Educator bonuses, updated CDC face mask guidance for schools, opioid settlement reached and more

Educator bonuses: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to give teachers and principals $1,000 bonuses from federal coronavirus relief funds probably does not comply with U.S. Department of Education regulations because those funds are intended to address student learning loss, the department informed the state last week. But even if the plan is rejected, budget experts said the state can follow through with the bonuses to an estimated 180,000 state educators simply by earmarking the money from the same fund of federal money being used to give first responders $1,000 bonuses. “There’s a lot more flexibility with the other money,” said Esteban Santis, a budget and revenue policy analyst with the Florida Policy Institute. The state has enough money in that fund to cover the $216 million needed, he added. A spokesperson for DeSantis said the Florida Department of Education was still reviewing the letter and had no further comment. Orlando Sentinel.

Schools and masks: Students and teachers who have been vaccinated don’t need to wear masks in schools this fall, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in new guidance issued Friday. The CDC isn’t advising schools to require shots, or offering any guidance on how anyone will know who is or isn’t vaccinated. So the agency is simply suggesting that schools make decisions that make the most sense, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, the leader of the CDC task force that prepares recommendations. In Florida, most schools have already decided masks will be optional for the next school year. Associated Press. Forbes. Politico. CNN. Sun Sentinel. USA Today. NPR. Florida Phoenix.

School board battles: Most school board elections have traditionally been nonpartisan and focus on intensely local issues. But these days, school board members are increasingly being drawn into debates over hot-button national issues like critical race theory, transgender females playing sports, and wearing face mask mandates in schools. And national money is following the debate into those local races. Associated Press.

Opioid settlement: The Miami-Dade and St. Johns school districts are among 59 U.S. districts that are eligible to apply for at least $25.5 million in grants as part of a bankruptcy court settlement between state and local governments and the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma. The 59 districts that joined the suit will also receive small payments, which will be used as compensation for the role opioid addiction has played in student absenteeism, learning disabilities and behavioral issues. The agreement is part of a larger arrangement between 15 states and Purdue to proceed toward a settlement of at least $4.5 billion. Education Week. New York Times.

Around the state: Orange County School Board members vote Tuesday whether to make face masks optional in schools this fall, some Seminole residents want the state to investigate the school board’s decision-making process in hiring new superintendent Serita Beamon, more than a dozen Manatee County schools reported improved 3rd-grade reading test scores even as the district’s overall percentage decline 2 points, and attorneys for the accused Parkland school shooter are asking a judge to close all pretrial proceedings to the public. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Attorneys for the accused gunman in the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are asking a judge to close all pretrial proceedings to the public and the media. They contend that if the proceedings are open, the jury pool will be tainted and a fair trial will be impossible. Prosecutors oppose the request. Nikolas Cruz, now 22, is accused of killing 17 people and wounding 17 others. If convicted, he could be sentenced to the death penalty. Sun Sentinel.

Orange, Central Florida: Orange County School Board members are scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to make face masks optional at school. Teachers union president Wendy Doromal advocates keeping the mask mandate because only 27 percent of the county’s children 12 and older have been vaccinated and because the coronavirus Delta variant is spreading in the state. If the board decides to make masks optional, the new policy would begin no later than Aug. 2. WKMG. A central Florida tutor who has spent time this summer working with students said he’s found that most of them are behind where they ought to be in the basics: reading, writing and math. Andrew Karanikolis said most summers are dedicated to enrichment programs for students to try to get ahead, but this year the emphasis is on catching up. WKMG.

Duval: The Jacksonville Public Education Fund has helped prepare a training program for teachers to guide their students through traumatic experiences. The fund is working with the school district and a nonprofit organization named Hope Street. The program began in February at Jacksonville Heights Elementary School, and the partners plan to expand it to other schools with students considered at high risk because of poverty and violence in their neighborhoods. WJCT.

Polk: City of Lakeland officials are holding a community meeting tonight to discuss traffic problems around Lakeland Christian School. Residents of the neighborhoods around the school say drivers going to and from the school are taking shortcuts and jamming up roads that aren’t designed for as many vehicles as they are getting, and creating safety issues. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: Students at St. Marks Episcopal Academy in Cocoa Village are learning how to clean the waters of the Indian River Lagoon by growing oysters to help filter the water as part of the Brevard Zoo’s “Restore Our Shores” initiative. All students from pre-K through 6th grade will take part in the school’s new marine biology program, said Sherry Bergeron, the school’s STEAM teacher. Florida Today. A school bus driver has been arrested and accused of distributing obscene material to a teenage student. Deputies said Jimmy Tate, 54, gave a 9th-grade girl a self-published book that described graphic sexual acts between an adult man and a 3-year-old child. Tate has been driving for the district since 2019, but has been placed on unpaid leave while the district conducts an investigation. WKMG.

Seminole: More than 50 county residents are asking Gov. DeSantis to investigate the process used by school board members to hire a superintendent. The board initially offered the job to Chad Farnsworth, an assistant superintendent in Lake County, then rescinded the offer and decided to hire Serita Beamon, who was the board’s attorney. Previous superintendent Walt Griffin retired June 30. “The citizens of this county have questions that deserve answers,” read a letter from the residents to DeSantis. They think the board’s actions violated state law and its own policy. Orlando Sentinel.

Manatee: While the percentage of the school district’s 3rd-graders passing the state’s reading test dropped 2 percentage points this year, more than a dozen schools reported improvement ranging from 1 to 17 percentage points. Anna Maria and Freedom elementaries improved by 17 percentage points, and Tara Elementary was up 16 percentage points. Bradenton Herald. A school district security guard has resigned after his wife was arrested July 2 for pointing his loaded service revolver at him during an argument. Bradenton Herald.

Colleges and universities: The U.S. Department has canceled $55 million in student loan debt for 1,800 students the department determined were defrauded by the for-profit colleges Westwood College, the Marinello Schools of Beauty and the Court Reporting Institute. WFTS.

Around the nation: U.S. House Democrats are proposing to increase education spending by $29.3 billion in next year’s budget, a boost of 41 percent. The proposal largely falls in line with the increase proposed by the Biden administration. Politico. Education Week. The Arizona legislature has adopted a budget that includes two provisions aimed at expanding access to schools of choice. One will provide transportation grants so students can attend schools that were previously inaccessible to them, and the other is expected to improve transparency for school districts’ open enrollment systems. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: An across-the-board system of school choice could bring several years of occasional chaos as schools and parents learn to adjust. But America would gradually emerge as the true friend of family and freedom. John E. Coons, redefinED. A new report from Kids Count, coupled with U.S. Census Bureau survey data, tells us that we still have a long way to go in securing better futures for Florida’s children. Norin Dollard and Sadaf Knight, Tampa Bay Times. Now more than ever, the world’s most vulnerable girls need support to ensure that their rights to education and safety are protected so that girls like me can help create a better future for their families. Anjali Tripathi, Miami Herald.