Surgeon general’s rule puts parents in charge of masks and quarantines, charter growth and more

New rule puts parents in charge: On his first full day as Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo issued an emergency rule that gives parents the sole authority to decide whether their children wear masks to schools and quarantine their children who have been exposed to the coronavirus. “Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational advancement,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday. “It’s also disruptive for families. We are going to be following a symptoms-based approach.” The latest rule replaces one that five school districts had been challenging in court. It said districts could set mask mandates as long as they gave parents the right to opt-out. The change dissolves the lawsuit that was scheduled for a hearing Friday before an administrative law judge because the rule the districts were challenging no longer exists. At a hearing Wednesday that judge, Brian Newman, said, “I don’t see any wiggle room whatsoever in doing anything other than dismissing this case.” The districts can refile the complaint against the new rule. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun SentinelWFSU. Florida Politics. Dr. Ladapo will make $462,000 a year working two jobs: $200,000 as state surgeon general who is also the secretary of the Department of Health, and $262,000 as a professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Orlando Sentinel.

In the Legislature: Members of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee meeting said Wednesday they are puzzled why $112 million earmarked to find unaccounted-for students because of the pandemic is not being used by districts to find the 19,000 students still missing from classrooms. Lawmakers also pored over data on district spending of federal relief funds. Some districts have been complaining that they need the money but don’t have access to it. The data show some districts have spent all they’ve received, and others have not. Capitol News Service. Florida Phoenix. A bill filed by state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, would declare Nov. 7 as “Victims of Communism Day” and require students to learn about communist dictators. Florida Politics. More than a month into the school year, fewer than 100 students have received school vouchers that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration backed as a way for children to escape what the state labeled “COVID-19 harassment.” Only two have used them to move to a private school. News Service of Florida. Higher education officials are asking the Legislature for a $5.5 billion budget that includes $295 million for performance incentives, up from $280 million they’re getting now. Florida Politics.

Charter school growth: Charter schools experienced more growth during the 2020-2021 school year than they’ve had in the past six, according to data released this week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Charter schools in 39 states added 240,000 students, up 7.1 percent over the previous year. District school enrollment fell 3.3 percent nationwide last year. In Florida, enrollment in charters schools was up 3.9 percent and district schools reported a 3.2 percent decline. reimaginED. The 74. K-12 Dive.

Around the state: A high school senior in Manatee County and a school bus driver in Lee County have died of COVID-related complications, several districts announce they will adopt the new quarantine rule issued by the state Wednesday, Sarasota school board members decide to hold off on creating a new policy for public comments at board meetings, the Alachua school board attorney said Superintendent Carlee Simon is not in breach of her contract even though she has no certifications from the Florida Department of Education, and Flagler’s school board has decided to scale back school rezonings after the initial proposal drew criticism from many in the community. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Palm Beach: School board members voted 5-2 Wednesday to follow the new quarantine rule released by the state earlier in the day, which allows students who are exposed to the coronavirus to remain in school if they are asymptomatic. “There’s a new surgeon general and he’s changed the decision tree. So now we’re modifying our policy to meet the new surgeon general’s decision tree,” said board chair Frank Barbieri. “So if parents don’t want their children to go home that are otherwise healthy, we keep them in school.” WPTV. Palm Beach Post. The district is working with health officials to dramatically increase school-based COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Grant money from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would finance the program, which would by only a start, according to the district’s chief of equity and wellness, Keith Oswald. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Lisa Koehler, a social studies teacher at Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville, died this week, school officials have announced. She was 46 years old. The cause of death was not disclosed. Counselors will be available at the school for students and employees. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: School officials said the district’s policy on quarantining students and employees will change to comply with the state’s new rule. Students and employees who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 but are asymptomatic will no longer be required to quarantine. Polk County School District.

Lee: Jay Figueroa, a school bus driver for the district, died of COVID-19 complications after spending weeks in a hospital. He had not been vaccinated, and his wife Sandra believes he contracted the virus on the job. WINK. Charges have been dropped against a 12-year-old student with special needs who allegedly wrote an e-mail threatening to commit a mass shooting at Three Oaks Middle School in Fort Myers. The sheriff’s office is now looking at a different suspect, and asked the state attorney to drop the charges. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WBBH. A former assistant principal at Manatee Elementary School in Fort Myers is suing the school district for wrongful termination. Peggy Slichter said she was fired because she pushed for the district to follow state guidelines on reporting violent and disruptive incidents in schools. WINK. WFTX.

Seminole: A former janitor at Oviedo High School who was found guilty in June of secretly filming 12 students and a teacher in a girls bathroom at the school in 2019 has been sentenced to 60 years in prison. Derremy Walker, 31, was charged with two counts of using children to create sexually explicit videos. Court records disclosed that Walker positioned his cell phone in the same spot at least three times before being caught. WKMG.

Manatee: Aryana Santana, a 17-year-old senior at Palmetto High School, died this week of complications from the coronavirus. She contracted the virus several weeks ago and had been hospitalized for 18 days at Manatee Memorial and then All Children’s Hospital. “It’s hard,” said her aunt, Linda Benavides. “You hear stories about COVID and you just don’t think it’s going to hit your family.” WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WWSB.

St. Johns: The school district maintained its A grade in the latest report card from the state. Superintendent Tim Forson said the district chose to request grades because, “I just felt it was appropriate to do that, so that we can identify any areas where we need to focus or improve upon.” Grades declined at six schools, and went from an A to a C at Picolata Crossing Elementary. The Webster School made the greatest improvement, from a D to a B. Sixteen schools received an A, six were given a B and two got a C. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: School board members have postponed making a decision on changing the public comments portion at board meetings. A majority of board members said they supported a policy that would keep speakers on topic and limit the number of repetitive comments, but after pushback from the other two members, decided to ask for more ideas before taking a vote. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Alachua: School officials are defending Superintendent Carlee Simon’s qualifications to lead the district after a member of the community pointed out at a school board meeting this week that Simon has no valid certifications from the Florida Department of Education, and board member Mildred Russell asked the board attorney to investigate. David Delaney, the attorney, said the superintendent has not breached her contract because there has been no change in the status since she began working for the schools. “Put simply, the contract says ‘maintain and keep’ not ‘obtain’, as she does not currently have a certification,” he said. Simon said certification is not necessary to run a district. “There are many superintendents who have never been educators so I am fully qualified to serve as superintendent,” she said. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. WGFL.

Santa Rosa, Bay: School officials in both counties are changing their policies on quarantines to align with new state guidelines issued Wednesday. Effective immediately, asymptomatic students exposed to someone with the coronavirus will no longer have to quarantine. If parents do choose to quarantine their children after exposure, those students must return to school within seven days if they remain asymptomatic. WEAR. WJHG.

Citrus: A cooperative agreement between the school district and the Department of Juvenile Justice was approved this week by school board members. It details how the district will provide instruction for students who are in the juvenile justice system. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: After hearing criticism from parents about the proposed countywide rezoning of boundaries for all nine schools, district officials said they are scaling back the plan. Zoning changes for next year will affect only two middle and two high schools. Complaints centered around using racial equality and balance as a goal of rezoning. Flagler Live.

Around the nation: Children of color have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, according to a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. COVID “may widen existing gaps in health and well-being between children of color and white children,” wrote Nambi Ndugga, a policy analyst with the Kaiser Family Foundation who contributed to the analysis. Tampa Bay Times. The lingering pandemic has left some U.S. school districts desperately short of teachers and other school staff. It’s “really a nationwide issue and definitely a statewide issue,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of California’s Board of Education. Associated Press. Child obesity has soared during the pandemic, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 74.

Education podcasts: Juliette Harrell, an Orlando mother of three children, talks about how the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship Program allowed her family to place their two school-age children into private schools that also helped her and her husband learn how to manage their finances. The family, once homeless, now owns their own home. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: The emerging new public education system is more parent-directed, child-focused and educator-friendly. It funds students, not systems. And it better serves America’s pluralistic society by accommodating more of people’s diverse and often-conflicting desires and needs. Gina Lynch, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gov. DeSantis is doubling down on his disastrous approach to COVID-19, selecting a surgeon general for Florida who has downplayed the effectiveness of masks and spread doubts about vaccines. Gainesville Sun. Gov. DeSantis has traded his invisible surgeon general for a sycophant/crackpot. That’s one less person who can speak to the governor sincerely and push back when needed against some of his most warped ideas. Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff