Miami-Dade and Broward making masks optional, mask appeal, district removes book, and more

Around the state: Miami-Dade and Broward school officials announce that their face mask mandates will be relaxed this month, Alachua school board members meet today to discuss whether to change their face mask policy, Leon school officials have withdrawn the district from the appeal of a ruling supporting the state’s face mask rule, a state official says “it was never the intent” for a new state rule to put services at risk for students with significant cognitive disabilities, about 20 percent of the jobs in the Palm Beach County district’s police department are open, a Lakeland boarding school won’t face criminal charges after a student died there in 2020, a book has been removed from Indian River County school libraries and 27 others are being reviewed, and the Orange County School District announces finalists for the teacher, principal, assistant principal and support person of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The parents of all district students will soon be able to opt their children out of the face mask mandate, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced Tuesday. The new policy is effective Friday. The decision to include elementary students and those in K-8 centers comes a week after most middle school students and all high school students were declared eligible to opt-out. Carvalho cited the county’s declining rate of new coronavirus cases, now down to 71.9 per 100,000 residents, as justification for the change. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Associated Press. An Advanced Placement U.S. history teacher at John A. Ferguson Senior High School has been arrested on accusations that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student last year. District officials said Aaron Hamid, 27, will be fired. Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR. Several charges have been dropped against another teacher who was accused last month of having a sexual relationship with a student. Heiry Calvi, 47, a teacher at the John I. Smith K-8 Center in Doral, is now charged only with offenses against a student by an authority figure. Miami Herald. WPLG. A school bus was involved in a multi-vehicle accident in Hialeah Gardens on Tuesday that left a pedestrian dead and two other drivers injured. No one on the bus was injured. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Broward: The school board voted 7-1 on Tuesday night to give parents the option of deciding if their children will wear masks in schools. “The science shows we’re at a place we can relax the masks,” said board member Debbi Hixon. The vote ends the policy of requiring masks with opt-outs for medical reasons only, and should put the district in compliance with state rules. The change takes effect Nov. 20, but most schools are off Thanksgiving week, so the first day with the option for most students to go maskless would be Nov. 29. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Rapid growth in the southern part of the county has led to overcrowding at some schools. Short-term, the district is turning to portable classrooms. But district officials acknowledge that the real solution is more schools. “Growth in the southern part of the county is our biggest boom right now,” said Chris Farkas, the district’s chief of operations. “And we are seeing a huge need for new student stations, new student seats, and schools at all levels – elementary, middle and high school.” WFTS. About 2,650 district migrant students are trying to keep up with their schoolwork and stay on the path to graduate high school with the help of the district’s federally funded Migrant Education Program. Hillsborough’s program, which is one of several around the state, has 25 employees and a budget of $2.8 million. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Five finalists have been chosen for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Maribel Lopez from Timber Springs Middle School, Corin Metz from Thornebrooke Elementary, Alexandra Pittman from Innovation Middle, Jessica Roberts from Corner Lake Middle, and Nancy Welch from Orlando Technical College’s Orlando Campus. Also announced were finalists for the top principal, assistant principal and support person. The winners will be announced Feb. 4. WKMG. Orange County School District. A special magistrate who was called in when the school district and the teachers union reached an impasse over pay issues has ruled that the district can’t afford large raises this year but should give veteran teachers a “longevity supplement” and should not increase employee health insurance costs. His recommendations now go back to the district and the union for consideration. If either side rejects the findings, the dispute will be settled by the school board. The union is asking for $3,000 raises, while the district is offering $175 but also is proposing one-time bonuses of up to $3,500. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: More than 20 percent of the school district police department’s jobs are currently open, according to district data. That’s 60 jobs unfilled. “Most school districts cannot compete with, say, a local municipality, a county sheriff’s office, in pay and benefits,” said Frank Kitzerow, who was the district’s police chief until retiring this year. WPTV. The school board has voted unanimously to leave the Florida School Board Association until its president steps down. Chris Patricca, a member of the Lee County School Board and president of the FSBA, recently said during a public meeting that “the biggest challenge … principals are facing is getting (Guatemalan students) out of the bathroom because they’ve never seen running water before.” Palm Beach School Board member Marcia Andrews said the comments were “unacceptable,” and that the “face of the organization shouldn’t be (engaged) in racial rhetoric that’s damaging to children.” WFTX.

Polk: No criminal charges will be filed against a Lakeland faith-based boarding school for troubled children in the 2020 death of a 17-year-old student. The medical examiner has ruled that Naomi Wood, of Vermont, died a natural death from a seizure disorder. A report from the Florida Department of Children and Families had indicated that there was “inadequate supervision and medical neglect” at the Lakeland Girls Academy. WFLA. WTVT.

Pinellas: A partisan divide emerged in the voting Tuesday for the chair and vice chair positions on the school board. The four members of the board who voted in the fall to keep face masks optional instead of mandatory approved Eileen Long, as the chair and then voted for Lisa Cane as vice chair. Tampa Bay Times. Every student in the public school district is eligible for a free meal box with breakfast, lunch and snacks for the five days school will be closed over the Thanksgiving break. Students must pre-register, and distribution will be Nov. 18. St. Pete Catalyst.

Brevard: School officials said they have no money for raises for teachers, so they’re offering a one-time $1,500 bonus. The teachers union has asked for $13.5 million in raises and bonuses. “Our issue, as is the issue around the state of Florida, is there are no recurring funds,” said Karyle Green, the district’s director of professional standards and labor relations. Contract negotiations continue next Monday. Florida Today.

Osceola: A 15-year-old Oviedo High School student now faces four charges, including having a gun on campus, following a scare Saturday that disrupted the school’s homecoming dance. Police said no gun has been found, and the boy denies having one, but the charges were made based on witness accounts. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV.

Manatee: Harry Kinnan, the basketball coach at Manatee Community College from 1977-1996 and a Manatee County School Board member from 1996-2012, has died of cancer at the age of 80. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Johns: The district’s newest high school will be named Beachside High, school board members decided Tuesday, even though it’s miles from the nearest beach. It does sit on an manmade 14-acre lagoon with an artificial beach. A mascot has yet to be chosen, with the options of Barracudas, Beasts, Kraken, Riptide and Tritons. Beachside will be a grades 9-12 school, with a capacity of 2,100 students, and is scheduled to open in August 2022 to help ease the overcrowding at Bartram Trail High School, which school officials said is more than 1,000 students over capacity. St. Augustine Record. WJXT. WJCT. WTLV.

Leon: School officials have withdrawn from the group of school boards appealing an administrative law judge’s decision that the Florida Department of Health’s emergency rule struck the “right balance” on face masks by allowing parents to opt-out. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said, “While we continue to believe in our right to make decisions that are overwhelmingly supported by our community, we no longer believe it is prudent for us to peruse a short term legal remedy to determine where the line is drawn between state rights and the rights of our local school system.” Leon’s decision leaves just four school boards pursuing the appeal: Miami-Dade, Broward, Duval and Alachua. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV. WFSU. WTXL.

Alachua: School board members meet in special session today to discuss the district’s face mask policy. With the Miami-Dade and Broward school boards relaxing their policies on Tuesday, Alachua is the last district in the state that still requires students to have a medical exemption to go maskless. That policy is set to end Dec. 7. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. WGFL. Despite the school district’s emphasis on reducing the achievement gap between black and white students, it continues to grow, according to testing data from last spring. In math, the gap in the percentage of students scoring at a satisfactory level or high grew from 44.6 to 45.9 points from 2019. In language arts, the gap grew from 45.2 to 46.4 points. Alachua Chronicle. A federal racial discrimination lawsuit has been filed against St. Patrick Interparish School in Gainesville. Regina Wims and her family are alleging that black families experience discrimination at the school, including fraudulently charging families fees for lack of volunteer hours and mistreating students academically. Officials at the school, which is part of the Diocese of St. Augustine, had no comment. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: The school district’s quarantine policy was tweaked Tuesday by the school board. Asymptomatic employees who are exposed to someone with the coronavirus can now return to work with a negative rapid-results COVID test taken four days after they were exposed. WJHG. School board members also agreed to align their board district boundaries with those of the county commissioners. “County Commission 1,2,3,4,5 line up perfectly with school board members 1,2,3,4,5 with the same amount of landmass and the same amount of population,” said school board chair Steve Moss. WMBB. WJHG.

Indian River: One book has been permanently removed from school libraries after some parents complained that it contained pornographic passages, vulgar language, drug references and racial slurs, and another 27 were temporarily removed and are being reviewed. The banned book, All Boys Aren’t Blue, was part of a bulk book purchase but should have been individually reviewed, said assistant superintendent Richard Myrhe. “You know there was a process in place to make sure this didn’t happen; unfortunately, it wasn’t followed in this one instance,” said Myrhe. “But moving forward, we definitely are going to take a look at everything and be prepared to act swiftly.” WPEC. Sebastian River High School was locked down for about an hour Tuesday after a video was posted on social media showing a student in school with what appeared to be a gun. The gun was a theater prop. TCPalm.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida task force that will review the school’s conflict of interest of policy is focusing on two questions: When should UF allow professors to serve as expert witnesses in lawsuits, and what role does faculty have in reviewing these requests? Miami Herald. News Service of Florida.

Rule ‘misinterpreted’: The state’s senior K-12 chancellor, Jacob Oliva, said Tuesday that “it was never the intent” for a new state rule to put services at risk for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Oliva said the rule, which tightened eligibility for services after the state exceeded the federal threshhold for the percentage of students using special services, was merely a guideline. He said the state will use workshops and training sessions to educate parents and educators, and change the rules if necessary. Tampa Bay Times.

BOE meets about order: The Florida Board of Education meets Nov. 16 to discuss the cease-and-desist complaint lodged against the state last month by the U.S. Department of Education. The USDOE alleged that the state, in deciding to withhold all federal grants given to districts to make up the funds lost when the state penalized them for defying a state rule banning face mask mandates, “violated federal law by reducing state funds based on the receipt by districts of federal funds.” News Service of Florida.

Around the nation: The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill includes $55 billion to replace lead pipes in 400,000 schools, child-care centers and homes and businesses. The law also includes money to expand access to high speed Internet, buy clean energy school buses, and make improvements to the supply chain. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: Education choice is the best way to weed out bad teachers. If parents at choice schools are not satisfied with their child’s instruction, they can ask for a different teacher, or simply take their business elsewhere. If one teacher causes so many problems that they affect the durability of the school, the school can simply fire them and move on. Garion Frankel, reimaginED. Last month, the Florida Education Association stepped up to the plate to take a swing at school choice. The state’s teachers union made three claims, and missed on every one. Patrick Gibbons, reimaginED. Parental discontent over school-centric issues like face masks, and whether school officials pay any attention to their wishes, is scrambling political maps across the country. Michael Kruse, Politico.

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BY NextSteps staff