Corcoran orders feds to end aid to defiant districts, proposed bill would ban mask mandates, and more

U.S.-Florida mask war: The war of words between Florida and the U.S. Department of Education over how the state is financially penalizing districts that are defying face mask rules escalated Wednesday. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran fired off a letter to U.S. DOE ordering it to “cease and desist its unlawful efforts to encourage local school board members to break the law,” adding, “The U.S. Education Department has decided to interfere unlawfully with Florida’s enforcement of its education policy. Your department created the (Project to Support America’s Families and Educators) Project SAFE grant program to replenish the withheld salaries of Florida school officials who knowingly violated state law.” The Biden administration has pledged to help local districts that are penalized by the state for not following the state’s mask rules and has paid about $569,000 to the Broward and Alachua school districts, the only two districts that have been penalized so far. Florida Politics.

In the Legislature: A bill has been filed for the 2022 legislative session that would create a law banning school districts from requiring face masks for students. S.B. 452, proposed by state Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would ban school systems, cities and counties from creating rules forcing people to wear face masks or undergo medical procedures or treatments. No identical companion bill has been filed in the House, but last month state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, proposed H.B. 75 to prevent government agencies from requiring masks and COVID-19 vaccinations. News Service of Florida. About 55 percent of Florida children between the ages of 12 and 19 had been fully vaccinated by Oct. 7, according to the Florida Department of Health. That’s slightly higher than the percentage of people in the 20-29 age group, but significantly lower than vaccination rates among people over the age of 60. The numbers were presented during a Florida Senate Committee on Health Policy meeting Wednesday. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: School board members in Orange and Brevard counties receive letters from the state saying they will be penalized financially if they don’t get their face mask policies aligned with the state’s rules, Leon school officials are waiting to hear from the state if the changes they made in the district’s mask policy will put them in compliance, former Alachua school board member Diyonne McGraw is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis in federal court because he removed her from office for living in a different district than the one she was elected to represent, and a Hillsborough County teacher is under investigation for assigning students to write an essay on how they would feel if they had been slaves. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board vice chair Steve Gallon said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe the board will change its face mask mandate despite the threat of having money withheld by the state. “We’re going to respond according to the data, predicated on science, predicated on the information and recommendations of our medical experts but not predicated on any political fear, any political intimidation,” he said. WPLG.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Hillsborough school officials are investigating a teacher at Turner Bartels Middle School who assigned students to write an essay on a scenario involving slavery: one to describe their punishment if they were a very big, strong slave who rebelled against his master, and the other to describe what their master could do with their child if they were a pregnant, light-skinned slave working in their master’s home. After a parent objected, a district spokesperson said, “This activity was not an approved piece of the curriculum and does not reflect how our educators structure their teaching around this important topic. This incident has been forwarded to the district’s Office of Professional Standards for further review.” Bay News 9. Information fairs and other events are being planned to educate parents about public school choice programs in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties. The application window is already open in Hernando and will soon be in Hillsborough. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: State officials have delivered a letter to school board members giving them 48 hours to comply with the state’s rules on face masks or risk losing funding equal to the amount school board members are paid each month. The district’s face mask policy requires a doctor’s note for parents to be able to opt their children out of wearing a mask, which is out of compliance with the state rule saying only parents have the authority to decide if their children should wear masks. District officials are still trying to decide on how to respond to the state. WKMG. WOFL. WESH. WMFE.

Palm Beach: Morikami Park Elementary, a magnet school in Delray Beach, is the second-best elementary school in the state, according to the first-ever rankings of elementary and middle schools by U.S. News & World Report. Another magnet school, Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, came in at seventh among middle schools. Palm Beach Post.

Brevard: The school board received a letter from the state Tuesday giving it 48 hours to end its face mask mandate for students or confirm the annual salaries of school board members so the state can withhold an equal amount of funding. The state Board of Education issued sanctions against the district and seven others last week because their mask mandates do not give parents the ability to opt-out. The board’s attorney is reviewing the letter, but board members have not signaled that they intend to change the policy, which requires the opt-out forms include a note from a doctor. Florida Today. WKMG. WFTV. WESH. School board members and district officials agreed this week to consider allowing school dances sometime before the end of the year. Traditional homecoming dances have been put on hold because of COVID-19. Florida Today.

Osceola: School board member Jon Arguello wants the district to offer $500 to the student who designs the best logo for the county. “I know our precious resources are our students, and I think they have the talent to do a logo better than this one,” he said, while acknowledging the county is not obligated to use whatever is chosen. WFTV.

Volusia: School board members meet Monday to compare six redistricting maps proposed by the county commission against ones prepared by district staff. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Escambia: One teacher from each of the county’s 56 public schools has been nominated for the Escambia County School District’s teacher of the year award. WEAR.

Leon: After relaxing the district’s face mask mandate for K-8 students, which had prompted sanctions from the state and a threat to withhold funds from the district, school officials are waiting to hear from the Florida Department of Education if the new policy is in compliance with the state’s rules. WTXL.

Alachua: Former school board member Diyonne McGraw is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis in federal court, alleging that he has violated her constitutional rights, caused her the loss of property and liberty, and denied her due process. DeSantis removed McGraw from office in June after it was reported that she lived in District 4, while she was elected in 2020 to represent District 2. McGraw blamed elections officials, saying they mistakenly told her she lived in District 2. WCJB. WGFL. With the number of teachers leaving the profession on the rise in Florida and across the United States, the demand for substitutes is soaring. “What’s driving the substitute teacher demand, we’ve opened up schools with probably 50 percent of our talent pool nationally being used to accommodate the full-time teacher vacancies that public school districts haven’t been able to hire, because the talent has not been there to hire. Supply and demand is exceeding the talent supply that we have readily available,” said Nicola Soares, president of Kelly Education, a national service that also provides subs in Alachua. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: School officials are warning parents that a popular show on the streaming platform Netflix is having a negative influence on children. The South Korean drama series Squid Game is prompting some students to try to replicate scenes that could cause harm to them or others, district officials said. WEAR.

Martin: A Martin County High School teacher has been removed from his classroom and is under investigation by the district after a photo of him kneeling on a bed, nearly nude but wearing a blindfold and a collar, was circulated among students this week. WPEC.

Charlotte: Superintendent Steve Dionisio received a rating of 9.49 out of 10 on his latest evaluation by members of the school board this week. A raise went with the high marks. Dionisio’s annual salary was boosted from $173,195 to $194,850, retroactive to July 1. He will get another raise equal to the average percentage increase granted to Charlotte County’s teachers, or 3 percent, whichever is less, on July 1, 2022. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: Assistant superintendent Jonny Bishop said this week that the district is considering hiring athletic trainers for schools. Bishop said coaches have certifications in CPR, treating heat-related illnesses, operating automated external defibrillators and responding to cardiac arrest situation. But having trainers will further support students by detecting subtle health issues that could go unnoticed by coaches. Bishop said the issue will be discussed along with other staffing issues in January. Citrus County Chronicle. School board members approved spending $342,400 to make improvements in traffic patterns and parking at Inverness Middle School. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: A 13-year-old student at Buddy Taylor Middle School has been arrested after allegedly threatening to shoot a teacher. Deputies said another student was also threatened. It’s the second arrest of a student for making threats against schools since the school year began Aug. 10. WESH. WOFL. Flagler Live.

Education podcasts: Emily Anne Gullickson, president of the A for Arizona education nonprofit, talks with Step Up For Students executive editor Matthew Ladner about ways to modernize school transportation. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: Politicians who oppose school choice are making a mistake on the political front. Denying families access to educational options is increasingly politically dangerous. Cooper Conway, Washington Examiner. The Palm Beach County School Board decided to elevate its interim superintendent, while Broward’s did not. Both boards made the right decision. Sun Sentinel. It’s disappointing that two Alachua County School Board members have lent credence to the manufactured issue questioning whether Superintendent Carlee Simon has the necessary qualifications to hold the superintendent’s job due to her lack of a current certification from the Florida Department of Education. Gainesville Sun.

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