Grades released for 11 school districts, Prepaid refunds unclaimed, scholarship growth and more

Grades for some: Grades were released Monday for the 11 state school districts that opted-in to receive them this year. The pandemic disrupted the state’s testing and grading process this year for the second year in a row. So the state gave districts the option of being graded, and most of the 67 public districts in the state chose not to. Some schools within districts that opted-out did choose to receive grades. All the districts that opted-in received the same grade as they did last year. For the Collier, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Nassau, Sarasota, St. Johns and Walton school districts, that meant another A. The Charlotte, Lake, St. Lucie and Suwannee school districts each received a B. This database allows a search for grades by district and school, and also shows testing results, past district grades and district and school demographics. Tallahassee Democrat. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Prepaid refunds: More than 30,000 Florida families have yet to claim $200 million in refunds from the Florida Prepaid College Tuition Program. The refunds were offered last year after prices were rolled back because tuition at state colleges and universities hadn’t gone up in six years. “This is a time when we know that there are families who could definitely use a $4,700 check. We don’t want to hold it. We would like you to have it and claim it,” said program spokeswoman Shannon Colavecchio. News Service of Florida.

Discouraging words: The increasingly partisan attacks against school board members for positions they take on either side of hot-button issues such as masks, race relations and transgender student rights threatens to discourage civic-minded people from running for school board seats, said Florida School Boards Association executive director Andrea Messina. “The issue really is, in this country we have always valued civil civic discourse,” she said. “It has become vitriolic. It has become partisan unnecessarily. And it has become threatening to many members of the community, as well as district staff and the officials. And it is not okay.” Tampa Bay Times.

Scholarships interest: More than 150,000 students are now attending K-12 private schools schools using Florida Tax Credit and Family Empowerment scholarships. That’s nearly double the number using scholarships six years ago. The scholarships are available to students who live in households earning at or below 375 percent of the poverty line, or about $99,375 for a family of four. Another 23,000-plus have scholarships through the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities, formerly known as the Gardiner Scholarship Program. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. reimaginED.

Around the state: Several school districts are reporting a continued decline in the number of coronavirus cases and quarantines, school board members are being pressured to change their district face mask policies, more than 19 percent of Alachua’s school nurses have resigned in the first month of school, Sarasota school board members are considering changing the district’s policy on public comments during board meetings, and Flagler school board members will discuss a proposal to rezone every district school over several years. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Police are looking for an arsonist who set fire to a pirate-themed preschool playground at Campbell Academy in Homestead early Monday, destroying the equipment. A $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest. WPLG. WSVN.

Broward: A 15-year-old student was arrested Sunday after allegedly making a threat on social media to commit a school shooting at South Broward High School. The boy faces a felony charge of intimidation – written threats to kill or injure. “Not a whole lot I can say other than I think he thought he was showing off,” the boy’s mother said at a court hearing Monday. WSVN. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: The charter school group Mater Academy Inc. is back before the school board today to apply for approval to open an elementary school and a middle school next fall at unspecified locations. As a state-designated “high-performing” charter company, Mater can ask for  approval before finding a school site. School board members rejected the company’s application in June. One board member said she didn’t think the schools were needed in east Hillsborough, and another questioned Mater’s association with Academica, a for-profit management company that works for Mater schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: A 6th-grader at Three Oaks Elementary School in Fort Myers has been arrested and accused of threatening to shoot his classmates. Deputies said the boy sent a threatening email Friday. WFTX. WINK.

Brevard: School board members are expected to vote today whether to extend the district’s face mask mandate for another 30 days. Last month the board voted 3-2 to adopt the mandate, which runs counter to the state’s rule because it requires students who don’t want to wear masks to get a medical excuse. Board chair Misty Belford said the policy appears to be helping curb the spread of the coronavirus, but “we are not out of the woods.” Florida Today.

Manatee: School officials are encouraged by the recent decline in the number of coronavirus cases, but said they are making no changes in safety protocols. “We’re staying the course,” said Kevin Chapman, the executive director of administration. “Obviously, everything’s been working and we want to keep this going.” That means encouraging employees and eligible students to be vaccinated, and continuing to use desk shields, social distancing and other safety measures when possible. Just 23 cases were reported Friday, a sharp drop from the 100-plus a day being confirmed in August. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: The number of coronavirus cases in the school district dropped again last week, and positivity rates were below 5 percent at every school. District officials said 210 students and 28 employees tested positive for COVID last week, down from 286 and 57 the week before. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: Bartram Trail High School students who verbally harassed classmates in the Gay Straight Alliance club at school last week will face discipline that could include suspension, placement in an alternative school, a mental health referral or even criminal prosecution, district spokeswoman Christina Langston said Monday. “This behavior is not acceptable and is not indicative of the culture and students at BTHS,” she said. “It is very disappointing that these students handled themselves in this way. The students involved will receive consequences in accordance with our student code of conduct.” St. Augustine Record. WJXT.

Sarasota: Changes to the public comments portion of school board meetings will be discussed at today’s workshop by board members. The current policy allows speakers for up to three minutes, forbids abusive language and does not allow speakers to play audio recordings or yield their time to someone else. Under the proposed changes, the amount of time each speaker has would depend on the number of people who are signed up to speak, and speakers would be limited to discussing only items on the agenda during the main public comment portion of the meeting. Speakers who want to discuss non-agenda items would have to wait until the end of the meeting, and be allowed to speak for just a minute. Those comments also would not be televised. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: The number of coronavirus cases in district schools has dropped almost 30 percent in the past week, and quarantines are down 21 percent, school officials said Monday. That trend mirrors the county’s, which is reporting declines in cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations. Students and employees testing positive last week fell to 256, down from 367 from Sept. 4-10 and from the record 733 during the week of Aug. 21-27. Ocala Star-Banner.

Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin: The district’s new face mask policy went into effect Monday. Whether students in grades preK-8 will be required to wear masks will hinge on their school’s coronavirus positivity rate in the past 10 days. Nine schools are now in the red zone, with a positivity rate of 5 percent or higher, and are requiring students to wear masks with opt-outs only for medical reasons. Students in seven schools are in the orange zone and will have to wear masks unless their parents sign an opt-out form. Only one school, Osceola Magnet, is at a level where masks are optional. WPBF. Some teachers in Treasure Coast schools are voluntarily streaming their classes to quarantined students so they don’t fall behind. Martin Superintendent John Millay praised those teachers for their extra efforts. “I’ve heard many testimonies where many of our teachers are sending Zoom links, screen-casting to their students,” Millay said. “I just want to shout out to all those who are trying their very best to get the work out for quarantines and those who have been able to send Zoom links. I want to continue encouraging that.” WPTV.

Escambia: School board members decided last week not to call a special meeting to reconsider their policy making face masks optional for students, but some parents said they aren’t taking no for an answer. “We’re at least trying to get them to go back to the protocols they used last school year,” said Pensacola resident Dianne Krumel. “They think this is one and done and they’re done with us. So (the school board) thinks they won and we’re not coming back. But we’re coming back.” Masks are not on the agenda for today’s board meeting. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: The pandemic is taking its toll on school district nurses. One month into the school year, 15 of the 78 nurses have quit, many because they’ve contracted COVID or because of the pressure to keep up with students getting infected or tested as well as their regular duties. “Literally the first two weeks of school we did not sleep,” said Johnelly Green, the district’s health services supervisor. “We had so many cases, we had to quarantine so many kids and so many staff. It was like a revolving door in our clinics. We would have two nurses in one school and even with two nurses, the work was overwhelming because there were so many cases.” Gainesville Sun.

Flagler: A plan to phase-in rezoning of every county school will be discussed at today’s school board meeting. If it’s approved by the board in December, the changes will begin in the 2022-2023 school year. Flagler Live.

Progress monitoring push: The campaign to pass a bill in the next legislative session to switch from once-a-year Florida Standards Assessments testing to “progress monitoring” throughout the year kicked off Monday at a roundtable discussion in Niceville. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the legislation “will be a big priority for us … something that we’re really, really serious about.” Okaloosa County Superintendent Marcus Chambers was among the proponents, saying, “To be able to have progress monitoring is a gamechanger” because it allows for “adjustments in real time.” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said progress monitoring was deployed during the pandemic when testing was suspended and that it helped under-performing schools improve. “This progress monitoring is really showing us what we need to see” to be “smarter, faster, more efficient,” said Corcoran. Florida Politics. WEAR. WJXT. WKMG. Florida Governor’s Office.

Poll backs teachers: A poll conducted for the Florida Education Association teachers union shows bipartisan support for higher teacher pay and school funding, smaller classroom sizes and long-term contracts for teachers. Florida Politics.

Battling coronavirus: Cutting classroom sizes in half and requiring teachers to be vaccinated could significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools, according to a study from University of Miami researchers. WLRN. Pfizer said Monday that trials have shown its vaccine is safe and effective for children in the 5-11 age group, and that it and its and its German partner BioNTech will ask the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the month for approval to begin distribution. The vaccine is currently authorized for children 12 and older. Associated Press.

Around the nation: More than 4,500 school employees from all 50 states and the District of Columbia have been turned down for student loan forgiveness by the U.S. Department of Education. In some cases, according to records, teachers and others were rejected because they checked the wrong box or forgot to add the date. Teachers unions said the disclosure spotlights the need for the Biden administration to simply cancel the debts. Politico.

Opinions on schools: “Antiquated” would be a gentle term to apply to a school bus transportation system that continues to cost more and more while serving fewer and fewer students. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Space of Mind is a learning option that aligns with Florida’s state standards and allows students to earn a state of Florida high school diploma. But it goes further to include social, emotional, wellness and character-building standards that are integrated into every academic and extracurricular program. Jonathan Butcher, reimaginED. As a younger adult whose life was changed for the better by education choice, I think education reformers, parents, and students alike should remember how education choice opens doors – not only to traditionally better academic outcomes, but also to a new scope of educational pathways that can recapture student interest. Nathan Cunneen, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff