Bills on guns in church schools and a CPR mandate, school closings, 600 teachers stay remote and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

In the Legislature: A bill has been filed for the coming legislative session that would allow anyone with a concealed-weapons permit to carry a gun into any property owned, leased, rented, borrowed or lawfully used by a church or religious institution, including those that have schools. Florida law bans weapons in schools. S.B. 498 was filed by state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who is also the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Similar bills have been filed in every legislative session since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County in 2018, but haven’t gotten been approved. News Service of Florida. CPR training would be required for high school students to graduate and student-athletes would have to get EKGs before participating in school sports under a bill filed last week in the Legislature. State Rep. Fred Hawkins, R-St. Cloud, who is sponsoring H.B. 157, said, “Osceola County and Brevard County do it now, and it’s caught many, many birth defects and heart defects and saved a lot of lives and a lot of heartache.” WTLV.

Around the state: Five Putnam County schools would be closed under a “right-sizing” plan proposed by Superintendent Rick Surrency, another school employee dies of complications from the coronavirus, about 600 Broward teachers who had been ordered to return to schools today will instead be allowed to continue working from home, Marion County schools name a rookie teacher of the year and five finalists for teacher of the year, and support for getting educators vaccinated sooner is continuing to grow. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A mobile coronavirus testing van will be stationed at schools around the county this month and into February to offer free coronavirus testing for students and other children. It’s a collaboration between the school district and the University of Miami Health System. Miami Herald.

Broward: A day after a lawsuit was filed against the school district to allow teachers with underlying medical conditions to continue working remotely, Superintendent Robert Runcie announced that about 600 of the 1,700 teachers who had been ordered to return to schools today will instead be allowed to continue working from home. He said that number could grow. About 59,000 students who have struggled with remote learning are being encouraged to return to classrooms, which requires more teachers and staff. WLRN. WTVJ. WMFE. WPLG. WSVN. A volunteer basketball coach at Pompano Beach High School died on New Year’s Day after helping save four children who were struggling in rip tides. Gary Cappellucci, 50, and another good Samaritan went in the water off Pompano Beach to help. The children and the other rescuer made it safely to shore, but Cappellucci was swept out to sea. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: In the past three weeks, nearly 2,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando school districts. That’s an increase of 41 percent, and it covers a time when students were out of school for the holidays. In Hillsborough County, 456 cases were reported last week, compared with 364 during the winter break. In Pinellas, 248 cases were reported last week, while in Pasco it was 225 and in Hernando, 54. Tampa Bay Times. Sister Mary Patricia Plumb, who was a teacher, vice principal, campus minister and coach at the Academy of the Holy Names school in Tampa for more than 40 years, has died of complications from COVID-19. She was 83. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: The substitute teacher pool used to cover about 90 percent of absences just after the winter break, according to district administrators. That’s down to 65 percent now, as more teachers resign, retire or take leave and fewer subs are available to replace them. The result is that teachers are being asked to combine classes with in-person and remote leaners, taking students into their own classes or giving up their planning period to cover. At some schools, students are gathering in gyms or libraries and attending classes through their laptops from teachers working remotely. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Maria Hernandez, a longtime paraprofessional and secretary in Mulberry schools, has died of complications from the coronavirus. She was 55, and is the first known fatality in the district, which has more than 100,000 students and 13,000 employees. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: More than 5,600 students who had been learning remotely are expected to return to classrooms today, district officials said. They had been advised by district officials to switch to in-person learning because they weren’t making adequate progress through Lee Home Connect, a model in which students follow their classes from home. More are expected to join them in making the switch Feb. 1, when their commitment to the Lee Virtual School platform ends. More than 10,000 students moved from virtual to in-person learning when the second quarter began in November. Teachers who were working from home also are being ordered to return to schools, and some said they’re concerned for their health. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

Brevard: More than 330 cases of the coronavirus have been reported among districts students and employees since Dec. 17, leading to quarantines for 785. Seventy-four schools and three other district buildings were affected. Since schools opened Aug. 24, 1,416 cases have been reported, one teacher has died and three schools have been temporarily closed. Florida Today. Trevor Meyer, a senior at Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School, was one of 552 U.S. students selected to play in the recent All-National Honor Ensembles virtual event. Space Coast Daily.

Volusia, Flagler: In the first week after schools resumed, Volusia schools reported 135 cases of the coronavirus and Flagler’s counted 13. Between Sept. 6 and Dec. 26, the state reported 1,053 cases in the two counties. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Ninety-year-old school crossing guard Anna Snyder has retired after helping Volusia students cross streets safely for the past 23 years. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: In the week since schools resumed after the holiday break for the second semester, the district has reported nine coronavirus cases and 135 people being ordered into quarantine. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: About 90 Leesburg High School students are beneficiaries of three mentoring programs at the school being funded by grants and community donors. Delta Gems is designed for girls of color, 2 Steps in Common for boys of color, and Kings of Tomorrow for anyone. “We’re trying to make sure that when our students leave us, they’re ready to be successful outside of these walls,” said Michael Randolph, who has been the school’s principal since 2017. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: District teachers are headed to the negotiating table Jan. 19 to ask the district to extend paid leave for employees affected by the coronavirus. Union officials said those who test positive, have to care for a family member, or have to quarantine because of exposure should not have to use personal sick days. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which required districts to provide up two weeks paid time off for coronavirus-related events, expired Dec. 31. St. Augustine Record.

Marion: Emma Dingman, a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teacher at Emerald Shores Elementary School, has been named the Marion County School District’s rookie teacher of the year. Five veteran teachers were named finalists for the district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Daphne Butler, a North Marion Middle School intensive reading teacher; Christine Fernandez, a kindergarten and 1st-grade online teacher at Shady Hill Elementary; Christopher Lanza, a media and digital teacher at Ward-Highlands Elementary; Heather Nesbitt, a North Marion High agriculture science teacher; and Tina Otero, who teaches English at West Port High School and online. The winner will be announced in February. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: Malcolm Thomas, who was the school district’s elected superintendent for 12 years before retiring in November, called the pandemic the worst crisis in the district during his tenure. He cited the improvement in graduation rates and the creation of career academies as top achievements, and the district’s inability to reach an “A” grade from the state as his biggest regret. WUWF.

Alachua: School officials and parents debated two options for reworking school boundaries to fill a new elementary school opening in the fall. One is to move students from Idylwild and Wiles elementaries, and the other is to close Terwilliger Elementary and send its students to the new school along with some students from other schools. Many spoke against the Terwilliger option: some because they want to the school to remain open for the surrounding neighborhoods, but others who cited a “pattern of extreme” behavior and bullying at the school and don’t want their children exposed to it. Several board members bristled at the racial implications of such statements, but agreed to discuss sending Terwilliger students to the new school as a temporary home while a larger rezoning plan is developed. The next public hearing is Wednesday. Gainesville Sun.

Martin: The school district has become one of the few in the state that is not extending paid leave time for school employees affected by the coronavirus. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired Dec. 31, and the district chose not to extend it for financial reasons, said spokesperson Jennifer DeShazo. TCPalm.

Citrus: School officials will intensify their efforts to contact students who are struggling with remote learning and encourage them to return to the classroom. About 1,600 students have yet to respond, so the district plans to send representatives to their homes to find out whether they will continue remote learning or switch to in-person. Nearly 1,000 of the 2,737 students enrolled in Citrus Virtual have said they want to remain online learners. The second semester starts Jan. 19. Citrus County Chronicle.

Putnam: Superintendent Rick Surrency is recommending that the district close five schools at the end of the school year to “right-size” the number of schools with declining enrollment. In 2015, the district had nearly 14,800 students, but that had dwindled to 10,800 by last year. Surrency said if the school board approves the plan, the district will be eligible for state funding to build nine new schools over the next 10 years. He also said a bond referendum would have to be approved by voters, Putnam County School District.

Colleges and universities: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research has reported that the number of coronavirus cases surged 50 percent last fall in the counties that have colleges and universities. WTVT. Florida’s colleges and universities are stepping up their protocols to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus as they begin their second semesters, and are making plans to vaccinate students this spring when doses become available. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL.

More on graduation rates: Here are more reports on high school graduation rates in districts around the state. Miami Herald. Florida Today. Naples Daily News. Palatka Daily News. Daily Commercial. WPTV. WJXT. WFLX.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered public schools to open — even threatening districts that didn’t reopen — therefore, making teachers, administrators and students more vulnerable to contracting the virus no matter how careful they are. So why is he denying them, and other essential employees, a place in line for vaccinations now? Miami Herald. In the current media focus upon something called “equality for all,” it would seem that the good “cultured” liberal minds would lead in the national effort to empower the poor family to exercise this fundamental responsibility of deciding where, and by whom, their child will be schooled. That is not the case. John. E Coons, redefinED. If we really want more accountability in education, we wouldn’t try to turn private schools into public schools by making them follow the same regulations with testing, teacher credentials, etc., which a new bill proposes. Instead, we’d give more parents more power to choose the schools they think are best. Ron Matus, Florida Politics. Unrealistic state criteria helps explain why Lake County schools report eligibility for transportation service around hazardous walking conditions for only 71 of its 43,947 students. Rob Doss, Daily Commercial.

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