Federal aid for schools: The U.S. Senate narrowly approved the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Saturday, which includes nearly $170 billion for K-12 schools and colleges and universities. About $126 billion of that would go to K-12 schools, with colleges and universities receiving $40 billion and $2.7 billion set aside for governors to use at their discretion for education-related projects. About $6 billion of that aid would be headed to Florida, where it would be used to buy personal protective equipment, modify spaces to improve social distancing, fund ventilation improvement projects to get students back into classrooms, and pay for tutoring and summer learning programs to help struggling students catch up. Since the bill was altered in the Senate, it has to go back to the House for approval before being signed by President Biden. Associated Press. Politico. WPBF. Florida Phoenix. USA Today. New York Times.
Bright Futures backlash: Student opposition is coalescing against the bill that could significantly cut back the amount of money awarded through Bright Futures scholarships. That bill, S.B. 86, gets its first committee hearing Tuesday in the Legislature. The scholarships now cover 75 to 100 percent of tuition for almost 120,000 students who reach state benchmarks on grades, test scores and volunteer hours. If the bill passes, the scholarships would instead be based on the amount of money appropriated annually by the Legislature. Just a week after an online petition was launched to protest the bill, nearly 68,000 students had signed it. Politico Florida.
In the Legislature: Legislators have passed the first two bills of the session that began last Tuesday, and both are COVID-19 related. H.B. 7 would offer extra legal protection against coronavirus-related lawsuits for schools and other educational institutions, government agencies and businesses by requiring plaintiffs to get documentation from physicians stating that infections were a direct result of the actions of the defendant, and allowing judges to dismiss lawsuits if they believed defendants made a “good-faith effort” to comply with health guidelines. The other bill, H.B. 9, is aimed at preventing scams offering state residents vaccines or personal protective equipment. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Capitol News Service. A bill that would require government employers to confirm that union members have given permission to have union dues withheld from their paychecks is up for consideration this week in the House Government Operations Subcommittee. Associated Press.
Around the state: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has ordered the Monroe County School District to open schools five days a week or risk significant financial penalties, a teacher in Miami-Dade County has died of complications from the coronavirus, more than 10 students and employees were treated at a hospital for anxiety after a roof collapsed at a Broward County middle school, a Duval County high school principal has been temporarily removed to attend diversity training after her plan for segregated student meetings about diversity and inclusion was reported, the Brevard school district has been slammed on social media after details of its accommodations for LGBTQ students were discovered, St. Johns school officials said they won’t sponsor school proms this year, Walton County schools are reporting a sizable number of out-of-state students enrolling, and teachers and other school workers around the state began getting vaccinated. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Miami-Dade: A 1st-grade teacher at first grade at Aventura Waterways K8 Center in Miami has died of complications from COVID-19. Carol Zuckerman, a 56-year-old Davie resident and single mother of a 10-year-old daughter, died in her sleep Friday. Sun Sentinel. The school district will begin allowing a limited number of spectators at spring sporting events that are held outdoors. Attendance will be limited to 25 percent of capacity, masks will be required and no food or drinks will be sold. Officials said they were still working with the health department on rules for allowing fans to attend indoor spring sporting events. WFOR.
Broward: More than 10 students and employees were taken to a hospital after part of a roof collapsed Friday morning in the media center at James S. Rickards Middle School in Oakland Park. No one was was in the center at the time, which was under construction as part of the district’s $800 million bond program to repair and replace schools, but the students and staff went taken to a hospital and treated for anxiety. The collapse also caused the sprinkler system to burst, flooding the room. The cause of the collapse is unknown. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. A 15-year-old student hacked into a virtual classroom at Pompano Beach Middle School and threatened to shoot the teacher and students, according to sheriff’s deputies. He then turned on his video camera and began dancing. The boy, who attends a different school, has been charged with written threats to kill, false report of a bomb or firearm and disruption of a school function. WPLG. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. WTVJ.
Pinellas: Teachers and the school district have reached an agreement on rules regarding pandemic-related protocols in classrooms. Among the changes: Students who repeatedly refuse to wear masks in class won’t be allowed to remain there while their parents are called, and teachers can establish an 8-foot barrier from students. Teachers also won concessions on protections for at-risk educators and on getting earlier notification of coronavirus cases. They weren’t successful in capping the number of students in classes or maintaining a 6-foot distance between students. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS.
Palm Beach: Lawsuits filed by the district and five others have been selected by a federal judge to be “bellwether” cases against the e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. for threatening the health of students and seeking compensation for the money districts have spent on counselors, monitoring and materials to educate students about the dangers of the vaping products. Palm Beach’s suit and those filed by school districts in San Francisco; King County, Washington; Tucson, Ariz.; Goddard, Kansas; and the city of Rochester, N.H., will be tried in 2022. Palm Beach Post.
Duval: The principal of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts has been temporarily removed to undergo diversity training. Melanie Hammer had been criticized after the school scheduled meetings for students, segregated by race, to diversity and inclusion. She’ll receive her training at the University of North Florida Center for Urban Education and Policy. Jay Franklin, the school’s assistant principal of curriculum, will run the school in Hammer’s absence. WTLV. WJAX. Florida Times-Union.
Polk: The RP Funding Center will be the site for most of the public high schools’ graduation ceremonies, district officials announced last week. Graduations were held at Joker Marchant Stadium last year. Masks and social distancing will be required, and capacity will be limited to four guests per graduating senior. Ceremonies for Auburndale High, Fort Meade Middle-Senior and Frostproof Middle-Senior are planned at their home stadiums, and some alternative schools will hold graduations at Florida Southern College or at area high school auditoriums or stadiums. Lakeland Ledger. School board members will vote Tuesday on an application from IDEA Public Schools to start a charter school in north Lakeland under the state’s Schools of Hope program. Lakeland Ledger. IDEA Public Schools has a history of student success and questionable spending. Lakeland Ledger.
Brevard: A document that lists accommodations the school district is making for LGBTQ students has lit up social media. The internal document said, among other things, that transgender students should be allowed to use the bathrooms of their choice, play sports on teams that adhere to their gender identity, dress as the gender they identify with, and be referred to by their preferred names and pronouns. School leaders received the document last week for reference, said district spokesman Russell Bruhn, who added that the document keeps the district in compliance with federal and state laws. Parents who criticized it on Facebook received support from politicians such as state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who wrote: “I share your outrage over new ‘guidance’ from local education bureaucrats that would allow a student to claim a gender other than biologic fact without a parent’s permission, and which would allow boys access to girl’s locker rooms without notification of either the female students nor their parents. This is absolutely unacceptable.” Florida Today. WKMG.
Seminole: About 60 students and employees of Wilson Elementary School in Sanford were told to stay home last Friday because of an outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness. Health officials sent notices to the employees and parents informing them they’d been exposed. The health department is trying to track the source. Orlando Sentinel.
Volusia: The former principal of the Volusia Online Learning platform alleges that the district has mismanaged it during the pandemic. J. Susy Peterson, who resigned from the district Feb. 26 instead of accepting a demotion to assistant principal, said the district didn’t fund the platform correctly, had to scramble to hire teachers and staff, and didn’t have enough administrators to accommodate growth and schedule teachers and students into classes. District officials did not comment on the criticisms, and spokeswoman Kelly Schulz simply thanked Peterson for her work on the project. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Manatee: A boys soccer coach at the IMG Academy in Bradenton was arrested last weekend in Polk County and charged with driving under the influence. Deputies said Joshua Kiper, 38, failed a field sobriety test after being pulled over in Mulberry early Saturday morning. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. Restoration is continuing slowly on the 1914 Myakka City schoolhouse, which will become a library, museum and cultural center when completed. The Myakka City Historical Historical Society is overseeing the work. It received a $100,000 grant in 2017, but labor and money have become issues with air-conditioning, plumbing and floors repairs yet to be done. Bradenton Herald.
St. Johns: District officials have announced that they will not sponsor proms this year but have said schools can hold hold “alternatives” that follow coronavirus safety protocols such as social distancing. So far, none of the district’s 14 high schools has indicated it would do so, but a decision can be made as late as April. “It’s unfortunate, and we do feel as badly as anyone about it, but that’s just the way it is,” said Kyle Dresback, associate superintendent for student services for the district. St. Augustine Record.
Sarasota: A “targeted remediation approach” is being used to catch students up to their grade levels and help them prepare for the Florida Standardized Assessments that begin next month. The data-driven project uses computerized assessments to identify students’ weaknesses so they can be targeted for improvement. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
St. Lucie: More than 1,000 district students have taken part in a two-month after-school reading program that was started in February to help struggling elementary students. It’s funded by $960,000 received from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, which part of the federal CARES Act. TCPalm.
Martin: A South Fork High School senior who is trying to pull together an alternative prom said he’s getting pressure from parents and some students who are concerned about safety precautions. Eduardo Diaz said one plan was abandoned when a caterer canceled, but that he has a venue, a DJ and a catering company lined up for an event near the end of the month. WPTV.
Citrus: District students beat national and statewide averages by passing 40 percent of the Advanced Placement exams they took in 2020, the district has announced. Florida’s pass rate of 34.2 percent was second in the nation. The national average was 24.4 percent. Citrus students passed 668 AP exams in 2020, up from 509 in 2019. Citrus County Chronicle. Academy of Environmental Science principal Zachary Leonard was about to be disciplined by the district for several violations of school policy when he resigned Jan. 14. Leonard disciplined students inconsistently, sent pornographic memes to employees, personally used the school’s boats, wrongfully charged the school credit card for boat fuel and took the staff refrigerator and school water supplies, according to the 76-page report issued March 3. Citrus County Chronicle.
Walton: School officials report an inflex of students coming from out of state so they can attend schools in person. More than 70 new students from out of state reported to Butler Elementary School in Santa Rosa Beach last August, and another 20 have enrolled since the beginning of the second semester. At Dune Lakes Elementary School, also in Santa Rosa Beach, 112 out-of-state students have attended since August. WJHG. School officials and the sheriff’s office are investigating a student’s Facebook threat made against Walton Middle School last week. The student did not bring a gun to school, deputies said. Northwest Florida Daily News.
Monroe: The school district has been ordered by the Florida Department of Education to open schools for students five days a week or face “significant financial penalties.” The district had been operating on a hybrid schedule with students attending schools for part of the week and learning remotely the rest of the time. Some parents have criticized the district for not having schools open every weekday, and took their complaints to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who issued the directive to Superintendent Theresa Axford on Friday. In an email to parents, Axford wrote: “It is with a heavy heart that I write to you this afternoon. … Apparently the commissioner does not believe that the level of community spread of the virus is an acceptable reason not to offer five days of face-to-face instruction. … We are literally being ordered to do this and have no recourse at this time. Please forgive me for having to share this news.” WLRN. Florida Keys Weekly.
Requiring the vaccine: While Gov. Ron DeSantis is encouraging Floridians to get vaccinated for the coronavirus, he has stressed that it’s not mandatory. But there are two ways the vaccinations could be required: Under DeSantis’ executive order, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees has the authority to order the shots as part of a public health emergency, and private businesses can require employees to be vaccinated as a term of employment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If the worker cites a disability or religious belief as a reason not to get the shot, the employer would have to exhaust other accommodations before letting the employee go. TCPalm.
Tax revenues up: While tax revenues collected by the state in January were 1 percent below the total from January 2020, they were higher than a forecast issued by the state in August that was revised to take the effects of the pandemic into account. The state collected slightly over $3 billion in January, which was $246.7 million more than projected. It’s the fourth straight month that tax collections beat the revised projections. “Because Florida’s economy is open, revenue is coming in at levels far higher than even the most recent revised estimates,” said Gov. DeSantis, whose proposed $96.6 billion budget relies on a strong economic recovery and federal coronavirus relief aid. News Service of Florida.
FHSAA classifications: The Florida High School Athletic Association meets today to vote on reclassification for schools that take part on the state’s 20 sanctioned sports. The vote had been delayed since schools are having problems verifying enrollment because of the upheaval caused by the pandemic. Orlando Sentinel.
Colleges and universities: Some University of Central Florida professors who were not eligible under Gov. DeSantis’ executive order received coronavirus vaccinations at a federally run site in Orlando, according to their posts on Facebook. Orlando Sentinel. Cancer-fight synthetic modifications of a spice used in Chinese and Indian food has earned University of North Florida chemistry professor Kenneth Laali a U.S. patent. Florida Times-Union.
Around the nation: Twenty-nine percent of American parents want their child to continue with virtual learning when schools reopen next fall, according to an NPR/Ipsos poll. NPR. Sixty-three percent of Florida’s parents think statewide assessments tests should be canceled this year, according to a poll conducted for the Florida Education Association. Florida Phoenix. Experts suggest that the ineffectiveness of virtual learning could cut the lifetime earnings of students by as much as 9 percent. WMFE. Vouchers could be the next big thing in education reform. Forbes. A 12-year-old boy from Marietta, Ga., has been accepted into Georgia Tech University. Florida Times-Union.
Opinions on schools: If Republicans want to cut funding for Bright Futures scholarships, they could reduce the size of the scholarships for well-off students instead of slashing aid for students who need it just because they picked a major that was out of favor at that time. Gainesville Sun. The latest Big Idea from Republicans is to take scholarship money away from college kids who want to major in useless humanities subjects and airy-fairy theoretical crap like astrophysics and other such egg-headery and give it to the students who choose majors where you’re pretty much guaran-damn-teed a job. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix. Majors that are considered useless by legislators are more useful than they know. Students who benefit from their time in college get exposed to all kinds of unexpected things, and you never know where any one of them might lead. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. The bill that could cut Bright Futures scholarships funding raises a question: What sort of society so we want to be, one that values learning or not? Irfan Kovankaya, Tallahassee Democrat. The proposed S.B. 410 could restrict access to sexual education for students and put them at risk. Diane Straub, Tampa Bay Times.