Online sales tax bill, changes for SAT, coronavirus spread, state rankings, outdoor classroom and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

In the Legislature: Facing a budget deficit of $2.7 billion, a Senate committee will consider a bill next week that would require more companies to collect state sales taxes for online purchases. S.B. 50, proposed by state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, has been gaining bipartisan support as state revenues have dropped below expectations because of the coronavirus pandemic. An analysis of the bill projects it to generate $479 million for the state and $132.9 million for local governments. And it isn’t a new tax, says Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. “We use the honor system to collect those taxes,” Simpson has said. “And I can assure you the honor system does not work very well. So it’s not a tax increase to pay the taxes you owe.” If the state can’t generate enough revenue to cover the projected deficit, education and health care are expected to be in line for significant cuts. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

SAT changes: The optional essay portion of the SAT and subject tests in U.S. history, languages and math are being discontinued, the College Board announced Tuesday. Officials confirmed that the organization would concentrate on developing a digital version of the test, nothing that “the pandemic accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to reduce and simplify demands on students.” NPR. New York Times. Washington Post. CBS News. Florida Phoenix.

Coronavirus spread: While children are less susceptible to the coronavirus, they are 60 percent more likely than adults over the age of 60 to pass it on to family members, according to a new study from the University of Florida published in Lancet Infectious Diseases. The study also found that infants under the age of 1 were significantly more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than children between the ages of 2 and 5. Researchers attribute that to their developing immune systems and frequent close contact with adults. The study was conducted by UF and Chinese investigators canvassing thousands of households in Wuhan, China, which was the first known epicenter of the outbreak. WJXT.

Ranking the states: Florida is below average among the states in the latest ratings in one of the three categories that make up the grade for the annual Quality Counts educational ratings compiled by Education Week. The state is ranked 32nd in the Chance for Success category with a grade of C-plus. The components of that grade are early foundations, in which Florida ranked 41st with a B-minus; school years, in which Florida ranked 17th with a B-minus; and adult outcomes, in which the state was given a C-minus and  ranked 41st. The second of the categories, School Finance, is released in June, and K-12 Achievement ratings will be issued in September. Education Week.

Around the state: A U.S. representative is calling for a federal investigation into the Pasco County School District’s sharing of private student information with the sheriff’s department, the Glades County School District is closing all three of its schools until Feb. 1 because of a surge in coronavirus cases, more than 70 Broward teachers have resigned or retired in the past month rather than return to the classroom, teachers over the age of 65 are getting coronavirus vaccination shots in more districts, an empty courtyard at a Leon County elementary school has been turned into an outdoor classroom, and an inauguration poem written by a Duval County high school senior has been chosen as the winner in a contest sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: More than 70 teachers who had been working remotely have decided to resign or retire since mid-December rather than return to the classroom as ordered by Superintendent Robert Runcie. Forty-two other noninstructional employees made the same decision. At a press conference Tuesday, the teachers union expressed “outrage and grave concerns” over the school district’s relaxation of social distancing guidelines to accommodate more students in schools. At his own press conference later in the day, Runcie responded by saying “our schools are not sources of secondary transmission” of the coronavirus, and that more teachers were needed in school to instruct students who had struggled online and returned to classrooms. About 37 percent of the district’s students are now taking classes face-to-face. Miami Herald. WPLG. WLRN. WSVN. A school resource officer has been arrested and accused of soliciting sex from a 15-year-old girl who was a friend of his family. Steven J. Daniello, 63, who works at Westchester Elementary School in Coral Springs, allegedly offered to pay the girl for nude photos and asked her to perform sexual acts on him. WPLG. Sun Sentinel. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: An administrative memo to teachers cautioning them to be “balanced and fair” if they show students the presidential inauguration today has caused some confusion. At South Grade Elementary in Lake Worth, school officials told teachers they couldn’t show the inauguration. District officials called that a “misinterpretation” of the memo, and said all schools now understand that televising the inauguration is not banned. WLRN. WPEC.

Duval: A poem for the inauguration written by Hallie Knight, a 17-year-old senior at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, has been selected as the winner of a contest sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Her poem, titled To Rebuild, describes the United States as a house that has been severely damaged but can be rebuilt. She won $1,000 and her work will be on Poets.org and in American Poets magazine. Associated Press.

Pinellas, Tampa Bay area: About 72 percent of Pinellas County public school students are now taking classes in schools, up from the 51 percent who were doing so when schools opened in September. Twenty-eight percent are using one of two online platforms as the second semester begins, compared to 49 percent in September. WTVT. The 1,300 Pinellas school employees over the age of 65 are starting to get their coronavirus vaccinations this week, while Hillsborough and Pasco are working with their health departments to make similar arrangements. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Estero residents are raising concerns about plans to build two schools near Estero High School. An elementary and middle school have been proposed for property off Three Oaks Parkway, but residents said building them will cause environmental and traffic problems. The district wants to open the schools by the fall of 2023 to accommodate growth in the area. WINK.

Pasco: A federal investigation should be launched into the Pasco County School District’s sharing of private student information with the sheriff’s department, U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, a Virginia Democrat and the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, said Tuesday. “This use of student records goes against the letter and the spirit of (the federal student privacy law) and risks subjecting students, especially black and Latino students, to excessive law enforcement interactions and stigmatization,” he wrote in a letter to the acting U.S. education secretary. The sheriff’s department uses the information provided to make a list of students who might become criminals, and tracks them. Tampa Bay Times. Most high schools in Pasco and the Tampa Bay area posted improvements in high school graduation rates in 2020 because testing requirements were eased. But not Hudson High School, which school board member Alison Crumbley calls “very concerning.” Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: Vaccinations for school district employees over the age of 65 will be offered by the health department, starting Thursday by appointment only. WKMG. A school custodian has been arrested and accused of molesting a 13-year-old girl in his home. Maurice Carter, 46, a custodian supervisor at Starke Elementary School in DeLand is charged with lewd and lascivious molestation and aggravated child abuse. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WOFL. Orlando Sentinel.

Manatee: School board members unanimously approved a proposal Tuesday to restore the reading of a prayer before meetings. The proposal was brought up at a meeting Dec. 1, and tentatively approved Dec. 8. Since then, provisions that required prayers to be “nonsectarian and nondenominational” and barred speakers from referring to “the Lord and Savior” or “other Deity” were removed from the guidelines. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: About 800 district teachers over the age of 65, school and district nurses and medical technicians who cover school clinics when nurses are not available received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine Tuesday at Tavares High School. Daily Commercial. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Sarasota: The Sarasota County Planning Commission is being asked to approve the development of the 10,000-acre Hi Hat Ranch in the eastern part of the county into a community of 13,000 homes for 30,000 residents that would include a high school and a K-8 school. The meeting is Thursday. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The school board joined others around the state in urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to move teachers up in the line for coronavirus vaccinations. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: A courtyard at Sabal Palms Elementary School in Tallahassee has been converted to an outdoor classroom with wooden benches, a lecturn, sun shade, a whiteboard and herb gardens. The project was interrupted by the pandemic and took two years to complete at a cost of $25,000, which was covered by Leadership Tallahassee and the Tallahassee Leon Federal Credit Union. “Sabal Palm is grateful for (their) partnership and support,” said principal Anicia Robinson. “They have been able to take an unused, empty space and create an amazing learning environment to serve generations to come.” Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Bay: The BayLink online learning platform has been discontinued by the school district, and the 1,500 students who had been using it have returned to classrooms. About 96 percent of the district’s students are now back in schools. WMBB.

Okeechobee: School board members are expected to hire an architect at today’s meeting to design a new high school. Four firms have applied for the job. The form CRA Architects of Tallahassee received the highest scores from a selection committee. South Central Florida Life.

Glades: A surge in coronavirus cases has prompted the closure of all three district schools until Feb. 1. Remote learning begins today for the 1,500-plus students in the district. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Beth Barfield said cases had risen substantially in the past five days and the district was having a hard time finding substitute teachers. WINK.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida has made changes to an app that allows students to complain about their professors. But professors are angry that the so-called “tattle” button wasn’t killed altogether. Gainesville Sun. A new law has forced the discontinuation of a specialty Florida license plate for Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. The law requires the specialty plate with the fewest number in circulation as of Jan. 1 each year to be taken out of circulation. The college had 714 registrations. Associated Press. Florida Southern College’s Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise has the best business school faculty in the country, according to a poll by Poets&Quants for Undergrads, an online publication for undergraduate business education news. Lakeland Ledger.

Around the nation: President Joe Biden’s immigration reform proposal would allow children brought to the country illegally by the parents to apply immediately for a green card if they are in school, have a job or meet another requirement. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: It’s a good first step that a committee has been brought together to start bringing together the fragmented segments of the Sarasota County School District. The next step will be to actually do it, and that will require something that’s sadly been missing amid the school system’s culture wars: a willingness to join hands instead of point fingers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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