities. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun. The Flagler County School District should extend spring break. Coronavirus prevention is not an overreaction. Pierre Tristam, Flagler Live.