Feds push state to apply for $2.3B in COVID aid, mask decision appealed, mold issues and more

Feds pressing state on aid: U.S. Department of Education officials are pressuring Florida to apply for $2.3 billion of coronavirus relief aid targeted to help school districts. Florida is the only state that has not submitted a plan for its share of the funds, which is required before the money will be released. “FDOE’s delay raises significant concerns because of the unnecessary uncertainty it is creating for school districts across the state and because it is hindering their ability to confidently plan for how to use these funds to address the needs of students,” Ian Rosenblum, deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs, wrote in a letter to the state on Monday. Rosenblum also noted that the federal government has “heard repeatedly from parents, teachers, and superintendents from school districts in Florida that FDOE has not yet awarded” disbursements of money the state has already received under the American Rescue Plan. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office previously said that “no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources.” News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. USA Today Florida Network. WTXL.

Mask decision appealed: Parents of children with disabilities are asking a federal appeals court to overturn a U.S. district judge’s ruling last week dismissing a challenge to the state’s rule banning districts from imposing face mask mandates. Attorneys for the parents filed a notice with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the Sept. 15 ruling. They contend Gov. Ron DeSantis’ July 30 executive order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws designed to protect the rights of students with disabilities because those students are more vulnerable to serious illness or death from COVID-19. News Service of Florida.

Scholarship money late: Two months into the school year, the parents of thousands of students with special needs still have not received the state scholarship money they need to pay for education and therapy. The 4,000 students are in a new program the Legislature created in the spring to replace the Gardiner Scholarship, but a data entry error mistakenly labeled them as public school students, which would make them ineligible for the program. Florida Department of Education officials said the problem will be resolved by Oct. 15. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: Mold in Broward schools continues to be a problem even after millions have been spent on removing it, a federal jury has ordered the Miami-Dade School District to pay $6 million to a student who was sexually harassed and abused by a teacher, two police officers are hospitalized and five students arrested after a fight Monday at a Broward County high school, Duval’s school district informs the state that it will not change its face mask mandate for students, Palm Beach County’s schools have 348 openings for teachers, several state school districts report a declining number of coronavirus cases, and a high school teacher in Okaloosa County has been placed on administrative leave after showing her class an R-rated movie. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A federal jury has ordered the school board to pay $6 million to a former student who had been sexually harassed and abused by a teacher at Palmetto High School seven years ago. The jury concluded that the district had been warned about the actions of former creative writing teacher Jason Edward Meyers, but was “deliberately indifferent” in handling the allegations. Meyers is awaiting trial. Miami Herald. A former math teacher at American High School in Hialeah was sentenced to more than six years in prison for child pornography possession. Robert Ortiz, 27, had pleaded guilty. Miami Herald. WFOR. WTVJ. WPLG. An art teacher at the Renaissance Middle Charter School in Doral has been arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student during the 2020 school year. Daniel Fernandez, 36, is charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a child between the ages of 12 and 16. Miami Herald. WPLG. A drama teacher at Hialeah Middle School has been arrested and accused of having sex with a 14-year-old student. Brittiny Lopez-Murray, 31, was the school’s rookie teacher of the year in 2017. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Broward: Mold is an ongoing problem in schools even though the district has spent millions to fix the problem. A review of inspection reports indicates continued problems with mold and air quality at 10 of the 27 schools where at least $1 million was spent for renovations. In 2014, voters approved an $800 million bond program to renovate schools and take care of mold issues. Now district officials are saying that mold remediation was never a focus of the renovation program. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to mold can cause allergies and neurological dysfunction, especially among children. Sun Sentinel. School board members meet today in a special session to discuss whether the district will comply with the state’s directive allowing parents to decide if students should be quarantined after exposure to the coronavirus. Sun Sentinel. Two Fort Lauderdale police officers were hospitalized with serious injuries they received during a large brawl Monday at Dillard High School. Both are expected to recover. Five students face charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and battery on a law enforcement officer, according to police. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. When the school district couldn’t find enough counselors, it decided to start training its own with the help of a $2 million federal grant. Six interns were trained last year and are on the job in schools now. WLRN.

Palm Beach: The school year started seven weeks ago, and the school district has 348 teaching vacancies. That’s four times more than it had a year ago and 127 more than it had before the pandemic. More than 110 of the district’s 180 schools have open positions. The shortfall has been driven by resignations, which are at the highest point in three years, retirements, the addition of 369 teaching and staff positions created with federal relief funds and a pool of workers that is shrinking across the United States. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: School officials have informed Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that they will not back off the district’s face mask mandate that allows opt-outs only for medical reasons. “A review of the official data indicates that student and staff in Duval County cannot yet be safely educated in person without requiring masks, especially considering quarantine requirements have been suspended,” according to the letter, which was signed by Superintendent Diana Greene and school board chair Elizabeth Andersen. The state had demanded an explanation of how the district intended to the comply with the state’s new rule that bans districts from imposing face mask mandates on students. Florida Times-Union. WJCT.

Volusia, Flagler: The number of coronavirus cases in the two districts continued to decline last week. Volusia reported 105 cases and Flagler 33, the lowest weekly totals of the school year. Volusia has now counted 1,988 cases since schools opened, and Flagler 1,215. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: Coronavirus cases are on the decline in the school district with 85 students and five employees diagnosed during the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 1, down from 122 students and 20 employees the previous week. Fewer quarantines are also being reported, after the state changed its rules to allow parents to decide whether to keep their children exposed to the coronavirus home. There were 74 students and one employee under isolation, down from 402 students and four employees the week before. Daily Commercial.

Marion: The number of coronavirus cases in the school district dropped 45 percent last week and the number of quarantines was down 51 percent, district officials said Monday. Eighty-six people tested positive during the week of Sept. 25-Oct. 1, which is a decline of 88 percent in the past five weeks. The weekly record of 733 cases was reported Aug. 21-27. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: To combat the shortage of substitute teachers, the school district has raised the hourly wage to $15 an hour, agreed to pay for fingerprinting and training, and is accepting applications from anyone who has a high school diploma. “We’re just trying to get very creative in increasing the numbers in our substitute pool,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: A Niceville High School teacher who recently showed the R-rated movie Alexander to her students has been placed on administrative leave. The movie, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell, has nudity, rape scenes and incidences of domestic violence. Deputy superintendent Steve Horton said Monday that “an update will be provided following the conclusion of the investigation.” Superintendent Marcus Chambers said, “I absolutely understand the concern. We do have policy in place for this very thing. Anything that is outside the curriculum, whether it’s a novel or it’s a speaker or a movie, there is paperwork to be filled out that goes through this very matter.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Santa Rosa: Construction begins this week on a second K-8 school for the district. The 33-acre property in the Pace area would hold almost 1,200 students in 45 classrooms when it’s finished in the fall of 2023 at a cost of just over $39 million. District officials said the school is needed to relieve overcrowding at SS Dixon Primary, SS Dixon Intermediate and Sims Middle. Pensacola News Journal.

Colleges and universities: University of South Florida interim president Rhea Law and regional chancellor for the St. Petersburg campus Martin Tadlock have asked St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to include them in discussions involving the future redevelopment of Tropicana Field because they see an opportunity to establish a “tech campus” on the site. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

In the Legislature: Only school resource officers, safety officers, guardians or security guards would be permitted to use mechanical restraints on students with disabilities under a bill filed last week by state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Florida Politics. Out-of-state students who are living in recovery residences and attending state colleges, career centers or technical schools would get in-state tuition under a bill filed Monday by state Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton. News Service of Florida.

Around the nation: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday that the FBI would work with local law enforcement agencies and local school officials to address the increasing number of threats against school board members, teachers and other school employees. Associated Press. Education Week. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Broward County, has filed a bill in Congress that would define to define what constitutes a school shooting and create a federal database with information about such incidents. A similar bill proposed in 2019 did not advance. Florida Politics. Sun Sentinel. WFOR. WTVJ. A COVID vaccine requirement for teachers and employees took effect Monday in New York City schools. Unvaccinated employees will be placed on unpaid leave. NPR.

Correction: The Florida Board of Education meets Thursday to decide if 11 school districts are complying with the state’s rules on face mask mandates. An incorrect date was reported in Monday’s roundup.

Opinions on schools: ZIP-code assignment into a system of largely non-specialized schools bound and determined to maximize non-teaching employment for adults isn’t working out for boys. Having these schools go through the motions of being held “accountable” so as to avoid being put on double secret probation appears ineffectual, or perhaps even counterproductive. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Why are so many highly educated Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis so anti-education? Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix. Now, more than ever, the school district needs the community to step up and monitor children’s activity on social media to counteract the many bad influences on the Internet. Bay Superintendent Bill Husfelt, Panama City News Herald.

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