Pandemic boom for south Florida private schools, shot demand rescinded, children in poverty and more

Around the state: The pandemic has brought a boom to south Florida private schools from the northeast United States, Nova Southeastern University in Davie backs off its intent to require students and staff to be vaccinated before returning to school next fall after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order banning so-called “vaccine passports,” about 210,000 more Florida children slid into poverty during the pandemic, Florida Standards Assessments testing in language arts and reading begins today for 3rd-graders while students in grades 4-10 will start writing exams, Alachua County’s school superintendent says it’s time to rezone schools to improve diversity and balance enrollment, and seniors in St. Petersburg High School’s International Baccalaureate program are trying to have IB tests canceled because of the pandemic. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward, south Florida: Enrollment in and applications to south Florida private schools from people moving from the northeast United States have been surging since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, officials at those schools are saying. Specific enrollment numbers aren’t available, but many schools say they’ve reached enrollment capacity and applications continue to pour in. At Palm Beach Day Academy, for example, 47 percent of all new students this school year came from New York City and its suburbs, and applications are up 147 percent from March to September 2020. Sun Sentinel. An administrative law judge has ruled that the school district wrongly fired a teacher last May who allegedly named some of his students “brat,” “dummy” and “idiot.” Eric Delucia, 46, who was a language arts and technology teacher at Piper High in Sunrise, said some of the accusations were false and others were misconstrued. The judge agreed, saying the school board didn’t prove its case, and recommended that Delucia be rehired and given back pay. The school board can accept the ruling or fight it in court. Sun Sentinel.

Polk: The school store at Blake Academy in Lakeland has received a donation of 350 books, backpacks and hygiene products from the Lakeland Kiwanis Club and USBorne Books. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Some seniors in the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School are calling for a suspension of the yearly IB tests because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Their first appeal was rejected by the IB organization, according to advanced studies director Judith Vigue, who said it was out of the district’s hands. Then the seniors learned that Hillsborough’s IB program appealed to have the tests canceled and won, and would be allowed to use alternate grading options. School board members said they would look into students’ concerns. Testing begins May 4. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School officials are starting a social media campaign to get kindergartners back into schools. A good percentage of the 3,800 “missing” students in schools this year were kindergarten students whose parents opted to keep them safe at home, are home-schooling them or enrolled them in private schools. Florida Today. Allison Enright, the teacher who was fired March 23 for using medical marijuana to treat several health issues, said she hopes her case can be a “catalyst for change.” School board members reluctantly fired her because they feared a loss of federal funding since medical marijuana is still a banned substance on the federal level. Enright said she would ask for an administrative hearing to try to get her job back. Florida Today. Parents of students at the Divine Mercy Catholic Academy on Merritt Island said they were blindsided by last week’s announcement that the school was closing at the end of the academic year. Henry Fortier, the superintendent of schools for the Orlando Diocese, said declining enrollment and lower church collections because of the pandemic were major factors in the decision. Spectrum News 13.

Osceola: A residential development for 625 single-family homes and 599 multi-family home units is being proposed on a 276-acre property near St. Cloud that would include a K-8 school. The city is expected to consider the plan in September, with development beginning three or four months later if it’s approved. WKMG.

Manatee: The school district has suspended school bus pickups today in the Piney Point area that has been evacuated because a reservoir of wastewater is in danger of collapsing. Students at seven schools are affected. WTVT. WTSP.

St. Johns: Superintendent Tim Forson has asked the Florida Department of Transportation to reconsider a decision to deny busing for 235 students to the K-8 Liberty Pines Academy. In 2019, the DOT built a sidewalk to the school from the St. Johns Forest neighborhood, putting residents less than 2 miles from the school, and declared it a safe path for children to walk or ride their bikes to Liberty Pines. By state law, busing isn’t allowed for students who live within 2 miles of a school unless there are hazardous walking conditions. Parents said it still isn’t safe. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: The Out-of-Door Academy head of school has announced he is resigning June 30. David Mahler, who has run the school since 2004, gave no reason for his decision. “I have no plans, which I love,” he said. “… We are going to take a breath and we are going to recalibrate. Maybe this is a good mid-life’s crisis. You can call it that if you want, but we are going to invest it in family and friends and our health.” He said the school was “perfectly positioned” for the future. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: About half the district staff has received a vaccine shot, and district officials are encouraging but not requiring the rest to be vaccinated. Students 16 and older are eligible for shots today, and they too will be encouraged, but not required, to get them. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said whether COVID-19 joins polio, tetanus, mumps, measles and chickenpox as required vaccinations is a decision that will be made at a “much higher level than me.” Tallahassee Democrat. An indictment has been issued in the murder of a district teacher in 1996. Andrew J. Preston, who is now 66, was indicted by a grand jury for first degree murder in the October 1996 slaying of Bernadette Jenkins, who was 24. The FDLE said DNA analysis led it to Preston. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: About 95 teachers and employees at the Liza Jackson Preparatory School got a sneak peek of the new building that will house the K-8 charter school when it’s completed this summer. Construction began last September on the two-story, 76,000-square-foot building, which will allow the school to grow from 860 students to 980. Northwest Florida Daily News. A former school bus aide has been arrested and accused of child abuse. Deputies said Karen Hall, 58, was caught on video Jan. 6 abusing a nonverbal special-needs student. She was fired by the school district Feb. 8 after an investigation. WEAR.

Alachua: Carlee Simon has had the interim from her title as school superintendent removed with a contract through June 2023, and the first big job she plans to tackle is rezoning. Schools must be more diverse, she said, and enrollment needs to be better spread out to ease overcrowding at some schools instead of spending millions on new schools. “Honestly, the school board hasn’t taken on rezoning since the early 2000s,” she said. “The last time they did a districtwide, K-12 rezoning effort, I think was 1985 because it is so controversial. It is also a necessity that needs to occur.” She wants to start discussing rezoning plans with the community and school officials this summer. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: After a pause for a year because of the pandemic, Superintendent Bill Husfelt has resumed his direct talks with students at schools to hear their concerns. He expected questions about face masks and the dress code during a recent meeting at Mosley High School, but instead heard about the pressures students have felt since Hurricane Michael in 2018 and concern about the level of political divisiveness at school and in the country. Panama City News Herald. District schools collected 15,026 boxes of cereal for the needy as a tribute to Julio Narvaez, the district manager for Chartwells in the county who donated food and water to those in need after Hurricane Michael. Narvaez recently died of complications from the coronavirus. Panama City News Herald. WJHG.

Charlotte: The school district has been named the Cambridge International District of the Year Award of 2020-21 in the small district division. The award is given for “improving and sustaining curriculum in the classrooms.” Charlotte Sun.

Walton: No charges will be filed in the kidnapping of a guinea pig from a classroom at the Tree House Episcopal Church Montessori School, according to the sheriff’s office. Coconut, an 8-year-old guinea pig, was taken by three boys, 10 to 12 years old, but returned unharmed a few days later. Criminal charges were considered, but instead the boys had to write confession letters to the sheriff and apologies to the school. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Colleges and universities: Nova Southeastern University in Davie backed off its intent to require students and staff to be vaccinated before returning to school next fall after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order banning so-called “vaccine passports.” Nova president George L. Hanbury II said, “We will continue to follow all state and federal laws as they evolve.” Associated Press. News Service of Florida. University of Florida researchers have developed a new filter that could allow people to undergo dialysis at home while they sleep. The filter is called the graphene oxide membrane, and a prototype will be developed within the next year. Gainesville Sun. Undocumented students at the University of South Florida have formed a group, UndocUnited, to offer help and scholarships. Tampa Bay Times. Some states are starting to step in to prohibit universities and colleges from holding up the delivery of transcripts for students who have unpaid fees. NPR. With the new round of federal aid, school districts are starting to address current problems and those that existed long before the virus did. Associated Press. School district’s budgets are in a state of uncertainty due to teacher shortages and uncertain enrollments, as well as the unknown about federal aid. Education Week.

Testing underway: Florida Standards Assessments testing in language arts and reading begins today for 3rd-graders, while students in grades 4-10 will start writing exams. Other tests will be administered in May. The state has yet to say whether accountability for the scores will be waived, indicating only that the decision is “imminent.” WTVT.

In the Legislature: The Senate could vote by Wednesday on a bill that would require colleges and universities to conduct annual surveys to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campuses, and forbid universities from “shielding” students from any kind of speech. News Service of Florida. Both the Senate and House will take up their budget proposals this week, with a $2 billion difference between them and four weeks remaining in the session to get that gap reconciled. Updated state revenue projections will be released Tuesday. Associated Press.

Children in poverty: About 210,000 more Florida children slid into poverty during the pandemic, according to the Children’s Home Society of Florida. That’s a 25 percent increase from poverty levels before the pandemic set in. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: It is from our 50 “sovereign” jurisdictions that fundamental educational reform must come. As always, the solutions will come out of practical politics and the awakening and broad engagement of those with most at stake – the not-so-rich family and its political heroes. John E. Coons, redefinED. Whether the politicians and the American people can agree on what is the best and fairest way to deal with the current debt problem, surely all would agree that the soaring cost of a college education needs to be confronted and dealt with. Geoff Pietsch, Gainesville Sun. The Volusia County School Board made the right call to continue requiring its students to wear masks when arriving at or departing school, during classroom changes, on their way to cafeterias, in small-group learning sessions and other situations where students could be within 6 feet of each other. And mask usage will continue to be “strongly encouraged” in classrooms. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Faculty members are public employees, working in government buildings, paid with tax money to do jobs provided by the state of Florida. Why shouldn’t what they say in school — and what students may argue in classroom debates — be part of the public record? Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat.