Vaccine approved for kids 12-15, corporal punishment in state’s schools, face mask decisions and more

Vaccinations for kids: Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that they have accepted the recommendation of agency advisers that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is safe for use in children 12 to 15 years old. President Joe Biden praised the decision, saying it means another 17 million people now qualify for the vaccine. “I encourage their parents to make sure they get the shot,” Biden said after the CDC’s announcement. “As I promised last week, we’re ready. This new population is going to find the vaccine rollout fast and efficient.” Many school districts in Florida and elsewhere are already making plans to offer the shots to students in schools. So are pharmacies, pediatricians and family health centers. Now the question is, how many parents will let their children get the shots? Associated Press. Politico Florida NPR. Florida Phoenix. Tampa Bay Times. The 74.

Getting back to normal: This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said his direction for Florida schools in the next academic year is simple: “Have a normal school year.” Most Florida school districts are planning for that by ending virtual learning programs and making face masks optional instead of mandatory. But for many parents, ending the mask mandate for the next school year is not soon enough. They continue to pack school board meetings to protest against mask mandates and demand they end immediately. Politico Florida.

Corporal punishment: Florida is one of 19 states that still allows corporal punishment in schools. The decision on whether to paddle students rests with the school districts, and 19 of them — mostly small counties in rural areas in north Florida — have chosen it as an option for punishment. Ted Roush, the superintendent of the Suwannee County School District, said there’s a cultural link between the counties that decide to use corporal punishment. “In our neck of the woods, a lot of people will say ‘Tell me what he did?’ and if they agree the punishment is deserved they’ll say ‘Give him a couple of whacks and send him back to class rather than sending him home to sit in front of a computer for two days,’ ” Roush said. “That might horrify someone in Miami-Dade County, but many parents in our area are going to have a different type of norms and standards.” State Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, who represents a district with several of the counties that still use corporal punishment, agreed with Roush. “It’s all right to spank them, but don’t beat them,” he said. “It’s OK if the intention is to teach them a lesson, but don’t leave no marks. There’s definitely a place for corporal punishment in the school system, but not beating. You have to know when to hit them and how hard to hit them.” The issue resurfaced this month when a Hendry County principal paddled a 6-year-old girl for slightly damaging a computer, and the state attorney chose not to file charges. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Around the state: Broward’s school superintendent and general counsel enter not guilty pleas as more details emerge about the charges, Manatee County commissioners are negotiating with school board member Scott Hopes to take the permanent county administrator’s job, Polk’s school board approves a three-year, $255,000 annual salary for its newly hired superintendent, Volusia’s superintendent gets a $10,000 bonus for completing the district’s strategic plan on deadline, and more districts make decisions about face masks after hearing from angry parents. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Pfizer vaccinations are being offered at three schools for students over 12 and school employees, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced Wednesday. He said at least one school will be open one day a week, probably Saturdays, to offer vaccinations to anyone. Miami Herald. WTVJ. A 44-year-old football coach and employee at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School has been arrested and accused of being in a romantic relationship with a 17-year-old student at the school. Edward Williams, who worked in the district between 1999 and 2017 and returned last year, was charged with a felony offense against a student by an authority figure and has been fired by the district. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WPLG. WSVN.

Broward: Superintendent Robert Runcie and general counsel Barbara Myrick entered not guilty pleas Wednesday in a Broward County court to felony charges filed against them by a statewide grand jury. Runcie is accused of perjury, and Myrick was indicted for disclosing information from a grand jury proceeding. Transcripts of Myrick’s grand jury testimony released Wednesday showed that she was told by a prosecutor that they knew Runcie lied in his testimony, and she was questioned at length by prosecutors about a phone call she made two days before Runcie testified. Prosecutors said Myrick called Runcie’s attorney on March 29, then called the district’s chief procurement officer. That conversation was related to the purchase of computer monitors when Tony Hunter was chief technology officer. Hunter was indicated by the grand jury in January for fraud and bid-rigging. Sun Sentinel. WFOR. Miami Herald. WSVN.

Polk: Incoming Superintendent Frederick Heid will be paid $255,000 on a three-year contract that was approved Wednesday by the school board. That’s $17,000 more than outgoing Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd was making, a distinction that led Kay Fields to be the only board member to vote against the contract. “I believe wholeheartedly in gender equity,” Fields said. “It sends a very poor message in my part of the world to have an incoming male making more than a departing female.” Lakeland Ledger. This week’s school board meeting was the last for Byrd, who is retiring after five years in the role. “Finally, as the superintendency comes to an end, it is my greatest hope that my legacy that I leave here in Polk County is stronger than it was when I arrived,” she said in a tearful goodbye. Lakeland Ledger. A Charlotte County man was escorted out of the school board meeting after he went on a rant against board members, the superintendent, mask mandates, same-sex marriage, sex education and more, then refused to stop. Lakeland Ledger. The district and its teachers union have reached a contract agreement to raise starting teacher pay by $4,200, to $45,172, and provide raises of at least $1,200 to others. WTSP.

Volusia: Superintendent Scott Fritz will be given a $10,000 bonus for completing a strategic plan for the district on a deadline that has “measurable, attainable, smart goals with key performance indicators.” The clause was part of his contract. Fritz’s base salary is $205,000. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: County commissioners have authorized commission chair Vanessa Baugh to negotiate with Scott Hopes on a contract to become the permanent county administrator. Hopes, who is also a school board member, is just six weeks into a one-year contract as acting administrator. A proposal is expected to be presented at the commission meeting May 25. If Hopes is hired, he’s said he’ll resign from the school board, and a replacement will be appointed by Gov. DeSantis. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. School board members said this week that there isn’t enough time left in the academic year to make face masks optional, and their plan to end the mask mandate can’t be approved by the board until May 25. Some parents said they would send their children to school Monday without masks in protest. Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said those students will be cited for a dress code violation, and if they choose not to put masks on they “will go to an area where they can do their work.” Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Collier: Making face masks optional will be on the school board agenda June 8. “We’re going to recommend that the face coverings become voluntary with the beginning of our summer programming unless there’s obviously a significant increase in the pandemic or other health issues,” Superintendent Kamela Patton said this week’s school board meeting. Naples Daily News.

Lake: Nine-year-old Harper Doty was honored this week by Lake County Fire Rescue for coming to the aid of her 4th-grade teacher who had a stroke during class at the Altoona School last August. Harper and her classmates rushed to Randy Lovoy’s side when they knew something was wrong, and Harper grabbed the teacher’s radio to page the front office. In part because of the quick thinking by Harper and her classmates, Lovoy was back in the classroom a week later. WKMG. WOFL.

St. Johns: The Pioneer School started five years ago in St. Augustine with 10 students and a goal of developing skills in “leadership, citizenship, entrepreneurship … and practical life responsibilities” such as coding, gardening, making a fire, using a knife, changing a flat tire and, starting this fall, how to repair small engines. The micro-middle school has grown to 27 students and will move in the fall into two modular buildings on 5 acres next to a creek. redefinED.

Sarasota: A school town hall this week got feisty, with pointed questions for Superintendent Brennan Asplen about masks, race, school vouchers, special education and more. At one point Asplen said, “It’s my town hall and I put it together. And I want to hear what you have to say. But I don’t think we have to get into arguments out here.” WWSB.

Martin: School board members voted Wednesday to keep the mandatory face mask policy in place through May 28, the last day of school. Wearing masks would then become optional June 1, in time for the summer session, and continue for the next school year. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Citrus: School board members have set June 14 as the date that they’ll consider making face masks optional in schools. Students and employees will be required to wear masks until the end of school June 4, and at graduations. Citrus County Chronicle. Board members also approved spending $550,700 for a panic alarm that comes on a card-sized badge and isn’t reliant on an Internet connection. Citrus County Chronicle. Horace L. Wilkinson, a longtime driver’s education teacher at Crystal River High School until retiring in 1993, has died at the age of 89. Citrus County Chronicle.

Okeechobee: Starting today, face masks are optional in district schools. School board members approved the change this week, and the district announced on social media that “face masks are recommended but not required and temperature checks are no longer needed.” WPTV. WPEC.

Colleges and universities: More than a dozen legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, school officials and alumni have expressed their support for Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to become president of Florida State University. He’s one of nine candidates a search committee chose to  interview. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay area colleges and universities have received more than $250 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. Half of the aid must be used for financial aid grants to students. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Public health officials say they’re alarmed by the increasing number of U.S. school districts that are ending face mask mandates. Associated Press. Many U.S. parents and their children have grown to prefer remote learning as the pandemic went on, leading to a “school hesitancy” for a variety of reasons. New York Times.

Opinions on schools: The Palm Beach County School District is acting as if its casual abuse of a tool for emergency mental-health situations is nobody’s business but its own. It couldn’t be more wrong. In far too many cases, school officials — in particular, school police — are doing harm to children far out of proportion to the kids’ alleged offenses. Palm Beach Post. More myths about school choice and private schools debunked. Ron Matus, redefinED.

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BY NextSteps staff