Vaccine approved for kids 5-11, reading plan, busing bill, Pasco school times, and more

Vaccine approved for kids 5-11: About 28 million U.S. children between the ages of 5 and 11 could start getting the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine as soon as today, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on its distribution Tuesday. The dose they’ll receive is one-third as strong as the one given to adults. Associated Press. The 74. Florida Phoenix. Education Week.

Reading program underway: About 30,000 students have enrolled in the state’s $200 million reading program in the month since it began, members of the House Education Committee were told Tuesday. The New Worlds Reading Initiative, created by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and approved by the Legislature last spring, will deliver books to the homes of K-5 students who struggle with reading and have enrolled in the program. Sprowls pushed the plan as a way to combat the decline of literacy rates during the pandemic. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Also in the Legislature: At a time when school districts are struggling to find bus drivers, the Senate Education Committee has given tentative approval to a bill that would make 193,000 more students eligible for busing. S.B. 270 would require school transportation for any student who lives at least a mile from school. The current standard is 2 miles. Making the change would cost districts an estimated $184 million a year, and the bill includes no money going from the state to the districts. The bill sponsor, state Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, said the change is needed because growth in large cities is making streets “less safe for children.” Politico Florida. WFTV. A bill creating a “Victims of Communism Day” in schools and requiring students to learn about the dangers of communism was approved Tuesday by members of the Senate Education Committee. Under the provisions of the bill, every Nov. 7 would be set aside to honor victims of communism, and students would get at least 45 minutes of instruction on communist countries and leaders, and “how victims suffered under these regimes through poverty, starvation, migration, systemic lethal violence, and suppression of speech,” according to the bill. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Manatee voters approve an extension of a property tax increase to benefit schools, Pasco school times will change in January because of the school bus driver shortage, Alachua’s school board votes to continue its face mask mandate for K-8 students through Dec. 6, Palm Beach’s school board will consider ending its mask mandate at today’s meeting, and faculty leaders at the University of Florida criticize its decision to prohibit three professors from testifying against the state in a voting rights case. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: School board members have agreed that voting districts for school board seats should be redrawn because of population growth. The proposed maps will be posted to the district website next week, and at least one meeting is planned to get feedback from the public. A final vote is set Dec. 16. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: School board members are expected to discuss at today’s meeting whether to cut the district’s face mask mandate short. Improving conditions in the county are triggering the consideration. “I do want to revisit it,” said board member Erica Whitfield. “I’m very excited to see the end of mandatory masks, and what I’m hopeful is parents will keep the masks on their students” until they are vaccinated. Colleague Karen Brill agreed. “The health conditions have vastly improved, so I want to focus my discussion item on the science and the data,” she said. “I’m realizing we need to take a look at the data and determine if we’re there.” Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Duval: The district’s new face mask policy begins today, with students no longer needing a note from a doctor to opt-out of wearing a mask in school. About 11,000 parents have signed opt-out forms for their children, which is about 9 percent of the student population, said Superintendent Diana Greene. WJXT.

Lee: A civil rights complaint has been filed against school board member Chris Patricca over the proposed $93 million K-8 school for Estero. The complaint contends Patricca is discriminating against predominately ethnic areas by pushing for the school to be built in Estero instead of the east side of the county, and that she did so to gain endorsements and votes, not because the area needed the school. WINK.

Pasco: Because of a shortage of school bus drivers, every school in the county will have a new start and end time beginning in January. School board members approved the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting. School bus runs will be done in four stages instead of the current three as the district tries to get every student to school on time with fewer drivers. “We need to make sure for every minute of every day that we have these kids before us … we have high-quality instruction going on,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. “It makes it very difficult when we can’t have these kids arriving in a timely fashion.” The new system will be reviewed in May. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WTSP. WFTS. WTVT.

Manatee: Voters have overwhelmingly voted to extend an additional 1 mill on property taxes to raise money for the school district. First approved in 2018, the tax generates about $46 million a year for the district, which uses 51 percent of it to boost pay for teachers and other workers. The tax attracted support from nearly 70 percent of voters. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. WTVT.

Clay: An advisory committee has come up with three potential names for a new elementary school being built in Green Cove Springs. The choices are Spring Park Elementary, with a Minnows mascot; Blackcreek Trails Elementary, with a Ramblers mascot; and Magnolia Mills Elementary, with an Owls mascot. School board members are scheduled to make a choice Thursday. The school is expected to open in August 2023. WJXT.

Alachua: K-8 students will continue to wear masks in schools unless they have a medical excuse not to, the school board decided Tuesday. In a 3-2 vote, the board agreed to continue the current face mask policy until Dec. 6. From Dec. 7 until the winter break, masks will continue to be required but parents will be allowed to sign opt-out forms for their children. When students return to school in January after the break, masks will be optional. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. WGFL.

Flagler: County commissioners decided Tuesday to delay a vote on the school board’s request to double school impact fees. The delay, the second by the commission, gives the two boards another 60 days to reach an agreement on how much fees will be raised. Commissioners have generally spoken out against the request, but school board members haven’t dropped the increase they want. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Leaders of the University of Florida faculty said the school’s academic reputation is taking a hit after three professors were prohibited from testifying against the state in a voting rights case. This case follows the passage of a new law that requires universities to conduct surveys on “intellectual diversity,” the school acceding to the state’s wishes on COVID-19 safety protocols, and the fast-tracked hiring of the new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, into a tenured position. “If we really are a Top 5 university, we need to be able to walk the walk,” said Faculty Senate chair David Bloom. In other developments, the three professors said they will resist the order, five other UF professors said they were also prohibited from testifying in lawsuits, and UF President Kent Fuchs has announced that a task force will be created to review the school’s conflict of interest policy. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Miami Herald.

Scholarships at private schools: For the first time, more than half the students attending K-12 private schools in Florida are using a state scholarship to do so, according to the Florida Department of Education. More than 180,000 students received a scholarship and enrolled in a private school last year. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state’s scholarship programs. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: Giving students greater school choice could help close the achievement gap between majority and minority students. R. Craig Wood, Gainesville Sun. The University of Florida must decide between keeping Gov. Ron DeSantis happy, or keeping democracy alive in Florida. They cannot do both. James Fahey, Orlando Sentinel. If members of the Orange County School Board really want to implement a policy that tells volunteers what kind of perfectly legal activities they want to ban volunteers from partaking in on their own time and the kind of social media posts they want to prohibit volunteers from posting, then they should have that discussion. But boy, that seems like a slippery slope. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. In Florida, children will salute the flag. Children will recite how America is the greatest country in the world. Children will live mask-free or die. This, you pinko wokesters, is liberty. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix.