DeSantis wants to end FSA testing in favor of ‘progress monitoring,’ face mask policies and more

DeSantis wants to end FSA: Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing to end the annual spring Florida Standards Assessments tests and replace them with a system to monitor students’ progress periodically throughout the school year. He said the new system would replace 75 percent of the tests students take now with individualized, check-in assessments three times a year, which he believes will provide teachers with quicker feedback so they can tailor their instruction to address specific performance issues. “We believe that having results monitored and measured is very, very important,” said DeSantis. “But we also think the FSA is outmoded at this point and we need to move forward with a more, I’d say, nimble and effective approach.” The announcement was welcomed by school officials and the Florida Education Association teachers union, which has long criticized the tests and the way the state has used them. “This is a great opportunity to address how we can use progress monitoring assessments to best serve students,” said FEA president Andrew Spar. If the Legislature approves a bill that complies with federal law, the spring of 2022 would be the last year for the kind of standardized testing introduced by former Gov. Jeb Bush as a way to monitor student achievement and hold schools accountable. News Service of FloridaAssociated Press. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Today. Ocala Star-Banner. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics. WPLG. WCTVFlorida Department of Education.

Around the state: Palm Beach school officials will start distributing $50 million from a 2018 property tax referendum to charter schools after losing a court fight, Lee and Volusia districts change their face mask policies to allow parents to opt-out, Indian River’s school board approves a mask policy that hinges on school coronavirus positivity rates, Pinellas and St. Lucie school boards decline to make their mask policies more restrictive, a Sarasota school board member who voted for a mandatory mask policy is being criticized after photos of her attending a high school football game without a mask are posted online, and a bill that would teach high school students how to take part in “society, government and the political system” is filed for the legislative session. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A school district police officer has been arrested and accused of domestic violence against her boyfriend, who is also a police officer. Officers said Yessenia Sanchez, 31, slapped the man in the face, scratched him, threw a ceramic object at him and damaged the tires of his department-issued police car in a dispute over child-care arrangements. She also was armed with a gun and knife and threatened to hurt herself, according to the police report. The district is investigating. WPLG.

Palm Beach: The school district will soon begin distributing about $50 million over the next two years to the 50 or so charter schools as their share of the approximately $250 million a year generated by a voter-approved property tax hike in 2018. Ballot language specifically excluded charters from sharing the money from the tax, but two charter schools sued, won at the appeals level and again when the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case and let the appeals court decision stand. Next month a judge will decide if the district owes charters money withheld during the first two years the tax was in place. Palm Beach Post. School board members gave their final approval Tuesday to a $4.1 billion budget, which is 8.1 percent higher than last year’s budget. It includes a slightly lower tax rate that will still yield more revenue because of rising property values, and the use of federal relief funds to cover a $12 million shortfall. “The big story with the budget this year is the federal dollars,” said interim superintendent Michael Burke. “If it was not for the federal funds, we’d be in a far different picture, a much bleaker picture.” Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The state has not yet followed through on its threat to withhold funding from the district equal to the monthly salaries of school board members, according to school officials. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he would begin holding back $22,000 a month in funding to the district for its noncompliance with state face mask rules. WJCT. District officials are starting to work on updating their policy on how they deal with communicable diseases. The current policy focuses on HIV and AIDS, and much of the early discussion has been about how that approach can be broadened. WJXT.

Pinellas: School board members have once again rejected a proposal to tighten the district’s face mask policy. Caprice Edmond couldn’t muster support for her proposal to make face masks mandatory for students, with opt-outs only for medical reasons, for 90 days. She then asked the board to schedule a special meeting Sept. 21 before a scheduled workshop to discuss changes to coronavirus safety protocols. That also was rejected, and face masks remain optional. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Tuesday, the district officially restored the ability of parents to opt their children out of wearing face masks. Last month, interim superintendent Ken Savage enacted a 30-day face mask mandate for students with opt-outs only for medical excuses. But an appeals court ruling Friday gave the state the right to ban such mandates, and the Lee district became the first of the 13 districts that had defied the state to change its policy to comply. Fort Myers News-Press. A potential school threat last week at Harns Marsh Middle School was averted when a testing coordinator filling in as an 8th-grade teacher quickly notified school officials when she heard students talking about a school shooting. Two boys, 13 and 14, were taken into custody. Fort Myers News-Press. A former assistant principal has alleged that her elementary school routinely did not submit reported violent or disruptive incidents to the state as required by law, and the website that collects that data for the state said about half of the district’s elementary schools reported no incidents during the 2019-2020 school year. School officials said they are investigating the allegations. WINK. WFTX.

Pasco: Parents of middle and high school students will no longer be notified on a case-by-case basis when their children have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, district officials said. “This year, we are hearing from parents they’re getting too many calls,” said school spokesman Stephen Hegarty. “That results in message fatigue, which means the parents aren’t listening to the calls.” WTSP.

Volusia: School board members voted Tuesday to loosen their face mask policy. Masks will still be required for students, but parents can now sign a form to opt them out. On Sept. 1, the board approved a policy requiring students to wear masks with opt-outs permitted only for those with medical excuses. That policy went into effect Sept. 7 and was supposed to last through Oct. 15. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH. Grief counselors are at Pine Ridge High School after two teens died in a car crash Monday night and several others were injured. WESH.

Manatee: The district has asked the state for more than $39 million in federal relief funds. Twenty-nine percent of the funds have already been approved. The biggest part of the request is for more than $28 million to hire substitute teachers, school counselors and custodians and for cleaning supplies. Almost $8 million would be targeted to help students who have fallen behind in their studies, and the rest would be used to buy technology and locate students who stopped coming to school during the pandemic. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: The school district has hired a staffing company to help it with contact tracing after coronavirus cases are reported. A district officials said Maxim Healthcare Staffing Services was hired because officials at the health department couldn’t keep up with the work caused by the rising number of COVID cases. Maxim employees will work Monday through Friday for $35 to $55 an hour. Federal relief funds will be used to cover the costs. WJXT. WTLV. The school district and Flagler Hospital+ are partnering to offer a hotline to answer question about COVID testing and quarantines. It’s averaged about 100 calls a day in the week it’s been operational from parents who need help sorting through state and district guidelines. St. Augustine Record.

St. Lucie: School board members voted Tuesday to keep the district’s face mask policy that allows parents to opt-out, despite a push from community leaders to make it more restrictive. It remains in effect through Dec. 13. The policy “has worked well so far and (cases) are going downhill,” said board member Jack Kelly. He added that if coronavirus cases begin to spike, the board could adjust the policy. TCPalm. WPTV.

Sarasota: School board chair Shirley Brown is being criticized after photographs of her attending a Riverview High School football game without wearing a mask were posted online. Brown has supported the district’s mandatory face mask policy with opt-outs only for medical reasons. Brown said she wore a mask 90 percent of the time at the game, taking it off briefly to drink some water or when she got hot. “I think people at football games are adults, and they can make their own decisions,” Brown said. “I complied with the freaking policy even though I probably didn’t have to.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. School board members approved a $1 billion budget that dropped the tax rate slightly. Charlotte Sun.

Escambia: The district’s Navigator Program was established two years ago in six schools to provide financially disadvantaged students and their families food, clothing, school supplies, mental health services and even helping parents find jobs. The partnership between the district and the Children’s Home Society was so successful that it’s been expanded to 34 schools. “Our teachers work all day long, they’re exhausted by the end of the day,” said Children’s Home Society executive director Lindsey Cannon. “When they know a child is going home to an upsetting situation, for them to instead be able to say to a navigator, ‘I’m worried about this kid,’ it’s some very grassroots social work that we do. A lot of times educators feel obligated to handle it all. I don’t know how to teach, that’s not our expertise, but what we do know is how to keep families together and keep them connected with services.” Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: A 14-year-old Bay County student has been arrested and accused of making a bomb threat against a high school in Canonsburg, Pa., as part of a deal with a Pennsylvania student who called in a threat at Arnold High School in Panama City Beach. The investigation is continuing, and more charges are expected. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG.

Indian River: Students at schools with low coronavirus positivity rates would be exempt from wearing face masks under a policy approved Tuesday by the school board. Masks would become optional at schools with a positivity rate of 1 percent or less. Masks would be highly recommended indoors in schools with rates of 1-2 percent, and mandatory with a parental opt-out option in schools with rates of 3-4 percent. When rates in a school are 5 percent or higher, masks would be mandatory for at least 10 days and opt-outs would be permitted only with a medical excuse. The new policy goes into effect Monday for elementary and middle schools, and Sept. 29 for high schools. TCPalm. WPTV.

‘Intellectual freedom’ fight: The state is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state’s new law that requires colleges to survey their faculty yearly to gauge their “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.” Faculty members, students and other groups say the law violates free-speech rights. The state denies that, saying the law “fosters the free exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of First Amendment protection.” News Service of Florida.

In the Legislature: A bill has been introduced for the legislative session that begins Jan. 11 to instruct students in high-school government classes how to take part in “society, government and the political system.” Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed a similar bill for the 2021 session that was unanimously approved by lawmakers but vetoed by Gov. DeSantis, who contended that it risked “promoting the preferred orthodoxy of two particular institutions.” Brandes revised the bill by including a provision that says engaging “in protest civics may not count toward credit under the Citizen Scholar Program.” News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: Finally, after spending the past two months threatening school districts, Gov. DeSantis has come up with a great idea for public education. He wants to eliminate the Florida Standards Assessments — three words that teachers hate, students dread and parents stress over. Miami Herald. Charter schools are good for our community, and we have two decades of evidence showing that they benefit families and often help strengthen district schools. Tunji Williams, Florida Times-Union. States should look to reform their educational systems to help families ensure that students get access to an educational environment that works for them. One way to do that is through universal educational savings accounts. Daniel Martinez, reimaginED. Universal education savings accounts would allow students currently zoned for F-rated schools the opportunity to attend a school with a state-designated letter grade closer to those in wealthier neighborhoods, as well as access to tutoring or enrichment programs now available only to families who can afford to pay for them. Lisa Buie, reimaginED.