Districts told to find missing students or lose funds, girls sports, testing, vaccinations and more

In the Legislature: In a letter to school superintendents on Thursday, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, warned that there will be “significant budget implications” unless the state’s districts find the nearly 90,000 students who were expected to be enrolled this academic year but are not. Sprowls called the enrollment decline “alarming,” saying “the welfare of these students is of paramount importance.” The speaker’s warning is the clearest signal yet sent from the Legislature that districts will not be protected against a loss of funds because of unaccounted-for students, as they have been this school year. If those students do not return to district schools in the fall, those districts could lose a total of $700 million in state funding. The legislative session begins March 2. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. A bill prohibiting transgender boys from competing in girls sports in schools has been filed by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills. H.B. 935 states, “Only students of the female sex are eligible to participate on athletic teams designated for girls only.” WTXL.

Testing troubles: Opposition to having students learning remotely return to schools just to take the state’s annual standardized tests in April and May is growing, with more parents and students prepared to opt out regardless of the consequences. Test results make up a portion of course grades and are a graduation requirement, but parents some are echoing Dawn Slagter, the mother of a Pasco County 8th-grader with asthma and other health issues who has declared, “I’m not going to risk my daughter’s health just so they can get a test score.” Because of the disruptions in education caused by the pandemic, the state is being pressured to either eliminate the tests or, if they are given, to not count the results. Tampa Bay Times.

COVID and teachers: Twenty-seven U.S. states are allowing some or all of their teachers to register for COVID-19 vaccinations. Florida is not among them, even though the state ordered schools to reopen in August and has been pushing for students who are struggling with remote learning to return to classrooms. State districts, administrators, school boards and teachers have pleaded with the state to move teachers up on the priority list, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has declined to do so. The current state priority is residents 65 and over, frontline health-care workers and some people under 65 with significant health risks. Florida Phoenix. Education Week.

Around the state: Orange County schools will be open five days a week this summer as the district tries to recover “extensive” learning losses brought on the coronavirus pandemic, Florida Virtual School names its teacher, principal, assistant principal and support employee of the year, the Lee school district names its school-related employee of the year, a group of parents of Parkland shooting victims had a hand in the removal of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her U.S. House committee assignments, Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis is being criticized for not wearing a mask at all times during Wednesday’s celebration of the Tampa Bay Bucs’ Super Bowl win, and a Bay County high school student is being called a hero for quickly getting help when he saw a teacher exhibiting the signs of a stroke. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The removal of Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from the House Education and Budget committees can be traced, at least in part, to the efforts of Stand With Parkland, a group of parents that represent 15 of the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Greene had once argued that the shooting was a “false flag” event planned by Hillary Clinton and/or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and had verbally harassed David Hogg, a shooting survivor and gun control advocate. The group urged south Florida legislators to pressure House Republican leaders to withdraw Greene’s committee assignments, and eventually 11 Republicans voted with Democrats to kick Greene off the two committees. Miami Herald. Here’s a listing of scheduled events making the third anniversary of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High. Sun Sentinel. Three years after the school shootings, the trial of accused gunman Nikolas Crus still has no start date. Associated Press.

Hillsborough: School Superintendent Addison Davis has come under a torrent of criticism after he was photographed without a mask at a boat parade and party on Wednesday celebrating the Tampa Bay Bucs’ Super Bowl victory. In one photo, Davis is seen smiling as he chatted in a large group of people. Davis said he went maskless “briefly,” but admitted, “In hindsight, I should have kept my mask on for the entire celebration.” Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. A former school security guard at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Tampa was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of attempted sexual battery on a 6-year-old student in 2019. Malcolm Curtis Tillman was 22 at the time and had been a guard for just a year. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange, central Florida: Orange County schools will be open five days a week through June and July as the district tries to recover “extensive” learning losses brought on the coronavirus pandemic. The extra costs for opening schools will be covered by federal funds. WKMG. The coronavirus pandemic is taking its toll on Valentine’s Day celebrations in central Florida schools. Exchange of cards, treats and trinkets is banned in Orange County in favor of virtual cards. In the Lake, Osceola and Seminole school districts, exchanges will be held but with extra precautions. Items must be dropped off early and sit in quarantine in case anyone who has COVID-19 touched them. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Three county students are starring in a documentary that will be used in the district’s curriculum. The students trekked through the county’s wilderness in Hidden Wild, which was created by the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management. WPEC. Thirty students at Florida Atlantic University High School have been chosen as National Merit Scholarship finalists. Florida Atlantic University High School.

Polk: Paul Green, a special education transition teacher and assistant football coach at Auburndale High School, died Wednesday of complications from the coronavirus. It was his 66th birthday. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Teresa Rigdon, a peer mediation counselor at Lehigh Acres Middle School, has been named the Lee County School District’s school-related employee of the year. The district cited her creation of the peer mediation program, which “helps students solve conflicts and other issues” outside the normal disciplinary process. Fort Myers News-Press.

Seminole: The school district is canceling high school proms and will hold graduation ceremonies in school auditoriums that will last for hours because schools will try to limit the number of people in the auditoriums. The announced plans closely mirror 2020’s, and parents and students are not happy. Orlando Sentinel.

Manatee: It’s been more than a year since the school district terminated the charter of the Lincoln Memorial Academy because of financial and leadership problems and took control of the school. Now the school board is trying to plan what the school will be when the 2021-2022 school year begins in August. The idea of re-establishing the school as a charter appears to be dead, as there have been no applicants. One idea is to start a magnet program at Lincoln, but that would require community buy-in and some members of the community are still harboring a grudge against the district for taking over the charter. Board members are expected to continue the discussion later this month or early in March. Bradenton Herald.

Bay: A Mosley High School student is being called a hero for noticing last Friday that a teacher was exhibiting signs of a stroke and quickly getting help. Principal Brian Bullock said sophomore Phoenix Croom’s quick response may have saved the teacher’s life. “Like any other day, we were learning something new in class, and then they started talking incoherently,” Croom said. “They sat down and I had an idea that they might be having a stroke and so I Googled the symptoms of a stroke and they had almost all of them.” WMBB.

Citrus: School board members have agreed to allow 145 mentors back on school campuses, perhaps as early as next week. The coronavirus forced the district to prohibit them from visiting for the past year. The school board also agreed to delay deciding whether traditional graduation ceremonies and promos will be held. “We’re not ready to make a decision,” said chief academic officer Scott Hebert. “We’re going to look at each event as we move along, and we’ll open them up as move on further down the line.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Gulf: A 15-year-old Wewahitchka High School student has been arrested and accused of making written bomb threats against the school last week. The threats were discovered on a wall in a boys bathroom at the school Feb. 3, prompting an immediate dismissal while authorities investigated. Port St. Joe Star.

Top FLVS employees: Hali Van Reeth, a middle school science teacher, has been named the Florida Virtual School’s teacher of the year. Dominique Baroco, who oversees program’s Chinese and French teams, is the FLVS principal of the year, and Keith Mercer is the FLVS assistant principal of the year. Mei-Ling Hickey, who is a training specialist for the Florida districts that use FLVS courses and technology, was named the program’s support person of the year. The Virtual Voice.

Colleges and universities: A University of Central Florida student has tested positive for the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus, according to school officials. WOFL. WFTV. A new study confirms that the first known appearance of COVID-19 was discovered Feb. 21, 2020, on a door handle from a building at the University of Florida. That’s more than a week earlier than originally thought. Tampa Bay Times. The University of Central Florida is trying to hold down housing fees by eliminating such “hotel-style” services as trash pickup and floor-cleaning in dorm rooms. Orlando Sentinel. Lake-Sumter State College has announced an agreement that will allow its honors students to transfer into Stetson University honors program, with all costs covered, after earning an associate degree. Daily Commercial.

Around the nation: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing new guidance this week about school reopenings, but it’s not expected to settle the ongoing debates among politicians, school officials, parents and teachers over safety concerns. Politico. The Senate Education Committee voted 17-5 on Thursday to approve the nomination of Miguel Cardona as the next U.S. education secretary. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Our society has such a sordid history of discriminatory practices and systemic racism in education that it’s absurd to decry parental choice as the “downfall of public education.” For many low-income and black Americans, the system has never had anywhere to go but up. Keith Jacobs, redefinED. The future is STEM education, and there’s no reason young girls and women can’t be a big part of it. Laine Powell, Orlando Sentinel. Post-pandemic, the resilience of schools and communities to rebuild and grow educational theater programs will be tested, more than ever. The show must go on. Lindsey Frankman, Orlando Sentinel.