The COVID effect, legislative committees meeting, quarantine relaxed, enrollment down and more

COVID impact on schools: The coronavirus is leaving a mark on the 2021-2022 school year. According to a database maintained by the Florida Education Association teachers union, at least 15 children and 74 teachers and other school employees have died of complications from the coronavirus. At least 31 classrooms and schools have been shut down temporarily because of the number of students and employees with the virus or quarantined after exposure to it. About 167,000 students under the age of 16 have tested positive since Aug. 1, according to the Florida Department of Health, about some 106,000 preK-12 students and teachers have been infected, and 196,450 students and staff have had to quarantine since Aug. 1. “There is disruption in every school district,” said Andrew Spar, president of the FEA. USA Today Florida Network.

In the Legislature: Committee meetings begin today as legislators start shaping the 2022 legislative session that gets underway Jan. 11. Education bills will continue to be a major focus for lawmakers. The most prominent issue will be putting together and passing a bill to replace the spring Florida Standards Assessments tests with periodic testing and progress monitoring, which Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week. The governor also will be asking the Legislature for support in his fight against mask mandates for students in schools and his plan to financially punish districts that require masks without offering parents the right to opt-out. Tallahassee Democrat. All K-12 public schools would have to offer female students free access to tampons and sanitary pads under a bill filed by state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, for the legislative session. If it’s approved and signed into law, it would take effect July 1, 2022. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Miami-Dade is relaxing some of its quarantine protocols for high school students, Broward County public schools have about 12,000 fewer students than they did 18 months ago, Volusia’s and Flagler’s school districts each drop a letter grade in the as-yet unreleased school grades from the state, school boards in Volusia and St. Johns approve budgets of $1 billion or more, and Pasco County schools are permitting pep rallies and dances again. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Quarantine protocols for high school students and employees will be relaxed, district officials announced Friday. Starting today, unvaccinated high school students and employees who are symptom-free can return to class with a negative PCR coronavirus test that was taken on or after the fifth day since exposure. Vaccinated and asymptomatic students and employees won’t be required to quarantine even if they’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID. Miami Herald. WTVJ. A K-12 charter school for children with autism has opened in the west part of the county. The South Florida Autism Charter Schools’ opening is part of a long-term push by the district to offer more resources to autistic children. WPLG.

Broward: Since the pandemic began about 18 months ago, 12,000 students have left the public school system, according to school officials. They’ve moved to private schools, to other districts, are being educated at home or are simply missing without an explanation. The district now has 256,021 students, a drop of 4,694 this year in addition to the 7,255 who left last year. If the trend continues, the district could be faced with cuts in funding and pressure to close schools and lay off teachers. Sun Sentinel. Flags that were placed on the campus of St. Thomas Aquinas High School to honor first responders who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City were removed by some students and thrown in trash cans last week. The students who removed the flags reportedly believed that the flags were placed as a statement of support for Blue Lives Matter, a tribe to law enforcement that some consider a countermovement to the Black Lives Matter cause. “An important teaching moment is upon us,” said principal Denise Aloma. WPLG.

Tampa Bay area: The number of coronavirus cases continues to drop in Tampa Bay area school districts, from 5,000 a week in late August to 2,618 last week. Hillsborough counted 869 cases last week, down from its 2,600-a-week peak. Pinellas had 890 cases, down from the 1,416 cases reported during the week ending Sept. 3, while Pasco dropped from 1,100 two weeks ago to 701 last week and Hernando reported 158, down from the high of 397 during the week ending Sept. 3. Tampa Bay Times. High school pep rallies and dances can be held again because the number of COVID cases continues to fall, Pasco school officials announced Friday. “We had stakeholders reaching out. We had students reaching out,” said assistant superintendent Monica Ilse. “Ultimately, those are events they can choose to attend or not attend.” Tampa Bay Times. The four counties in the Tampa Bay area have 130 high school seniors who have been named semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship program. They are among about 16,000 nationally who are competing for 7,500 scholarships worth $30 million to be awarded in the spring. Hillsborough has 95 semifinalists, Pinellas 27, Pasco 7 and Hernando 1. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: For the second year in a row, the coronavirus has canceled the annual train trip to Washington, D.C., for 800 members of safety patrols at 21 elementary schools. “We were very, very disappointed. We lost last year’s trip, but over the summer things looked like they were bouncing back. We were thinking we’d be able to pull off the trip, but there are certain things that are out of our hands,” said Scott McNichols, president of the Palm Beach County Safety Patrol Association and principal at Forest Hill Elementary. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A 6-year-old 1st-grader is selling her artwork to raise money to buy Halloween costumes for children who are living at the Sulzbacher homeless shelter in Jacksonville. Through Sunday, Brinkley Minter had raised more than $3,700. “It’s special because all kids like Halloween,” she said. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Another 450 cases of the coronavirus were reported by district officials from Monday through Thursday last week. All but 30 of the cases were students who tested positive, according to the district. The previous week, 632 infections were reported. Since the school year began in August, the district has confirmed 2,790 student cases and 369 among employees. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Even as a petition is being circulated to prohibit two boys accused of threatening a mass shooting at a Lehigh Acres middle school from returning to the school, the mother of one of the boys has said she will home-school him. The boys, 13 and 14, were arrested Sept. 9 and charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting at Harns Marsh Middle School. Fort Myers News-Press.

Volusia, Flagler: According to as-yet unreleased state data, the Volusia County School District dropped to a C grade this year from the B it received in 2019, the last year grades were issued, and Flagler schools dropped from an A district to a B. School officials said the district will be dealing with the so-called “COVID slide” this year and beyond. Districts had to opt-in to receive school grades this year, and those grades won’t be used in assessing schools’ accountability. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Volusia school board members approved a $1.2 billion school budget last week that includes collecting $6 million more in property tax revenues and using $41 million from the district’s savings. School officials are hoping that more federal aid will be arriving to help replace some of the money taken from reserves. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Another 324 COVID cases were reported last week by Volusia school officials, bringing the school-year-to-date total to 1,749 compared to 78 at the same time last year. In Flagler schools, 87 cases were reported last week. The year-to-date total is 1,135. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Kristin Goddard, a 10th-grade English language arts instructor at State College of Florida Collegiate School in Bradenton, has been selected for a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program award. She’ll participate in exchange initiatives across communities in the U.S. and abroad. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Johns: School board members unanimously approved a $1 billion-plus budget last week that included a slightly lower tax rate, although rising property values mean taxes will be higher for most households. The district will use the increased revenue, and federal stimulus aid, to hire people to help struggling students, improve COVID safety precautions, boost salaries and hire more paraprofessionals for classrooms. St. Augustine Record. Haley Price, the assistant director of the extended care program at the Pine Island Academy, died Sept. 11 of a heart attack. She was 20, and was pursuing a teaching degree at St. Johns River State College. WJXT. Bartram Trail High School officials are investigating a video of verbal attacks Friday by some students against classmates who are in the Gay-Straight Alliance club. WJAX. WJXT.

Sarasota: The coronavirus positivity rate has been on a steady decline since Sept. 12, and if it continues masks could soon become optional. When the district adopted a mask mandate, it included a provision that called for masks to become optional if the county’s positivity rate dropped below 8 percent for three days in a row. Thursday the rate was 7.61 percent, down from 8.15 percent Wednesday, although it went back up to 8.9 percent on Friday. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: A 15-year-old sophomore at North Marion High School was arrested and accused of having a loaded gun at school on Friday. Deputies received a tip that the boy had a firearm, and found it during a search of his bag. He said he “had the gun because kids were trying to jump him.” WFTV. WGFL.

St. Lucie: A mother and her son were arrested Friday and accused of having an unloaded gun at Savanna Ridge Elementary School in Fort Pierce. Deputies said Marlene Golden, 51, placed a gun in a locked drawer at the school, and her 18-year-old son, Joshua Golden, took it out to look at it and then replaced it as he was waiting for a school bus. The younger Golden faces charges of two counts of possession of a weapon on school property, possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, possession of marijuana less than 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia. WPEC.

Escambia: A group of parents is lobbying the district to institute a face mask mandate for students. “You mandate what clothes they wear,” Bryan Seifstein said. “One more piece of cloth over the face is not that big of a deal.” More than 200 students are infected with COVID-19 and about 700 are being quarantined. The parents have asked the superintendent to add a mask mandate vote to Tuesday’s school board meeting agenda. WKRG.

Alachua: In the 10 months since Carlee Simon was appointed superintendent, she’s had to deal with the controversial rezoning of Terwilliger Elementary School, a fight over her administrative reorganization plan, the latest surge in coronavirus cases, and threats from the state over the district’s decision to require students to wear face masks with out-outs only for medical reasons. “This has been the most fulfilling the job I’ve ever had. It’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had,” she said. “But there’s something very profound to know that I see a problem or somebody even brings a problem to my attention and I can do something about it.” Gainesville Sun.

Citrus: School board members will hold a special meeting Tuesday to review the district’s agreement with the Department of Juvenile Justice to develop a program “that meets the health, educational, mental health, and social welfare needs of children and youth served in juvenile justice settings.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Walton: Nearly a dozen district middle and high school students have been punished for acts of vandalism carried out as a result of the TikTok “devious licks” challenge. Superintendent Russell Hughes said soap dispensers have been stolen from school bathrooms. WJHG.

Personnel moves: Michael A. Igel has been appointed chairman of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s Task Force on Holocaust Education. Igel is an attorney who has chaired the Board of the Florida Holocaust Museum since 2018. He’s the grandson of Holocaust survivors and is a trustee of Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater. Florida Department of Education.

Around the nation: President Joe Biden’s hopes for widespread administration of a coronavirus booster shot were trimmed back considerably on Friday by a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel, which recommended that booster shots be given only to people over 65 and those at high risk for severe disease. Associated Press. Politico. The latest upending of the school year by the spread of the coronavirus poses another threat to working women. Politico.

Opinions on schools: In any ample, subsidized program of parental choice, the student population of public schools in the inner-city will diminish. What, then, will be the effect upon the education in those schools for children whose parents, though now empowered, choose for them to stay put? And what eventually will be the effect upon our society of subsidizing these adults to exercise their 14th Amendment right like the rest of us? John E. Coons, reimaginED. Political opportunism aside, we were glad to see the governor momentarily move on from fighting culture wars to addressing a real policy issue that has real implications for Floridians. High-stakes testing has needed an overhaul for a number of years, but until now no one’s been willing to take the lead. This is an opportunity to get it right. Orlando Sentinel. While many in the education world lamented the quality of the end-of-year exams students have been taking, there is no guarantee that the new ones will be better. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post. Take a seat, Florida Man, preferably in a classroom at one of the state’s many highly rated colleges and universities. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Sad might be the best word to use to describe everything about the small-minded, borderline obsessive silliness with mask-wearing by a Sarasota County School Board member. Roger Brown, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.