Spike in student absences, CARES Act funds, construction projects, HB 985, and more

Camille Knox

Around the state: Sharp increases in missing students, an appeals court rejected a challenge to allow armed “guardians” on campuses, two Black educators and civil rights activists may receive justice decades after their murders when the school board this week considers restoring their status as Brevard teachers, graduation celebrations and prom have been canceled for Volusia’s high school seniors, construction projects are moving forward at Manatee schools, and legislation has been filed to make sure students have the tools they need to learn. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Missing students: COVID-19 has caused a spike in student absences this school year, prompting social workers to track down students who have neither shown up for in-person classes or logged onto virtual classes. Florida lawmakers are considering forms of punishment – including possible jail time – for the parents of students who have failed to show up for school this year. More than 87,000 students did not show up this school year, with some likely moving to virtual or homeschooling and others not participating at all. Student absences have an impact on state funding. Meanwhile, the House speaker sent a letter to schools regarding missing students. But Senate President Wilton Simpson said he believes a large chunk of unaccounted for students were so-called “redshirt kindergarteners” who delayed starting school for a year.  WFTV. News 4 Jax. Florida Politics. WTSP. WCTV.

CARES cash: Figures from the Florida Department of Education show that districts have so much COVID-related money, they have yet to spend it all. Of about $700 million in federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) money that Florida schools received over the summer to help with COVID-related costs, districts spent about 40 % of their allotted amounts, with some spending less than 20 %. ABC Action News.

Pandemic update: Reports of coronavirus cases in Tampa Bay area schools has continued to level downward. To date, there have been more than 10,000 cases in Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties, with a slight improvement each week. Meanwhile, two students at Manatee public middle schools tested positive for coronavirus. At least 41 people were sent into quarantine because they were directly exposed to one of the infected people while at school. The newest cases were reported at Buffalo Creek Middle with one positive student and 16 exposures, and Lee Middle, with one positive student and 25 exposures. In addition, South Florida teachers union leaders say CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) protocols are being followed, but more work flexibility is needed. Tampa Bay Times.  Bradenton Herald. WLRN.

HB 985: State Representative Jason Shoaf filed legislation to make sure students have the tools they need to learn, and to ensure that Florida’s schools are prepared to provide quality education to its students. The bill, which is called Digital Learning for Low Income Students, would require school districts to provide plans to make sure students have the necessary devices and curriculum for learning. The proposed bill also expands access to high speed, broadband internet connectivity, and increases training for students, parents and teachers. The Star.

Armed guardians: Three years after the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High led lawmakers to pass a school safety bill, an appeals court rejected a challenge to allow armed “guardians” on campuses.” A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals upheld a Duval County circuit judge’s ruling saying that lawmakers had authorized guardians – who are not law enforcement officers – carry guns to aid with school safety. Attorneys for three Duval students and the League of Women Voters of Florida argued that allowing guardians to be armed violates a state law that has prohibited people, with the exception of law enforcement officers, from carrying guns on campuses. CBS Miami. News Service of Florida.

The impact of COVID-19 on students: An in-depth look at Florida’s education system during the pandemic is the focus of a new journalism project titled “Class of COVID-19: An Education Crisis for Florida’s Vulnerable Students.” The project looks into the high costs of the pandemic for children and young adults who faced obstacles to success even before the pandemic altered public education. WUSF.

Palm Beach: Employees from the School District of Palm Beach County had the chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine. At a pop-up vaccination site in Lake Worth Beach, about 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine were distributed. The vaccine was available to teachers or staff who were aged 65 or older. Meanwhile, Make-a-Wish surprised a Tequesta teen with a parade of hope. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: Girls Inc. of Jacksonville, a nonprofit that provides at-risk girls with after school, literacy, summer and outreach programs, and health insurer Humana Inc. are partnering on an after school “Healthy Living” course for girls. Currently, the course targets 9th through 12th graders in Girls Inc. programs in Title 1 schools who have high numbers of youth from low-income families. The course aims to increase the girls’ understanding of factors that can affect their health and help them develop skills to take charge of it. The Florida Times-Union.

Polk: The county public schools citizens advisory committee reduced the 52 candidates who applied for school superintendent to their top seven. The search began after current Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd announced she was retiring. The Lakeland-Ledger.

Brevard: Two black Mims educators and civil rights activists may receive justice decades after their murders when the school board this week considers restoring their status as Brevard teachers. At Tuesday’s Brevard County School Board meeting, a resolution is up for discussion that would name Harry Moore and his wife Harriette teachers emeritus and declare that they were unjustly fired in 1946. The resolution also provides for an elementary and secondary school curriculum in their name, and an annual trip for 8th grade students to the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex if funding and COVID-19 restrictions permit. Florida Today.

Volusia: Graduation celebrations and prom have been canceled for Volusia’s high school seniors, but graduation ceremonies will be socially distanced with limited attendance for the second year in a row due to the pandemic. The school district announced that graduates and guests will be socially distanced, with two tickets available for purchase per graduate. Ceremonies for the 10 Volusia high schools will be held June 3 to June 6. The ceremonies will be live-streamed, and also recorded and posted on the district’s website. Orlando Sentinel. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: County schools have been able to operate for the last six months sans closures. And at three Manatee schools in the coming months, more than $106 million in construction will be moving forward. The school district’s largest project is the complete reconstruction of W.D. Sugg Middle School, and is slated to start in April. In addition, renovations will occur at Braden River Middle the same month, and renovations will wrap up at Witt Elementary in August.  Bradenton Herald. Bradenton Herald.

Citrus: The Citrus County School District announced winners of the 2021 Citrus Regional Science and Engineering Fair. Students in grades 6 through 12 completed their projects earlier this school year for fairs held at each of the county’s middle and high schools, both private and public. Citrus County Chronicle.

Charlotte: Home Depot has joined forces with the school district to slow the spread of coronavirus. Charlotte Sun.

Sumter: COVID-19 struck The Villages Charter Schools as Florida exceeded 30,000 deaths connected to the virus, and the area had eight more fatalities. Since August 2020, the total number of cases at the facility has grown to 65, with two charter school students identified recently as positive for the deadly virus. Villages News.

Opinions on schools: There is a strong correlation between economic factors and child health and well-being. Some tips to help kids cope include watching what your children eat, keeping an eye on mental health and keeping up doctor’s visits.  K. Lori Hanson, Miami Herald. 

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