Teacher shortage, book removed from school library, a snag for a superintendent, and more

Around the state: The number of teaching openings in the state has grown to 5,000, a book with graphic illustrations and descriptions of LGBTQ sexual experiences has been removed from a Brevard County high school library, not all Broward school board members are backing a proposal to offer interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright the job permanently, Palm Beach and Duval school officials say they are keeping their face mask mandates while Leon is expected to reconsider, the number of students and employees being quarantined has dropped drastically in several districts since the state gave parents the authority to decide if their asymptomatic children who have been exposed to COVID should stay home, at least 16 Polk County district teachers and school employees have died of COVID complications since schools began Aug. 10, a Santa Rosa County school bus driver has died of COVID complications, the former Taylor County school superintendent is under investigation by the district, and an Osceola County School Board member is proposing that the district use the LYNX county bus system to transport high school students. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The number of coronavirus cases among students in the Miami-Dade School District increased by more than 200 last week, to 2,675 students and 431 employees. WFOR.

Broward: Not all school board members appear to be on board with naming Vickie Cartwright as the superintendent at today’s meeting. Nora Rupert is behind the drive to elevate Cartwright, who was hired as the interim Aug. 1 on a 5-4 board vote. But at least two of Rupert’s colleagues said Monday that they are against forgoing a national search and offering the job to Cartwright. Sarah Leonardi supported hiring Cartwright, but said, “I’ve heard from constituents that they would really like to see us move forward with our national search. … I think it’s hard to determine if someone should be in the permanent job after 2 and a half months.” Sun Sentinel. Monday was Pride Day in Broward schools, an initiative launched by the district to dissuade students from participating in TikTok challenges that could be dangerous and illegal. “We know, unfortunately, recently, there’s a platform called TikTok, and within this platform, it has been really setting children up for failure,” said Cartwright. “So this is an opportunity for us to really get out there and start a new challenge but in a positive way.” WSVN. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Mike Fenton, a football coach who led Jefferson High School in Tampa to a 15-0 record and the Class 3A state championship in 2010, died Monday of natural causes. He was 65. Most recently he has been the offensive coordinator for Chamberlain High School. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: School officials said they will keep their face mask mandate, with exceptions permitted only for students with medical excuses from a doctor, despite being threatened by the state with the loss of some funding. Superintendent Michael Burke said the mandate will be loosened only when a COVID-19 vaccine is available for children ages 5 to 11, and the community has fewer than 50 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate below 8 percent. WPTV. One of the families suing the school district over its face mask mandate said their daughter can’t wear a mask in school because she has post-traumatic stress disorder from being robbed six years ago when the family lived in Costa Rica. The school district said it wouldn’t comment on pending litigation. WPEC.

Duval: School board members have deferred any decision whether to change the district’s face mask mandate on the advice of their lawyer due to pending litigation. The decision came at the conclusion of a meeting in which critics of the mask policy and proponents spoke. “It has been a really interesting conversation … there’s a lot of divisiveness,” said board chair Elizabeth Andersen. “I don’t think that’s something that ends, but if we’re having healthy conflict … we compromise and we work together to get to the right spot for the students we serve.” District officials will continue to work on face mask policy options for a future meeting. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJCT. WJAX. Starting Monday, students at Fletcher High School will be subject to random checks to make sure the school is “free from prohibited items, especially any type of weapons,” said principal James Ledford. WJXT.

Polk: At least 16 district teachers and school employees have died of COVID complications since schools began Aug. 10, according to union representative Anita Carson. “Every death is a devastating blow to our community and reinforces the need for all people to continue taking precautions to reduce the spread of illness,” said district spokesman Jason Geary. In Florida, at least 24 children and 100 teachers and other school employees have died since July, according to a database maintained by the Florida Education Association teachers union. Lakeland Ledger. Sixty teachers from eight countries have been hired to fill teaching openings in the district. The teachers were found through the TPG Cultural Exchange program, in which the teachers are given visas and housing. WTVT.

Lee: District officials are asking for the community’s help to choose a name for a preK-8 school that will be built on Three Oaks Parkway in Estero. Wanted are suggestions that reflect the history and culture of southwest Florida, its natural environment, notable people and the neighborhood, community or location of the school. The deadline to submit suggestions is Friday at 5 p.m. The school is expected to open in August 2023. WINK. WBBH.

Pasco: The newly named teacher of the year at Fivay High School faces a reprimand for allegedly falsifying records detailing the special education needs of 10 students at the school. Brian Borruso, a special education instructor, has been fighting the charges since last summer. He’s asked the school board to hear his appeal of the reprimand. Tampa Bay Times. District officials are planning to offer orchestra feeder programs in at least four schools as a choice option. “We have not listed orchestra in the past as a school choice option. But we’ve always had questions about ‘How can I continue my path?’ ” said Samantha Del Valle, deputy director of leading and learning. “We realized there was a need. We have the program. Why not list it?” Open enrollment is Jan. 6-20. Tampa Bay Times. The next phase of educational choice could become early college programs, in which students earn high school and two-year associate’s degrees at the same time. A model of the program, the Dayspring Early College Academy about 40 miles north of Tampa, opened this fall with 199 students and expectations of growing to 300 by the fall of 2023. reimaginED.

Brevard: A book that contains graphic illustrations of LGBTQ sexual experiences has been removed from the Melbourne High School library. Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, includes explicit drawings of sex and genitalia. “The book was taken out of the library immediately after district leaders learned of the content of the book,” said a district spokesperson. Superintendent Mark Mullins added, “This book violates our guidelines and that it has no place in our school district. I have directed staff to ensure there are no other similar books in our libraries.” Florida Today. WOFL. Since the state released new rules that give parents the authority to decide whether to quarantine their asymptomatic children who have been exposed to the coronavirus, few have been kept home. On Tuesday, the district reported 31 COVID cases and 31 quarantines between the previous Friday and Monday. At the peak of the outbreak in schools, Aug. 24-26, 784 COVID cases and 4,021 quarantines were reported. Florida Today.

Osceola: School board member Julius Melendez is proposing that the district combat the shortage of school bus drivers by using the LYNX county bus system to transport high school students. “Maybe we have this partnership,” said Melendez. “And maybe LYNX gets used to it and their routes are that way and we have a long-term relationship and we end up saving money in the long run.” The board is expected to discuss the idea at its Oct. 19 workshop meeting. WMFE.

Volusia, Flagler: Pandemic-driven increases in construction materials has driven up the projected cost of the new Beachside Elementary School by $2.4 million, to $26.4 million. “We’d like to think that (construction costs) can’t get much worse, but in all reality it really is hard to tell what’s coming next in this environment,” said Jim Mather, president of Paytas Homes and a member of the Volusia County School District’s project oversight committee. Beachside is scheduled to open last next year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The number of coronavirus cases reported in the Volusia and Flagler school districts last week totaled 121 – the fewest of any week since schools opened in early August. Daytona Beach News-Journal. An 11-foot statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, the civil rights pioneer who founded the college that became Bethune-Cookman University, will be on display in Daytona Beach for three months before moving to its permanent home inside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WESH. Orlando Sentinel.

Manatee: The number of school district students and employees staying home to quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 has plummeted since the state announced a rule giving parents the authority to decide if their asymptomatic children should remain at home. During the week of Aug. 23, for example, an average of 442 people were quarantined each day. Between Sept. 23, the day after the state’s rule went into effect, and Oct. 7, the average daily number of quarantined students and staff has been 16. Bradenton Herald.

Sarasota: Students in the aquascience program at Riverdale High School released 300 juvenile snook into Phillippi Creek last week as part of a partnership with the Mote Maine Laboratory & Aquarium. The fish were tagged and data will be compiled for analysis. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: The number of coronavirus cases reported in the school district last week was down 49 percent from the previous week, and the number of quarantines declined by 39 percent. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Sharp declines were reported in the number of coronavirus cases in the three school districts last week. St Lucie went from 86 student and 9 employee cases two weeks ago to 40 students and 4 employees last week. Martin counted 19 student and 6 staff cases last week, down from 52 and 8 the previous week, and Indian River reported 8 student and 2 employee cases, down from 11 and 1 the previous week. TCPalm.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Field trips are back for Escambia County School District students, and visitors will again be allowed in schools. School officials said the changes go into effect today. “Given the decline in COVID case numbers, it is time to begin the return to normalcy,” said Superintendent Timothy Smith. “After consulting with public health officials, we feel we are able to do this safely.” Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. Dawn Pack, a school bus driver for the Santa Rosa County School District, died Oct. 5 of COVID complications, according to a post from her husband on the GoFundMe website. WEAR. Construction has begun on a new K-8 school in Santa Rosa County. The school in the Pace area is projected to open in late 2023, and hold up to 1,182 students. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Changes in the district’s face mask mandate could come today. With coronavirus cases declining and the district facing financial penalties from the state, Superintendent Rocky Hanna said Monday that he’s recommending adjustments in the policy to the school board at tonight’s meeting. Hanna would not elaborate on what those changes would be. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. A Griffin Middle School student was arrested Monday after allegedly bringing brass knuckles to the school. This is at least the eighth time since the school year began that a student has been detained for having a weapon on campus. Tallahassee Democrat.

Hernando: A 17-year-old student was seriously injured when he was hit by a car Monday morning while walking to a school bus stop. The boy was walking north along Bentley Avenue in Spring Hill when he was struck by a car also traveling north. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating. WFTS.

Monroe: District officials and the teachers union have reached a tentative contract agreement. Terms were not disclosed, but union president Holly Hummell-Gorman said, “We are very pleased with the results of our collaborative process. We were able to agree upon well-deserved salary increases, as well as improved language in both contracts for our hard-working teachers and school-related personnel.” Union members and the school board still have to approve it. Key West Citizen.

Taylor: Danny Glover, who resigned as school superintendent last Friday, is the subject of an internal district investigation, according to school board attorney Angela Ball. She said only that the investigation centers around Glover’s professional actions. Labor and employment attorney John Dickinson said he was hired by the district Sept. 10 to conduct the investigation. WCTV.

Masks and courts: The Florida Department of Health is asking an administrative judge to dismiss a challenge by six school boards to the rule prohibiting districts from requiring students to wear face masks without giving parents the option of opting-out. Attorneys for the health department are arguing the districts don’t have the standing to challenge the rule, saying, “Florida Constitution creates a hierarchy under which school boards administer the day-to-day operations of local schools, but must do so ‘in harmony’ with state laws and rules.” News Service of Florida. Alachua school officials have issued a response to a lawsuit over the district’s face mask policy brought by parents. The parents claim the district isn’t following the state’s rules, and the district responded that it is following rules and guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: Flagler College trustees have decided to hire John Delaney as the college’s fifth president. Delaney, 65, the former president of the University of North Florida, has been Flagler’s interim president for the past year. St. Augustine Record.

Teacher shortage: The number of teaching vacancies in the state’s schools has increased to 5,000, according to Florida Education Association president Andrew Spar. He said there are also 4,000 other staff positions that remain unfilled. “These numbers and trends are an alarm bell going off for our public schools, and state officials need to start listening,” Spar said. “Educators have made clear why they’re leaving our schools, and young people will readily share why they don’t want to pursue an education career.” CNN.

Tax revenues up again: State tax revenues collected in August were $327.9 million more than expected, according to a state report released Monday. More than $248 million of it came from higher-than-expected sales tax collections. Education funding largely comes from general revenue. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: Education savings accounts turn 10 this year. Such programs have important advantages for families in expanding the universe of service providers beyond private schools into therapists, tutors, community colleges and more. The accounts allow parents to save funds for future expenses, which creates the incentive for families to consider opportunity costs, which is very important. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. School districts in the Tampa Bay region can promote both diversity and excellence by adopting the Calculus Project model in their own schools. Paul Cottle, Tampa Bay Times. Snatching away salaries of county school board members who insist on mask mandates may be legal, but it’s wrong. Bill Cotterell, Gainesville Sun.

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