Head Start dilemma, black students and choice, school threats, overcrowded schools and more

Head Start dilemma: School districts and organizations that operate Head Start programs in Florida have been placed in an awkward position. The federal government has ordered masks for anyone 2 and older in the early education programs, and is requiring all Head Start staff, contractors and volunteers to get vaccinated by the end of January or receive an exemption that would allow for regular testing. But the state has news laws that prohibit schools from passing mask mandates and local governments from imposing vaccine requirements. Head Start programs could jeopardize federal funding by following state laws, but risk losing state funding by following federal laws. Tampa Bay Times.

Black students and choice: About 17 percent of the more than 600,000 black students in Florida are now enrolled in charter schools, are attending private schools with the use of state scholarships, or are being home-schooled with the help of education savings accounts, according to a report from representatives of three organizations that support school choice. But the picture is not as promising in many other states that don’t have the options available in Florida. reimaginED.

Around the state: There have been more threats against Lee County schools this semester than there were in the entire 2020-2021 school year, LGBTQ advocates are slamming the state for removing an anti-bullying page from its website, Brevard school subs willing to work certain high-demand days are being paid an extra $50, Polk residents rally to save a 101-year-old school from closing, and the Charlotte County School Board voted to continue requiring uniforms at two elementary schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Yet another student was arrested Wednesday and accused of making threats against her school. This time it was a 14-year-old from G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School. That’s the fourth arrest this week, and police also responded Wednesday to a social media threat against Mater Lakes Academy Middle/High School in Hialeah that was later determined to be non-credible. WPLG. WTVJ. WFOR.

Tampa Bay area: Many schools in districts in the Tampa Bay area are overcrowded, as the number of students returning after the pandemic and population growth are putting pressure on the districts to accommodate them. Hillsborough, for example, gained 2,500 students in traditional public schools, and 43 of those schools are considered at or above enrollment capacity. Manatee has added 2,000 students, and three schools are at 130 percent capacity or higher. Polk has added 5,000 students, Pasco 3,200 and Sarasota 1,222. Only Pinellas is reporting lower enrollment, by 770. WFTS.

Palm Beach: School board members approved new district boundary maps Wednesday that create a Hispanic-majority district. In the new map, District 2 will represent 212,000 people, and 52 percent of them are Hispanic. Alexandria Ayala, a Hispanic, represents the district now. “This is a historic, long-awaited moment to just provide opportunity,” said Ayala. “It’s really important that we provide the opportunity for these growing populations of voters so that, if they unite around somebody, they at least have the chance to elect them.” Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Resident of the community around Alturas Elementary School are pleading with the school board to keep it open, saying if it’s closed as proposed it would “kill their community.” The district said keeping the 101-year-old school is expensive, costing about $110,000 a year, and enrollment is about 15 percent below capacity. A decision is expected next spring. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Schools have been threatened 277 times already this school year, which is more than the district received during the entire 2020-2021 school year. Twenty-nine of the threats were “very serious substantive,” which the Florida Department of Education calls threats to kill, rape or hurt someone with a weapon. WBBH. School board members agreed this week to use the same map for school board districts that the county is using for commissioners. There are seven members on the school board; five who represent districts and two who are elected at-large. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: Substitute teachers willing to work in district schools on Dec. 20 and 21 will be paid an extra $50 a day, school officials have announced. Paying subs extra for working days around the holidays was also done just before the Thanksgiving break. District spokesman Russell Bruhn said the district, like others around the state and country, are short on subs who say yes to working when called. Florida Today.

Manatee: The Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County plans to create a “STEAM Machine” mobile classroom with a help of a $30,000 grant it recently received. ELC’s fleet will expand to six mobile classrooms where students can learn more about science, technology, engineering, arts and math and work on projects. WTSP.

Sarasota: The school district is applying to the state for $68 million in federal coronavirus relief aid. Superintendent Brennan Asplen wants to use $1.8 million to open 10 new pre-K classrooms in the next year and to hire additional reading coaches and academic specialists. Charter schools would get $9.4 million, and the rest would be used to offset the impact of the pandemic. The largest chunk, $21.1 million, would go to schools to help students who are behind grade level. Another $10.1 million would be used for student mental health programs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Two North Port High School students were taken to a hospital after being hit by a car Wednesday morning. A 15-year-old girl was taken to the trauma unit, and a 14-year-old girl was being treated for minor injuries. Police said the girls were trying to cross a road at an unmarked intersection when they were struck. The car stopped, and police said the driver was not at fault. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS. WWSB. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: The last school day before the winter break, Dec. 17, will be an early release day, district officials announced Wednesday. The district had traditionally let students out early the last day before the break, but last year the instructional time was needed because students had already missed class time because of Hurricane Sally. “But this year, we are in great shape and were able to institute that again,” spokesman Cody Strother said of the early release day. Pensacola News Journal. Students in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will be sent home with food to last over the winter break, thanks to several charitable programs in each county. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: School board members voted 3-2 this week to redraw school board district lines for the first time in 20 years. Mildred Russell and Gunnar Paulson voted against accepting the districts, saying they worried that the redrawing “was kind of fast and furious.” All five school board seats are elected at-large, but candidates have to live in the district they want to represent. Gainesville Sun. Securing more funding for student mental health services is a top priority for school board members in their upcoming meeting with the legislative delegation. WCJB. A Gainesville High School junior, David Cagle, recently finished 14th out of 12,400 competitors in the international Climate Science Olympiad. WGFL. WCJB.

Charlotte: Uniforms will continue to be required for the next five years at Deep Creek and Neil Armstrong elementary schools. More than two-thirds of parents favored keeping the policy, and school board members voted this week to extend the policies through the 2027-2028 school year. Deep Creek and Armstrong are the only two county schools requiring uniforms. Charlotte Sun.

Hardee: Two students, 14 and 12, were arrested and accused of exchanging a gun inside a Hardee County school bathroom. Deputies said the 12-year-old took it from his home and handed it to the 14-year-old in the bathroom on Dec. 3. Deputies began investigating when they got a tip that the 14-year-old had posted a photo of himself with the gun on social media. WFLA.

Colleges and universities: The initial plan to merge Saint Leo University in Pasco County with Marymount California University in Los Angeles County was not accepted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which is the accrediting organization for colleges in the southeast United States. Saint Leo president Jeffrey Senese said the news was a “total surprise,” but that work to complete the merger will continue. Tampa Bay Times.

DOE’s LGBTQ move ripped: LGBTQ advocacy groups are slamming the Florida Department of Education for removing an anti-bullying page from its website. The page was taken down because it had links to sites that “previously provided helpful guidance and information, but now are being used as platforms for advocacy,” according to a DOE spokesperson. Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said he was shocked by the move. “These resources were a lifeline for students who identify as LGBTQ+, providing hope that Florida schools can remain a safe space where they would be treated fairly and can learn without fear,” he said. Associated Press.

Education podcasts: Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill and executive editor Matthew Ladner talk about the decline of the “yellow school bus” transportation system and how district can get students to schools in ways that do not involve holders of commercial driver’s licenses. reimaginED.

Around the nation: Six justices on the U.S. Supreme Court signaled Wednesday that they regard Maine’s ban on using state money for religious schools as unconstitutional. A ruling against Maine’s law would be a victory for school choice advocates who have long advocated equal treatment for religious schools with taxpayer funds. NPR. New York Times. The 74. Education Week. The 4th District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach will hear arguments Friday in a lawsuit that could determine whether charter schools can operate with more flexibility than more traditional public schools in their districts. The case involves a strict dress code at a charter school in North Carolina. Students contend that it’s discriminatory and that they should have the same constitutional rights as their peers in public schools. The 74. Some U.S. school districts are closing classrooms on Fridays and going online only in a last-ditch attempt to keep teachers from resigning, they say. Parents who are left to find child-care or alter their work schedules are angry. New York Times. Nearly 500 Los Angeles Unified School District employees were fired this week for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Associated Press. A small school district east of San Diego has decided to set up a separate, in-person instructional program for unvaccinated students. Leaders of the K-8 Alpine Union School District said as many as 40 percent of the students haven’t gotten their shots, and they didn’t want them to lose class time when the state’s vaccination mandate begins next summer. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: The assault on academic freedom at the University of Florida is real, dangerous and spiraling out of control. President Kent Fuchs needs to decide: Will he stand behind his faculty in the pursuit of scholarship and speech or will he cave to Republicans in Tallahassee who suffer no dissent to their agenda and methods? Tampa Bay Times. The University of Florida, a once-prestigious jewel in Florida’s State University System, has become the muddy political playground for state officials doing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bidding. Miami Herald.