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Virtual option targeted, union dues bill may exempt cops and firefighters, early education bill and more

House budget and school choice: The Legislature is generally friendly to school choice options, but one such program would be curtailed under provisions in the Florida House budget plan. H.B. 5101 would cap the number of out-of-district students allowed to attend a district-run virtual school to less than 50 percent of the total enrollment in that learning option. For school districts that run statewide virtual schools, the limit could make it unfeasible to continue offering the option and could steer more students to the Florida Virtual School. Hendry County, for example, has about 7,500 students, but its statewide virtual school has attracted more than 6,000 out-of-district students. The provision in the new bill would cut that number to a few hundred, making it cost-prohibitive for the district to continue offering it. Bill sponsor Randy Fine, a Republican representative from Palm Bay, said the bill is needed to stop “shady” practices by some virtual vendors. Florida Politics.

More from the Legislature: Police and firefighter unions would be exempted from a bill requiring members of public employee unions to confirm they want deductions taken from their paychecks, under an amendment that will be considered today by the Senate Rules Committee. If the amendment is adopted, the teachers union would be the most prominent union affected by the provisions. The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, has launched an ad campaign against the bill. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Private child-care and pre-K providers are objecting to a bill that would impose new accountability measures and give more authority over early education to the Department of Education. “I know it’s important that we ensure that state and federal dollars are being spent wisely, but this amount of regulation and oversight puts a strain on small providers to stay in business,” said Lori Thieme, associate superintendent of Early Childhood Education with the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Politico Florida.

Coronavirus spread: More than 92,000 coronavirus cases related to K-12 in schools have been reported since September, according to data from the Florida Department of Health. Almost 71,000 of those cases are of students. Monday was the first day that some students became eligible to be vaccinated, along with all Florida adults, and demand was heavy. Students 16 and older can receive the Pfizer vaccine, and those 18 or older can sign up for the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Florida Phoenix. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WKMG. WTXL. WTLV. WFTS. Florida Politics. WJAX. Infectious disease experts are warning that the COVID-19 variation B.1.1.7 should be looked at as a new virus and that it appears to be spreading mostly through young people playing sports and participating in extracurricular activities. The B.1.1.7 variant is more contagious, they say, and has more serious consequences. CNN. A study by University of Central Florida researchers suggests that masks and proper ventilation play a great role than social distancing in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. University of Central Florida.

Testing gets underway: Florida Standards Assessments testing began Monday in schools around the state, even as many parents of students who have been learning remotely object to the requirement that the tests be taken on campuses. Third-graders are taking reading exams, while 4th- through 10th-graders are working on writing tests. The state still hasn’t decided how much weight, if any, they will give the test results in evaluating students and teachers. WJXT. Orlando Sentinel. WFTS. Palm Beach Post.

Around the state: The movement to rename Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville is now headed to a vote with five options, Sarasota’s sheriff wants the school district to start paying for the school crossing guard program, more than half the Leon County students struggling with remote learning who were encouraged to return to in-person learning refused, six of seven Marion County high school graduations will be held at a new open-air equestrian center, Pasco County’s school district will continue requiring face masks even though the county has lifted its indoor mask mandate, and a school just for cancer patients has opened in Hillsborough County. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: A school specifically for students with cancer and their siblings has opened its doors in Brandon. The 1Voice Academy is a collaboration between the school district and the 1Voice Foundation, and is the first U.S. school opened specifically for cancer patients. “We believe the whole family is diagnosed, not just the child,” said foundation executive director Mary Ann Mossolio. “Every family member is affected and we feel this is a huge step in keeping the family whole and keeping the family normal.” WTVT.

Palm Beach: School officials have started the process of firing a teacher who was arrested last week and accused of paying a man to provide him with a 2-year-old girl he could sexually assault. Xavier Alexander, 27, faces charges of solicitation of a minor and traveling to meet a minor. The school board is expected to vote later this month to fire him. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The push to rename Robert E. Lee High School is now moving to a vote. Students, staff, PTA members, alumni, residents living in the school zone and SAC members will have five choices for a name for the school. The names appearing on the ballot are Riverside High School, Avondale High, School #33, Legacy High, and Robert E. Lee High. Voting will be April 26-30 and May 3-7, with the SAC voting May 10. The district has proposed renaming nine schools that have ties to Confederate officials or historical figures who are alleged to have mistreated native Americans. WJAX.

Pasco: County commissioners have lifted the county’s mandate to wear face masks indoors, but their decision does not cover the district’s schools. “I cannot in good conscience abandon our health and safety protocols at this time,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. “Our protocols have helped to prevent, and certainly reduce, the spread of COVID-19 among our students and staff.” WTSP. WUSF. WFLA. WTVT. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times.

St. Johns: The district will open new high schools in each of the next two academic years. Tocoi Creek High School opens in August, and an unnamed high school will follow in 2022-2023. Superintendent Tim Forson said growth in the county is causing overcrowding at existing schools, and he wants to limit high school enrollments to 2,200 or less. A school board meeting is scheduled today to discuss rezoning for the schools. WTLV.

Sarasota: The school district and sheriff’s office are at odds over who should pay for the school crossing guard program. Sheriff Kurt Hoffman is asking the district to gradually take over the $260,000 annual cost from his department by paying 50 percent in the 2020-2021 school year, 75 percent the following year and 100 percent in 2023-2024 and beyond. District officials said they don’t have jurisdiction over intersections near schools, and that because it’s a matter of public safety, it’s the responsibility of the sheriff’s office. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: School board members have approved plans to hold graduation ceremonies for six of the county’s seven public high schools at the new 6,000-seat open-air World Equestrian Center near Ocala. Each graduate will get six tickets for guests. Vanguard High’s graduation will be held at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion. WMFE.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Money from the state is bolstering mental health services in all three Treasure Coast counties. Those funds represent 31 percent of St. Lucie’s total spending on student mental health services, 27 percent in Indian River County and 20 percent in Martin. The money “enabled us to look at expanding the way we were providing services” to students, said Bill Tomlinson, executive director of student services for the St. Lucie district. TCPalm.

Leon: More than 2,700 district students who were learning remotely were asked to return to in-person learning because they “were not making adequate academic progress,” according to the state. District officials defined that as not doing well enough to be promoted to the next grade, a declining grade point average or having failing grades. More than half declined and are still enrolled in the district’s Digital Academy. About 21,400 district students are in classrooms, with nearly 9,300 enrolled in the Digital Academy. The district announced three weeks ago that the Digital Academy would be discontinued at the end of the school year. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: The school district will be receiving another $16.3 million in reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses incurred when Hurricane Michael hit the area in 2018. FEMA had previously approved $69 million for the district’s expenses. WJHG.

Flagler: A former student at Matanzas High School who pleaded no contest on Monday to threatening the life of a school dean in the words of a song he wrote was sentenced to 18 months of probation. The 18-year-old had been charged with a second-degree felony charge of written threats to kill, but it was pleaded down to third degree. Flagler Live. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Walton: A school bus was involved in a crash Monday that killed the driver of a truck. Troopers said the school bus veered into oncoming traffic and hit two trucks. The driver of the first truck hit was not injured, but the 75-year-old driver of the second truck was killed. The bus driver was taken to a hospital for treatment, but only a few of the 29 students on the bus suffered minor injuries. Troopers are investigating the cause of the crash, and think the bus driver may have been affected by a medical incident. WMBB. WJHG. WEAR.

Colleges and universities: A former administrator is suing the University of Central Florida, alleging that he worked in a hostile environment in which a white coworker called him the n-word and his supervisor threatened to ruin his career if he reported it. Briant Coleman was the university’s associate vice president for strategic initiatives until he was fired in 2019 after a school investigation determined he “demonstrated a pattern of misconduct against employees for years.” Orlando Sentinel.

LWV questions SUFS: The League of Women Voters has issued a report criticizing the proposed bill in the Legislature that would streamline the state’s K-12 scholarship programs and create education savings accounts for families, and calling the nonprofit Step Up For Students, which helps administer the scholarships, a “money management/marketing firm operating as a charity.” Officials from SUFS, which hosts this blog, called the report “thin on substance and thick on innuendo” and reissued a longstanding offer to meet with LWV to discuss education issues. WFSU.

Opinions on schools: By necessity, the COVID shutdown forced a great many parents to scramble to keep their children academically engaged. Multi-vendor education has worked well for upper-class Americans, and it should be the shape of things to come to allow everyone to participate by giving them control over their K-12 resources. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. All kids, including trans kids, deserve the right to love the camaraderie, the competition and the cadence of participating in sports. As the mom of a female athlete, I implore our Legislature to stop the fearmongering and vote down the bill that would ban those students from competing in girls sports. Heather Brinkworth, Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff