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New mask guidance is a ‘great day for America,’ 8 Florida scholars named, reptile abuse and more

‘Great day for America’: Fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in schools, at most indoor events and outdoors even in crowds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday. “We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director. “Today is a great day for America,” said President Joe Biden. Walensky said the CDC was able to make the change because of the number of Americans who have gotten the shots and the efficacy of the vaccines. About 154 million Americans, or 46 percent of the population, have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and about 117 million are fully vaccinated. Those numbers are expected to climb quickly since the shots are now authorized for children as young as 12. School districts and health departments around the state are scheduling vaccination events at schools for students whose parents agree to the shots, and at other venues. The latest developments could ease the minds of school board members about lifting face mask mandates and accelerate the switch from requiring masks to making them optional, and relax other safety protocols. Associated Press. New York Times. Wall Street Journal. Politico. NPR. USA Today. Reuters. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WJXT. The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said Thursday that “nothing should stand in the way” of schools fully reopening in the fall. And Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, called the CDC guidance a turning point. Politico.

Around the state: A Broward court has ruled that two sheriff’s deputies who were fired for not confronting the gunman during the Parkland school shooting should get their jobs back, an association of colleges said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has a conflict of interest in his bid to become the next Florida State University president, eight Florida high school seniors are among the 161 U.S. Presidential Scholars announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education, Volusia school board members decline to align spring break and Bike Week, and a Sebastian River High School teacher is under investigation for allegedly mistreating a reptile. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A circuit judge has ruled that two sheriff’s deputies who were fired for not confronting the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 should be rehired with back pay. Judge Keathan Frink’s ruling supported the decision of arbitrators that the firings of Brian Miller and Joshua Stambaugh violated their due process rights. Both were fired after a deadline state law allows for punishing officers after an investigation is completed. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WFOR.

Hillsborough: School officials said Thursday that the district’s face mask policies are staying in place for now. In a letter to parents, the district said CDC guidance CDC guidance doesn’t “supersede local rules for businesses and workplaces, including schools.” Face mask requirements will be discussed at the May 18 school board meeting. WTSP.

Central Florida: High school seniors in central Florida are looking forward to graduation as a way to restore “some sense of normalcy” after more than a year of remote learning, masks, quarantines, hand sanitizers, social distancing, a loss of many school traditions and long-distance college shopping. Along the way, they said they have learned important lessons about themselves and life. “I learned this year how to just take a step back and breathe,” said Baily Palmer, an 18-year-old senior at the Osceola County School for the Arts. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Declining coronavirus infection rates and rising numbers of vaccinations have convinced Superintendent Donald Fennoy that face masks for students can be optional when schools start Aug. 10. He did caution, “It is important to note that if health conditions deteriorate, and this decision is no longer viable, I reserve the authority to change course.” Students will still have to wear masks the rest of this school year, at graduations and during summer school. There’s also no immediate change for employees. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC. Sun Sentinel. The Diocese of Palm Beach’s Office of Catholic Schools announced this week that masks will be optional in the fall. But the memo announcing the change also said mask-wearing will be “highly recommended for students, employees, administrators and those who are on campus on a regular basis.” WPTV.

Polk: A guidance counselor at Loughman Oaks Elementary School near Davenport was arrested Wednesday night and accused of driving under the influence. Deputies said Rachael Tederous, 45, was driving recklessly when she was pulled over. WKMG. WWSB.

Brevard: The district is expanding its summer learning programs to close the COVID-19 learning gap. “We know that we have unfinished learning and we were given this opportunity to expand our summer programs this year, and we truly want our parents to embrace that,” said Jane Cline, assistant superintendent for elementary leading and learning. Florida Today.

Seminole: A private preschool in Lake Mary said Thursday that it has not had a single case of COVID-19 even though it decided in August to make masks optional for students. About 120 children between the ages of 2 through preschool attend the Heathrow Christian Academy. “The children have thrived, they’ve felt comfortable, the staff has felt comfortable not being in masks all the time,” said the school’s executive director, Cheryl Beck. WESH.

Volusia: School board members have declined a request from school bus drivers to have spring break next year at the same time as Bike Week in Daytona Beach. Aligning them would reduce accidents and improve on-time arrivals, the bus drivers argued. But board members decided against the change because it would have made the final quarter of the school year too long and they don’t want students out of school during Bike Week. The 2021-2022 academic year calendar has spring break the week of March 14-18, right after the 10-day Bike Week ends March 13. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: County commissioners are asking the school board to delay its election to extend an optional property tax for schools until the August 2022 primary instead of holding a special election Nov. 2. Delaying will save the district money and improve voter turnout, commissioners said. School board members are unlikely to agree to the request because it would mean losing $40 million in funding for the 2022-23 school year. “I appreciate their feedback, but the school board has taken a lot of time and thought into the decision and referendum language that we have put forward,” said board member Gina Messenger. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Collier: A former technology teacher at Gulf Coast Academy Charter South in Naples has been convicted of raping a 14-year-old student and sending her explicit text messages. Joseph Mejia, 39, was found guilty on lewd or lascivious battery and will be sentenced June 21. Naples Daily News. WFTX. WBBH. WINK.

Escambia: Summer school is getting a makeover as the district hopes to help students catch up and close the achievement gaps that were exacerbated by the pandemic. Each of the district’s 33 elementary schools will be open for K-5 students, who will attend four days a week for 15 days beginning June 8. Typically, about 750 students are invited to summer school and 500 attend. This year, more than 13,500 could be invited. “We want everyone to have equal footing going into the new school year. We want to give a leg up to any students who might’ve struggled this year for whatever the reason they might’ve struggled,” said language arts specialist Lisa Marsh. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Students at Gilchrist Elementary School in Tallahassee now have a bike park where they can learn proper riding safety and practice using crosswalks. It’s a project of the Community Catalyst bike team, which placed a similar bike park at Sabal Palm Elementary last year. Tallahassee Democrat.

Indian River: A Sebastian River High School teacher is under investigation for allegedly mistreating a reptile, according to school officials. The teacher, who was not named, can be seen in a video placing a lizard into a vehicle’s exhaust pipe that was attached to a tank of compressed air, then shooting it into the air. The teacher has been reassigned during the investigation. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Charlotte: A junior at Lemon Bay High School argued before the school board this week that the district’s dress code was biased against girls. McKenna Lipkin presented her AP research project called “The Veiled Sexism in the Charlotte County Public Schools Dress Code.” Board member Kim Amontree complimented Lipkin for her research, and said she will encourage the board to consider adopting a gender-neutral dress code for the 2022-2023 school year. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: An 8-year-old girl was killed Thursday when the car she was in slammed into the back of a school bus. The bus had stopped to drop off students in Hernando when the accident happened. The girl was not properly restrained, according to troopers. The car’s driver and another passenger, a 10-year-old girl, suffered minor injuries, but none of the 30 Citrus High School students on the bus or the driver were hurt. Citrus County Chronicle. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS.

Nassau: The First Amendment Foundation has retracted its allegation that Superintendent Kathy Burns and the school board violated the state’s Sunshine Law during contract negotiations with the teachers union. “Clearly, they should have done more research in advance,” Burns said. Fernandina Beach News Leader.

Monroe: A student at a charter high school has been arrested and accused of having a gun in his waistband when he boarded a school bus on Cudjoe Key Wednesday. When the bus arrived at its stop near the Somerset Island Prep campus, the student got off and walked away. He was arrested a short time later. Florida Keys Weekly. Key West Citizen. A district investigation has confirmed that an “inappropriate” racial slur was directed at a student May 7 at the Sugarloaf School, said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “We are developing a plan with social workers for small-group and large-group counseling to promote appropriate and sensitive behavior as it relates to cultural identities,” she said. Florida Keys Weekly. Alfredo Vasquez, a retired 30-year veteran of the Key West Police Department, has been hired as the new director of safety and security. Key West Citizen.

Presidential Scholars: Eight Florida high school seniors are among the 161 U.S. Presidential Scholars announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education. Scholars are chosen “based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.” The Florida winners are Ellen Choi of Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Brevard County, Rohan R. Davidi of James S. Rickards High School in Leon, Jalynn Jaielle McDuffey of Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami-Dade, Is Perlman of the Design & Architecture Senior High School in Miami-Dade, Stephen Adam Savage of the Savage Home School in St. Lucie, Elyse V. Soracco of Creekside High School in St. Johns, Elyse Yvonne Thomas of the School for Advanced Studies-Wolfson in Miami-Dade, and Barrett Ryan Young of Branford High School in Suwannee. U.S. Department of Education. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV. Florida Today.

Colleges and universities: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges said there could be a conflict of interest for Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in his bid for the president’s job at Florida State University. Corcoran is a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors, which will have to approve the candidate chosen to replace John Thrasher as president. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. In their own words, the candidates explain their vision for FSU. Tallahassee Democrat. A class-action lawsuit has been filed against FSU on behalf of students who were forced to learn online last spring during the pandemic. The suit contends the students paid to learn in person and were shortchanged. News Service of Florida. Florida Southern College is trying to buy the former St. Joseph’s Academy grounds near the college to expand its growing nursing programs. Lakeland Ledger.

Around the nation: About a dozen states, including Florida, are passing or considering legislation that would prohibit the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools. Politicians in those state contend that CRT is divisive, racist and teaches children “to hate their country.” Supporters say an examination of the history of racism and its lingering presence is necessary to move toward social justice. USA Today.

Opinions on schools: The signing of the school choice bill is especially welcome news for Florida’s Hispanic families. With a lower average income than the state as a whole, it can be difficult to make sure our kids have access to the educational environment that works best for them, something too often available only to families with more means. Daniel Martinez, Florida Politics.

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BY NextSteps staff