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Children and the Baker Act, coronavirus prompts district to break early for holidays, and more

Baker-Acted children: Every day in the state about 100 children, many of them with disabilities, are involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluations under the Baker Act. Some are as young as 6 years old, with their offense sometimes being nothing more than a temper tantrum. But the Baker Act law does not distinguish by age, and children represent the fastest-growing segment of the population being committed with more than double the number since the state began keeping the data in 1997 even though a 2017 state report concluded that 30 percent of the commitments were unnecessary. WUSF.

Around the state: The recent surge in coronavirus cases has led the Gulf County School District to start the holiday break more than two days early and has prompted some schools in two other counties to switch to virtual learning for the rest of the week, the Broward school district plans to end the practice of teachers simultaneously instructing both in-person and online students, two Manatee County charter school students are disciplined for routing several 8th-graders to a pornographic website during a virtual class, Melania Trump was reportedly touring the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale as a landing site for 14-year-old son Barron, teacher of the year finalists are named in Alachua County, and an assistant principal in Pasco County has resigned after his second DUI arrest in two months. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Teachers will no longer be simultaneously instructing in-person and online learners in the second semester, Superintendent Robert Runcie said Monday in a pitch to convince students to return to classrooms. “It will be more of the traditional format where teachers will be interacting with their students in front of a classroom. That means that the teachers in the classroom, to the greatest extent possible,” he said. “We’re not going to have them teaching online and teaching in the classroom simultaneously.” WFOR. WTVJ. First Lady Melania Trump was reportedly seen touring the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale recently, leading to speculation that the private school could be where she and President Trump enroll their 14-year-old son Barron next month when they leave the White House and move to Mar-a-Lago. Barron is a 9th-grader at the private St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Md., though he has been attending virtually since the pandemic began. Pine Crest also has a campus in Palm Beach. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Two girls basketball players at American Heritage School in Boca Delray received support from WNBA players after they were suspended for a game for wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts during a pre-game warmup. They said they wore the shirts as a protest to an incident in which a student posted a racial slur in a virtual class chat but was not punished. BET.

Palm Beach: At a time when most students at John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres are learning remotely, a recently formed school gaming club is helping keep them connected. That connection has extended beyond gaming, with students helping each other with homework and just talking with each other. The club started with 26 students last year, but now has 160 members and is being opened to students from other schools. WPTV.

Duval: An outbreak of coronavirus cases has prompted a group of charter schools to switch to online learning this week. The KIPP Public Schools Jacksonville made the decision after reporting a 13th student and an eighth adult had tested positive. All three of the KIPP schools are located on one campus. In-person instruction will resume Jan. 5. WJXT. Parents said they were taken by surprise by the announcement that the Jacksonville Classical Academy charter school in Mixon Town is ending all virtual learning next month. School officials said they made the decision because more parents are moving their children back into the classroom, and they’re having a hard time finding teachers to handle the virtual classes. WJXT.

Lee: At least 100 students from Riverdale High School in Fort Myers have been quarantined after a positive test on campus last Friday. WBBH.

Pasco: For the second time in two months, an assistant principal at Pasco High School has been arrested for allegedly driving under the influence. Ralph Preston Stewart, 49, was arrested Sunday when he ran into the back of a car and then failed three field sobriety tests. Stewart also was detained in mid-October after a crash in Hillsborough County. A school spokesman said Stewart resigned Monday. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTVT. WWSB.

Osceola: Nearly 250 students from Tohopekaliga High School students in Kissimmee have been placed under quarantine after 10 cases of the coronavirus were reported. WKMG. WESH.

Seminole: District officials said about 7,600 students plan to switch from remote learning to in-person instruction in the second semester, school officials said. Spokesman Michael Lawrence said even online students who are normally high performers are falling behind. WOFL.

Manatee, Sarasota: Two students at the Imagine School at Lakewood Ranch have been disciplined after they manipulated a computer link and sent several 8th-grade students to a pornographic website. The charter was conducting online classes because Tropical Storm Eta was moving through the area. School officials said they’ve taken appropriate steps to make sure the incident isn’t repeated. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota and Manatee school districts are providing free meals to children under the age of 18 through the winter holiday. WWSB. Bradenton Herald.

Leon: The last of the school district’s Chromebooks are expected to be delivered to students by the end of the week, school officials said. About 32,500 of the laptops are being handed out to students, in alphabetical order based on the school name. WTXL.

Alachua: Three finalists have been chosen for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Mackenzie McNickle, who teaches math for gifted students in the 2nd through 5th grades at Stephen Foster Elementary; Amy Beres, a music teacher at Howard Bishop Middle; and Nicole Harris, an English and history teacher at Gainesville High School. Gainesville Sun. A complaint by the district’s transportation director that school board member Leanetta McNealy harassed and bullied him has been dismissed by the Florida Commission on Ethics. Commissioners decided that Reginald Thomas’ allegations were not legally sufficient to proceed because they didn’t show that McNealy used her position to benefit herself or others. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Southport Elementary School in Panama City will switch to remote learning for the rest of the week because of a coronavirus outbreak, district officials said Monday. “Approximately one-fourth of the students enrolled at Southport are quarantining due to being identified as close contacts of a COVID-19 positive person,” said Superintendent Bill Husfelt, “so we believe closing the campus is the right thing to do at this time.” WJHG. WMBB. Panama City News Herald. WFSU. A school resource officer at St. Andrew’s School at Oakland Terrace has been honored by the school board for recently saving a choking student. Ryan Hildebrandt was called to help when a student began choking during lunch. Hildebrandt quickly cleared the blockage, and the boy recovered quickly. WMBB.

Gulf: School officials said schools will adjourn for the holiday break more than two days early because of the rising number of coronavirus cases. Students will be released after a half-day Wednesday, and also will be off Thursday and Friday. “We have made the decision to close schools for the Christmas holidays a little early in order to give anyone who may have tested positive the opportunity to recuperate and to give families a little down time prior to Christmas,” said Superintendent Jim Norton. WMBB. WJHG.

More on the coronavirus: Keeping U.S. schools properly sanitized and students socially distanced could cost about $22 billion, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. K-12 Dive. The charter school network KIPP NJ is experimenting with a night kindergarten class to accommodate working parents. K-12 Dive. Mile High Early Learning, a network of nine Montessori-like learning centers in Denver, said it’s showing that pre-K students can learn virtually. Chalkbeat.

In the Legislature: A bill has been filed that would require colleges and universities to conduct an annual survey of “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.” S.B. 264 was filed by state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who said people need to feel free to “express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.” A similar bill did not clear the Legislature in 2019 and 2020. News Service of Florida. Center Square.

Opinions on schools: COVID-19 appears to be an accelerant for major K-12 trends that already were underway and moving forward before the pandemic, including small schools and innovations in digital learning. A great deal of academic damage continues to be visited upon American students, but a more pluralistic and flexible system of schooling may emerge from the crisis. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. President-elect Joe Biden should launch a program of national tutoring, similar to the Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II, to enable Title I schools nationwide to substantially advance the achievement of their students who suffered mightily from COVID-19 closures and related trauma. Robert Slavin, The 74. Should schools be giving so many failing grades this year? Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week. Teaching and customer service are two very different occupations. Is Florida forgetting that? Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. A major irony surrounds U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ stormy term. She’s condemned and crusaded against the red tape and recalcitrant systems she believes hinder children’s success. Yet DeVos’ tenure has made her work, federal policy, and her agency more prominent and controversial than ever for a broad swath of the public. Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week.

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BY NextSteps staff