Chancellor says union leaders’ comments hurt teacher recruitment, face mask rule, and more

Rhetoric hurting recruiting? The state’s K-12 chancellor said Friday that efforts to recruit teachers are being harmed by negative comments about schools from teachers union leaders. “When you create this narrative that schools aren’t safe, then wonder why people aren’t entering the profession, I would challenge the leadership,” said Jacob Oliva. “It’s conflicting, it’s reckless, and it needs to be clarified.” Union leaders rejected Oliva’s characterization. “We are simply pointing out the truth of what’s happening,” said Pinellas union president Nancy Velardi. Tampa Bay Times. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis took aim at school boards that have defied the state’s banning face mask mandates for students during an appearance in Sarasota on Friday. “Most of these are union-controlled school board members that are doing a lot of these dumb things,” he said. Florida Politics.

DOH mask rule: The Florida Department of Health moved Friday to make permanent its emergency order banning districts from issuing mask mandates and allowing parents to determine if their asymptomatic children exposed to the coronavirus are quarantined. The emergency order was issued Aug. 6 and revised Sept. 22 after some districts began requiring notes from doctors for students to opt-out of mask mandates. Under state law, the emergency order would expire in 90 days. The rule is being challenged in court by six districts that contend the department overstepped its legal authority. A two-day hearing begins Thursday before an administrative law judge. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Nikolas Cruz’s attorneys say he will plead guilty Wednesday on all counts in the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, funding to the Leon County School District has been withheld by the state over the district’s face mask mandate, Palm Beach County has told the state it won’t change its mask mandate until certain benchmarks are met, Alachua’s superintendent says the state will return all withheld funds once districts get in compliance with the state’s masking rules, two vocabulary practice texts have been replaced in Martin County after officials decide they may contain divisive content, Lee County School Board members will consider arming school employees under the state’s guardian program, the state announces a $5.8 million grant to start a technical college in Glades County, a bill is filed to include the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the state’s curriculum, another would require students to be taught social media literacy, and a private school in Miami is telling students they have to stay home for 30 days after each vaccination shot they receive. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Parents of students at the Centner Academy private school in Miami have been told that their children will be required to stay home for 30 days after each vaccination shot they receive. “If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” a letter from the school’s chief operating officer stated. “What happens 30 days after they get vaccinated? What kind of nonsense is this?” asked Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University. In April, Centner said it would penalize teachers who got vaccinated. WSVN. Parents and school district employees received a text message Friday telling them that school buses would be late or not run at all due to a shortage in bus drivers. Only the district didn’t send the message, and officials are now investigating to find out who did. Miami Herald. Parents are protesting a proposal to demolish the building housing the Key Point Christian Academy to make room for a condo project. About 250 students attend the school, which sits behind Miami First Presbyterian on church-owned property. Church officials are considering selling the building and the parking lot to a developer for $240 million. Miami Herald. WTVJ.

Broward: The accused gunman in the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of first-degree attempted murder at a court hearing Wednesday, his attorneys announced Friday. Nikolas Cruz’s decision moves the court proceedings directly to the penalty phase, in which a jury would determine whether he receives the death penalty or spends the rest of his life in prison. Cruz, now 23, was in court Friday to plead guilty to assaulting a detention deputy. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Associated Press. Former Stoneman Douglas school resource officer Scot Peterson, who is charged with 10 counts of child neglect with bodily harm for not going into the Parkland school to confront the shooter, said in an interview that he didn’t enter the school because he didn’t know whether the gunfire was coming from inside or outside the building. Sun Sentinel. School board members will be asked Nov. 9 to reject the two bids the district has received to supply caps and gowns for graduating seniors. The proposed change comes after a report that students have been paying more for graduation products from a longtime vendor. Sun Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Superintendent Michael Burke responded to a warning letter from the state last week by saying that the district will continue its face mask mandate. The state is threatening to withhold funds from the district if it doesn’t allow parents to opt-out of the mask mandate. “We cannot ignore scientific consensus on these issues, which one must do if taking the position that facial coverings do not prevent the spread of the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 and its variants or that facial coverings are harmful to children,” Burke wrote in his reply to the state. He said the mask policy can be relaxed only after a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 is available, and the county records fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people and has a positivity rate below 8 percent. WPTV.

Polk: The district has begun installing clear plastic shields on 50,000 elementary school desks. “The clear plastic shields are mounted on students’ desks and are intended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the district announced. “We are implementing this extra safety measure to help protect our K-5 elementary students, who often work in close proximity to each other and are not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. The devices can be easily moved for regular cleaning.” Federal relief funds will be used to pay the $820,000 cost. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: School board members will consider joining the state’s armed guardian program to increase security in schools. Guardians can be non-teaching district employees who would volunteer, receive training and respond in case of a school shooting. “I think we need to tighten up that security,” said board member Gwynetta Gittens. “The whole process of it. We need to look at that from not just financial, but if we’re using guardians that are already there, people that are already getting paid? Is this going to take away from their current job?” WINK.

Volusia: District officials are proposing to add fencing at some schools, and upgrade camera systems and radio signals as part of their required  annual assessment of school safety. Not being considered is starting a district police force, an idea that was first suggested in January but was postponed. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The school board and county council meet today to try to reach an agreement on a single set of voting districts. Each agency has created six maps to consider. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: Pinecrest Elementary School in Immokalee is celebrating its A grade from the state after 20 years of receiving grades of F and D with an occasional C. “We were so overcome with emotion that we just could not even fathom that we had broken history, broken records here at Pinecrest during a year of a global pandemic,” said school counselor Ashleigh Dean. “It gives you hope for the years after this and the years after that, where we continue to build upon our systems and continue with this momentum.” Naples Daily News.

Marion: Don Browning, appointed to the school board by Gov. DeSantis on Sept. 7 to replace Beth McCall, has quickly established himself as a contrarian who is drawing criticism from the other four board members. The 78-year-old retired businessman has accused the board of violating the open-meetings law and placing items on the consent agenda so they don’t have to be discussed publicly. He’s also questioned the integrity of the chief financial officer and her staff. He says it’s time for the board to change the way it does business, and that the district is failing. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: Culinary Arts Academy students at Washington High School in Pensacola are getting practical experience, a paycheck and are helping the school cope with a shortage of workers by working in the cafeteria. Nine culinary students have taken positions, and it’s the first job for seven of them. Elizabeth Gilmore, who teaches in the academy, said the students are developing skills in professionalism and hospitality. “Professionalism transfers to all workplaces,” she said. “Being productive at work, being prompt at work, getting along with your co-workers and knowing how to resolve conflicts.” Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: On Friday, the state Department of Education withheld funding equivalent to a month’s worth of salaries for school board members as a penalty for the district defying the state’s rule on face masks for students. The district amended the rule last week to allow parents to submit opt-out forms so their children could attend schools without masks, but Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wrote that it was still out of compliance because it requires asymptomatic children who have been exposed to the virus to wear masks for seven days if they choose not to quarantine. About $17,000 was withheld, and that will continue until the state determines the district is in compliance. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Florida Politics.

Alachua: The state Department of Education will return all funds withheld from districts being penalized for face mask mandates once those districts are considered to be in compliance with the state’s rule, Superintendent Carlee Simon said last week. “It is noted in (Education Commissioner Corcoran’s) response to the U.S. Department of Education that once we are in what they perceive to be in compliance that they are looking for, all of the funds that they have been withholding will be returned to the district,” Simon said. The mask mandate could end when children under 12 are eligible to receive vaccinations, which could happen next month, she added. WCJB. WGFL.

Martin: Use of a reading comprehension unit for district 5th-graders have been replaced after school officials determined that some of the content “may create division.” The unit materials were two vocabulary practice texts. One was called “Know your voting rights,” featuring  voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams and her nonprofit Fair Fight Action, which says it “battles state policies that disproportionately affect voters of color.” The second was a personal description of a child and their father attending a Black Lives Matter protest. TCPalm. A 15-year-old Martin County High School student has been arrested on a charge of lewd or lascivious contact of a person younger than 16. Deputies said the boy inappropriately touched a girl during school hours. TCPalm.

Citrus: The number of coronavirus cases in the school district is on a sharp downward trend. In August, the district reported 846 cases. That dropped to 523 in September and 33 so far in October. And on Oct. 12, zero cases were reported for the first time since schools opened. Quarantines also have declined since the peak of 1,922 on Aug. 26. On Oct. 12, 19 people were in quarantine. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Gov. DeSantis announced Friday that the state was investing $5.8 million to create a technical college in Glades County. The project is a collaboration between the Immokalee Technical College and Glades County commissioners, and will be located at the Glades County Commission Training Center in Moore Haven. Students will be trained in 12 career tracks, including cybersecurity, nursing, HVAC and diesel repair, accounting, welding and other skills-based fields. The programs will start with about 250 students but could grow to as many as 1,300 eventually. Naples Daily News. Florida Politics. DeSantis also said Friday that requiring three years of law school is a “waste.” DeSantis, who graduated from Harvard Law School, said, “You could do it probably in one. Definitely in two. You don’t need three.” Florida Politics.

In the Legislature: The history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders would be included in the state’s curriculum under a bill proposed for the 2022 legislative session. H.B. 281 is sponsored by state representatives Anna Eskamani and Geraldine Thompson, both Democrats from Orange County. Another Orange County Democrat, state Sen. Linda Stewart, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill. “The history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is a rich story that weaves into the fabric of our nation, but that story has gone untold in many of our schools,” Stewart said. Florida Phoenix. Social media literacy would be taught in Florida’s schools under a bill proposed last week by state Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills. Burgess, who has three children under the age of 10, said the instruction is needed to make children aware of the potential hazards of social media. Lakeland Ledger.

School board tensions: Threats, shouting, divisive comments and angry protests over mask mandates, vaccinations, quarantines and critical race theory have created extra tensions at many school board meetings around the state, and some boards are considering ways to limit public comments at meetings. “We’re in a really tough time right now,” said Orange County School Board member Angie Gallo. “This is the first time it’s felt like it’s just getting ugly, like they’re attacking. It’s like we can no longer have a difference of opinion.” Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida.

Students on scholarships: A breakdown in the number of students receiving state K-12 scholarships was released last week by Step Up For Students, which helps administer the scholarships and hosts this blog. The Florida Tax Credit and Family Empowerment income-based scholarships have enrolled 152,905 students, which is an increase of 16 percent over last year. Two-thirds are black or Hispanic, 53 percent live in single-parent households, and the average household income is $40,759. Another 17,531 students receive Family Empowerment scholarships for students with special needs, while 75 students are using Hope Scholarships for bullied students and 731 students have received Reading Scholarships. reimaginED.

Around the nation: Patterson High School in Patterson, Calif., has become one of the first non-technical high schools in the country offering a truck driving program for students. The shortage of truck drivers in the United States is estimated at 68,000, and is expected to grow to 100,000 by 2028. NPR.

Opinions on schools: School board members should be careful when considering putting limits on speakers at board meetings. Local government is supposed to be closest to the people; where neighbors are supposed to listen to neighbors. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. Wearing a mask in school isn’t killing anyone. You can’t say the same thing about COVID-19. So we hope that the majority of Brevard County School Board members continue to resist the bullies. It’s particularly unsettling that in this case the bully is none other than our state government. Florida Today. Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins is standing up to the bullies harassing her. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff