Kids have highest COVID positivity rate, attendance rules, mask policies, marking a Muslim holiday and more

Kids and COVID: The coronavirus positivity rate for children 11 and under is the highest among any age group in the state, and health experts fear another COVID surge could arrive before students 5 to 11 years are fully vaccinated and protected. The latest state data shows that the positive rate for children 11 and under is 5.3 percent, which is down from the Aug. 19 peak of 23 percent. But the flu season and holiday travel are ahead, while vaccines for children 5 to 11 still haven’t been approved and shots for children under 5 are even further into the future. Tampa Bay Times. Immunization rates for preventable childhood diseases are falling, and pediatricians worry that could threaten the progress made against communicable diseases such as the measles, whooping cough and others. “There is a segment of our population that is becoming very anti-vaccine,” said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, president of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It’s a whole new era for us as pediatricians.” Orlando Sentinel.

Attendance proposal: At today’s meeting, the state Board of Education will consider extending a rule that allows students to be counted as present in school if they have been ordered to quarantine at home. A 90-day emergency rule was adopted in August that allowed students in quarantine to be counted for attendance purposes as long as they were “engaged in an educational activity which constitutes a part of the school-approved instructional program for that pupil.” The rule expires in the first week of November. The board is also scheduled to consider revising the state’s K-12 civics curriculum. News Service of Florida.

Mask policies being relaxed: As the number of coronavirus cases continues to decline, some of the school districts that imposed strict face mask mandates are now starting to relax them. The changes are moving those districts closer to the state’s rules, which allow mask mandates as long as parents can opt-out. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: Nikolas Cruz is expected to plead guilty today on all accounts for the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward school board members are considering closing schools for a Muslim holiday in 2023, Duval’s school board approves emergency COVID-19 leaves for school employees and cash incentives for workers who get vaccinated, Lee’s school board is asking the state to investigate a board member who made derogatory remarks about Guatemalan students in the district, the Martin County School Board approves $1,000 bonuses for all workers who were left out of a bonuses plan approved by the state earlier this year, and the Sarasota school board tentatively approves changes in the public comments portion of board meetings. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A majority of school board members indicated their support for giving students and teachers a day off in 2023 for a Muslim holiday. If the board follows through, the district would become the first in Florida to observe a Muslim holiday. The holiday is Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and falls on April 21 in 2023. “We’re trying to do the best we can do make it inclusive for all,” said school board member Ann Murray. The board has considered marking the holiday in the past, but it conflicted with some standardized testing. Sun Sentinel. The school board has released a timeline for hiring a new superintendent. A job description should be finished by mid-November, after a community survey and meetings with stakeholders. A list of candidates is expected to be completed by mid-January, followed by final interviews. Interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright likely will be permitted to apply, and has said she will. WPLG.

Hillsborough: The chair of the parent advisory committee working with the district to replace the Native American-theme mascots at Chamberlain and East Bay high schools said the district has canceled recent meetings because of COVID-19 and has yet to reschedule them. Meanwhile, said Shannon Durant, “they still have Friday night football and they still have homecoming and they still have indoor volleyball.” District spokeswoman Tanya Arja said the issue is still alive. “While the superintendent and board paused the process earlier this year, district staff continue to engage with student groups and members of the community to have this important discussion,” she said. Tampa Bay Times. Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the executive director of the district’s teachers union, has accepted a job as a regional director for the American Federation of Teachers. Baxter-Jenkins, a lawyer, has worked for more than a decade with the union, which has more than 10,000 members. Union president Rob Kriete said a national search will be conducted to find a replacement. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: District chief financial officer Michael Burke was named the interim superintendent in July until the school board could complete a national search for a permanent one. Today, the school board votes to officially give the job to Burke, a finance major who has never been a teacher. His performance running the district during the surge in coronavirus cases, mask mandate fights and protests impressed board members so much that they never considered another candidate. “I don’t think there’s a person in the building who has a better understanding of both the business side of this district and the educational side,” said board chair Frank Barbieri. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: School board members have approved emergency COVID-19 leaves for school employees and cash incentives for workers who get vaccinated. All unionized district employees who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 10 or have an approved exemption will receive $200, and all fulltime workers will receive up to 40 hours of emergency leave. The agreement also includes a face mask mandate for all district employees for the rest of the school year. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJCT.

Pinellas: The school board has honored two administrators with outstanding leadership awards. Suzanne Hester, the principal at Skyview Elementary School in Pinellas Park, won the award for principals. Dawn Lewis, who works at Bay Point Elementary School in St. Petersburg, won the award for assistant principals. Patch.

Lee: In a 4-2 vote, the school board approved a resolution calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to investigate board member Chris Patricca for “abuse of position” over comments she made about Guatemalan students in the district during a public meeting Sept. 24. Among other things, Patricca said, “The biggest challenge that those principals are facing is getting them out of the bathroom, because they’ve never seen running water before.” WFTX. WBBH.

Pasco: School bus drivers said the district’s plan to adjust school start and end times won’t solve the driver shortage problem. Driver Debbie Parker told school board members Tuesday that the real problem is poor pay. “Every time we talk to people about becoming bus drivers, they love the benefits, but then when they look at the pay, they say that’s not a living wage,” said Parker. “In fact, all of you should be ashamed of yourselves, because a lot of your drivers have to go to food banks to survive.” Board members are scheduled to discuss the issue at the regular board meeting Nov. 2. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS.

Sarasota: The school board tentatively approved a proposal to revise the public comments policy for board meetings. If the changes are approved at a future meeting, personal attacks and abusive language won’t be tolerated, speakers will get just two minutes if more than 30 people have signed up to speak before so the comment period doesn’t exceed an hour, and comments on agenda items will be heard before the board votes. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: The decline in the school district’s coronavirus cases and quarantines continued last week. Forty-one students and employees tested positive, a drop of 16.3 percent, and quarantines were down 28.9 percent. COVID cases are down 94.4 percent in the past seven weeks, and quarantines are down 96.4 percent in the past six weeks. Ocala Star-Banner.

Alachua: The school board tentatively voted Tuesday to proceed with the redrawing of boundaries for board members’ districts. Option 2 was the preferred choice. “I do favor option 2. … I like the slices in the sense that it’s familiar with the county, but each member would represent an area of the county that is in the city limits, as well as extending out to the rural areas,” said board member Tina Certain. The final vote is expected in December. WCJB.

Martin: School educators and support staff who were passed over when the state handed out $1,000 bonuses to teachers and principals earlier this year will be rewarded after all. Tuesday, the school board approved a plan to use a large share of the federal coronavirus relief aid it receives to provide $1,000 bonuses to media specialists, deans, guidance counselors, support facilitators, reading and math coaches, cafeteria workers, school bus drivers, custodians, and other support staff. “We want to take care of not just one group but all of our employees,” said Superintendent John Millay. “The governor’s money went to just teachers so basically this would be everyone else in the district, all employees that would not be in the original set of teachers.” WPTV.

Flagler: A Matanzas High School student was arrested last week for having drugs at school and head-butting a school resource officer while resisting arrest. School administrators said the boy had a dab pen with a thick brown fluid that later tested positive for THC, the illegal ingredient in cannabis products that produces a feeling of euphoria. Palm Coast Observer.

Columbia: Columbia High School teacher Michael Reynolds, 38, has been arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated after leaving the scene of a crash in Lake City. Reynolds has previous DUI convictions from 2009 and 2014. WCJB.

Jefferson: District officials have presented school board members with a four-stage plan to take back control of the school district from the charter school company Somerset Academy Inc. by the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. The plan will be presented to the Florida Department of Education at a meeting Oct. 25. Jackie Pons, the transition principal, said among the goals outlined in the plans are to convince the FDOE to release its financial oversight of the district, find ways to attract some of the 300 students who have left the district to return, to take stock of technology on hand, to decide how to rehire employees, and to revitalize extracurricular activities such as athletics. “We’ve never had a transition in Florida going from a charter school back to a school district,” Pons said. “This is a pretty big undertaking.” Jefferson County Journal.

Colleges and universities: The Florida Board of Governors is asking the Legislature to boost its budget by $150 million to improve the national rankings of the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida. Each school would get an additional $50 million to hire and retain faculty, improve buildings, fund research and development and more. WUFT. An Alachua County circuit judge has refused to dismiss a case brought by students who want their University of Florida fees refunded after they were switched to remote learning last year. News Service of Florida.

In the Legislature: State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, was officially chosen Tuesday by legislative Republican legislators as the Senate president-designate for the 2022-2024 term. She will succeed Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, next fall, and lead the Senate for the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions if Republicans maintain their majority after the 2022 elections. Associated Press. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics. Senators return to Tallahassee on Nov. 2 for three days of committee meetings. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: Public school transportation is expensive, bureaucratic and cumbersome. We have a system that is completely antiquated, largely in the same form when it was established nearly 80 years ago. Nationwide funding formulas operate as if kids and families are all still attending their assigned school within neatly designed and restrictive attendance zones. Emily Anne Gullickson, reimaginED. Lawsuits in opposition to education freedom are the final death throes of the status quo. We shouldn’t let these educational zombies hold us back. It’s time to face a hope-filled future head-on and let our imaginations run wild. Amanda Kieffer, Project Forever Free. We have yet to realize the full impacts of this pandemic on the academic and mental health of our kids and addressing those issues should not only be the priority of school boards but of all facets of our society, including our governor and legislature. Broward school board member Sarah Leonardi, Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff