Large chunks of federal aid for schools still not distributed, bill to expand ESE eligibility, and more

Federal aid undistributed: Since the coronavirus pandemic began in the spring of 2020, about $15 billion in federal aid has been earmarked to help state districts and schools cope with the effects of the pandemic. To date, just a fraction of the money has been used as intended. The three largest pots of money total $13.2 billion, and the state has distributed just $1.7 billion. Another $2 billion was supposed to be released once the U.S. Department of Education approved states’ plans on how they would spend the money, but Florida has yet to file its plan. And some district officials said they still haven’t received information from the state about significant portions of the money. Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said the funds are intended to be used for several years. “It would be irresponsible to wastefully rush to spend these dollars before they are needed, as these funds are intended to address the full needs of educational recovery over multiple fiscal years,” she said. “Every minute these funds sit in Tallahassee is time that the funds are not being used to help Florida’s students,” Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, wrote in a letter to DeSantis last week. Florida Phoenix.

Bill would broaden ESE eligibility: The definition of “exceptional students” would be broadened under a bill filed for the 2022 legislative session, which begins Jan. 11. State Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, wants to change the current law, which defines exceptional students as those who need tailored instructions and special services, to include students with developmental delays through age 9 instead of 5. “This bill will make state standards consistent with federal law,” Tant said. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Pressure is growing from elected officials, parents and communities in Florida to require students to wear masks when schools reopen next month, Broward’s school board will pay its interim superintendent $275,000 a year, the Fort Myers Police Department will continue to provide resource officers for city schools, a Pasco County deputy is named the state’s school resource officer of the year, new start times have been announced for 44 Escambia County schools, the principal at Bok Academy South in Polk County has died unexpectedly at the age of 50, Hillsborough and Pasco school officials warn parents that a shortage of school bus drivers will mean late-arriving buses, and Alachua County’s Buchholz High School math team has won the national championship for the 13th time. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami: Jeremy “JJ” Matthews, a 9-year-old student from Miami, is among 50 U.S. and Canadian finalists competing in the Braille Challenge, which tests the reading and writing skills of blind and visually impaired children. When he was 15 months old, JJ was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a form of pediatric cancer. He began learning the fundamentals of braille when he was 3. Winners will be announced July 30. WLRN.

Broward: The new interim superintendent will be paid $275,000 a year, if the school board approves the negotiated contract Wednesday. Vickie Cartwright, 50, is replacing Robert Runcie, whose last day is Aug. 10. Runcie resigned after he was charged by a statewide grand jury with perjury. Cartwright is expected to be in the job for six months to a year while board members look for a permanent superintendent. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. A student at J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs who had planned to get her vaccination before school started has caught the virus. Paulina Velasquez, 15, is on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma at Broward Health Medical Center. WSVN. WPLG. WTVJ.

Tampa Bay area: Shortages of school bus drivers in the Hillsborough and Pasco school districts mean late buses when schools resume in August, school officials are warning parents. “This is going to impact kids on a daily basis,” said Hillsborough schools spokeswoman Erin Maloney. “On the first day of school, we certainly will be asking parents to pack their patience. We just don’t have the people.” Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. Ten of the 11 school districts in the area start school Aug. 10. Pinellas starts a day later. WFTS. Hillsborough County school officials will earmark $7.7 million to have mental health therapists in 70 schools this year to help students. More than 14,300 county students were referred for services during the last school year. Bay News 9. Pinellas County School Board members will consider an agreement with law enforcement agencies to provide resource officers in schools. Some members of the community contend the agreement gives authorities too much discretion. WTSP.

Orange: County Mayor Jerry Demings said Monday that Orange is in a “crisis mode” because of a skyrocketing number of cases. “A thousand (cases) a day is extraordinary,” he said. “We are now in crisis mode … We as a community need to work together to slow this rate.” Demings said he’s talked with school officials about reconsidering their decision to make masks optional for the next school year. School board members will discuss the issue today. Associated Press. WOFL. WKMG. WESH.

Palm Beach: After two men flashed white supremacy signals while a black man spoke about Jim Crow laws at last week’s school board meeting, district officials said they would change the setup so no one will be visible on TV behind the speakers. But board members were split on a proposal to ban clothes that contain controversial names or messages. “We have to be very careful about infringing on people’s rights,” said board member Marcia Andrews. “But we’re going to try to rearrange the speakers so that the camera view is only on people speaking and not those who are trying to do things on the side.” Sun Sentinel. A private school that opened in West Palm Beach in January is showing strong gains in student reading scores. The Foundations School is a full-time independent program operating under the Center for Creative Education, the educational nonprofit created in 1994 to increase the number of arts programs in county schools. WPTV.

Duval: A summer camp at Edward White High School in Jacksonville closed late last week because a case of COVID-19 was reported. The camp was supposed to continue through Friday. WJAX.

Polk: Damien Moses, the principal of Bok Academy South since 2011, died unexpectedly last week at the age of 50. No cause of death was announced. He began work in the school district as a teacher in 2000, and was an assistant principal and principal until he joined the Lake Wales Charter Schools system in 2004. Lakeland Ledger. Several back-to-school giveaways are scheduled between now and the first day of school Aug. 10. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: The Fort Myers Police Department will continue to provide resource officers to city schools, Chief Derrick Diggs confirmed at a city council meeting Monday. Diggs said he even wants to expand the presence of officers in high schools. The announcement put an end to rumors that the department was withdrawing from the SRO program in city schools and that the sheriff’s office would replace it. WINK. WFTX. Some coronavirus pandemic safety protocols will continue in the coming school year, but masks will be optional and students with low-risk symptoms can return to school once they’ve been symptom-free for 24 hours. Fully vaccinated students and employees won’t have to quarantine if they’re exposed to the virus, and those who haven’t been vaccinated and who are exposed will be quarantined for 10 days, but can cut their time to six days with a negative COVID test. Schools open for students Aug. 10. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: Elissa Elders, a district school resource officer at Pine View Middle School in Land O’Lakes, has been selected as the state’s school resource officer of the year. Elders has been a sheriff’s deputy for 15 years. “Corporal Elders is a shining example of what every school resource officer should aspire to be: a role model, mentor and friend to the students at her school,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody. WTSP.

Volusia: School board members will vote today whether to purchase the Trinity United Methodist Church property in DeLand for almost $1 million. The district wants to use the 1.3-acre property to expand its administrative offices, which are next door to the church. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: School officials are planning to return to “normal pre-COVID” conditions in schools this fall. While cleaning protocols will continue, masks and face shields are optional, social distancing will be observed when possible, and students won’t automatically be sent home to be quarantined after being exposed to someone who tests positive. School board members will discuss the plan at today’s meeting. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: A district school bus driver has been arrested and charged with lewd or lascivious conduct on two young girls. Deputies said William T. Wassey, 71, was arrested after the girls, 9 and 10, said he touched their hips and buttocks. Wassey denied the allegations but resigned, citing health issues. He’s driven for the district 11 years. Daily Commercial. WESH.

St. Johns: School board members will discuss the district’s student dress code at a meeting today. The code has been criticized for focusing on girls, and is under investigation by the federal government for potential violations of the Title IX code. St. Augustine Record.

Escambia: New start times have been announced for 44 district schools. The changes range from 35 minutes earlier to five minutes later, and were made because of a shortage of bus drivers. The changes make it possible for some drivers to handle two routes. Start times changed for all 32 elementary schools, seven middle schools, one high school and four specialty schools. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: The Buchholz High School math team has won the national championship for the 13th time. Seventy-four students competed for Buchholz in algebra II and geometry, precalculus and calculus categories against 17 other teams. Buchholz took first place in 31 of the 39 individual competitions. Gainesville Sun.

Masking in schools: With the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, a spike in the number of cases and Florida being home to 20 percent of all U.S. cases, pressure is being put on the state’s school districts to require students and employees to wear face masks when the new academic year begins next month. Most school districts have already announced that masks will be optional this fall, and Gov. DeSantis has said there will be no mask mandates in schools. But parents, health professionals, teachers and other members of the community are increasingly demanding protection for their children. Capitol News Service. WUSF. WTXL. WCTV. Wall Street Journal. WJXT.

More educators honored: Sarah Ann Painter of Pinellas, who was named Florida’s teacher of the year week, wasn’t the only educator honored at the Florida Department of Education’s celebration last week. Hannah Wilkes, of Cottondale High School in Jackson County, won the Tammy Jerkins Distinguished Educator Award, named for a former teacher of the year who recently died. Indy Goodwin Mack, of the Jefferson County Somerset Charter School in Jefferson County, won the Dr. Brian Dassler Leadership Award. Leigh Ann Pike, of Martin County High School in Martin County, won the Invested in Excellence Award. Mason Ross Lewis, of D.S. Parrott Middle School in Hernando County, won the Digital Educator Award. Laura Meehan, of the Caminiti Exceptional Center in  Hillsborough County, was presented with the State Farm Life Skills Award. And Kelli Rose Wilder, of A.D. Henderson University School at Florida Atlantic University, earned the Mary Brogan Excellence in Teaching Award. Patch. Florida Department of Education.

Colleges and universities: The chair of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees has recommended that Rhea Law be named the school’s interim president. Law, 70, is a USF alum and was a founding member of the university’s board of trustees. She will not be a candidate to become a permanent replacement for Steve Currall, who is stepping down Aug. 2. The board of trustees and the Florida Board of Governors will have to approve the recommendation. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. News Service of Florida. WTSP. Florida Institute of Technology will return to in-person commencement ceremonies July 31 for summer graduates. Florida Today. Tallahassee Community College will hold a graduation ceremony Dec. 11, its first in two years. WCTV.

Around the nation: Lawyers in the U.S. Department of Justice said federal law does not prevent private businesses and public agencies from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations. Politico. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, has proposed a bill that would withhold federal funding from school districts teaching students that U.S. founding documents are “products of white supremacy and racism.” Sinclair Broadcast Group. Some U.S. school districts are getting creative as they try to convince anxious parents to send their children back to school. NPR.

Opinions on schools: A recent study shows robust growth in alternative schooling and home-schooling during the pandemic. It also shows a great deal of dissatisfaction with traditional schooling. Put all this together with a baby-bust that began in the Great Recession period and I’m willing to go all in on the following bet: Peak district school attendance lies at some point in the past. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.