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Corcoran wants even more money withheld from defiant districts, threat response ripped, and more

Confrontation on masks, money: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wants to block the pay for school board members in the school districts that are defying the state’s mask mandate rule, and is also suggesting that the state withhold funds equal to the amount those districts are getting from the Biden administration to replace the money the state is holding back. “Disagreement with the protocols found in [the state’s mask-wearing policy] simply does not provide a school district with a basis to violate the rule, be it through medical requirements, attempts to tie mask requirements to fluctuating positivity rates, or through any other means,” Corcoran wrote in the recommendations he made Tuesday to the state Board of Education, which meets Thursday to decide whether the school districts are in compliance and if they aren’t, how they should be punished. The Biden administration has pledged to send targeted districts money to negate what they’ve lost from the state. So far, Broward’s and Alachua’s school districts are the only two the state has financially penalized for their mask mandates, and they’ve been reimbursed a total of $567,000 by the federal government. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Forbes. Sun Sentinel. WCTV. WTLV. Florida Politics. WTXL.

Fight over threats: Gov. Ron DeSantis is objecting to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s announcement Monday that the FBI would coordinate a response with local law enforcement and educators to the growing number of threats being made against school board members, teachers, administrators and other public officials. “Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the (Department of Justice) by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation,” DeSantis said Tuesday on Twitter. “Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent.” News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Forbes.

Around the state: A high school science teacher in Okaloosa County has died of complications from the coronavirus, Hillsborough’s and Sarasota’s school boards change their face mask policies while Broward, Brevard and Alachua decline to and Palm Beach County’s superintendent said it had “a ways to go” before considering any changes, Hillsborough is considering asking voters to approve a local-option property tax to cover the district’s $60 million budget deficit, Lee school officials are in the early stages of starting a discussion about a year-round school pilot program, and the Taylor County School Board appoints a temporary superintendent. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School board members voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to keep the district’s face mask mandate for students, which allows opt-outs only for medical reasons, and its quarantine policy. The decisions are in violation of state rules that say only parents can decide if their children wear masks and be quarantined if they’re exposed to someone with the coronavirus. “There are a lot of laws that have been on the books that have caused brutal harm to segments of the population that had to be challenged in court and corrected,” said board chair Rosalind Osgood. The policies will be reviewed in a couple of weeks and could be loosened if the countywide coronavirus positivity rate falls to an average of 3 percent over a 10-day period. That rate is now about 5 percent in Broward. Sun Sentinel. WFOR. WTVJ. A 74-year-old school crossing guard was arrested Monday and accused of trying to solicit an undercover officer posing online as a 13-year-old girl. Deputies began an investigation of Keith Astley Taylor after a parent complained that he had made inappropriate comments to her daughter while she walked to and from school. WPLG.

Hillsborough: The district’s face mask mandate was softened Tuesday by school board members. They dropped the requirement that students have medical excuses to be cleared to attend school without wearing a mask, effective Thursday. Parents will be permitted to fill out a form to opt their children out of wearing masks. The financially strapped district has been threatened with a loss of funding from the state because of its stricter mandate. That, and a declining coronavirus positivity rate in the community, convinced a majority of the board to loosen the mandate. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. School board members are considering asking voters to approve a local-option property tax to cover the district’s $60 million budget deficit. If the board eventually authorizes the referendum, it would appear on the November 2022 ballot. Superintendent Addison Davis said the district could convince voters to support the measure if the district committed to spending the money on specific student programs. Without a cash infusion, chief financial officer Romaneir Johnson told the board in a workshop session Tuesday, the district’s cash reserves could shrink below the state-required 3 percent of revenues. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: The school district is one of 11 in the state that could lose an amount equal to the salaries of its school board members who voted for its face mask mandate for students, which doesn’t comply with the state’s rule because it allows opt-outs only for medical reasons. Superintendent Michael Burke said Tuesday that the district has “ways to go” before it can ease its mandate. School board members expect the state to begin withholding money for their salaries after Thursday’s hearing. But the district will continue to pay the board members, who each earn about $3,900 a month. “The district has no intention of not paying the salaries of school board members,” school district spokeswoman Claudia Shea said. “We intend to explore all options, including applying for designated federal funds.” Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Duval: A special meeting of the school board has been scheduled for Monday to discuss the district’s face mask mandate for students. The district requires students to wear masks, with opt-outs allowed only for medical reasons. Superintendent Diana Greene said the number of cases per 100,000 community residents is still too high to relax the mandate, but that the meeting will allow the district to again explain why the mandate remains, and also allow feedback from the community. WJXT.

Lee: Interim superintendent Ken Savage said the district has been analyzing year-round school models and hopes to have a pilot program in the near future. The discussion is in the very early stages, said a district spokesperson, and there is no timeline. WBBH. Some parents of students at the Mid Cape Global Academy charter school in Cape Coral had to scramble at the last minute to get their children to and from school Monday after the company that provides transportation canceled a route late Sunday night due to a lack of a driver. A&S Transportation said it expects service for the suspended route to continue within a couple of weeks. WFTX.

Pasco: District officials say they do need the $127 million they would get in federal coronavirus relief aid if the state would just apply for it. Florida is the only state that hasn’t applied for its share, which is $2.3 billion, and a spokesperson for Gov. DeSantis has said “no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources.” District chief financial officer Olga Swinson said the district has spent some of the money but has yet to be reimbursed by the state, and it has a plan for the rest. “We just have not received any information from the Florida Department of Education,” she said. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School board members decided Tuesday that once the community coronavirus spread falls to 50 infections per 100,000 people, parents will be permitted to opt their children out of wearing face masks in schools. The vote was 3-2, and came after the board voted not to end the district’s mandate requiring a mask for students who don’t have a medical exemption. The district is one of 11 that could have funding withheld by the Florida Department of Education because its mask policy doesn’t comply with the state rule allowing parents to opt-out. The meeting was interrupted and the room cleared after members of the audience began yelling at board member Jennifer Jenkins, who supports the mask mandate. WKMG. Florida Today. WOFL. WMFE.

Manatee: A 15-year-old Manatee High School student was arrested Tuesday for having a handgun at school. School surveillance cameras showed the boy placing a bag with the gun just outside an exterior door. He told police officers the gun was for self-defense but that he accidentally brought it to school. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Coronavirus cases bucked the recent downward trend in local schools last week. St. Lucie schools reported 86 student cases, up from 71 the week before, and nine employee cases, an increase of two. Martin went from 34 student and six employee cases two weeks ago to 42 cases among students and eight among employees last week. Cases were down significantly in Indian River schools, from 42 students and five employees two weeks ago to 11 students and one employee last week. TCPalm.

Sarasota: School board members voted Tuesday to end the district’s emergency face mask mandate. Students and employees will no longer be required to wear masks even if the community’s coronavirus positivity rates goes above 10 percent. The policy had said that the positivity rate had to be below 8 percent for three consecutive days before the mask mandate would be relaxed. WTSP. WFTS. About a dozen protesters gathered outside the home of school board chair Shirley Brown on Monday night, calling her a tyrant who should resign. A noise complaint was called into the sheriff’s office, and the protesters dispersed when deputies arrived at the scene. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A former school district administrator who alleged that she was sexually harassed in 2015 by the then-superintendent and punished when she complained about it has settled a lawsuit against the school board for $400,000. Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz, a school district program specialist, said superintendent Todd Bowden made multiple inappropriate comments to her and made sexual advances when he was her boss at Suncoast Technical College. When she complained she received negative evaluations and was demoted, and eventually had her contract terminated. Bowden, who left the district in 2019 over his handling of sexual harassment allegations against an administrator, contends he did not harass Jimenez-Ruiz in any way. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Okaloosa: Greg Myers, a science teacher at Crestview High School, has died of complications from the coronavirus. He had been in the hospital for several weeks. Ninety-seven Florida teachers and school employees have now died of COVID complications since July, according to a database maintained by the Florida Education Association teachers union. WEAR.

Alachua: School board members decided Tuesday to keep the district’s face mask mandate for K-8 students, but will allow parents of high school students to opt-out of the mandate starting Oct. 19. WCJB. WGFL. A 14-year-old student was arrested Tuesday and accused of making a bomb threat against Gainesville High School. The district has now received 17 bomb threats since schools opened Aug. 10. “This has just got to stop. I mean this is out of hand,” said Gainesville police spokesman Graham Glover. Gainesville Sun. The district has until Friday to respond to a court petition brought by 22 parents demanding that it follow the state’s rules on face masks and quarantines. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: Before the end of the year, district officials intend to present the school board with the results of research into the feasibility of supplementing school security resource officers with armed guardians who are trained to help law enforcement officers during emergencies. Guardians cannot arrest students or perform other duties of sworn officers. If a plan to add guardians is approved by the board, the program could begin in the fall of 2022. Pensacola News Journal.

Taylor: School board members appointed Paul Dyal, a former county superintendent who has been retired, as temporary superintendent until Gov. DeSantis appoints an interim replacement for Danny Glover. Glover announced this week that he was stepping down Oct. 8. WCTV.

Madison: Four county schools opted-in for grades from the state this year. Lee Elementary improved its grade from a B to an A, and Pinetta Elementary went from a C to a B. Madison Creative Arts Academy maintained its A from 2019, while James Madison Preparatory High School slipped from an A to a B. No grade was requested for the district. Madison County Carrier.

Colleges and universities: Florida Gulf Coast University has removed a biological science instructor after a digital news network alleged he was giving disparaging information about conservatives. Florida’s Conservative Voice said Roderick Rolle showed a slide during class Sept. 24 that said conservatives were incapable of producing “normal offspring.” FGCU acknowledged the class was getting a different instructor, but didn’t say why, and Rolle said, “I can’t talk about any of it.” Fort Myers News-Press. Marion County commissioners voted Tuesday to give $2 million from the county’s coronavirus relief funds to the College of Central Florida’s nursing program. Ocala Star-Banner.

In the Legislature: School counselors would have to include advice on training and career options in the trades to students under bills (S.B. 400, H.B. 229) filed this week for the legislative session that starts Jan. 11. State Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, and state Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee, sponsored the bills. “Students deserve to know about the practical skills demanded in the labor market and the opportunities that exist to gain them,” said Bracy. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: If it’s possible that a school choice beneficiary can grow up to become a school choice advocate, then we want these young people to know that what is possible is only limited by what they believe to be possible. With the power of our personal stories and strong support from the seasoned advocates in this space, we believe that universal school choice in America is something achievable in our lifetimes. Nathan Cunneen, reimaginED. Those who say school choice has racist roots are implying that parents, especially lower-income, black parents, should stay trapped in public schools that have failed their children for decades and continue to do so to this day. Denisha Merriweather, Washington Examiner.

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BY NextSteps staff