CARES Act school spending, face mask lawsuits, armed guardians, mandatory summer school and more

In the Legislature: Only about 40 percent of the money the state has received from the federal government to help schools with coronavirus-related expenses has been disbursed to school districts, and the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee is asking the Florida Department of Education for an accounting. About $693 million for education was received in the first round of the CARES Act stimulus package, and about $277 million has been spent on direct and indirect coronavirus-related expenses, including such things as school safety protocols, addressing learning loss, feeding students and technology. According to the law, the money must be spent by September 2022. News Service of Florida. The bill that would require public union employers to get the direct approval of union members, such as teachers, before they could take dues out of their paychecks was approved Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. News Service of Florida. A bill that would would use state money to pay for dual-enrollment courses for students in private schools or who are home-schooled was approved Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. The bill also would cover the costs of the courses through the summer for all students. redefinED. A bill that would allow concealed carry permit holders to have guns in churches with schools on their property was approved Wednesday by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee. Florida Politics. WFSU.

Around the state: An arbitrator rules that Broward principals must explain their decisions to not allow at-risk teachers to work remotely to the teachers union, lawsuits challenging district face mask policies have been dismissed or withdrawn this week in three counties, the Leon County School Board has tentatively decided to join the state’s armed guardian program for schools, the Volusia school board is sticking with its earlier decision to merge two elementary schools and locate it in Daytona Beach, 11 Lee County schools are in violation of the state’s classroom size limits, Collier County announces it intends to have traditional high school graduations this spring, and the Martin County School District is making summer school mandatory for 3rd-grade students who are learning at the lowest level. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School principals must meet with representatives from the teachers union to explain why some at-risk teachers were not allowed to continue teaching remotely, an arbitrator ruled Wednesday. Union president Anna Fusco said Superintendent Robert Runcie hasn’t done enough to accommodate those teachers. “The less than 10 percent of educators who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 must be protected,” she said. “With only about 27 percent of students back in the buildings, there is no reason this can’t be accomplished.” WPLG. Vincent Toranzo, a senior at Pembroke Pines Charter High School, has been named to President Biden’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. He appears to be the only student among the 12 members appointed. WPLG. WTVJ. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: Some Sandalwood High School students walked out of class Wednesday in protest after a school post on social media touting “you Matter Month” led them to believe the school was trying to replace Black Lives Matter or Black History Month. That post and the reaction led to several racially charged posts, and the online chat was ended by the principal. The protest was nonviolent, and students will meet today with school administrators. WJXT. WTLV. Florida Times-Union. Extra security will be deployed today and Friday in Duval high schools after a series of threats were made over social media. Backpack screening, metal detectors and fewer points of entry for students are among the measures being used. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. Descendants of Jean Ribault are objecting to a proposal to change the names of two schools that use the 16th-century French explorer’s name. Five Ribault ancestors recently wrote a newspaper column defending Ribault, saying he never mistreated native populations he encountered in north Florida. WJCT.

Lee: Eleven of the district’s 120 schools have classrooms that are over the state class size limits, according to the Florida Department of Education. The district has until Feb. 19 to submit a plan to the state on how it intends to comply with the law. Six of the schools have already complied, district officials said. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: Pepin Academies has opened a charter school campus just west of Wendell Krinn Technical School in New Port Richey, its third school in the Tampa Bay area. The school, which specializes in educating students with specific learning and learning-related disabilities, can hold up to 400 students in grades 3-12. Suncoast News.

Brevard: Two groups protested the district’s coronavirus remediation efforts before the school board this week. Students and parents involved in the Satellite High School fine arts program asked the board to rescind the ban on indoor singing. Production of high school musicals and choral performances have been halted for the past year because of the policy. Board members said they would revisit the issue at the March 23 meeting. Another group, Moms for Liberty, continued to push for a rollback to the district’s mask mandate. “We are not here because … our children are simply ‘uncomfortable’ in these masks,” said Ashley Hall. “We are here because are witnessing the damage these policies are doing to our children’s mental health.” Florida Today.

Osceola: A citizens advisory group met Wednesday to begin preparing a policy that would detail the role of school resource officers in the district. The group was formed by school board member Julius Melendez after a video surfaced that showed an officer slamming a female student to the ground when he tried to intervene in a fight. Melendez said the district does not have a policy for what it expects of resource officers. WKMG. WFTV.

Volusia: School board members have decided they will not reconsider their decision to merge the Osceola and Ortona elementary schools on the Ortona site in Daytona Beach. Officials and residents of Ormond Beach protested that decision and offered to spend $2 million to upgrade Osceola, and school board members agreed to hear their objections. But they didn’t change the minds of the board members. “That ends that,” said board chair Linda Cuthbert. The new school could be mostly completed by October 2022. Daytona Beach News-Journal. District officials are trying to track down the 2,000 or so students who were expected in schools this year but did not show up. Enrollment of about 63,000 was projected, but fewer than 61,000 were in school at the 20-day count. The underenrollment, which has shown up across the state, is important because districts get money from the state based on how many students they have. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: Traditional high school graduations will be held in Collier County this year, the school board has decided. The ceremonies will be held outdoors at each school’s athletic stadium. Each student will receive two tickets for guests, and the ceremonies will be livestreamed for those who can’t attend. Naples Daily News. The school board has approved a calendar for the 2022-2023 academic year. The first day will be Aug. 10 and the last day June 1. Students will get a week off at Thanksgiving, unless days missed earlier in the year because of storms have to be made up. Naples Daily News.

Lake: The 15-year-old Eustis High School student who was shot with a stun gun by a school resource officer two weeks ago will be charged as a juvenile, the state attorney announced Wednesday. The girl faces two charges of battery on a law enforcement officer and one charge of resisting with violence after the incident. “It’s overwhelming clear that the officer acted appropriately and made multiple efforts to de-escalate the situation,” said chief assistant state attorney Walter Forgie. “In fact, (he) was lawful in all his actions. It’s equally as clear from the video evidence that the defendant’s actions were criminal and warranted criminal prosecution.” Daily Commercial. First-year teachers in the Lake County School District say the coronavirus pandemic has challenged them in ways they never envisioned when preparing for the profession. “You already don’t know what to expect because you’re a first-year teacher,” said Makenzie Archer, a physical education teacher at Mount Dora High School. “Walking into it with different regulations this year has been interesting.” Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: Four parents have dropped a lawsuit challenging the school district’s mandatory face mask policy, according to their attorney, Patrick Leduc. The decision was made after a court in Indian River County dismissed a similar lawsuit by a group of parents that was also represented by Leduc. That’s at least the third court ruling against face-mask suits, and Leduc also voluntarily dismissed another case in Lee County this week. Leduc said the cases are lessons to Floridians “to be careful who you vote for in these school board elections because they’ve got the power and the courts side with them.” Patch. A motorcyclist was killed Wednesday when he ran into a school bus while it was making a left turn in Sarasota. Troopers said no charges were expected to be filed against the bus driver. None of the 27 students on board at the time was injured. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTSP.

St. Lucie: Twelve-year-old Jacob Napoles, a student at Northport K-8 School, was presented with a certificate of heroism from Sheriff Ken Mascara on Wednesday for saving his mom and younger brother when their car crashed into a retention pond in Jensen Beach. Jacob managed to get one of the doors open and helped get his mother and brother to safety. TCPalm. WPTV.

Escambia: At the end of the first semester, about 7,500 students who were struggling with remote learning were strongly encourage to return to face-to-face instruction so they could try to catch up. But nearly 7,000 opted to stay online. Superintendent Tim Smith doesn’t expect that number to change much until vaccinations are widely completed. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: School board members have tentatively decided to join the state’s armed guardian program to increase the number of officers on campuses. The program provides money for districts to hire private security companies, or to train and arm teachers, administrators or other school employees. The district will not arm teachers or administrators, said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. A public hearing has been scheduled for March 23. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Alachua: The school district has been given “exemplary” status by the Florida Department of Education for its curriculum on African and African-American history. Alachua joins the Broward, Duval, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas and St. Lucie school districts in earning the exemplary rating. WCJB.

Santa Rosa: A 13-year-old boy has been hospitalized with serious injuries after he was hit by a car Wednesday afternoon near Avalon Middle School in Milton. Troopers said the boy dashed across a street and into the path of the car at around 3:30 p.m. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: Megan Todd, who has taught at Bay High School for nine years and supervised the school’s Student Government Association for eight, has been chosen as the Florida Association of Student Councils’ Division 1 advisor of the year. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: The school district has decided to make summer school mandatory for 3rd-grade students who are learning at the lowest level, and several neighboring districts are also considering it. Martin officials said in addition to struggling 3rd-graders, “we will strongly encourage all other students to attend this opportunity for an extended school year. Students will receive instruction from district teachers, have transportation to and from school, and receive free breakfasts and lunches each day.” WPEC.

Indian River: The school calendar for the 2021-2022 academic year has been approved by the school board. Schools open Aug. 10 and the last day is May 27. Students will get a full week off at Thanksgiving. TCPalm.

Nassau: No progress has been made in the standoff between county teachers and the school district. The district has offered starting salaries of $45,242, but with no raises until teachers have been working for 18 years. Teachers overwhelmingly rejected that, but district said it was its “best and final offer.” WTLV.

Police in schools: The kind of interactions students have with school resource officers can be predictive about whether students feel safe at school, according to Chris Curran, a University of Florida professor and director of the school’s Education Policy Research Center. “When officers are in schools, we need to attend to where the research shows potential unintended consequences and build clear boundaries,” Curran said. “Doing so can help maximize the benefits of SROs’ presence while minimizing the chance of a harmful experience like arrest or suspension.” University of Florida.

On reopening schools: Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to criticize school closings in other states during a press conference Wednesday in Venice and drew a distinction between Florida and those states during the coronavirus pandemic. “The fact that you’re going to have schools that are going to be closed for this entire school year and probably even into the fall is a national disgrace,” he said. “I watch what is going on in our country and it’s like ‘oh, well, after 100 days we will have — maybe — half the kids can go to school for one day’ and I’m like ‘we’ve been open the whole time for schools.’ ” Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his goal of opening a majority of schools in his first 100 days in office will be met even if it’s just one day of in-person instruction a week in some schools. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: No parent should be told, like I was when searching for a middle school for my daughter with a disability, that they would have to decide sight unseen, trusting only the school’s reputation or past performance. States should require that every district and charter school adopt a policy, with parent input, for all tours, visits and observations that includes all classrooms or students. Karla Phillips-Krivickas, redefinED. Will the dark season of the pandemic affect the decisions that parents, students, teachers, counselors and administrators make in preparing for the economy’s most resilient careers? It seems certain that the answer to that question is “yes.” And yet the transformed economy that the pandemic will leave behind will demand a higher level of academic preparation – and not a lower level. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.