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Florida says it will eventually apply for federal aid, state BOE meets over defiant districts, and more

Florida and federal aid: The state will apply for $2.3 billion in the third round of federal relief funds, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday, but she contends there’s no rush because the funding is intended to last through September 2024 and most Florida school districts have yet to spend all the aid they received from the first two rounds of assistance. Federal officials are pressuring the state to file the paperwork, writing in a letter this week that failure to do so raises “significant concerns” and represents a “failure to meet its responsibilities” that could hurt public schools. Florida is the only state that has not yet applied. DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw called the letter a “childish tirade” and said, “It is difficult to take seriously the fictitious cries for urgency from these D.C. bureaucrats.” Orlando Sentinel. While many public school districts in the United States say they need federal coronavirus relief aid to reopen schools, keep students safe and recover from the pandemic, others are using the funds for athletics projects they couldn’t previously afford, such as building new football fields and renovating weight rooms. Critics of such spending say it violates the intent of the program, while supporters argue that those types of projects support the physical and mental health of students. Associated Press.

Districts getting judged: The Florida Board of Education meets today to determine if at least nine school districts are in violation of the state’s rules that ban face mask mandates, and how to punish them if they are. Representatives from the districts will make their cases for their  policies, which require a note from a doctor to opt-out of wearing face masks in schools. Thirteen districts had adopted stricter mask rules than the state allowed, but four of them — Hillsborough, Lee, Volusia and Sarasota — have since relaxed their policies and now appear to be within the state guidelines. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wants the defiant districts to lose state funding equivalent to the salaries of the school board members in the nine districts who voted for mask mandates, and also is asking the board to consider additional penalties to offset federal money that has been sent to two of the districts that aren’t adhering to the state rules. The nine districts thought to be out of compliance are Miami, Broward, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval, Brevard, Leon, Alachua and Indian River. Capitol News Service. Florida Today. WKMG. WUSF. WJCT. WTLV. Florida Phoenix. The Florida Commission on Ethics has issued an advisory ruling that federal payments to school board members do not violate state gifts or compensation laws. The opinion was requested by Broward school board chair Rosalind Osgood, whose district is one of two that has been financially penalized by the state for its face mask mandate but has received federal grants equal to the penalty. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Five districts are continuing to press their legal challenge to the Florida Department of Health rule banning mandatory face mask policies even as an appeals court dismissed a similar case brought by the Miami-Dade County School Board, Michael Burke has been offered the Palm Beach County superintendent’s job, Palm Beach County school officials say it could be weeks or even months before they’re ready to recommend any changes to the face mask mandate, quarantine policies are relaxed in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach schools, a proposal to offer $200 to Duval school employees to get vaccinated failed in a tie vote, the Lee school district has paid more than $700,000 to two whistleblowers, more Alachua County students are arrested and charged with making bomb threats against their schools, and the Florida Virtual School is rebranding and expanding its out-of-state business. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The school district is relaxing its quarantine policy, starting Monday with middle-schoolers who are exposed to someone with COVID but are asymptomatic. They can shorten the standard 10-day quarantine if they test negative for the virus on a PCR test given on or after the fifth day of exposure. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he hope to expand that policy to students in K-8 and elementary schools sometime next week. Those standards began several weeks ago for high school students. Those who are exposed and show symptoms or test positive for the virus will still be quarantined. Carvalho also said that if the number of cases in the community drops to under 100 per 100,000 population and is trending down for two consecutive weeks, the district’s medical task force will consider allowing parents to opt-out of the face mask mandate. Miami Herald. WSVN. WPLG.

Broward: A 10-year-old student was taken into custody Wednesday after bringing an unloaded handgun to Walker Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale. It was found in the boy’s backpack after another student reported it to an adult. The state attorney said the boy won’t face criminal charges, but that the case will be referred to child protective services agencies. WSVN. WPLG. WTVJ. Sun Sentinel. The director of legislative affairs for the school district is lobbying the Legislature to allow districts to increase taxes for school safety. Florida Politics.

Palm Beach: Michael Burke, who has been the interim superintendent since July, has been offered the job on a long-term basis by the school board. Negotiations on a contract will begin soon, and the board is expected to approve it at its Oct. 20 meeting. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC. District leaders said any relaxation of the face mask mandate hinges on how soon the number of COVID cases in the community declines and when vaccines are available for students 5 to 12 years old. That could be weeks or even months, said Keith Oswald, the district’s chief of equity and wellness. He said the average number of new COVID cases a week is 163 per 100,000 residents. That’s more than triple the district’s threshold to consider changing the mask policy. The school board did agree to adopt the state’s new quarantine rule that allows parents to decide whether to send their asymptomatic children to school after they’ve been exposed to someone with the coronavirus. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: A proposal to offer school district employees $200 to be vaccinated against the coronavirus failed this week on a 3-3 vote by school board members. A family-related issue caused school board chair Elizabeth Andersen to miss the meeting and cast the tie-breaking vote. Board member Charlotte Joyce, who voted against the proposal, said it would discriminate against employees who don’t want the vaccine. Florida Times-Union. Amy Donofrio, the teacher who was fired because she wouldn’t take down a Black Lives Matter flag outside her Robert E. Lee High School classroom, offered students extra credit for their community activism outside school, according to a 248-page report compiled by the district. WJXT. Parents of students at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and school alumni are lobbying the school district to expand its search for a new principal. “There are unique challenges of being able to have students seeking to excel in the arts and academically,” said 1990 graduate Gary Webber, who is also a school parent. “The principal serves as the agent to manage it all — it’s very complicated.” Florida Times-Union. A LaVilla School of the Arts’ Facebook post encouraging students to bring a Bible to school today as part of a nationwide movement supporting Christianity is drawing criticism. “It’s not being advertised as ‘bring your own book.’ The link specifically says it’s for Christians who believe in Jesus,” said Emily Carpenter, a local mother who is Jewish. “This is not inclusive and not the spirit of LaVilla.” The school later deleted the post. Florida Times-Union. WJCT.

Lee: The school district has paid more than $700,000 to two district employees who were fired after they pointed out the misuse of Pell Grant funds at Fort Myers Technical College. Cheri Russ, an auditor at the school district, received $251,600 in the settlement, and FMTC senior director Judith Johnson was paid $450,000. WFTX. Three 11-year-old students have been arrested after allegedly plotting to start a fire at their school, Six Mile Cypress Academy in south Fort Myers, to kill “rude people.” Officials at the charter school praised the students who discovered what the three were planning and promptly reported it. WINK. WBBH.

Brevard: State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, is asking the state attorney to investigate school board chair Misty Belford for allegedly violating Florida’s Sunshine Law. Fine said Belford excluded the public from parts of a meeting Tuesday that dealt with the district’s face mask policy for students. News Service of Florida. Space Coast Daily.

Sarasota: School board members could not come to a consensus during a workshop this week on how to manage increasingly disruptive speakers at board meetings. Shirley Brown and Tom Edwards said the board should clarify its policies on public comment, but Bridget Ziegler warned that any attempts to limit the right of the public to comment will simply frustrate already angry county residents. Board members decided to discuss the issue at a future meeting. WUSF.

Leon: The Foundation for Leon County Schools will use a $62,767 grant over two years to provide computers for students who need them and hire e-learning coaches to teach students and their parents how the technology can be used to improve academic performance. Palm Beach, Pinellas, St. Johns and Citrus school districts are also receiving some of the $550,000 grant money provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. WCTV.

Alachua: Three more students have been arrested and accused of calling in four bomb threats to Eastside High School between Sept. 28 and Oct. 6. That brings the total number of students detained for making bomb threats against schools to eight. The latest three arrested are a 16-year-old boy, a 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl. Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Flagler: James Egan Jr., 64, a school bus driver for the district since 2015, was killed Tuesday when his motorcycle was hit by two other vehicles. Flagler Live.

Jackson: The school district has turned over the job of placing guards in schools to the sheriff’s office. Superintendent Steve Benton said switching from a school police force to deputies costs a little more, but the service is better. There are now 16 resource officers for the district’s 12 schools. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: The U.S. Department of Education is relaxing its eligibility requirements for students to apply for college loan forgiveness. Up to 550,000 students could eventually qualify for loan relief. Associated Press. Politico. NPR. Tallahassee Community College is using $5.9 million in federal relief funds to pay off student debt and issue students a daily $5 food credit to be used at the Student Union. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. Florida State University has received a $1.3 million federal grant to boost college enrollment among students from low-income neighborhoods. WTXL.

Florida Virtual rebranding: Florida Virtual School is rebranding itself as FlexPoint Education Cloud outside the state as it focuses on providing online services to K-12 schools and students around the world. FLVS began working with more than 160 schools and districts in 65 countries and three U.S. territories during the pandemic, when learning suddenly shifted online. “Launching FlexPoint is personal to us because we are educators at heart,” said company president and chief executive officer Louis Algaze. “We are thrilled to work with schools and districts to continue individualizing the student learning experience by equipping them with the tools and training they need to drive high student performance outcomes in an online learning environment.” reimaginED. The Capitolist. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he is working with FLVS officials to improve state prisoner education programs. “That would expand the resources of Florida Virtual and allow us to, in a very scalable way, provide education to thousands and thousands of people that are incarcerated,” he said. WFTS.

Around the nation: Gwen Graham, an attorney, former U.S. representative and Florida gubernatorial candidate, was confirmed Wednesday by the U.S. Senate as assistant secretary for legislation and congressional affairs for the Department of Education. Florida Politics. Politico. USA Today Florida Network.

Education podcasts: Jen Bradshaw, client delivery manager for NLP Logix, discusses the future of education savings accounts with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill in the second of a two-part podcast. reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff