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Vaccine passports, K-12 scholarships, education budgets, grandchild tuition waiver and more

Vaccine passports: College, universities and businesses that try to require a so-called “vaccine passport” could be fined up to $5,000 per incident under a bill approved Monday by the House Health and Human Services Committee. Vaccine passports is a term used to describe the requirement that students or customers prove they are vaccinated before getting service. H.B. 7047 began as a bill to make changes to the state’s Emergency Management Act to “better address the threat posed by pandemics or other public health emergencies” before it was rewritten. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order April 2 banning vaccine passports in the state, saying, “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society.” If the bill becomes law, the cruise industry and at least one university that had already announced plans to require vaccinations will have to reconsider. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix.

Scholarship bill: The House is scheduled today to take up its scholarship merger bill, one that the sponsor, state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, says “dramatically increases the number of children who will be eligible for school choice scholarships in the state of Florida.” He estimates the bill could add 61,000 students to the list of those receiving K-12 scholarships and cost the state up to $200 million. It would merge the Gardiner and McKay scholarship programs for students with special needs and add them as a separate scholarship category under the current Family Empowerment Scholarship for children from lower-income families. Some parents of Gardiner Scholarship students have voiced concerns about the change, including Camille Gardiner, co-founder of the Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida. The scholarship was created during the tenure of former Senate President Andy Gardiner, her husband. Orlando Sentinel.

Education budgets: Senate and House negotiators are at an impasse on the K-12 education budget because they can’t agree whether they’re allowed to designate $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid for specific projects. The House’s $22.8 billion education budget makes those appropriations, while the Senate’s $22.4 billion budget does not. “That kind of threw a monkey wrench into the whole process,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, the Senate’s education budget chief. Budget negotiators also could not agree on how to make $223 million in cuts in spending for higher education. The disputes will now go to the chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees to be resolved. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: A bill allowing in-state tuition for high-achieving out-of-state students with grandparents who live in Florida was approved Monday by the House Education & Employment Committee. It’s now headed to the House floor. News Service of Florida. A bill designating three tax holidays in the state, including July 31 through Aug. 7 for back-to-school spending on clothes, school supplies and technology, was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee. News Service of Florida. The House and Senate are close to an agreement on the way schools have to handle the involuntary commitment of students under the Baker Act. The holdup is that the Senate’s version requires the notification of a mental health professional before using the Baker Act, and the House’s does not. Politico Florida. Schools would be required to provide instruction on child sexual abuse, exploitation and human trafficking, as well as “abstinence and the consequences of teen pregnancy” for students in grades 6-12 under a bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Florida Politics. A proposal establishing Nov. 7 as a day for schools to teach students about victims of communism was approved by a Senate committee, but not before some black legislators questioned why there was no corresponding day for the victims of slavery. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Hackers have released 26,000 Broward County School District documents after their ransom demands were not met, the U.S. Department of Education said it will investigate whether the Pasco County School District violated federal law by sharing private student data with the sheriff’s office, Hillsborough school board members are drawing up a set of expectations for Superintendent Addison Davis, a new chief is appointed for the Palm Beach County School District’s police department, and the Volusia school board joins 250 others in a class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturers. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Hackers who seized control of student and staff school district records and demanded a $40 million ransom have released 26,000 records online after the district refused to pay. The files contain mostly district accounting and financial records from 2012 to March of this year, but there are a few that disclose personal information about students, their parents and district employees. Sun Sentinel. Adam Fraum, a performance visual arts teacher at the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie for the past six years, has died of complications from COVID-19 at the age of 34. He contracted the virus in December and spent 111 days in a hospital before dying April 14. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: A school board member’s suggestion that the board fire Superintendent Addison Davis over his handling of district layoffs drew some support Monday, but the board instead decided to draw up very specific expectations for Davis and hold him to the terms of that document. They’ll begin working on it at a workshop meeting today, and present it to Davis next week. Board members were unhappy, and some outraged, with the way about 100 teachers were laid off by email over the weekend. Some of those teachers had already been told by their principals that they would have jobs next year. The teachers union filed a grievance over the notifications, and Davis acknowledged that the emails were not handled properly. “As superintendent, I have to own that,” he said. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Palm Beach: The deputy chief of the school district’s police department has been selected as the new chief. Daniel Alexander, who was the chief for the Boca Raton Police Department for 13 years before joining the school district’s force in 2019, will replace Frank Kitzerow, who announced his resignation last Thursday. Kitzerow’s last day is April 30. Superintendent Donald Fennoy praised Alexander for his “inclusive and progressive leadership style and his core belief that there is no greater responsibility or honor than protecting, serving, and supporting our district’s students.” Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC.

Pasco: The U.S. Department of Education said it will investigate whether the school district violated federal law by sharing private student data with the sheriff’s office. The district has given the sheriff’s office access to student grades, discipline and attendance without the knowledge of students or their parents. Sheriff’s deputies then used that information to compile a list of students they thought could become criminals. District officials said their agreement with the sheriff contains “safeguards for the proper use of student information.” The sheriff’s office said it was “proud of our partnership with Pasco County schools and the work our members do to ensure safety to students, staff and families in our community.” Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFTS.

Volusia: The school board has agreed to join about 250 others in 22 U.S. states in a class action lawsuit against companies that market and sell electronic cigarettes. The districts want compensation for past expenses incurred fighting the effects of vaping in schools, and for future costs such as installing vape detectors in bathrooms, for staff to counsel students and for materials to educate students about the dangers of vaping. Other Florida districts in the suit include Seminole, Brevard, Orange, Hillsborough, Lee, Palm Beach and Pinellas. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A 30-year-old school district employee has died of complications from COVID-19. Richard Parrott was the computer lab manager at Sugg Middle School for the past 10 years. He tested positive in February, and spent the past month at the Largo Medical Center. WFLA.

Lake: Two school district employees have resigned after a video shows them dragging a 6-year-old student through the halls of Eustis Heights Elementary School. The dean and the school guardian, who were not named, both decided to quit in lieu of being fired, according to district officials. No criminal charges were filed, but the Florida Department of Children and Families is investigating. WFTV.

St. Johns: The private Pioneer School in St. Augustine has announced plans to move to a new location so it can accommodate nearly double the number of students it has now. Twenty-seven students now attend the grades 6-8 experiential learning school, and a new building under construction will allow an expansion to 50 students. St. Augustine Record.

St. Lucie: More than three times the usual number of students are expected at summer school, as the district makes a push to recover some learning lost during the pandemic. To make sure there are enough teachers to handle to increase, school board members have agreed to pay them an extra $7.20 an hour and offer bonuses based on attendance. Federal coronavirus relief funds will be used to cover the costs. TCPalm.

Marion: The Ocali Charter Middle School has announced plans to add a high school campus, starting with a 9th grade in 2022 and adding grades in each of the three years after that. Administrator Teecy Matthews said the school’s company, Clear Choice Academies Inc., is looking for a home to house both schools. The 159-student middle school is located in an Ocala shopping center. Future enrollment for the grades 6-12 school could be 478 students. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: School board members contend that the state’s requirements for turning around Warrington Middle School are unfair because the progress the school had been making was interrupted by the pandemic. Projections showed that the school would get a C grade from the state last summer after eight straight years of getting a D or F. But then the pandemic set in, sending students home and canceling state assessments and the issuing of school grades. Last month the state granted the school a one-year extension from the usual consequences of closing the struggling school or turning it into a charter, but the board still must hire an outside operator and a new principal if the school grade isn’t a C this year. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Chiles High School in Tallahassee had the most COVID-19 cases among the district’s six high schools, and had the highest number of students encouraged to return to in-person schooling because they were struggling. And while coronavirus fatigue has set in as the end of the school year approaches, principal Joe Burgess said the school has persevered. “This (pandemic year) was not in my books for how to be an administrator,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can in a difficult circumstance to meet the needs of everyone. And perseverance is a way to that.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: District officials said they will very likely make face masks in schools optional for the 2021-2022 academic year. Superintendent Bill Husfelt said the proposed policy change would be taken to the school board in May and if board members approve, could begin during summer school sessions. Panama City News Herald. A property tax increase to boost school employee salaries, improve school security, expand mental health services and pre-kindergarten programs is on the ballot today in Bay County. Panama City News Herald.

Flagler: A large crowd is expected to attend a school board workshop meeting today where transgender policy and laws will be discussed. Board member Jill Woolbright requested the workshop, saying it’s time to be transparent about the law and what the board is required to do. “Get it all out in the open,” she said. Flagler Live.

Monroe: The school district is still considering whether to opt-in to receive school grades from the state this year. “We’re going to get our score reports on our school grades and then we have 30 days to decide whether we want to opt in and get a school grade or not,” Superintendent Theresa Axford told the school board. “So I want to hear what other superintendents are doing and look at what our performance is. … I would not like to lose our A-rated district status because we plunged in and decided to opt in for a grade when all other districts in Florida don’t do it.” Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Most state colleges and universities are holding in-person graduations this spring – with restrictions. Miami Herald. Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman is proposing that the county buy and preserve the 769-acre USF Forest Preserve and golf course. The school said last week it was open to offers for developing the land. Tampa Bay Times. The College of Central Florida has become certified by the state to cultivate industrial hemp for educational purposes. Ocala Star-Banner.

Around the nation: A new national study suggests that gifted school programs offer little or no boost to academic achievement, and that black and low-income students don’t get even the slight gains made by white, Asian and high-income children. The Hechinger Report.

Opinions on schools: The state should pay tribute to our most famous educator by rebranding the state’s K-12 scholarship programs under a new name — the Mary McLeod Bethune Scholarship programs. William Mattox, Sun Sentinel. Micro-schools that have made project-based learning fun for both students and teachers are showing strong academic results. A new hope arises from a very old innovation strategy: combining pre-existing techniques or technologies to create something new. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s recommendation on mask-wearing in our schools smacks of being yet another premature lap of celebration in the overly hasty rush to declare victory in Florida’s war against COVID-19. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff