Half of the state’s school districts reopen today, Broward’s hefty severance payments, and more

Around the state: At least 35 of the state’s 67 school districts are scheduled to reopen today after classes were disrupted by Hurricane Ian last week, but at least five that are closest to Ian’s initial landfall are closed until further notice, Ian’s death toll in Florida is reported to be at least 68 including at least 42 in Lee County, severance for three Broward administrators forced out after being criticized by the statewide grand jury far exceeds that allowed by state law for most public employees, two Palm Beach County School Board seats are being contested in the Nov. 8 election, and a St. Lucie County high school senior has been honored for his work on the world’s first sustainable electric vehicle motor. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Severance pay for three district administrators who were forced out after being criticized by the statewide grand jury for their actions before and after the 2018 Parkland school shooting far exceeds typical separation packages. State law limits severance for most public employees to six weeks. But David Watkins, director of school climate and diversity, is getting $93,500, equal to about 39 weeks’ salary. Chief of staff Jeff Moquin will get $100,000, or more than 26 weeks of pay, and Ronald Morgan, assistant chief building official, is getting $43,500, or 19 weeks of pay. Unused vacation time and sick days will add to those totals. District spokesman John Sullivan insisted the payouts are not severance. “These are not severance agreements. The separation agreements are waivers to potential legal/employment claims against the district and an agreement not to apply for future positions in the district,” Sullivan said.  Sun-Sentinel.

Orange, central Florida: All but one Orange County school will open Tuesday. Riverdale Elementary School on Lokanotosa Trail in east Orange is the exception because it sustained “major flood damage after being fully surrounded by water” as Hurricane Ian swept through the area, according to district officials. Osceola schools also open Tuesday. Seminole schools plan to reopen Monday, but district officials told families that the return “will not be without its issues.” One of them: dozens of school bus stops have moved temporarily. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV. WMFE. WESH.

Palm Beach: Two school board races are on the ballot Nov. 8. In District 6, three-term incumbent Marcia Andrews is facing Jennifer Lynn Miller Showalter. Andrews won 48 percent of the vote in the Aug. 23 primary, and Showalter was second with 18 percent. Andrews wants to improve reading performance among younger elementary students and expand mental and behavioral health programs in schools. Showalter said her top priority is addressing “the gross overreach and disregard of students, parents and teachers, which has led to ignoring individual and parental rights.” In District 7, attorneys Edwin Ferguson and Corey Michael Smith are running to replace the departing Debra Robinson. Ferguson edged Smith 43 percent to 41 percent in the primary. Ferguson wants the district to better prepare graduates for employment or higher education as a way to break the school-to-prison pipeline. Smith wants to close the achievement gaps in early education and expand mental health resources. Palm Beach Post.

Duval, northeast Florida: The Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau and Putnam schools districts are open today, officials from the districts have announced. The decisions came after damages were assessed at all schools. David Broskie, Clay superintendent, said the district’s review found “no structural damages, power outages, or flooding that will impede our opening.” Putnam school officials told parents in a message, “Our schools are clean, our bus routes clear.” Florida Times-Union. St. Augustine Record. WJXT. WJAX. Jacksonville Today.

Polk: Schools are expected to reopen Tuesday, Superintendent Frederick Heid announced Saturday. Heid is asking all workers to return today to help prepare schools, but acknowledges that some will be unable to make it “due to their own storm-related issues.” Lakeland Electric anticipates restoring power to all customers today or Tuesday. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland Now.

Lee: Schools are closed this week, and possibly longer, because many are still without power and others are still needed as shelters, Superintendent Christopher Bernier said over the weekend. “Based on our most recent assessments of schools, as well as no power or water, we have made the decision to close all schools and district offices next week,” the district said in a statement. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WBBH.

Volusia, Flagler: Flagler County students will be in schools today, while Volusia students won’t return until Wednesday. “We know many families are still dealing with the effects of Ian,” said Flagler Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt. “We also have several of our employees who live in neighboring counties still trying to recover. These are all things we take into account when we decide to reopen our schools.” Volusia school administrators are being asked to return to work today. “If there are any employees that are going through a hard time please reach out to your supervisors,” said school board chair Ruben Colon said. “Let us know how we can help you … we’re going to get through this.” District spokesperson Angel Gomez said  Wednesday’s return was set because “We have a few schools that we’re monitoring closely due to standing water and or some extra debris.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. West Volusia Beacon. Palm Coast Observer.

Collier: District schools will reopen Thursday, officials have announced. “The arduous process of rebuilding from a Category 4 hurricane will take considerable time,” said a district spokesperson, “That being said, we understand the importance of continuity of learning for students and the role of schools in supporting our community’s recovery effort.” Officials are assessing the academic calendar for potential hurricane makeup days. Naples Daily News. WINK.

Manatee, Sarasota: Sarasota schools are closed until further notice, district officials announced Friday. “Sadly, there has been much devastation in our county and schools including massive power outages, down power lines, flooding, cellular and cable outages, basic water and plumbing issues, and damage to many of our school structures,” district spokesman Craig Maniglia wrote in a news release. Manatee schools are closed today but resume classes Tuesday, district officials announced Sunday on Twitter. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Your Observer. WWSB. WFTS. WTSP. WUSF. WTVT.

St. Lucie: Robert Sansone, a senior at Fort Pierce Central High School, recently won a $75,000 scholarship in the 2022 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair for his work on the world’s first sustainable electric vehicle motor. He’s working on the 16th version of his solution now that he expects to produce even more power. The 74.

Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee: Schools in Charlotte, Hardee and DeSoto counties have been closed until further notice, according to the Florida Department of Education. “Obviously, Hurricane Ian caused a tremendous amount of damage in Charlotte County.  We are assessing our schools now and will know soon the extent of the damage,” said Charlotte Superintendent Steve Dionisio in a message to parents. “Also, please note there will be no school until further notice. Please do not go to your schools as many are unsafe.” Charlotte Sun. Charlotte County School District. Florida Department of Education.

Citrus: School board members approved spending up to $100,000 to buy a used, 20-foot refrigerated truck to replace one that broke down. The district has a new refrigerated truck on order, but delivery from the factory has been delayed. When it arrives, both it and the used truck will be kept. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Most state colleges and universities will reopen today, but there are exceptions: the University of Central Florida, New College, Seminole State College, State College of Florida and Valencia College won’t open until Tuesday. Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College resume classes Oct. 10. Florida Department of Education. Inside Higher Ed. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. WTXL.

Conservative school agenda: Success fighting face mask mandates and the teaching of critical race theory in schools has elevated the profile of the conservative group Moms for Liberty. Now it wants to win school board elections so its opposition to social emotional learning, restorative justice and more can be implemented at the district level. The Hechinger Report.

State high schools ranked: Pine View School in Sarasota is rated the top public school in the state and Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove is the best private school, according to the latest rankings from the ranking and review site Niche. St. Johns was rated as the top school district in the state, with Sarasota second. Patch.

Opinions on schools: Arizona’s passage of universal ESAs leads to the question, “What’s next?” Some feel concerned that any number of rando grifter types will attempt to open private schools. Perhaps so, but then they will be snuffed out by an education sector that has developed a very particular set of skills acquired over a very long period of competitive K-12 policy. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. In any classroom where there is substantial achievement, there is also going to be failure. Wishing that were not so or insisting that failure can be banished from a serious classroom can keep us from preparing the next generation of students for even greater success. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff