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Federal aid details, more returning to classrooms, proximity-based zones, teacher raises and more

Around the state: Seven northeast Florida school districts are projected to receive more than $220 million in federal coronavirus relief aid, hundreds of Broward teachers returned to the classroom Monday as ordered but about 100 called in sick or took a leave of absence, more districts are pressuring the state to vaccinate teachers and other school employees soon, thousands more students in districts across the state are returning to classrooms, Lee County rolls out a proximity-based proposal to assign elementary students starting in the fall of 2022, and Pasco County teachers reach a tentative contract agreement that calls for a minimum teacher salary of $44,820. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Doral police are looking for a man who tried to abduct a 13-year-old boy who was waiting for his school bus Friday. The boy said a man in a minivan pulled up and ordered him into the car. The boy ran to the just-arriving school bus, and the bus driver followed the van and took pictures of it. WPLG. WSVN. Miami Herald.

Broward: Hundreds of teachers who had been working remotely returned to the classroom Monday to resume face-to-face instruction. About 1,100 were ordered to return by Superintendent Robert Runcie, but have filed a suit to reverse that decision. Teachers and their union said Runcie is breaking an agreement that allowed remote teaching until the end of the school year. Runcie said students are struggling and they need in-person instruction to catch up. Since the district ordered the return Dec. 17, about 100 employees have retired. And Monday, more than 100 called in sick or took a leave. Miami Herald. WSVN. WPLG. WFOR. A school security guard at a private alternative school in Pompano Beach has been arrested and accused of using excessive force against a student last week. Deputies said a student was put on suspension for not wearing a school uniform but refused to hand over his phone. Guard Alie Joseph, 25, then allegedly dragged the boy from a room and into the principal’s office and threw him to the ground. Joseph was charged with battery causing bodily harm and carrying a weapon openly. WPLG. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: District officials said some teachers who are working remotely may be required to return to classrooms for the second semester, which begins Jan. 19. The number will depend on how many students decide to resume in-person learning. WFTS. Kevin Cameron, a 43-year-old visual arts teacher at North Tampa Christian Academy, was among 71 men recently arrested by Hillsborough deputies for soliciting sex. WTVT.

Palm Beach: School board members meet Wednesday to decide whether to advocate for school employees to be prioritized for coronavirus vaccinations. Teachers and other employees aren’t currently eligible for the shots unless they’re over 65 or have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus. Board member Debra Robinson said she wants “to have school-based staff prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, if they wish.” WPTV.

Duval: The school district should receive more than $159 million from the recently approved federal coronavirus relief bill, and six other northeast Florida districts should share another $60 million-plus, according to an estimate by the Florida Education Association teachers union. Putnam County should receive about $19.7 million, Clay $18.1 million, St. Johns $10.9 million, Nassau $6.2 million and Baker and Bradford $4.7 million each. The money can be used for personal protection equipment and other coronavirus-related safety measures, technology, meals and mental health services for students, and to protect district jobs. WTLV.

Polk: Nearly 2,400 students have switched from remote learning to in-person learning since Dec. 10 and more are expected to follow, according to district officials. The migration comes at a time when pediatric coronavirus cases increased by 8 percent last week, with 356 more patients. The positive testing rate for children in the county between Jan. 5-10 was 14 percent. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board members are expected today to join those urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to move teachers and other school workers up on the priority list for coronavirus vaccinations. The district is suggesting that those employees who work directly with students be first among school workers. DeSantis has said that teachers and other workers regarded as essential will have to wait until Floridians over the age of 65 get their shots. WTVT. WTSP. A 12-year-old Seminole Middle School student has been arrested after allegedly sending a text threatening to “shoot up the school.” Deputies said the boy admitted sending the text to a friend, but called it a joke. He’s been charged with threatening communications or threats of mass shooting. WBBH.

Lee: Parents got their first look at the proposed elementary school student assignment plan that would begin in the 2022-2023 academic year. District officials said the proximity-based emphasis will create smaller attendance zones, improve transportation and create stronger community schools. Some parents said they are worried that the plan will lead to the resegregation of schools. WFTX. WINK. About 6,000 students who had been learning remotely and 32 teachers who were providing the virtual lessons returned to classrooms Monday. The return will increase the size of classes, but district officials maintain that can be done safely. WINK. Today, school board members will consider a backup plan to buy coronavirus test kits for students and employees who show at least three symptoms. The county had previously agreed to pay for the tests, using federal aid from the CARES Act, but has yet to officially commit the money. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: The school district and its teachers have reached a tentative agreement on a contract that calls for a minimum annual salary of $44,820 and a 3 percent raise for those already making the minimum or more. The base pay is currently $39,845. Health insurance benefits would also be boosted by $153.36 per employee. If approved by the union membership and the school board, the raises would be retroactive to July 1, 2020. Tampa Bay Times.

Seminole, central Florida: The 2018 district principal of the year is suing the school district, alleging it discriminated against her and eventually terminated her because she had an “alcohol dependency problem.” Mary Williams said she was wrongly removed from the principal’s position at Hagerty High School, and that the district failed to follow the federal Family Medical Leave Act and tried to dictate her treatment. Her last day with the district was in June 2019. Orlando Sentinel. Dr. Sundeep Ram, an internist based in Orlando, has donated nearly $9,500 to retire student school lunch debt in Orange and Seminole counties. He said he did it because he didn’t “like seeing people struggling.” WKMG.

Volusia: School board member Carl Persis has been informed that when he volunteered for a Moderna vaccination trial in September, he received the vaccine and not a placebo. “I’m thrilled that I really got it and I’m thrilled that it didn’t affect my health any,” Persis said. Now he’s pushing for teachers and other school employees to be vaccinated as soon as possible. WKMG. WOFL.

Collier: The ongoing impact of the coronavirus, from safety measures to costs to grades, is expected to be the main story for the Collier County School District in 2021. Others could be the opening of a new charter school, the beginning of construction for a high school, and the trial of a former Parkside Elementary School teacher who is accused of molesting dozens of children as young as 6 years old. Naples Daily News.

Leon: Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the district will work with health officials to start getting coronavirus vaccinations for school employees over the age of 65. “If FAMU and Florida State and Bethel Baptist Church are being prioritized, then our school system needs to be prioritized,” said Hanna. Health officials blamed limited staffing for the delay. WFSU. The Gretchen Everhart School community is in mourning after a 17-year-old student and his 4-year-old brother died Monday in a house fire in Taylor County. The names of the boys were not released. The school is for students with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 3 and 22. Tallahassee Democrat. For the third time in less than a year, the Fort Braden School is grieving the death of an employee. Megan Walker, 28, a paraprofessional at the school, died in an ATV accident last weekend. Last year, two employees died of complications from COVID-19. WCTV. Twin sisters from Chiles High School have won the second annual Congressional App Challenge. Surabhi and Sandhya Kumar created an app called Phenotype that allows people to experiment with genetic outcomes. WCTV.

Alachua: Students who are taking classes through the Alachua Digital Academy may continue doing so for the rest of the school year, district officials said, although students who are struggling will be encouraged to return to in-person classes. Gainesville Sun. Many school buses will likely be late for the next two weeks because some drivers are quarantined after being exposed to the coronavirus. Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman for the district, said an above-average number of drivers are absent and that other employees are filling in. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: District officials said they’re worried the graduation rate will decline this spring because so many students have struggled with learning during the pandemic. Some principals said as many as half of their students in honors classes are getting Ds and Fs. Panama City News Herald. Bay school district employees will soon undergo diversity training led by Equality Florida, which is an advocacy group supporting LGBTQ and civil rights. WJHG.

Charlotte: A Punta Gorda Middle School student will be disciplined after he told a teacher Monday morning that he was bringing a bomb to school. The school was evacuated. The boy told police he was joking. Charlotte Sun.

Monroe: School board members meet today to discuss student progression plans, receive an update on the district’s career and technical education program, and on the coronavirus in schools, and to set its priorities for the legislative session that begins in March. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Thomas G. Carpenter, the University of North Florida’s founding president who served from 1969 to 1980, has died at the age of 94 in Winston-Salem, N.C. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Martin Tadlock, who was named regional chancellor at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus in 2018 and took it through consolidation with the main campus, is returning to teaching next fall in the USF College of Education. Tampa Bay Times. A man who stole a medallion off a brick wall at the entrance of Stetson University in DeLand on Wednesday returned it to a school parking lot Friday because, he said in an anonymous phone call, he “felt bad” about what he’d done. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel.

In the Legislature: The Florida Department of Education would be required to alert students in grades 6-12 about career and apprentice programs under bills proposed for the upcoming legislative session. The goal of S.B. 508 and H.B. 175 is to let students who might not be interested in college understand what other options might be available. “College is not for everyone, but everyone should have a chance at a good job that will pay well and provide for their families,” said state Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, who is sponsoring the bill with state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. “Through apprenticeships, Floridians can learn and practice the skills they need to pursue good paying careers.” Florida Politics. Legislators are in Tallahassee this week to work on cutting the state budget because of declining revenues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and on other bills. Tallahassee Democrat. News Service of Florida.

Spring education plans: Sixty-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 last Thursday were plans for the Dixie, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hardee, Hendry, Liberty, Madison, Sarasota, St. Johns and Volusia districts. Florida Department of Education.

More on graduation rates: Here are more reports on high school graduation rates in districts around the state. Bradenton Herald. Charlotte Sun.

Opinions on schools: Far too many Americans are ignorant of their history and government, and demagogues find it all too easy to manipulate hyper-partisans. It’s hard to imagine improving matters without the contribution of a broad improvement in civic education. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

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BY NextSteps staff