Substitute teachers sought, bus driver shortages, educators hope to find students and more

Court cases: An appeals court refused to fast track to the state Supreme Court a challenge to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to stop schools from requiring students to wear masks during the pandemic. The 1st District Court of Appeal turned down a request by parents to pass along the case to the Supreme Court. Parents filed the lawsuit in August challenging a July executive order from DeSantis aimed at preventing school districts from imposing mask mandates. News4Jax. Tallahassee Democrat. Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by a group of parents against Episcopal School of Jacksonville regarding face masks has been permanently dismissed. Florida Times-Union.

Around the state: Leon County officials are looking for substitute teachers, bus driver shortages are plaguing districts across the state, a banking error caused some educators to be unable to cash bonus checks, Broward educators are seeking students, and one school in Pinellas is getting a solar canopy installed. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools and colleges and universities:

Broward: Hundreds of educators went to neighborhoods in Broward over the weekend in an attempt to reach thousands of students who have either not shown up for school or have attended class sporadically since the start of the pandemic. The goal is to get as many of them as possible into the classroom, since students learn better when they’re in front of a teacher. The list of students that educators are trying to reach includes about 10,000 children. Miami Herald. Two years after missing warning signs that contributed to a school massacre in Parkland, Broward schools are still failing to adequately respond to potentially violent students, according to an audit. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Oxbridge Academy closed on Friday while the state Department of Health conducted an investigation at the school attended by former President Donald Trump’s son, Barron. Health investigators worked with school officials on what is being called an “epidemiological investigation.” Palm Beach Post.

Pinellas: Duke Energy is installing a solar canopy at John Hopkins Middle School to provide power when the school serves as a special needs emergency shelter. The school is the only public K-12 school to receive one in the state. Three battery containers will be placed in the northeast corner of the campus, with each one measuring about 50 feet long and 10 feet wide. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: Schools that serve some of Duval’s poorest students took some of the biggest hits this year on statewide standardized testing, with officials saying absenteeism is to blame. Offering hybrid learning and closing schools during the start of the pandemic protected the health of students and staff, but led to many children falling behind in a trend called the “COVID Slide.” Florida Times-Union.

Brevard: Three students were arrested on Friday at Eau Gallie High, their arrests prompting changes to the school’s lunch procedures. Florida Today.

Marion: The school board here is pursuing a downtown Ocala property for a new $41 million administration complex. Ocala Star Banner.

Leon: Parents and family members are being asked to help the district fill a need for more substitute teachers. The Florida Education Association reported a 67% increase in teaching vacancies from last year. Since many teachers leave due to a lack of pay, Florida State University’s College of Education has been advocating for an increase in state funding to teacher salaries. WCTV.

Taylor: Schools superintendent Dr. Danny Glover Jr. announced his resignation to school board members in an email. The resignation is effective on Dec. 1. Glover cited personal reasons for the resignation. He has been in the role since being elected in 2016, and was reelected in 2020. WXTL.

Bus driver shortages: Long waits at bus stops, late arrivals to school and stranded students due to no-show buses are the result of a serious shortage in school bus drivers in south Florida. “Too many kids for fewer drivers and routes on top of routes,” said Phyllis Talley-LeFlores, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1184. Miami Herald. Before the pandemic emptied schools, Palm Beach County was on a campaign to recruit 75 drivers. This month, officials said they need to fill some 160 vacancies to round out a crew of 692 drivers. “Every single person in the district that is qualified to drive is driving right now,” said Afifa Khaliq, who heads the bus driver’s union.  Palm Beach Post.

Reimbursement efforts: Federal officials say the funding stream is open as they continue efforts to reimburse Florida’s schools penalized for not complying with the governor’s mask mandate ban. The ban, put in earlier this year, requires schools to offer parents an opt-out on masking their students. WPTV.

Federal aid: State officials applied for pandemic-related federal aid that would provide food stamp benefits to low-income families with children, according to the state Department of Children and Families. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit would provide a one-time benefit of $375 per child to eligible families. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Monetary mistake: About 50 educators in 22 counties were unable to cash the $1,000 bonus checks they received from the state. A banking error by JP Morgan Chase impacted about 50 people of the 176,000 educators who received a disaster relief payment, and is being corrected by the state. Creative Loafing. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald. Bradenton Herald.

COVID-19 news: The largest public school union in the state is condemning the state’s new ruling that students who are exposed to COVID-19 can stay in school unless they develop coronavirus symptoms. Some schools may be tempted to bend the rule, since the Florida Education Association says the new rule could put teachers and school employees at risk by exposing them to students who should be quarantining at home. WUSF. The new, relaxed quarantine rule was adopted by Central Florida’s public schools, but Osceola Superintendent Debra Pace said she worried quarantines led to too many absences that could hurt students’ education. By the 15th day of the school year, Pace said 19% of Osceola’s students were, in, or had been in, quarantine. Orlando Sentinel. School officials say they need more time to analyze the new COVID-19 rules issued by Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the state’s surgeon general, before changing mask and quarantine requirements. The district received a letter from the Florida Department of Education last week advising LCS of the DOE’s new emergency rule that revises “Protocols for Controlling COVID-19 in School Settings,” and to give Leon school officials a chance to “come into compliance with requirements established by the Department of Health.” Ladapo made the changes a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his appointment. WXTL. Schools in Collier have reported more COVID-19 cases in the first six weeks of school than all of last year. Naples Daily News. Sarasota County schools will no longer require face masks to be worn by students and staff starting today because the COVID-19 positivity level has dropped. Sarasota Herald Tribune. ABC Action News.

CDC study: Most kids across the country have been able to attend classes in person rather than work remotely at home, according to a new report by federal health officials. School closures affected a total of 1,801 schools, more than 900,000 students and over 50,000 teachers in 44 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. The number of closures, the CDC says, was highest in the south. Florida Phoenix.

University and college news: Bethune-Cookman University was awarded a $40,000 grant from Home Depot to beautify the campus. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: The announcement from Gov. Ron DeSantis that Florida Standards Assessments would end pleased many. But the announcement left DeSantis and state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran with the issue of what to do next in order to find a replacement for the FSA. Palm Beach Post.  DeSantis wants our children infected with the highly contagious and deadly delta variant. DeSantis is COVID’s best friend, not our children’s.  Fabiola Santiago. 

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BY Camille Knox