COVID protection for schools, education budgets, child abuse report, rifle raffle and more

COVID protections: A bill offering legal protections for K-12 schools, colleges and universities dealing with coronavirus-related issues gets a hearing today in the Senate Education Committee. The proposal would shield universities from lawsuits over their decisions to shut down campuses because of the pandemic, and prohibit the state from using standardized test scores to assess student performance or evaluate teachers. Scores can still be used to grade schools, but without sanctions or penalties. The bill also would allow parents to decide if their 3rd-grade children are retained. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed another COVID-liability bill into law. S.B. 72 offers protection for businesses and health-care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits, and becomes the first bill from this legislative session to become a law. Tampa Bay Times. WKMG.

More from the Legislature: The names of university presidential applicants would be shielded from disclosure under the state’s public records law by a bill that was approved Monday by a House committee. It now heads to the House floor. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Property appraisers say if a bill (H.B. 1007 and S.B. 1358) that changes how timeshares are assessed is passed, schools, counties and cities could lose $170 million a year in property taxes. Orlando Sentinel. The bill creating a moment of silence at the beginning of every school day won the backing of a Senate panel. Florida Politics. A House subcommittee has approved a bill that aims to reduce trauma for foster children by establishing a preferred order where children will be placed and making an effort to keep siblings together. Florida Politics. Voters would be asked to set the bar for passage of constitutional amendments from 60 percent to 66.7 percent under a bill approved by a House committee. Florida Politics. Capitol News.

Higher education budgets: The Senate and House spending plans suggest a lean year is coming for higher education. But the chair of the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, downplays the potential impact. “Let me be clear, this higher education budget is not a slash-and-burn budget. Yes, we’ve made some tough decisions, and it will be a lean year for many. But at the end of the day, the core capacity of Florida’s higher education system will not suffer,” he said. News Service of Florida. A bill that could have altered the way Bright Futures Scholarships were funded was derailed, but some smaller financial elements of the program could still be cut. Tampa Bay Times.

Vaccine passports: Gov. DeSantis said Monday that he will forbid businesses and local governments from refusing to serve people who have no proof that they’ve been vaccinated. “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply participate in normal society,” he said. But he made a distinction between so-called “vaccine passports” and requirements that parents prove their children have been vaccinated against other infectious diseases, calling that “more problematic.” Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Child abuse reports decline: A survey of data from 36 states shows that the number of child abuse reports, investigations, substantiated allegations and interventions dropped 18 percent between March and November 2020, during the pandemic, compared to previous years. In Florida, the decline was 13.3 percent. The decline is a reflection of a heightened danger for children, said Amy Harfeld, an expert in child abuse deaths with the Children’s Advocacy Institute, because “there has not all of the sudden been a cure for child abuse and neglect.” Associated Press.

Around the state: An assault rifle is one of the prizes being raffled for a high school graduation private fund-raiser in Brevard County, a Marion County teacher of special-needs students has died of complications from the coronavirus, a Duval County principal who was temporarily removed to undergo diversity training after setting up segregated diversity training sessions for students has returned to the school, and students are protesting the St. Johns County dress code after 31 girls at Bartram High School were turned in Friday for violations. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The school district ran out of food to distribute over spring break. More than 1 million meals were handed out at 300 schools last Thursday, but it wasn’t enough because, said spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla, “A  higher-than-expected number of people who normally don’t pick up food showed up that day.” She said those who missed out will be contacted for a special distribution this week. Miami Herald.

Palm Beach: More than 93 percent of district teachers who were surveyed by their union advocate an end to simultaneous teaching, where an educator instructs in-person and remote learners at the same time. More than 3,100 teachers took the survey. WPTV. School bus drivers protested outside district headquarters Monday for higher pay, more hours and more cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment. WPEC.

Duval: A high school principal who was temporarily removed from her post earlier this month to receive diversity training is back on the job. Melanie Hammer was reassigned from the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts after she proposed separating students by race to undergo diversity training on inclusion. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. The city of Jacksonville may have ended its mask mandate, but the school district has not. The district sent a reminder to students on Sunday. WJXT.

Brevard: An ArmaLite-style assault rifle is among the items being raffled off in a private fund-raiser for a graduation event to honor seniors at Astronaut High School in Titusville. School officials have told raffle organizers they can’t use the school name in any promotional material because the school can’t hold raffles and because the prize is controversial. “We don’t want our school name associated with the raffle,” said district spokesman Russell Bruhn said. “We would be doing this even if there were no gun, but we’re also a no-gun zone, of course.” The news drew criticism from parents who question the propriety of the prize, considering the number of shootings at schools, but support from others who contend the organizers are exercising their Second Amendment rights. Florida Today.

St. Johns: Students at Bartram Trail High School have started a petition demanding changes in the district’s student dress code after 31 girls were cited on Friday. The petition calls the code a “sexualization” of young women and their clothing. The code states that the “dress and grooming of students shall promote a positive educational environment and not disrupt the educational activities and processes of the school,” and that clothing that is ‘immodest, revealing or distracting in character is unacceptable.” WJXT.

St. Lucie: Forty high school students are taking part in the school district’s “Promise is a Promise” program, in which they promise to go into the teaching and are rewarded with a job in the district when they graduate from college. “I think it’s wonderful because the uncertainty everyone is feeling right now, especially with maintaining a job and being able to stay in their community and help others, I think it’s really, really good that we’re able to have a guaranteed job when we are out of college,” said senior Brianne Yates, who wants to become a music teacher. WPTV.

Marion: A legally blind teacher who worked with special needs students at Ward-Highlands Elementary School in Ocala has died of complications from the coronavirus. Teresa Twist was 62. She had been hospitalized for a month. WKMG. The Black Stallion Reading Project has been restarted at 30 Marion County schools after an absence of about a decade. All county 4th-graders will get a copy of Walter Farley’s novel The Black Stallion, and get a chance to see a horse up close at the school or another event. The Ocala Horse Alliance is sponsoring the program. Ocala Star-Banner.

Clay: For the third straight year, Erik Williams has won the First Coast Spelling Bee and will advance to the national competition. He’s an 8th-grader at St. Johns Country Day School. WJXT. A janitor at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for hiding a camera in the girls locker room and filming them undressing. Jason Brian Goff pleaded guilty Sept. 25 to a charge of attempted use of children to produce sexually explicit videos. Florida Times-Union.

Leon: A Chiles High School 9th-grader died and two other students were injured when their car hit some trees on Monday in Tallahassee. Caden Staats was a passenger in the car. Grief counselors will be available for students all week. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: A data breach of a school district vendor in 2019 may have exposed personal information about students who are in a school meal program. PCS Revenue Control Systems Inc. recently notified parents that hackers gained access to its records, which include students’ names, Social Security numbers and date of birth. District officials verified that the letters sent by PCS are legitimate, and are trying to contact the company. “This is happening in school districts throughout the country where families have received these letters,” said spokeswoman Jackie Johnson. Gainesville Sun.

Charlotte: Deputies are warning the public that marijuana edibles that look like candy are being confiscated at schools in Charlotte and other Florida counties. The edibles are laced with THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. WFLA.

Calhoun: Students and teachers at Carr Elementary and Middle School in Clarksville are mourning the death of Jaylynn Jordan, a 14-year-old who was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Saturday in Altha. WJHG. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: About 1,000 University of Florida students are taking part in a landmark COVID-19 study by the UF College of Medicine’s division of infectious diseases and global medicine. Students will receive the Moderna vaccine and be tracked, along with their contacts, for four months to see how the infection spreads. WLPG. WJXT. Pensacola State College will hold in-person graduations May 9 at the Bay Center. WEAR. University of South Florida professor Natalie Scenters-Zapico is one of eight winners of the Windham Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale University. Scenters-Zapico, who writes poetry, won $165,000. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: Republican support obscures an inconvenient truth for those on the left: school choice has deep roots across the political spectrum. Ron Matus, Real Clear Education. Both Florida and Arizona made large amounts of academic progress between 2001 and 2021, while New York did not despite spending far, far more per pupil than either. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Overall, Florida’s experience suggests that when schools reopen, supporting students’ academic development should be a primary focus, as opposed to athletics or other school activities. Christopher Redding, Gainesville Sun. Florida and West Virginia seemingly have little in common, except this: Both are on the verge of enacting education savings account legislation that would allow many more families to use their share of state per-pupil funding for a variety of educational experiences. Jason Huffman and Skylar Zander, Real Clear Education. If you want women to have a fair shot at winning, it doesn’t mean you don’t care about transgender people. It just means you care more about the people they are about to beat. David Whitley, Gainesville Sun. The benefit — and basic fairness — of providing an opportunity to trans female athletes vastly outweighs any rare, relatively minor boost to their performance. Los Angeles Times. Instead of banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, as Gov. DeSantis has done, or embrace it as the only way forward, why don’t we encourage a pluralistic civics education that teaches CRT alongside numerous other approaches to social science and social justice? David Bernstein, Amna Khalid and J.D. Richmond, Real Clear Education. State legislation purportedly aimed at “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” will, in fact, stifle students’ intellectual growth and weaken the rigorous debate and exchange that define American higher education. Sherry Schneider, Pensacola News Journal.