Early vaccinations pitched for teachers, interim superintendent, quarantines, scholarships and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Teachers and the vaccine: School officials, state lawmakers and teachers unions are making the case for pushing teachers toward the front of the line for vaccinations against the coronavirus. They argue that providing that immunity sooner rather than later will help schools get students back in the classroom, and suggest that teachers, other school employees and at-risk students should be immunized right after health care workers and nursing home residents. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is considering recommending educators and other essential workers for that second phase, and will finalize its advice when the FDA authorizes any vaccines. Governors will consider the recommendations but ultimately set their own priorities. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said that residents of long-term care facilities will be the top priority, followed by health-care workers, then residents over 65 or younger people who are considered at-risk because of underlying conditions. Politico.

Around the state: Miami-Dade’s superintendent said that if vaccinations against the coronavirus are made mandatory for students, it won’t happen before the 2021-2022 school year, the Bay County School District is sticking with 14-day quarantines despite revised guidance from the CDC, seven educators have been nominated to become the interim superintendent in Alachua County, a Manatee school board member wants to change the rules for public comments after being criticized at a meeting, members of the Florida Senate’s education committees are named, Broward middle and high school students are being shown a 12-part video series about how to protect themselves from HIV and AIDS, and more than 136,000 students are using the Florida Tax Credit and Family Empowerment scholarships. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said if getting vaccinated for the coronavirus vaccine is made mandatory for district students to attend school, it wouldn’t happened before the 2021-2022 school year. Carvalho was speaking at a PTA webinar meeting. “I believe that more than likely, based on some conversations I’ve had with health officials, that guidance on immunization for coronavirus for children may not be a reality until the next school year,” he said. “So we will go maybe through the summer months, will be an optional thing on the part of parents, families, but not mandatory. I believe that if it ever becomes mandatory, it will not be this school year. It would be at the earliest for the following school year.” WTVJ.

Broward: A 12-part video series is being shown to county middle and high school students that’s designed to teach them how to protect themselves from contracting HIV and AIDS. Prevention is usually a part of science classes. But with most county students learning remotely, the district decided to offer the lessons online. The courses were developed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale. “There’s a critical need,” said Joe Cox, museum president and CEO. “South Florida has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country.” WLRN.

Orange: Even with the recent spike in coronavirus cases, district officials expect more students to switch from remote learning to in-person instruction for the second semester. The district has been encouraging struggling students to make the switch, but Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said, “We suspect after the semester break that we will get more students. We’re just not convinced it will be all those who are struggling.” WKMG.

Duval, northeast Florida: Northeast Florida school districts are trying to finalize their plans for the spring semester. Duval, St. Johns, Clay and Nassau will all offer both in-person and virtual options. Most students in all four districts are attending classes in schools, and more students are expected to join them in the second semester. WJXT. More than 150 school zones in northeast Florida will get safety upgrades through a $1.5 million state initiative. All will get new high-visibility signs warning a school zone is ahead, and many will get flashing lights. WJXT.

Polk: District officials are asking the public to choose between two proposed names for a new elementary school that opens next August in Davenport. The choices are Bella Citta Elementary, which means “beautiful city” and would honor the surrounding area, and White Sands Elementary because of its location near Florida’s ridge and white sand is found on it. Voting ends Dec. 14, and the favored selection will go to the school board for final approval Jan. 26. Lakeland Ledger.

Pasco: Many students with special needs have struggled academically during the pandemic when their schools switched to remote learning. But for 14-year-old Grace Falleur, who is autistic, the pandemic presented an unexpected opportunity. Her mother, Angela, decided to move Grace from her specialized school after it switched to remote learning, and was surprised to find a public school program that fit Grace’s need. She’s now at Mitchell High School, where she attends three periods a day in a classroom and three periods online, and said her goal is to attend Harvard to study internal medicine. Melissa Musselwhite, director of Pasco County’s student services department, said, “We problem-solve a handful of unique kids every single year. People don’t see that on a regular basis, but we do that.” Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee: School board vice chair James Golden has proposed an update to the board’s public comments guidelines after he was criticized by speakers at this week’s meeting. He’s suggesting a warning be added to the registration form people have to fill out before they can comment at a meeting that defines “orderly fashion” as, at a minimum: “(1) no profanity (2) no personal attacks (3) no discourteous, disrespectful or undignified conduct or remarks.” Several board members expressed reservations about the proposal, which will be discussed at a future meeting. Bradenton Herald. A $19 million sports complex opened this week at Bradenton Christian High School. The Pentecost Athletic Center, which was named for the project’s largest benefactor, the Pentecost Foundation, has several courts for basketball, volleyball and wrestling, a multipurpose field for soccer and football, a weight room, kitchen, cafeteria, skybox and office space. Bradenton Herald. A three-year study has shown no evidence of a cluster of cancer cases among former students and employees at the old Bayshore High School, health officials said Thursday. WFLA. WFTS.

Lake: Parents and students are being asked to vote for one of two options for the 2021-2022 school calendar. Both would start the school year Aug. 10 and have three common student holidays. The differences are whether spring break starts March 14 or 21, whether students are off for Veterans Day and April 15, and whether the final day of school will be May 26 or 27. Voting ends today at 5 p.m. Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: District officials said students who are struggling with online learning will be transferred in the second semester to in-person instruction or another virtual program. Parents have the final say, but chief academic officer Laura Kingsley has warned that the district staff will be blunt with those  parents. “We are really going to ensure they understand that if their child is struggling or not attending, there will be serious consequences for the child,” she said. “It could mean no credit, incomplete, retention – all really bad options for kids.” Students will also see fewer teachers trying to hold classes simultaneously for in-person and online students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: A petty theft charge against former deputy school superintendent Jonathan Grantham is expected to be dropped soon, according to his attorney. Grantham, whose last day at the district was Wednesday, had been charged with using school district employees to take district tables and chairs to a lake house for his wedding. A district investigation released Sept. 23 also said Grantham used school employees to plan a baby shower for his wife and watch his children during work hours, and that he used district equipment to make copies for college courses he was teaching. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: The district is eligible for more than $500,000 in grant money from the state this school year to make security improvements. School board members are being asked next week to approve spending the money on more security cameras and fencing around schools. WTXL.

Alachua: Superintendent Karen Clarke announced last month that she would be stepping down this summer, but the school board decided this week that she should leave immediately and will meet today to try to choose an interim replacement. Seven educators have been nominated by school board members for consideration, including deputy superintendent Donna Jones and assistant superintendent Kevin Purvis. Jones is the temporary superintendent until an interim is chosen. Gainesville Sun. Six Alachua County school zones will be getting safety upgrades through a $1.5 million state program. Gainesville High, Bishop Middle, Parker Elementary, Metcalfe Elementary, Micanopy Area Co-op School and Terwilliger Elementary will get improved school zone signage and some will also receive flashing beacons. Three school zones in Bradford County, six in Columbia, one in Gilchrist, three in Levy, 13 in Putnam and three in Suwannee will also get the upgrades. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: The school district will stick for now with 14-day quarantines for students and employees who are exposed to the coronavirus, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just changed its guidance to 7 or 10 days. Making the change hinges on approval from the county health department. “The gold standard for the CDC for quarantine after exposure to someone who tests positive for COVID-19 is still the 14-day time period,” said Lyndsey Jackson, the district’s supervisory school nurse. “However, they did pose these new options for shortening the quarantine time period to be less burdensome in appropriate settings.” Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG.

Martin: Most students learning online are performing at a C-minus average, compared to a B-minus average for in-person learners, according to chief academic officer Tracey Miller, who is encouraging struggling students to return to the classroom. “We must make every effort to bring our students back to in-person school as soon as possible,” said Miller at a recent school board meeting. “The remote learners at home who are not making adequate progress must come back to school in person.” WPEC.

Indian River: Vero Beach High School reported 50 cases of the coronavirus in the second quarter, placing it among the top 10 schools in the number of cases, health officials have reported. Fort Walton Beach High School in Okaloosa County had the most with 83. WPTV.

Citrus: Families have until Dec. 9 to decide whether their children will attend classes in person or online in the next semester, which starts Jan. 19. About 2,800 students are learning virtually. Citrus County Chronicle.

Around the nation:  The rise in the number of coronavirus cases may close some schools across the United States, threatening the educational progress made by students with disabilities since they’ve returned to classrooms. Some experts worry those students will not recover. “Regression is something that will be very, very hard to recuperate from,” said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Associated Press. Florida is one of the states with the most districts making an effort to better integrate schools, according to a report from The Century Foundation. Education Dive.

Senate education committees: Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, has named members to serve on the education committees. Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, heads the Education Committee with Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, as the vice chair. Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, chairs the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, is the vice chair. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

State scholarships: Some 100,008 students were enrolled in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship this fall, according to the Florida Department of Education’s September report. That’s 22 fewer students than reported in the 2019 September report. At the same time, enrollment in a similar program, the Florida Empowerment Scholarship, has more than doubled in its second year, from 18,000 to 36,161 this year. It’s a private school voucher program for middle and low-income families, and has a higher income threshold for eligibility than the FTC. It’s funded directly through the state budget. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: Even as the coronavirus closed schools and businesses, Gov. Ron DeSantis followed the lead of President Donald Trump by ignoring health professionals, suppressing unfavorable facts, dispensing dangerous misinformation and promoting the views of scientific dissenters who supported the governor’s approach to the disease. Sun Sentinel.

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