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Teachers to wait for vaccinations, Pinellas teacher dies, bill targets private schools, and more

Vaccine priorities: Teachers will not be among the very first groups of people in the state to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that residents over the age of 65 will be next in line after medical workers and long-term nursing care residents have been vaccinated. That decision goes against guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends essential workers, such as teachers and first responders, and people over the age of 75, be the next group to get shots. “The problem is people that are 73, 74 would be in the back of the line for a young 21-year-old worker who’s considered ‘essential.’ That doesn’t, I think, make sense,” DeSantis said. Teachers and first responders will be vaccinated when more vaccine arrives, he said. Teachers were disappointed. “On one hand, he’s saying fling open the school doors and on the other, he’s not providing adequate safety measures,” said Orange County teachers union president Wendy Doromal. News Service of Florida. Associated PressOrlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach Post. WTVT. Pensacola News Journal. Florida Politics. WFTV.

In the Legislature: Private schools would have to meet higher standards on teachers’ backgrounds, building codes and student testing under a bill filed in the Florida Senate. Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said she filed S.B. 254 to require private schools to adhere to the same standards as the ones for public and charter schools. Those include requiring teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, having schools participate in statewide assessments, and requiring private schools to meet the state building codes for education facilities. Florida Politics.

Around the state: A 51-year-old music teacher is believed to be the first Pinellas County educator to die of complications from the coronavirus, the Tallahassee Classical School will require all students to return to in-person learning when school resumes, Sarasota schools will continue to offer remote learning in the second semester, St. Johns County teachers will have to start taking sick time if they have to miss school for any coronavirus-related reason, and general state revenue for November was up slightly over November 2019. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The Third District Court of Appeal has backed a decision by a circuit court that the Miami-Dade County Commission was within its rights to deny a zoning exception for a proposed charter school. Somerset Academy and the University Baptist Church asked for a review after their request to build a charter school and religious facility had been turned down. “Because the circuit court afforded procedural due process and applied the correct law, we deny the petition,” the court wrote in its decision. News Service of Florida. Children can get free coronavirus tests for six days over the holidays in school parking lots. Miami Herald.

Pinellas: Rosemary Caldwell Collins, a 51-year-old music teacher at Clearwater High School, died this week. Posts on social media indicate she was a coronavirus victim. Teachers union president Nancy Velardi called Mrs. Collins’ death “horrifying,” and said she might have been the first district teacher to die from the virus. Mrs. Collins was hired by the district in 1995, and was a finalist for the county’s teacher of the year award in 2009. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WTVT. A maintenance worker at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School has been arrested and accused of tampering with evidence in a child pornography investigation. Police said Joseph Leonard, 42, ran over his computer with his car after learning he was under investigation, then threw it in a dumpster. He retired from his position shortly after his arrest. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: More than 220 coronavirus cases were reported in county schools last week, the most in any week since the state health department began its reporting in early September. Twenty-two cases were reported at Cypress Lake High School, the second most of any school in the state. Since Sept. 6, 1,335 students and employees have been infected with the virus. Fort Myers News-Press.

Collier: The Florida Department of Health reports that 535 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the school district since Sept. 6. Forty-eight of the cases have been at Gulf High School. In the past two weeks the district has counted 129 cases, just 30 less than the number reported during the first four weeks in November. Naples Daily News.

Lake, Marion, Sumter: The Lake and Marion school districts each reported 98 cases of the coronavirus last week, while Sumter reported 16. More than 2,160 students and employees were quarantined in Lake and Marion. Sumter doesn’t reported the number of quarantines. Villages-News.

St. Johns: Special emergency leaves for teachers and other employees dealing with coronavirus issues expire at the end of the year, meaning the employees will have to use sick days if they contract the virus or have to be quarantined. “Starting Jan. 4, 2021, if an employee has to be out of work due to a covid-related matter … he/she will need to utilize their accrued leave for such absence,” Superintendent Tim Forson wrote in an email to teachers. The president of the teachers union, Michelle Dillon, said she hopes to sit down with district leaders next month to work out a solution to preserve some form of emergency leave. WJXT.

Sarasota: Students will continue to have the option of attending classes remotely in the second semester, district officials have announced. “The second semester in our traditional public schools will be very similar to the first half of the school year,” said Superintendent Brennan Asplen. The district has submitted its spring education plan to the state, and is waiting to hear if it’s been approved. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: Students at the Tallahassee Classical School will return to in-person learning Jan. 20 and no virtual learning will be offered, the school’s board of directors said in a letter to parents. About 10 percent of the school’s students have been taking classes remotely. “The board has determined that the furtherance of our mission and goals can most effectively be realized by having our virtual learners return to campus,” the letter stated. WTXL.

Alachua: The former principal at the Duval Early Learning Academy is suing the school board, claiming she was discriminated against because of her race and disability. Catherine Barnes resigned in 2019 after she was placed on administrative leave when she was accused by her employees of unethical conduct and harassing behavior. She’s requesting $30,000 and a jury trial. Gainesville Sun.

Colleges and universities: Florida Atlantic University is offering K-12 teachers a free eight-hour course to help them teach more effectively online. Boca Raton Tribune. Saint Leo University, based in Pasco County, has added a satellite campus in the old Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory in Tampa. Tampa Bay Times. On Wednesday, Gov. DeSantis announced the appointments of more than 30 people to state college boards. Florida Politics.

Spring education plans: Thirty-three school districts have now gotten their spring semester education plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. Getting sign-off from the state since Tuesday were the plans for the Baker, Calhoun, Citrus, Duval, Hillsborough and Walton school districts. Plans from each district were due last week to be reviewed and approved by the state, or sent back for revisions. Florida Department of Education.

Opinions on schools: Empowering Florida’s lower-income families to access the best education options for their children does no harm. Here are court cases, fiscal studies, academic outcomes and analysis showing that critics are wrong to argue that doing so hurts district schools. redefinED. Miguel Cardona as secretary of education is a Joe Biden offer of a detente in the education wars, and especially in the intra-Democratic education battles — at least, until some hard questions of policy emerge. It’s a deft pick, particularly at a time when political fights should be secondary to an unfolding disaster for millions of American students. Andrew Rotherham, The 74. How will Miguel Cardona approach some of the biggest questions he will face, such as school choice battles, whether to let states cancel testing this spring, and how to improve schools now and after COVID? Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat.

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BY NextSteps staff