Early education reforms, more mask issues, 70% of Lee online learners urged to return to class, and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Early learning reforms: A bill intended to reform the state’s prekindergarten education standards failed to clear the Senate last spring, but legislators will try again during the next session that starts March 2. “Not only will it pass the House again, but I think that it will be in a good position to pass the Senate and ultimately become law,” state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, the new chair of the House Education Committee, said at an online early education summit Tuesday. The reforms, which became an issue when Gov. Ron DeSantis said that the state’s kindergarten readiness rates were “simply not defendable and certainly not good enough,” would include a new set of testing metrics that would be used to grade early education providers, much like the statewide assessments tests for students help determine grades for schools and districts. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said passing the bill is a priority. “If there is no standard, like there is in K-12, we couldn’t possibly think that there’s going to be the same level of high-quality outcomes — or even expectations of high-quality outcomes,” he said. Politico Florida.

Restraining restraints: State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, has filed a bill that would prohibit seclusion and strengthen the rules governing the use of physical restraints against students with disabilities. The bill would also authorize a pilot program placing video monitoring in self-contained classrooms. It’s the fourth time Book has introduced such a measure. Florida Politics. Capital Soup.

Around the state: A dispute over two school board members not wearing masks at meetings causes a rift in Polk County, school districts in Duval and Sarasota are reducing their quarantine times for most students and employees who are exposed to the coronavirus, about 70 percent of Lee County students who are learning remotely are being “strongly encouraged” to return to classrooms, a new St. Johns County high school will be named after a Native American tribe, and Manatee County School Board members delayed a vote on extending the contract of Superintendent Cynthia Saunders. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The school district is asking a federal judge to order the families of those killed in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting to turn over their social media posts. Attorneys who are defending the district against multiple civil claims for negligence said the postings are relevant to their cases. Attorneys for the families said the request is intrusive and unnecessary. Sun Sentinel.

Orange: The Florida Department of Education should not have rejected a private school’s application to take part in the state’s scholarship program because of its relationship with two people whose Agape Christian Academy had been disqualified from the program in 2018, an administrative law judge has ruled. The Academy of Education School in Orlando was turned down in May because the DOE believed the Agape owners were behind its formation. But they are not listed as officers, the judge said, and the DOE lacked the evidence to support its position and should approve the application. The recommendation now goes back to the DOE. News Service of Florida.

Duval: School officials will follow the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and change coronavirus quarantine protocols. Students and employees who are exposed to the virus but don’t show symptoms can return to school after 10 days in quarantine, instead of 14. Exposure is defined as being within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for a total of at least 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. Students who fall in this category but participate in extracurricular activities such as sports will still be held out of the activity for 14 days. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJAX.

Polk: One school board member did not attend this week’s meetings because two of her colleagues have not been wearing face masks. Sarah Fortney, a science teacher for 33 years, is questioning why Lori Cunningham and Sara Beth Reynolds are not being forced to comply with the district’s face mask policy. “Everybody else in the building seems to be able to follow policy,” said Fortney. The policy requires students to wear masks at all times on school properties, and if they refuse they can be sent home. When asked why Cunningham and Reynolds were not being forced to adhere, board attorney Wes Bridges said, “That is a question you would probably need to ask them. I think that’s a personal decision.” Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Two 14-year-old students at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg have been arrested after allegedly broadcasting a live video on social media of one of them holding a gun while on campus as school was letting out Monday. Police said the 9th-graders made no threats. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: About 70 percent of the students who attending classes through the district’s Lee Home Connect virtual program are being urged to return to classrooms for face-to-face instruction when the second semester begins Jan. 5. Those 16,000 students are not making “adequate progress” in their online studies and are being “strongly encouraged” to return to schools, where they are more likely to be successful, district officials said. The deadline to switch learning options is Dec. 13. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. The school board approved a $950,000 settlement to the mother of a Riverdale High School football player who collapsed with heat illness during a summer workout in 2017 and later died. After Zachary Martin-Polsenberg’s death, the Legislature passed a law requiring schools to have defibrillators and cold-immersion tubs to cool overheated athletes. Fort Myers News-Press. School board members have agreed to include LGBT History Month with other resolutions that are read aloud at board meetings. Fort Myers News-Press. A Fort Myers High School teacher has been fired after accusations that she used money from a regional drama club’s bank account to pay some of her own bills. An administrative judge had earlier determined that Laura Licata misused about $1,125. Fort Myers News-Press. A classroom at Tanglewood Elementary School in Fort Myers has been closed for a 14-day quarantine. It’s the fifth district classroom that has been shuttered because of the coronavirus since schools opened in August. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: Randy Hallock, who retired from teaching at Eau Gallie High School in August and was the football coach at Astronaut High School for almost 20 years before retiring in 2016, has died. He was 57. Florida Today. WKMG. Space Coast Daily.

Manatee: The school board has delayed a vote on considering a contract extension for Superintendent Cynthia Saunders. Board members voted 3-2 to postpone making a decision to give members time to research the proposal and get input from the community. Saunders’ contract ends next June, and the board must decide before the end of this year whether it will extend the contract. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: Tocoi Creek High School is the name for the newest county school, which opens to about 2,100 students next fall in the northwest corner of the county. The school board approved the name in a 3-2 vote over Ancient City High, Six Mile High, North River High, River Valley High and Tolomato High. Tocoi was the name of a Native American tribe that lived in the area. School colors will be burnt orange, black and gunmetal gray, and a mascot will be chosen soon. St. Augustine Record. WJXT. WTLV.

St. Lucie: Port St. Lucie High School is the only school in the state to be given the School of Excellence award for helping students apply to college. The award is given by the Florida College Access Network and the American College Application Campaign. TCPalm.

Sarasota: Students and district employees who have been exposed to the coronavirus will now be required to quarantine for nine days before they can return to school, or seven days if they test negative. Previously, the quarantine period was 14 days. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Clay: A school resource officer has been placed on administrative leave while the district investigates allegations that he was exchanging inappropriate messages with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl. A video was posted Tuesday on Facebook by an organization called Waits List, which poses as children on social media. The organization said it alerted the sheriff’s office about the messages with the officer, which began in September, and when it didn’t hear back it initiated a live, in-person confrontation. WJAX.

Bay: The virtual learning option called BayLink is being discontinued in the second semester for all students except those in advanced academic programs. For most students, their learning options will be in-person, remote learning through Bay Virtual School, or home-schooling. BayLink was an option in which teachers uploaded lessons, either live or recorded, and assignments through the Canvas portal that students could access from home. It also gave students an opportunity to talk directly with teachers during a lesson. WJHG. WMBB.

Nassau: More than 200 West Nassau High School students are under quarantine this week after about 20 of their classmates tested positive for the coronavirus last week. There were 41 new cases in the district last week, sending 352 people into quarantine. WJXT. WJAX.

Colleges and universities: The number of students at state colleges has declined by about 14,000 this fall, officials said this week at an enrollment estimating conference. They blame the pandemic, and said the decline was especially notable in workforce training courses, which largely rely on face-to-face instruction. “It’s both the smaller number of students who are enrolled at a time and it’s also the longer it’s taking them to finish, which keeps them from exiting and somebody else taking their place,” said Kathy Hebda, chancellor of the Division of Florida Colleges. Politico Florida.

Around the nation: President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday that his administration will administer 100 million coronavirus vaccinations and reopen most schools during his first 100 days in office. Biden will be sworn in Jan. 20. Politico. CNN. Washington Post. Five Florida hospitals could start getting doses of the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer Inc. as early as next week, according to state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees. News Service of Florida.

Catholic school scholarships: Catholic school enrollment in Florida declined for the second straight year, but some school leaders said even greater declines they’re seeing nationwide have been avoided because of the presence of state scholarship programs. The number of Florida students using scholarships has increased by 2.1 percent, and use of the second-year Family Empowerment Scholarship has nearly tripled. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state scholarships. redefinED.

Around the nation: U.S. educators are adjusting the way they calculate and issue grades as a response to the learning problems caused by the pandemic. “My hope is that this pandemic has cast this much brighter spotlight on the inequities and inaccuracies and the harmful impact of these traditional grading practices,” said Joe Feldman, founder and CEO of Crescendo Education Group and the Equitable Grading Project. K-12 Dive.

Education podcasts: Danielle Marolf, the principal of the private, faith-based Wellmont Academy in St. Petersburg, talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about the school’s decision to open classrooms two or three days a week for some students while others go five days, the concept of “assisted learning rooms,” and why Florida’s education policies should change to accommodate innovative approaches. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: In order to terminate Superintendent Karen Clarke’s service at this time, the Alachua County School Board must pay to cover her contract and hire someone to serve as an interim superintendent. This appears to be a misuse of resources and an irresponsible decision midyear. Jenny Frazer, Gainesville Sun.

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