Teachers, school workers over 50 now eligible for shots, legislative session begins today, and more

Teacher vaccinations: Florida’s K-12 teachers, school employees and first responders over the age of 50 are now eligible to receive coronavirus vaccinations, and the shots will be made more widely available for younger people who are considered to be vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday. These groups will be eligible for shots starting on Wednesday. DeSantis said Florida is expecting 175,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could cover much of the new group of people eligible because it’s a one-shot vaccine. He also said the eligibility age limit will fall sometime this month, perhaps to include people over 55. The state has focused on the over-65 population since December. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine got the approval of the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. WKMG. Palm Beach Post. Capitol News Service. Some Duval teachers, including a few under the age of 50, were able to get vaccinations Sunday at the Regency Square Mall. Health department officials would not comment how the teachers got the shots, but teachers under 65 were reportedly turned away Monday at the same site. Florida Times-Union. WTLV.

In the Legislature: When the Legislature begins its 60-day session this morning, it will take up several critical education proposals, including a revised state scholarship program and a change in the way those students receive money, and whether to count state standardized tests in grading students and schools and evaluating teachers. Legislators have said they also want to find the nearly 90,000 students who didn’t report to public schools as projected and how to handle funding for their districts. Also up for discussion is how to use federal stimulus money to help erase a projected budget deficit. WFSU. Associated Press. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTLV. A bill has been filed that would ask voters to end compensation for school board members. If approved by the Legislature, H.J.R. 1461 would go to the voters, who would have to approve it with a 60 percent plus one vote to put it into effect. It would end payments for school board members by 2030. It is sponsored by state Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island. Florida Politics. State Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said Monday that passing the bill that would reorganize the state’s K-12 scholarship programs and convert the funding into education savings accounts is his highest priority for this legislative session. Parents could then use the money as they want for their child’s education. WJCT. Gov. DeSantis wants Florida to crack down on the theft of intellectual properties from colleges and universities by the Chinese. Schools would be required to report donations from China, among other things. DeSantis said he’d provide more details in today’s state of the state message. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Capitol News Service. Associated Press.

Around the state: Seminole County School Board members have reversed course and hired their attorney to be the new superintendent, Cape Coral’s charter schools are operating in the red and are asking the city for financial help, Duval officials are urging 17,000 students who are struggling with remote learning to return to classrooms, the Palm Beach County School District’s 2017 decision to buy 11,000 interactive chalkboards looked very smart when the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Martin County officials are starting to consider whether they need new schools to accommodate growth, the Tampa Bay Bucs and NFL are donating automated external defibrillators to every high school in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and voters in Gulf County will decide today whether to renew a 1-mill tax to help schools. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough, Pinellas: Every public high school in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties will soon have an automated external defibrillators to treat players and others who suffer cardiac arrest at school events, thanks to a donation from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the National Football League. “Providing the proper equipment and tools that keep student-athletes safe is critical to their development and well-being,” said Bucs co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: In 2017, the school district made the decision to buy 11,000 interactive chalkboards, called SMART panels, to become the hub of classrooms. The goal was to better integrate the use of technology to improve academic outcomes. More than 2,400 teachers received 28,000 hours of training. So when the pandemic hit, the district was uniquely situated to react to a different way of teaching. Palm Beach Post. A charter high school’s boys basketball coach said his firing last week was racially motivated. Somerset Academy Canyons, near Boynton Beach, fired Horace Smith and said it was because he was not an on-campus coach. But Smith claims at least two other coaches at the school, neither of whom is black, also do not work at the school. He also said his replacement, who is white, is a friend of school athletic director Michael Feierstein. Smith started the basketball program at the school in 2013, and has not worked on the campus since 2014. School officials have not responded to the allegations. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: District officials have emailed the parents of 17,000-plus students who are still learning remotely, urging them to have their children return to classrooms. “Our spring reopening plan requires that the district contact families of students who are failing to make adequate progress to notify them of their child’s academic status and to require them to return to face-to-face instruction,” the message read. “Your child, listed above, has been identified as being scheduled into at least one Duval Homeroom course and is not making adequate progress.” At least one parent characterized the message as “bullying.” WJXT. A school advisory committee has recommended five options for renaming Kirby-Smith Middle School, which honors a Confederate general. Students and parents are being asked to vote for their favorite, and the advisory council will announce the proposed new name on April 5. WJAX.

Lee: The city of Cape Coral’s charter schools are deficit spending and are asking the city for financial help. “If everything stays the way it is today right now … their fund balance would actually be depleted by 2024,” said assistant city manager Connie Barron said. The superintendent of the Oasis Charter Schools blamed the lease. “Our lease is $3.2 million every year, so to pay that that, we had to take from our [Florida Education Finance Program] funding, which really is designated for students and instruction,” said Jacquelin Collins. The city said it will consider reducing the lease to $1.5 million a year and providing $2 million a year to the schools, starting in the 2022 fiscal year. If the city doesn’t approve the funding, Barron said, the Lee County School District will assume control of the schools. WINK. School board member Gwynetta Gittens is questioning the district’s continued reliance on portable classrooms at Lehigh Middle School. It has 126 portables, while the rest of the district has just 51. District officials said the district is in the beginning of a building boom in the Lehigh Acres area, with several new schools planned. WFTX.

Brevard: District and law enforcement officials are investigating how a pornographic video got played during a Zoom class for Titusville High School. School officials said the call was quickly terminated, but at least one parent said not before students were able to capture it on video. WESH.

Seminole: School board members reversed course on Monday and chose their attorney to become the next superintendent. Serita Beamon was selected on a 3-2 vote nearly a month after the board selected the other finalist, Chad Farnsworth, for the job. But last week board member Tina Calderone, who had supported Farnsworth, called for a revote, saying there had not been an adequate discussion about the earlier decision. Beamon has worked for the district for 16 years, and becomes the first woman and first African-American to lead an A-rated school district. She’ll replace the retiring Walt Griffin. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. WESH. WOFL.

Volusia: Three students at Pine Ridge High School in Deltona were arrested and accused of fighting on campus last week. Deputies said two students were picking a fight with a third. When administrators tried to break it up, one of the students tried to hit one school official in the face but missed and hit his arm. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: District officials have launched a two-week celebration called “Champions of Education” to honor school employees for their work since the coronavirus pandemic began. More than 60 schools will receive pizza parties and $100 to plan their own celebrations, and employees will also be eligible to win gift cards and spring training tickets. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bay: Students from Chautauqua Charter School and Bay High School donated 25,000 pounds of food Friday to members of the community. “First the hurricane and then the pandemic; people are struggling and it’s cool to see the impact that young students are having,” said Wesley Littleton, Bay High School junior and vice president of the school’s SGA. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: Expected growth in the number of housing developments has school board members beginning to discuss whether the district will need new schools, or whether existing schools can be renovated to absorb the extra students those developments could bring. “To some degree, we’re being proactive,” said board member Tony Anderson. “But even with all our planning and with all the changing variables, we may still have to change it.” TCPalm.

Gulf: Voters go to the polls today to decide whether to renew a 1-mill tax referendum to help the district. The tax has been in place for 12 years, and Superintendent Jim Norton said if it isn’t renewed the district will have to lay off up to 40 people. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: The University of Central Florida is planning to hold most classes in-person with full capacity in the fall, but with face masks required and stringent sanitation measured continuing. The school also hopes to vaccinate students and employees on campus. Orlando Sentinel. WESH. A University of Florida engineering professor was placed on leave after a 20-month investigation into the suicide of a graduate student. The student had accused Tao Li of academic misconduct and abusive personal behavior. Le has denied the charges. Fresh Take Florida.

Around the nation: Gov. DeSantis was critical of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed over the weekend by the U.S. House, saying it penalizes states like Florida that have lower unemployment rates. He said because the funding is calculated on unemployment rates instead of population, Florida will receive $1.2 billion less than it should. The state is scheduled to receive $16 billion. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. The Biden administration’s decision to require state students to take standardized tests has drawn criticism from many states that call the tests meaningless after a year or abnormal schooling. Politico Florida. A Georgia House committee has approved a bill that would create education savings accounts for families to use for private school tuition, home-schooling and other educational expenses. redefinED. The Senate confirmed the nomination of Miguel Cardona to become the next U.S. secretary of education. NPR. Associated Press. The 74. Education Week. Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: The Legislature will consider several important education bills when its session begins today, including a consolidation of state scholarship programs and the expansion of education savings accounts, making dual enrollment programs more accessible to students who aren’t in district schools, and delivering free books to young readers. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. In an age where states compete not just for companies but also remote workers, innovation in the public sector can be an important advantage. When it comes to expanding education and other freedoms, Florida should drive fast and freeze out the Texans. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. School districts should stop drawing attendance zone boundaries and instead adopt open enrollment policies, which would allow students to enroll in any school within their school district. Open enrollment, Heritage’s Lindsey Burke and Jonathan Butcher write, “effectively separates housing from schooling.” Jude Schwalbach, redefinED. The Legislature choosing which students are worthy of financial aid is one of the five worst proposals in this year’s session. Miami Herald. A basketball star’s vow to wear a Black Lives Matter shirt during pregame warmups to support her teammates should be applauded by school officials. Instead, they’ve told her and the team that they’d forfeit a chance to win a state championship if they persisted. St. Augustine Record.

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