Limited options for disabled students, pricey middle school rebuild, face masks, CRT, tax holiday and more

Around the state: A lack of learning options for Palm Beach County’s students with special needs could violate their federal rights, the price for rebuilding a Broward middle school soars, Volusia’s school board faces many decisions about safety measures for the coming school year, the Leon district’s decision to make face masks optional may push some students out of schools, Alachua’s school board again fails to pass the superintendent’s administrative reorganization plan, teachers are asking their school districts to protect them against unfounded accusations of teaching critical race theory, the state’s 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday begins Saturday, and Brevard names a principal of the year. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The price tag to repair James S. Rickards Middle School in Oakland Park after its media center roof collapsed in March is now approaching $80 million. District officials have decided that while the main building is being rebuilt, a 30-building, $8 million portable campus for the school’s 950 students will be set up. It won’t be available until January, though, so students will be assigned to other schools. The projected completion of the Rickards main building is 2024. School board members initially balked at spending the money to set up the portable campus, but reconsidered after they were deluged with complaints from Oakland Park officials and parents. Niña Solorzano, who has 6th- and 7th-grade children, said she would withdraw her children if they were split up. “For my option to be that both of my kids will end up split into two separate schools for the next three years is ludicrous,” she wrote to board members. “The option with portables being built in my opinion is best. Why should our children, staff, and their families have to be inconvenienced because of a situation that was out of everyone’s control.” Sun Sentinel.

Palm Beach: At least a dozen families have told the school district that they can’t send their special needs children to school in-person this fall, but that the Palm Beach Virtual School can’t accommodate them. That limits their options, they contend, which may violate their federal rights to an education with appropriate accommodations. Deputy superintendent Ed Tierney has acknowledged the problem, and said the district is working to hire more workers for the virtual option to deal with disabled students. Some students are being advised to enroll in the Hendry County virtual school, which is the only district in the state authorized to offer a modified curriculum to cater to certain students with disabilities. Palm Beach Post. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County are partnering with GL Homes to collect enough back-to-school supplies to fill more than 2,400 backpacks for students in need. WPTV.

Duval: Some parents, health professionals and religious leaders held a demonstration Sunday urging the school district to make face masks mandatory when schools reopen in August, while others rallied for no masks. School officials have announced that masks will be optional, though they “strongly” recommend students wear them. WJXT. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Hundreds of people attended or watched a discussion about critical race theory last week. The meeting, held at a Lakeland church by the Polk Chapter of the NAACP, was intended as an informational session to educate people about what CRT is and how it came about. School Superintendent Frederick Heid was one of the speakers, and he again stressed that CRT is not taught in the school system. Earlier in the week, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, called for Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove Heid from office for participating in the meeting. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Improvements to portable classrooms at Varsity Lakes Middle School in Lehigh Acres are expected to be completed by the time the school reopens for classes Aug. 10. In April, school board member Gwynetta Gittens brought deteriorating conditions in the portables to the attention of the board, and repair work began in June. “The first time seeing the conditions, we definitely understood the concerns and we really wanted the teachers and students to feel invited when they come to school every day,” said Lerin Byrd, who is the president of the company handling the repairs. WINK. A special Fort Myers City Council meeting is being held today to resolve confusion over which agency will supply resource officers for schools in the city. Last week the school district was told the sheriff’s office would take over from city police in supplying resource officers. But council members said they haven’t made any such decision, and that the police chief is not authorized to decide. WINK.

Brevard: Jud Kaminski, the principal at Palm Bay Magnet High School since 2016, has been chosen as the school district’s principal of the year. The other finalists were Jasmine DeLaughter of McNair Magnet Middle and Victoria Finsted of Christa McAuliffe Elementary. Space Coast Daily. A federal court in Ohio has ruled that a rule restricting comments from the public at school board meetings violates the First Amendment. That rule closely resembles the one adopted by the Brevard County School Board that states the presiding officer at a board meeting may “interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant.” Florida Today.

Volusia: Dozens of decisions about safety protocols for the next school year still have to be made by school board members, who will meet with health officials this week to get an update on the state of the coronavirus pandemic. “I want to hear the facts first and the facts could change between now and Tuesday,” board chair Linda Cuthbert said. “But am I concerned? Oh my gosh, yes, very much.” Schools reopen in three weeks. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Sixteen new $2 million school buses have been purchased for the Manatee School for the Arts charter school. Tim McMurray, the school’s chief financial officer, said the buses have top-of-the-line technology, including sounding an alarm when cars don’t stop for crossing students, automatic braking, and warnings about bus drivers drifting into other lanes. “There’s a combination of radar and camera technology that’s not integrated that’s never been out before in the busing industry,” said McMurray. WTVT. Former Lincoln Memorial Middle School teacher Quentin Peterson was found not guilty by a jury Friday on one count of possession of child pornography. A mistrial was declared on a second count when the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. A retrial has been scheduled in September. Bradenton Herald.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: The two school districts are among 10 in the state that will take part in a one-year, $6 million pilot program to improve students’ reading skills. Students who are recommended by their teachers for the program will receive one-on-one tutoring. Data will be collected on students’ progress, and the Florida School Boards Association will report the results to legislators. If the program is successful, said state Sen Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, he hopes it will spread to all 67 Florida counties. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: For many parents, the district’s decision to make face masks optional for students for the 2021-2022 school year means their children will be staying home another year. “With the way things are looking, if masks are going to be full optional, it’s just not possible for me to send him to school,” Anthony DeMarco said about his 13-year-old son. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said he decided to make face masks “based on the information I’ve received from the Leon County Health Department.” No children from the ages of 5 to 11 were hospitalized in Leon last year, and only four spent time in a hospital when the age range is extended to 18-year-olds. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: School board members again failed last week to approve Superintendent Carlee Simon’s plan to reorganize the district administration. The 3-2 majority that had generally supported Simon’s ideas was reduced to 2-2 when board member Diyonne McGraw was removed by the governor because she lives outside the district she was elected to represent. Simon said she was disappointed, and that “at some point they (board members) need to get some form of consensus in order for the school district to do business.” Gainesville Sun. John Green, an assistant principal at Gainesville High School, has been placed on administrative leave while the district investigates whether he violated school board policy. Gainesville Sun.

Citrus: Superintendent Sandra Himmel has been sworn in as president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents for the 2021-2022 academic year. Citrus County Chronicle.

Charlotte: A high school and a hurricane shelter are being built next to a charter elementary school in the Babcock Ranch community. The cost of the high school will be about $13 million. It will be two stories with 26 classrooms and about 43,000 square feet of space. The shelter, which will be about 40,000 square feet and can house up to 1,343 people, will also serve as a community fieldhouse and will include locker rooms, two indoor gyms, a fitness center and a cafeteria. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida’s drive to improve its national standing hit a bump last week when president Steve Currall resigned after just two years. Tampa Bay Times. Lauren Monbarren, the chief financial officer and vice president of egg farming and asbestos-removing businesses owned by her father, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the University of South Florida’s Board of Trustees. Florida Politics. DeSantis also appointed Charlie Ward and Eric Grant to the board of trustees for Tallahassee Community College. Ward is the former Florida State University football star who now coaches a high school basketball team in Tallahassee, and Grant is a lawyer and president of the company Municode. Florida Politics. Edwards Waters University in Jacksonville has reversed its earlier decision to require students to be vaccinated before they return for the fall semester. School officials said they made the change after hearing complaints from students. WJXT. Robert Moses, an influential leader in the civil rights movement in the 1960s who later taught at Florida International University in Miami, has died at the age of 86. Miami Herald. Washington Post. NPR.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The state’s 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday begins Saturday. Sales taxes will be waived for clothing, shoes and some accessories that cost less than $60 per item, school supplies that are $15 each, and the first $1,000 on electronics and accessories through Aug. 9. WKMG. WTVJ. Sun Sentinel.

CRT protections: Teachers in the Tampa Bay area are pushing for their districts to protect educators who will be wrongly accused this school year of teaching critical race theory in classes. Nancy Velardi, president of the Pinellas teachers union, said some teachers are worried that classroom discussions critically analyzing past events will be taken out of context and misinterpreted. Board chair Carol Cook said if a proven allegation comes up, “we’ll treat them the same way as a teacher who goes deeper on sex education than they’re supposed to.” Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: Students will be required to wear face masks in schools this fall in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the nation’s three largest school districts. But only five other districts among the nation’s 20 largest are requiring masks. Florida districts in the top 20 — Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach and Duval — are making masks optional, and Broward will make its decision Tuesday. CNN. Democrats have largely dismissed concerns over critical race theory as an issue made up by right-wing Republicans. But some suburban supporters of Joe Biden for president say they too are concerned about equity initiatives and what their children are learning about in school. Politico.

Opinions on schools: There seems a fairly common conviction among us that many, even most, of our lower-income parents, for various reasons, fall below the level of responsibility necessary to decide which school is best for their child. John E. Coons, redefinED. Florida’s legislation to defend free speech would hamper students’ ability to navigate a free marketplace of ideas. Our society is a richly complex and diverse society; we need the ability to think in many boxes to compete in a global marketplace. Yovanna Pineda, Orlando Sentinel. We’re so fortunate our state leaders are bold enough to ignore the quote-unquote scientists, the quote-unquote clinicians, and the quote-unquote educational professionals. Think about it, y’all. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix. School psychologists are increasingly becoming the quiet glue that holds things together in ways that we’ve never needed before. Cortney Stewart, Citrus County Chronicle. How can an education system that is unable to learn from history and past mistakes be trusted to teach our children? Kevin Bohacz, Florida Times-Union. The Sarasota County School Board should support a proposal to allow the parents of students with disabilities to record meetings they hold with district staff to discuss the education plans for their children. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff