Florida college enrollment down again, districts revise mask mandates, and more

College enrollment down: College enrollment in Florida is down 2.6 percent this year, bringing the decline since the beginning of the pandemic to 5.4 percent, according to figures from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Florida’s decline is slightly below the national average of 6.5 percent in the past two school years. Graduate enrollment is also down nationally, but not in Florida, where it grew 6.7 percent this fall and is up 16.7 percent since 2019. “It’s very frightening,” said Doug Shapiro, who runs the nonprofit research center. “College is the best chance you have to get into well-paying jobs in this economy. It’s not the only path, and it’s certainly not a guarantee, but it’s the best path we have right now. And so, if more students are thrown off that path, their families and communities suffer, and our economy suffers because businesses have fewer skilled workers to hire from.” Politico Florida. NPR.

Around the state: School officials in Broward, Brevard and Leon counties have relaxed their face mask mandates for students, and Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said she will announce that district’s decision on Thursday, renewal of a school tax in Manatee County has become a bitterly partisan issue, Brevard teachers are proposing $13.5 million for raises and bonuses next year, an Orange County principal has been arrested for allegedly threatening to run over a neighbor, and the Florida Department of Education says a written threat from the federal government over withholding funds for school districts over mask mandates is “legally hollow.” Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Public high school students will have the option of wearing a mask in schools starting Monday, the school board decided in a 5-3 vote Tuesday. Masks are also optional for teachers, employees and visitors. Masks remain mandatory for elementary and middle school students, and all school employees and visitors, with opt-outs only for medical reasons since those students still are not eligible for a vaccination. The decision did nothing to appease the state, which has withheld funds equal to the salaries of school board members. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, wrote in an e-mail, “The youngest kids (grades K-8) happen to be at the lowest risk of COVID-19, so Broward’s mandate is obviously not about kids’ well-being. It’s about virtue signaling. This is a shame, because the school board should put kids first — but instead they’re prioritizing politics.” Sun Sentinel. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Orange: School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said she would announce Thursday whether the district’s face mask mandate will expire as scheduled Oct. 29 or be extended. She said she wants to listen to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings’ COVID-19 update Wednesday, consult with doctors who have been advising the district during the pandemic, and speak with school board members before making a decision. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV. WMFE. A principal was arrested Monday on felony charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in June by allegedly threatening her neighbor with her car. Deputies said Kimrey Sheehan, 60, the principal at Hunter’s Creek Elementary School, pointed her car at her neighbor as he was walking his dogs in the neighborhood, sped up and forced him to move quickly off the road to avoid being hit. As she drove by, the neighbor said, she flashed him two middle fingers. The incident was the latest in a long-standing dispute. The neighbor had previously sued Sheehan for trespassing, and has also accused her of stalking, breaking a window in his home and throwing dog poop at him. Sheehan, who has worked for the district since 1984, was put on “relief of duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation and legal proceedings,” said a district spokeswoman. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV.

Duval: School board members have approved an expansion of the district’s policy on dealing with communicable diseases. The policy, which had been in place for years, dealt mostly with AIDS and HIV. It’s now been broadened to include COVID-19 and other potential threats. The policy gives the superintendent the authority to make decisions during an epidemic or pandemic, but requires a data-driven decision-making process. WJXT.

Brevard: School board members voted Tuesday to extend the district’s face mask mandate for students in grades pre-K through 6 for another 30 days, but dropped the required medical exemption in favor of allowing parents to opt-out. Masks will continue to be optional for students in grades 8-12. Florida Today. WOFL. Teachers union officials are proposing the district provide $13.5 million for raises and bonuses next year. About $8.4 million in the proposal would go toward raises, with the rest paid out as one-time bonuses. Union president Anthony Colucci also wants $300 added to the district’s $1,200 supplement paid to teachers with 12 or more years of experience. The request would mean teachers rated as highly effective would get raises of $1,780, and teachers rated as effective would get $1,335. District negotiators did not respond to the proposal. The next session is Nov. 2. Florida Today.

Lee: A 9-year-old elementary school student riding her bike home from school Tuesday was struck by a car in Cape Coral at a crosswalk at nearby Trafalgar Middle School. The girl was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. WINK.

Volusia, Flagler: The number of coronavirus cases reported in the two school districts last week jumped by 18 percent, from 121 two weeks ago to 143. Volusia counted 129 of the cases, Flagler 14. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: Sixty teachers representing 58 county schools have won Teachers of Distinction awards from the Champions for Learning, the county education foundation. A selection committee will choose six of the 60 to receive Golden Apple awards. Naples Daily News.

Manatee: Renewal of a tax to benefit the school district is on the ballot Tuesday, and it’s drawing strong opposition from county Republicans. Sheriff Rick Wells, County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and Steve Vernon, president of the Lakewood Ranch Republican Club, have all spoken publicly against the tax, and the county’s Republican executive committee came out against it last July, passing a resolution criticizing the $400,000 cost of a special election and saying the “school board has failed to justify the need for the proposed tax prior to placing it on the ballot.” Getting the tax passed is county Democrats’ top priority, said party chair Tracy Pratt. In March 2018, the tax was approved by 51.39 percent of 56,370 voters. The money has been used to improve teacher pay and to extend classroom time by 30 minutes a day, among other things. It has raised about $46 million a year. Florida Politics. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Forty-four cases of COVID-19 were reported last week by the three school districts, the lowest weekly combined total in the districts this school year. Indian River reported an increase from 5 students and 1 employee two weeks ago to 10 students and 1 employee last week, while Martin was down slightly, from 17 cases two weeks ago to 14 last week. St. Lucie’s cases dropped by about half, from 39 students and employees two weeks ago to 19 last week. TCPalm.

Leon: Superintendent Rocky Hanna has dropped a requirement that asymptomatic students exposed to the coronavirus wear a mask to school if they choose not to quarantine. The decision puts the district in compliance with state rules, he said. “Data and numbers are moving us into compliance, not simply to comply,” said Hanna. “Emergency rule, no emergency rule, we’re going to do what’s best to protect the safety of our children.” Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. A man driving a yellow school bus used by a charter service died Tuesday when he ran into a tree in Tallahassee. No one else was on board. The bus carried the logo of Tomahawk Transportation, which provides service for school field trips, sporting activities, corporate events and summer camps, according to its website. School district spokesman Chris Petley said the charter bus rental was not being used by the district. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Sheriff’s deputies have arrested a 17-year-old and have accused her of making threats on Instagram against Eastside High School in Gainesville. The official charges are making a false report in a violent manner and making electronic threats. WCJB.

Citrus: School board members have approved two technology-related purchases using federal coronavirus relief funds. About $213,000 will be used to buy 91 “smart boards,” which are digital display boards that link with iPads, desktop computers and other devices. Another $85,000 will buy a software platform that can be used to deliver lessons, videos and other activities. Kathy Androski, the director of educational technology, said it will allow teachers to turn lessons into interactive assignments. It can also be used by students who are sick or quarantined to participate in lessons from home. Citrus County Chronicle. Danielle Doherty-Koch, a biomedical sciences teacher at Crystal River High School, has been chosen as Robert and Patricia Kern Project Lead the Way national teacher of the year. Citrus County Chronicle.

In the Legislature: Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said Tuesday that he didn’t wear a mask to a meeting last week with state Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, because he couldn’t “communicate clearly” with a mask on. “Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist,” Ladapo said. “It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.” Polsky asked for the meeting. When Ladapo arrived, she asked him to wear a mask because she’s being treated for breast cancer. When he wouldn’t, she asked him to leave. Ladapo said he “would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone.” Miami Herald. USA Today Florida Network. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WPTV. Cities and counties would be authorized to place cameras in school zones to catch speeders under a bill filed this week by state Rep. Nicholas Duran, D-Miami. WINK. WFTX.

State downplays feds’ letter: The Florida Department of Education is dismissing a letter written by the U.S. Department of Education warning the state that withholding federal funds intended for school districts could be illegal. In a statement, the FLDOE called the letter “legally hollow,” that “Governor DeSantis is in the catbird seat,” and vowed to continue placing sanctions on districts that defy the state rule requiring parents to have an opt-out of face mask mandates. WCJB.

The choice boost: There are broad and growing benefits for virtually all public school students when there are robust private school choices, according to an Education Next analysis of Florida school data. The effect is even more significant for low-income students, a finding that suggests they are helped by the competition, the authors said. Education Next.

Charter CEO appeals: Marcus May, the CEO of a charter school management company who was convicted in 2018 on racketeering and fraud charges and subsequently lost an appeal, is taking his case to the Florida Supreme Court. News Service of Florida.

Around the nation: A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel agreed in a unanimous vote that the benefits of the Pfizer vaccine outweigh any potential risks for children 5 to 11 years old. The dose is one-third as potent as the one given to adults. The recommendation now goes before the FDA for a final vote in a few days. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: The Florida Senate must reject the appointment of Dr. Joseph Ladapo as surgeon general. He’s criticized the efficacy of COVID vaccines, accused the public health community of scientific dishonesty, backed the governor’s call for a special session to craft laws to fight federal vaccine mandates, fined Leon County $3.5 million for violating a ban on vaccine mandates, passed an emergency rule that emphasizes parental choice over school COVID-19 protocols, and refused to wear a mask when asked to during a meeting with a legislator undergoing cancer treatment. Palm Beach Post. Career pathway programs integrate schools and students with employers and work, putting them on a trajectory to economic and social well-being, informed citizenship, and civic responsibility, laying a foundation for adult success and a lifetime of opportunity. Bruno Manno, reimaginED. Parents have every right to be angry with Florida school boards who treat their children as subjects to be controlled and indoctrinated. School closures, mask mandates, allowing boys to play on girls’ sports teams, and critical race theory have awakened a sleeping giant — parents. We aren’t going away. State Rep. Randy Fine, Florida Politics.