School district reimbursements, COVID-19 questions, national grants and more

Around the state: School districts around the state are dipping into COVID-19 relief funds to save jobs and programs, one school district is being reimbursed after losing state money for imposing a mask mandate, and COVID-19 questions abound after a decision earlier this week allowing parents to decide whether to quarantine a child exposed to coronavirus. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, colleges and universities:

Orange: The teachers union in Orange County was “shocked and saddened” when the school district offered $175 raises to most teachers. Union leaders pressed for a better package at both the Orange County School Board meetings and during an impasse hearing that was held before a special magistrate. Orlando Sentinel.

Pinellas: Law enforcement officials in St. Petersburg were alerted on Thursday about gunshots at St. Petersburg High School. A school resource officer said fireworks had been set off in one of the schools stairwells, according to investigators. No one was injured, and a 17-year-old student is responsible for the incident. Patch.

Duval: To see how every school within the district scored, or would have scored, on the state’s annual achievement assessment, The Florida Times-Union analyzed data to help parents find out. The Florida Times-Union.

Manatee: A teacher’s aide in Manatee resigned after a student returned home with their eyebrows shaved. The aide worked in a prekindergarten classroom at Samoset Elementary School, and accidentally left a razor in a class bathroom. Bradenton Herald.

School board reimbursements: State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced last month that the Florida Department of Education started to withhold funds from the Alachua and Broward county school districts in amounts equal to the monthly salaries of school board members who voted for student mask requirements. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would send roughly $148,000 to Alachua County public schools to reimburse money that was withheld from the state. The federal funding that the White House is using to repay Florida school officials comes from the Support America’s Families and Educators, or Project SAFE grant program, spearheaded by the U.S. Education Department. Alachua is the first district in the country to receive a reimbursement for following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administrations have clashed over resistance to COVID-related restrictions in the midst of a surge in new infections.  Politico. NPR. WLRN. Fox 13. The Gainesville Sun. Yahoo! News.

COVID-19 quandary: If a school-aged child is exposed to COVID-19, parents and guardians are now responsible for deciding whether the student should be quarantined or go to school, as long as they remain asymptomatic. When making a public health decision like this one, there are a variety of factors for parents to consider. Tampa Bay Times.  Parents now have two options if their child is exposed to COVID-19: either quarantine your child, or keep them in school as long as they remain asymptomatic. But some South Florida schools aren’t planning on changing their quarantine protocols immediately, at least right now. Miami Herald. The new rule departs from guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WESH. Duval school officials say the district’s policies regarding quarantine protocol will remain the same after the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, signed off on a policy that would eliminate requirements for students to quarantine for at least four days after COVID-19 exposure. In Duval, current quarantine protocol varies from four to 10 days, depending on whether a student tests positive and is symptomatic or not. The Florida Times-Union. Ladapo has been outspoken on COVID-19, condemning school and business lockdowns. TC Palm. Tallahassee Democrat. NWF Daily News. But U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist wants Ladapo removed for what he calls a “reckless” order regarding students deciding if a COVID-19 exposed child should stay home from school. Florida Politics. Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is pushing to get vaccine and mask mandates into schools. NPR

Relief funds: While smaller or mid-sized school districts are starting to rebound or increase their student enrollment, the state’s largest districts are struggling to bring students back from alternative education choices that include charter, virtual or private schools. In Orange County, for example, student enrollment in traditional public schools is down nearly 2%. In Broward County, there are more than 10,000 fewer students enrolled in the district’s public school system this year than before the pandemic began. Fewer students mean less money, so Broward officials have dipped into federal COVID-19 funds to avoid cutting positions and programs. WXTL.

Teacher shortages: The teacher shortage is continuing nationwide. In 18 of 20 large U.S. school districts who provided data, the number of teacher vacancies was up this year. The numbers mean thousands of students started the school year without full-time teachers or extra help students hoped to provide. Chalkbeat.

University and college news: A Florida Polytechnic University professor received a national grant to focus on the durability of 3D-printed materials that are used in rocket and jet engines. Dr. Sanna Siddiqui, who is assistant professor of mechanical engineering, received a grant for about $150,000 from the National Science Foundation this week. Tampa Bay Business Journal. Bethune-Cookman University is developing its own direct support organization to replace the independent B-CU National Alumni Association. The decision comes months after the NAA, which holds a separate charter from the school, took a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees.  The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: Middle schools could focus on allowing kids to interact more with each other, either through unstructured play time or through collaborative learning environments.  Sean Michael Pigeon, reimaginED. Public education at both the K-12 and university levels is badly broken. Lowman S. Henry, chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute.

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BY Camille Knox