Virus surge effects, data-sharing defense, gender identity protection, top teachers, pay hikes and more

Around the state: The surge in coronavirus cases prompts some districts to shut down early for the winter break and leads to the suspension of high school athletics in Polk County, Pasco’s superintendent defends the sharing of student data with the sheriff’s department, gender identity is now included on the list of characteristics protected against discrimination in Flagler schools, tentative contract agreements calling for teacher raises are reached in the Indian River and Clay school districts, Lee names its teacher of the year and Sarasota announces its four finalists, and a gun-sniffing dog will soon be patrolling in four Broward County schools. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A gun-sniffing dog named Taylor will soon be roaming the halls at four schools in Coconut Creek. School board members voted 8-1 Tuesday to approve a 90-day pilot program at Coconut Creek High, Monarch High, Coconut Creek Elementary and Atlantic Technical High. “If we’re not going to have metal detectors, we need to create an additional layer of deterrent,” said board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was one of 17 people shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. “If K-9 Taylor stops one gun from getting into our school, it will all be worth it.” Coconut Creek is the only city to ask for search dogs on campuses. Sun Sentinel. The school district is investigating a report that a teacher was watching pornography while conducting a virtual social science class at South Broward High School. A video shows Michael Braeseke sitting at a desk looking down at a laptop while sounds of a woman engaged in sexual activities can be heard in the background. The video was captured on a student’s cell phone and posted on Twitter Monday. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: The school district’s wish list for its legislative delegation includes a request that the state suspend grades given to schools and districts next year. Bay News 9. Tamara Shamburger, who lost her re-election bid for the District 5 school board seat to Henry Washington last month, has filed a lawsuit to try to overturn the election. She claims Washington lives outside the district with his wife and daughter in Seffner, and not with his mother-in-law who does live in District 5. Shamburger is asking a circuit judge to declare her the winner. A attorney for Washington called the suit frivolous. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: Superintendent Donald Fennoy said Tuesday in a live question-and-answer session with parents that coronavirus vaccinations won’t be mandatory, schools will remain open despite a recent surge in cases, and that the district is planning for traditional high school graduations in 2021. WPTV. C.H. “Mac” McKinnon, who was a longtime teacher and athletic director at Lake Worth High School and was later elected to the city commission, has died of complications from the coronavirus while visiting family in North Carolina. He was 93. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: All practices and games for Polk County high school sports teams have been suspended until Jan. 4 because of a coronavirus outbreak among 50 or more student-athletes. “We have reached this decision in close collaboration with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County. Coronavirus cases are on the rise in our county. We must do everything we can to limit exposure and safeguard our students and community,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. In the past two weeks, the positive test rate in the county has jumped from 7.86 percent to 10.42 percent. Lakeland Ledger. WTSP. WKMG. WUSF.

Pinellas: The sheriff’s office will help the school district police investigate a complaint against officers who got into a scuffle at a recent school board meeting after several parents protesting against mandatory face masks in schools were asked to leave because they weren’t wearing masks. One woman was pushed to the ground, pinned by an officer and arrested, and her daughter was slightly injured. Superintendent Michael Grego said “given the sensitivity of this,” he asked the sheriff to provide an extra layer of oversight. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Alyssa Smith, an exceptional student education teacher at Tortuga Preserve Elementary School in Lehigh Acres, has been named the Lee County School District’s teacher of the year.  The other finalists were Miguel Teixeira, a peer collaborative teacher of social science at Lehigh Acres Middle; and Sara Wechter, a 4th-grade teacher at Edgewood Academy. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. A classroom at River Hall Elementary School in Alva has been closed for two weeks because of a positive case or cases of the coronavirus. It’s the sixth classroom to be quarantined since schools opened in August. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: Superintendent Kurt Browning defended the district’s sharing of student data with the sheriff’s office, calling the sharing “beneficial” to students. Parents, teachers and the county PTA council all have objected to the practice and the subsequent use of the data by the sheriff to compile a list of students who could become future criminals. Browning said he couldn’t address how the sheriff uses the data, which includes grades, attendance, disciplinary actions and even friends, but said, “What has not been talked about much at all are the many, many instances where we have been made aware of a situation involving one of our students because of something tragic happening in their lives.” The data is “not the sole determining factor of whether or not there are kids on this list,” he said, adding, “the students that are on that list are students that have prior criminal records or had some other opportunities to have relationships with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.” Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee: School board members meet Thursday to decide whether to extend the contract of Superintendent Cynthia Saunders by two years. Saunders has been the superintendent since 2018. Her $196,000-a-year deal expires June 30, 2021. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Shirin Gibson, a longtime educator and administrator in the school district of Manatee County, has died at the age of 47, school officials announced Tuesday. She worked as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of assessment, accountability and research, and most recently was executive director of curriculum and professional learning. No cause of death was announced. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

Sarasota: Four finalists have been selected for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Kari Johnson, a kindergarten teacher at Fruitville Elementary School; Samantha Miller, a design teacher at Sarasota Military Academy Prep; Emily O’Brien Swope, a 4th- and 5th-grade language arts teacher at Alta Vista Elementary School; and Becky Satterly, a math teacher and dropout prevention coordinator at Booker High School. The winner will be announced Jan. 21.

Marion: District officials said more than 6,700 more students have returned to classrooms from remote learning since the beginning of the school year. That’s 82 percent of students now taking in-person classes. Ocala Star-Banner.

Clay: The school district and the teachers union have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. The deal calls for the minimum teacher pay to increase from $38,000 a year to $44,867, and every teacher will receive a raise of at least $1,200. Teachers will vote on the deal next month. WJXT. A security officer at Middleburg High School has been arrested after cocaine was discovered in his car on campus. Douglas Charles Batchelder, 42, was charged with possession. A school spokeswoman said he has resigned. Florida Times-Union.

Okaloosa: The Okaloosa County Commission has agreed to issue up to $10 million in bonds to help build out the new Destin High School. The money will be used to buy a church property and renovate its three buildings and an auditorium in time for the charter school to open next fall for 9th- and 10th-graders. The school’s governing board has agreed to spend $4.6 million to buy the Grace Lutheran Church property. The commission agreed to approve the bonds after being assured that the county, as a conduit issuer, would not be at risk. Northwest Florida Daily News. WJHG.

Alachua: School board members will consider a proposal to sell Terwilliger Elementary School, just west of Gainesville, and move its students into a new school under construction in the western part of the county. District officials said the move would save $11.6 million that would otherwise have to be spent to upgrade Terwilliger, and also affect the fewest number of students. Gainesville Sun. Students at M.K. Rawlings Elementary Center for the Fine Arts recently connected virtually with students from India in the International Concert Exchange for World Disability Day. Gainesville Sun.

Indian River: All district teachers will get raises of at least 13 percent over the next three years under a tentative contract agreement between the district and the union. In the first year of the deal, all teachers will get raises of at least 5 percent, with starting teachers and many others going up 15 percent to a base of $47,500. In the second year, most teachers will get a 2 percent raise but there won’t be raises for the ones who got 15 percent more in the first year. In the third year, the workday will be trimmed from 8 to 7.5 hours, which is equivalent to a 6.25 percent pay raise. Union members and the school board still must ratify the proposal. TCPalm.

Flagler: Gender identity will now be protected in the school district’s policy against unlawful discrimination. School board members approved the addition on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night. Other protected classifications are race, color, religion, sex, gender, age, marital status, pregnancy, disability, political or religion beliefs, national or ethnic origin, and genetic information. Flagler Live.

Columbia: The final three days of school before the winter break are being made optional for students because of the recent rise in coronavirus cases. “Any student who does not attend any or all of the next three school days will have their absence(s) excused,” the district said in a message sent to families. Schools reopen Jan. 5. WJXT.

Jackson: Dayspring Christian Academy in Marianna is closing until January because of the surge in the number of coronavirus cases, school officials announced Tuesday. Students return Jan. 6. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said Tuesday that the House will offer a bill for the legislative session that begins March 2 to protect universities and research institutions from Chinese interference. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Community College is offering its students facing eviction up to $600 a month for housing once a federal moratorium on evictions ends Dec. 31. Tallahassee Democrat. Two Bethune-Cookman University religion professors have won a $1 million grant to bolster the viability of 25 small churches in the Volusia County area. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: Plenty of attention has been paid to the public-health issues involved in opening public schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one aspect has been mostly overlooked: The question of keeping schools open, like other matters of educational opportunity, is also a civil-rights issue. Ed Pozzuoli, Miami Herald. The most the next U.S. education secretary might reasonably hope for is not a grand solution to the logjam of problems, but to lower the temperature between teachers, officials and parents. Nothing good happens before that. Derek Black, CNN. Children need vaccination protection from more than just the coronavirus. Dr. Katherine Friedebach, Tampa Bay Times. For Parker Hyndman, a Hope Scholarship was the light at the end of a very dark tunnel of bullying and intimidation. Ron Matus, redefinED.

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BY NextSteps staff