$127.5M Parkland settlement, tax win for charters, DeSantis says Ladapo being ‘blackballed,’ and more

Around the state: The FBI is confirming the U.S. Department of Justice will pay the families of Parkland school shooting victims $127.5 million, an appeals court has ruled that Miami-Dade school must share revenues from a property tax initiative with charter schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state’s surgeon general is being “blackballed” because he’s recommending healthy children not be vaccinated against the coronavirus, an internal University of Florida investigation finds no evidence that administrators pressured employees to destroy COVID-19 data, nearly $290 million in state funds will be used to improve after-school programs, many questions remain on how the new statewide student testing program will be set up, a 4-year-old DeSoto County girl dies when she was hit by a vehicle while she was playing on her Arcadia preschool playground, and a slim majority of U.S. voters support Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill that bans classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity to K-3 students. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A circuit court judge’s ruling that the Miami-Dade County School District did not have to share revenues from a voter-approved property tax hike with charter schools has been overruled by a three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal. In 2018, county voters approved an additional 0.75 mills of property taxes for four years to improve teacher pay and school security. School board members chose not to share it with charter schools, and charters operated by the city of Aventura and Archimedean Academy Inc. sued. “The school board’s refusal to share with Miami-Dade charter schools those referendum funds generated from the ad valorem tax levy violates the clear mandate of (a section of state law), which requires that ‘students enrolled in a charter school, regardless of the sponsorship, shall be funded as if they are in a basic program or a special program, the same as students enrolled in other public schools in the school district,’ ” the appeals judges wrote. News Service of Florida. Charges have been dropped against Mark Polyakov, who was accused last month of threatening to burn down the Hillel School, a private Jewish school in Miami. His attorney argued that his words were taken out of context and weren’t literal, and prosecutors agreed. In a text message, Polyakov wrote, “I will burn this school down,” followed by another that read, “My attorneys are preparing.” Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR.

Broward: FBI officials confirmed Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to pay $127.5 million to resolve 40 cases brought by the families of the victims in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The suits accused the FBI of failing to stop admitted gunman Nikolas Cruz even though it had received a tip a month before that he was planning the attack. The settlement is not an admission of guilt by the FBI, according to a DOJ spokesperson. Cruz, a former student at the school, pleaded guilty to killing 17 people and wounding 17 more, and is awaiting a penalty trial that is scheduled to begin next month. Associated Press. Two years after the onset of the pandemic, students are still feeling its effects, says Broward school counseling specialist Rachel Kusher. “Whether they were high school or middle school, elementary (students), they were feeling a huge disconnect and closeness to not just peers, but anyone outside of their immediate family for such a long time,” she said. “They were feeling this sense of, I no longer have my friend sitting next to me. I can only see them through a computer screen.” WLRN.

Palm Beach: School board members will vote next week whether to approve a contract to have sheriff’s deputies patrol some schools. The school district’s police force has more than 60 openings, and said it needs the help from deputies to provide coverage for every school. Each deputy will be paid $100 an hour and sergeants will get $136 an hour. If the deal is approved, it’s expected to cost the district about $1 million. WPTV.

Lee: At least one Cypress Lake High School student will be disciplined after signs noting “black” and “white” were placed over separate water fountains at the school. A district spokesperson said, “The students involved have been identified and will be disciplined to the fullest extent allowed in the student code of conduct. We have also notified law enforcement should there need to be any further investigation.” Lee County NAACP officials also have asked for a meeting with the school principal. WINK.

Escambia: The infusion of federal coronavirus aid has allowed the school district to try new strategies to help students recover learning losses from the pandemic the past two years that otherwise would not have been affordable, Superintendent Tim Smith said. “It’s a chance of a lifetime,” he said. “It’s an unprecedented influx of money. We’ve never seen anything like this before. … It was an opportunity to try practices that have a dual purpose of, one, helping kids immediately and, two, becoming a service that may have longevity as future solutions to address really long-term needs that will help us to reach more kids.” Pensacola News Journal.

Monroe: The district continues to struggle to fill open teaching positions, as well as workers to drive school buses, work in cafeterias and more. There were 47 job openings as of March 1, including 11 for teachers and 17 for teacher aides. But the district’s Grow Your Own initiative to develop teachers is starting to see results, said Superintendent Theresa Axford. She said 44 teacher aides have expressed an interest in entering the program. Florida Keys Weekly.

DeSoto: A 4-year-old was killed and a 5-year-old seriously injured Wednesday when they were hit by an SUV while they were playing inside a fenced preschool playground in Arcadia. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the 18-year-old driver, who is from Tampa, drove over a curb, hit a street sign, crossed a street, plowed through the preschool fence, hit both girls and stopped when she ran into a tree. She was arrested and jailed because she didn’t have a valid driver’s license. WTSP. WINK. WBBH.

Gilchrist: Two schools that were closed Tuesday after the district received multiple threats remained closed Wednesday while the investigation continued. District officials expect Bell Elementary and Trinity High to reopen today, though officials warn that could change until the investigation ends. WCJB. Mainstreet Daily News. School board members have approved the 2022-2023 school year calendar. The first day of school is Aug. 10, and the final day is May 26. Students will be off a full week at Thanksgiving. Gilchrist County School District.

Colleges and universities: An internal University of Florida investigation found no evidence that administrators pressured employees to destroy COVID-19 data. The investigating committee, made up of UF officials and faculty, disputed allegations made in a report issued by the UF Faculty Senate. Gainesville Sun. Politico Florida. WCJB. WGFL. Historically black colleges and universities that have recently received bomb threats are eligible for federal grants to improve campus security and provide mental health resources for students, Biden administration officials announced Wednesday. Among them are Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach and Edward Waters University in Jacksonville. Associated Press. Florida Phoenix. The University of South Florida will get record state funding from this year’s state budget, including $75 million for a new ocean science building and millions more for cybersecurity and nursing programs. Officials attribute the largesse to the support of two legislative leaders from the Tampa Bay area: Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and House Speaker and USF alum Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. Tampa Bay Times. The state budget also includes $5 million to establish a new classical education institute at Flagler College in St. Augustine. The item could be vetoed, but college president John Delaney said officials are working with the governor’s office to try to avoid that. “He’s expressed enthusiasm,” Delaney said. “He’s not a huge proponent of funding private colleges … but he expressed that he liked this concept.” St. Augustine Record.

DeSantis says Ladapo ‘blackballed’: Gov. DeSantis said Wednesday that the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, is being “blackballed” for his belief that healthy children should not get a COVID-19 vaccination because getting the vaccine is more dangerous for children than getting COVID-19. “What he’s doing is that he’s leading on this, and I think his view that I agree with it is the burden of proof is on the people that say you should get a 5-year-old kid vaccinated for COVID,” DeSantis said. “And they have to carry that burden. It’s not the burden for a parent to say they should prove why you shouldn’t do it.” WEAR.

After-school programs boosted: Nearly $290 million in state funds will be used to improve after-school programs, Gov. DeSantis announced Wednesday. He said the initiative “will close achievement gaps, improve STEM education and booster student resiliency.” About $105 million will go directly to after-school and summer learning camps to help struggling students regain academic ground lost during the pandemic. The rest will go for materials aligned with the state’s new academic standards, to support reading intervention, training for reading coaches and STEM and hands-on learning programs, for resources to help parents be more involved in their child’s education, and for mental health teams to serve students. WPLG. WTVJ. WPTV. WPEC.

What’s next for testing: Even after Gov. DeSantis signed the bill replacing Florida Standards Assessments testing with a computer-based, periodic progress monitoring system, there are still questions about what parents and students can expect when it begins next year. No company has been chosen to be in charge of the system, and the rules and details have yet to be worked out by the Florida Department of Education. Florida PTA president Jennifer Martinez said her team is working with the state to learn about the changes. “It’s hard to really convey into words (the changes) when you don’t have all the pieces in front of you,” she said. “There’s still quite a few things we’re trying to understand.” Miami Herald.

2023 legislative session: The 2023 legislative session begins March 7 and ends May 5, according to the schedule posted Wednesday on the Florida Senate’s website. News Service of Florida.

Around the nation: A slim majority of U.S. voters, 51 percent, support Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill that bans classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity to K-3 students, while just 40 percent approve of the ban on banning the discussion of critical race theory in schools, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. Politico. In a series of tweets, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy criticized the state’s Parental Rights in Education bill as having the potential to harm the very students it claims it’s protecting. Florida Politics. Thirteen years after Jeff Sandefer opened his first Acton Academy in Texas, his micro-school movement has encouraged students to learn through experiences and to direct themselves. “It’s like Lord of the Flies some days,” Sandefer said. “The society crumbles, and they have to rebuild it.” That process can cost weeks of learning process, but Sandefer said students also learn great lessons from the rebuilding and should be considered a source of growth rather than shame. Florida has nine Acton schools, with two more openings this fall. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: I’ve been supportive of school choice. Not because I’m anti-public schools. I went to public schools. Some of the best public schools in America are public schools in South Florida. But I also have seen firsthand someone be taken through an opportunity scholarship … be able to go to a private school or a school of their parents’ choice, where they are exposed to all kinds of things that expand their horizons. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Foreign Affairs. The Parental Rights in Education bill isn’t solving a problem; it’s creating one. The state of Florida has a constitutional obligation to protect its citizens no matter their sexual orientation or sexual identity. The governor should do just that by vetoing this bill. William M. Myers, Tampa Bay Times. With the appointment of QAnon and Proud Boys sympathizer Esther Byrd to the state Board of Education, Gov. DeSantis has taken trolling to a dangerous level. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Schools and educators are uniquely positioned to support the mental health and well-being of students. Here are seven proven things they can do. John MacPhee, The 74. Today’s problems can’t be solved with yesterday’s solutions. That’s why it is essential to provide students with quality teaching and the same high-tech educational resources they will be using once they graduate. Michael Meechin, The 74.