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Storm again closing schools, vaccination plans, no student groups in Christmas parades and more

Storm disrupts schools: At least 22 school districts and several colleges and universities are closed or switching to online learning today because of Tropical Storm Eta: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Levy, Manatee, Alachua, Polk, Marion, Lake, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, Gilchrist, Dixie, Bradford, Union, Lafayette, Columbia, Clay and Duval. Hillsborough and Manatee have announced that schools will be closed again Friday, with students attending classes remotely. Eta made landfall this morning near Cedar Key in Levy County with heavy rain, strong winds, a storm surge that could flood some low-lying streets, widespread power outages and threats of tornadoes. Citrus County Chronicle. Gainesville Sun. WTXL. WCTV. WCJB. WJXT. WJAX. WJCT. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Times-Union. Bradenton Herald. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. Bay News 9. WUSF. Lakeland Ledger. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV. WESH. WOFL. Florida Department of Education. Lafayette County School District. Clay Today. Clay County School District. WPEC. Tampa Bay Times.

COVID-19 vaccine: The state could begin receiving its first shipments of the coronavirus vaccine as early as December, and has a three-phase plan for distributing it. Health-care providers, first responders and the medically vulnerable will be in the first phase, according to a draft plan by the Florida Department of Health. Next will be residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, followed by the rest of the population. Children are expected to get the vaccine as part of their routine vaccination schedule required for going to school. Miami Herald. The number of coronavirus cases statewide is up 28 percent since Nov. 1, according to DOH statistics. The 5,838 cases reported Wednesday pushed the seven-day average in the past week to 5,270, which is 28.2 percent higher than the 4,111 weekly average from Nov. 1. More than 3,000 people are in hospitals, the most since Sept. 9. Sun Sentinel. More than 2,800 new coronavirus cases were reported in Florida K-12 public schools and colleges and universities during the week of Nov. 1-7. About 2,200 of the cases were from K-12 schools, and 625 were at colleges and universities. Seven K-12 school districts reported 100 or more cases: Miami-Dade 286, Broward 257, Palm Beach 164, Hillsborough 149, Orange 110, Pasco 101 and Pinellas 100. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: Marion County School District student groups such as the band won’t be allowed to march in community Christmas parades because of worries about the surge in coronavirus cases, some open government lawyers are questioning the legality of a recent marathon Miami-Dade County School Board meeting where public comment including the playing of voicemails, a Fort Pierce Catholic school that was closed because nine students contracted the coronavirus won’t open until after Thanksgiving, the interim superintendent in Volusia County is getting a 34 percent raise, and a Volusia County teacher has been missing since Oct. 26. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: Does playing 800 voicemails for 18 hours at a teleconferenced school board meeting fulfill a government agency’s obligation under state law to provide public access to government meetings? That’s what the Miami-Dade County School Board did during it 29-hour meeting Sept. 21-22 as it was trying to decide when and how to reopen school classrooms. Five lawyers who specialize in open government and media law contend the way the school board handled public input was a possible violation of the Sunshine Law. Board members disagree, saying a majority of members were logged in during the Zoom meeting, though several admitted to sleeping through the comments. WLRN. All Miami-Dade schools will be reopen today after closing for the tropical storm, as will all but one Broward school. West Broward High School will be closed the rest of the week. Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Volusia: School board members approved a 34 percent raise for interim Superintendent Carmen Balgobin on the same day that the district’s chief financial officer told the board that the district is losing millions of dollars in funding because of the coronavirus pandemic. Balgobin has been filling in for Superintendent Scott Fritz, who has been on leave since the summer while he’s been receiving treatments for cancer but is expected to return Feb. 1. Balgobin’s raise is retroactive to the day she became the interim superintendent, and amounts to $29,000 over the seven months she will have been in charge by the time Fritz returns. Teachers union president Elizabeth Albert criticized the move, saying, “It just goes to show Volusia has money for the things they want to have money for, but they don’t actually have money for the people who are running schools and teaching kids.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. A 70-year-old middle school teacher has been missing for weeks, according to Port Orange police. Robert Heikka is a Creekside Middle School teacher who was last seen Oct. 26. “This is a weird case in that we’re really confused because it’s extremely out of behavior for him,” said police spokesman Andre Fleming. WOFL. WESH.

Sarasota: The county’s positive coronavirus rate has nearly doubled in the 10 weeks since schools reopened, from 2.8 percent to almost 5.4 percent. But “the amount of illness (in schools) … continues to run slightly less than the overall community,” health department official Chuck Henry told school board members this week. The board also bid farewell to members Caroline Zucker, who is retiring and will be replaced by Karen Rose, and Eric Robinson, who lost his re-election bid to Tom Edwards. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: School board members voted to prohibit school-based student groups from participating this year in community Christmas parades. A majority of board members cited concerns that participating could spread the coronavirus. Those parades, in Ocala, Belleview and Dunnellon, will go on as planned, but without the presence of county school bands, JROTC units and cheer squads. Sue Mosley, the chair of the Ocala parade committee, said about a dozen school groups had registered to march. “I encourage parents who are opposed to this decision to reach out (to the Friends of the Christmas Parade) to allow their kids to participate in some manner and reach out to school board members to express desire to let their children to participate,” she said. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: The Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach has announced that John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce, which closed this week after nine students were diagnosed with the coronavirus, will remain closed until Nov. 30. The decision was made “in the best interest of the school community to transition to at-home learning,” said diocese spokeswoman Jennifer Trefelner. TCPalm. The number of students who have gone back to classrooms in the St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River school districts is up since the start of the school year, but the surge in coronavirus cases is keeping a significant percentage at home learning remotely. TCPalm.

Leon: The former Lincoln High School boys basketball coach, who was arrested by sheriff’s deputies in 2017 for allegedly stealing money from the school and was not reappointed, is suing school Superintendent Rocky Hanna, the school board and State Attorney Jack Campbell for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution. Dimitric Salters contends he was caught in the middle of the political fight for the superintendent’s job between Hanna and Jackie Pons. Tallahassee Democrat.

Santa Rosa: The Milton City Council has tentatively approved a developer’s plan that would turn the old Berryhill Elementary School into apartments for military families. The school was built in 1935 but has sat unused since 2018. Pensacola News Journal.

Citrus: District employees have until Dec. 15 to vote for one of three school calendar options for the 2021-2022 academic year. The winning option will go to the school board Jan. 12 for final approval. All three options call for the first day to be Aug. 10 and the last day to be May 27. They differ on such things as when semesters start and end, Christmas break and whether spring break aligns with the Citrus County Fair week. Citrus County Chronicle.

Opinions on schools: It shouldn’t require reports of lead in the drinking water to spur congressional action to reform Head Start. But the latest alarming warnings about the federal government’s oldest preschool program should be a wake-up call. It’s time for Congress to take a new, close look at the Head Start program and provide parents and children with better options. Dan Lips, redefinED.

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BY NextSteps staff