Vaccination gates for school workers thrown open, school choice bill heads to Senate floor, and more

Vaccinations expanded: A day after CVS said it would follow federal guidance instead of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order and vaccinate all teachers and school employees regardless of age, DeSantis announced the state would comply with the federal order. Speaking in Crystal River on Thursday, DeSantis said, “The federal government is the one sending us the vaccine. If they want it to be for all ages, they have the ability to go and do that. And so, the pharmacies, they’re obviously going to accommodate that. These sites will accommodate that.” The federal order mandates that states inoculate all preK-12 teachers and staff, as well as day-care workers, now with a goal of having them receive at least one shot by the end of March. Other companies in the federal retail pharmacy program, including Publix, Winn-Dixie, Walgreens, Walmart and Sam’s Club, are expected to follow CVS. Sites run by the state will follow DeSantis’ order that restricts shots, for now, to school workers and first responders over the age of 50, while those handled at the county level could follow state or federal guidelines. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach Post. Florida Phoenix.

In the Legislature: The bill streamlining the state’s K-12 scholarship programs and opening education savings accounts for parents of students in the programs has cleared its final Senate committee. S.B. 48 was approved Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee and now goes to the full Senate for a vote. No companion bill has yet been filed in the House. The bill merges five scholarship programs into two, the Family Empowerment Scholarship and the McKay-Gardiner Scholarship for students with special needs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. WTXL. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU. Transgender female athletes would have to be tested monthly for testosterone to be eligible to play on women’s sports teams in K-12 schools and universities, and would be suspended if the levels exceeded state-mandated limits under a bill filed by state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Legislators in more than 20 states have filed bills that would ban trans girls from competing on girls sports teams in public high schools. Miami New Times. Associated Press. Politico Florida. A bill that would strengthen civics education and require the Florida Department of Education to produce a video of stories from people who lived under foreign governments was unanimously approved Thursday by the House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee. News Service of Florida. Capitol News Service. Two bills (H.B. 1507 and H.B. 1505) that aim to help students get from the classroom to the workplace efficiently, and coordinate data collection needed to demonstrate results, were approved Thursday by the House Secondary and Career Development Subcommittee. Florida Politics.

Around the state: A high-ranking Broward school administrator who is resigning next month says his decision is unrelated to a recent bribery scandal and statewide grand jury investigation, students are challenged by putting out a yearbook after a school year of activities canceled by the coronavirus, proms may be canceled in Martin County but students are working to plan alternative celebrations, an injunction is requested to stop the Seminole school board from reversing its decision to hire a superintendent, and Sarasota’s superintendent said the district has half the number of mental health therapists it should have. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: High school students in the Sports Leadership Arts and Management (SLAM) charter school network based in Miami run a satellite radio station on Sirius XM, SLAM Radio of Ch. 145, that broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week with news, sports talk, entertainment and some music. It’s the only satellite station in the nation run by high school students. Miami Herald.

Broward: Maurice Woods, the school district’s chief strategy and operations officer since 2012, is resigning April 2. He supervises the transportation, maintenance, purchasing and minority business recruitment department, and is the longest serving administrator for Superintendent Robert Runcie. Most recently, he was scrutinized for his association with Tony Hunter, the district’s former technology chief who was arrested in January and charged with bribery and bid-rigging. Woods said his resignation is unrelated to Hunter’s arrest and a subsequent statewide grand jury investigation into corruption in Broward and other districts. Sun Sentinel.

Tampa Bay area: Even in a year with activities canceled, students missing school time and a paucity of group photos because of the coronavirus pandemic, high school students in the Tampa Bay area are charged with putting out a yearbook. Their biggest challenge is producing a history of a year influenced by COVID-19 without allowing it to become the entire story. “It’s a little bit of a struggle,” said Killian Misemer, co-editor-in chief of the yearbook staff at Mitchell High School in Pasco County. “It’s definitely a year to remember,” said Lena Conway, editor-in-chief of the yearbook at Seminole High in Pinellas County. “People are going to look back on this year. They’re not going to see just the bad, but also the good.”  Tampa Bay Times. Students at Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg have the chance to earn industry certifications in drone flight and safety through an after-school program. “Last year we actually certified the first middle school kids ever to get this particular industry certification in the world, and they’re the youngest kids ever,” said instructor Willis Reese, a former pilot. WTVT.

Polk: A long-term substitute teacher at Boone Middle School in Haines City was arrested after getting into a physical altercation with two students on Wednesday. Police said David Sierra, 52, provoked an incident with one student and attacked another who tried to intervene. He was charged with two counts of battery and one count of disrupting a school function, and fired by the district. Lakeland Ledger. WOFL. WFLA. WTVT.

Lee: About 400 teachers over the age of 50 will be offered a coronavirus vaccination shot today at a popup clinic staged by the Florida Department of Health. Fort Myers News-Press. Struggling students will have access to extra help starting Monday when the district launches a free after-school tutoring service through the Zoom video platform. Connect with LEE will be available Monday through Thursday, 3:30-7:30 p.m. for elementary and high school students, and 4:30-7:30 p.m. for middle-schoolers. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. A 13-year-old student has been arrested and accused of making threats against his school. Deputies said the boy left a written threat in a bathroom at Oak Hammock Middle School in Fort Myers to stage a mass shooting. WINK. WFTX.

Seminole: An attorney for a student’s parent is asking a court to issue an injunction against the school board’s decision to rescind the hiring of a superintendent last month. The board violated its own bylaws in overturning the earlier vote to hire Chad Farnsworth, according to the court filing. The board then voted 3-2 this week to hire its attorney, Serita Beamon, as superintendent. WKMG.

Volusia: Hundreds of teachers and school workers over the age of 50 are being vaccinated this week through a partnership between the district and AdventHealth. There are about 4,000 district employees over 50. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Vaccinations will be available starting Monday for school district employees over the age of 50. The shots of the Moderna vaccine will be given at MCR Health Clinics on school campuses. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: A petition has been started by parents asking the school district and Gov. DeSantis to make face masks optional inside schools. Hundreds have signed, but school officials said wearing face masks has been a major factor in getting schools reopened and keeping them open. WBBH.

Sarasota: The school district has about half the mental health therapists it needs to help students, Superintendent Brennan Asplen told the school board this week. “We are down by 50 psychologists. We are down by 70 school counselors. We are down by 150 school social workers,” he said. That puts the district well below the recommended ratios of therapists to students. WUSF.

Bay: A student wellness room has opened at Rosenwald High School in Panama City. The room, filled with lounging furniture and weighted blankets, offers students a place to go when they need counseling or a place to be calm. WMBB.

Martin: Proms may have been canceled by the school districts, but students are working to create celebrations that will capture the spirit and get the approval of school officials. At Jensen Beach High School, a formal dinner will be held outdoors with a red carpet for senior superlatives winners. Other schools will celebrate with an outdoor movie night and dinner or food trucks. WPTV.

Flagler: Daniel Belkin, a 7th-grader at Indian Trails Middle School, won the county spelling bee this week and will advance to the 77th Annual First Coast Regional Spelling Bee on March 29, which will be held virtually. Flagler Live.

Monroe: The district’s decision to continue schedules that have students in grades 6-12 in schools some days and at home on others is drawing criticism from parents who want their children in classrooms five days a week. Superintendent Theresa Axford said the district is still in the “red zone,” and that bringing all students back now would mean dropping social distancing guidelines from 6 feet to 3 feet. The issue is expected to be discussed at the March 9 school board meeting. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: The University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University, Miami Dade College and Nova Southeastern University have announced plans for in-person commencement ceremonies this spring. Miami Herald. The United Faculty of Florida, which represents about 22,000 employees in Florida’s university and state college systems, said Thursday that coronavirus vaccinations should be expanded to its workers. “Vaccines are essential for all teachers — both K-12 and higher education — as we interact with millions of Floridians every single day, especially the younger generation” said union vice president Jaffar Shahul-Hameed. Tampa Bay Times. Florida A&M University has signed a six-year deal with Nike to supply athletic footwear, apparel and equipment to the school’s athletes, beginning July 1. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Around the nation: The American Society of Civil Engineers gave a grade of D to U.S. schools’ infrastructure. It cited a GAO report that indicated 53 percent of schools need to repair or replace several building systems, including HVAC, and that 40 percent of schools don’t have a long-term facility plan for operations and maintenance. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: Increasing educational options for parents allows them to place their children in the best environment that best meet their academic needs. And parents do know what’s best. Derrick Standifer, Tallahassee Democrat. A comically bad bill in the Legislature that would extend in-state college tuition to high-performing out-of-state students who have grandparents living here means that fewer state high school graduates would be admitted to state schools. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Some businesses innovated during the pandemic as a result of public-health guidance and opinion. For the most part, education did not. Instead of starting from the goal of serving the nation’s most vulnerable students, districts and states focused on putting a broken system online and forced teachers, families and students to be resilient and innovative instead. To the extent there was innovation, such as learning pods, the public education establishment generally sought to squash rather than support them. Andrew Rotherham, The 74. Despite having the apparent support of the Senate president and the House speaker, S.B. 86 hasn’t yet started to move. We can only hope that the bill dies right where it is. If the state needs to save money on Bright Futures scholarships and wants to encourage more students to select high-paying majors like those in engineering and the sciences, there are many better ways of doing so. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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