U.S. files cease-and-desist order against state, masks, furor over field trip, and more

U.S. takes state to court: The U.S. Department of Education is asking an administrative law judge to stop Florida from withholding federal grants intended for local school districts that were sanctioned over their strict face mask mandates. The USDOE filed a cease-and-desist order to block Florida from pulling $567,000 in federal grants meant to go to the Broward and Alachua school districts. “We believe Florida’s actions have violated federal law by reducing state funds based on the receipt by districts of federal funds,” said a U.S. Education Department spokesperson. Florida officials have said the sanctions will continue until the districts change their mask policies that only allowed opt-outs for medical reasons, in violation of the state rule that says parents must be allowed to opt-out. State officials also have said that once districts drop their mandates, they will receive all the money that has been withheld. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Miami HeraldSun Sentinel. WJXT. USA Today Florida Network. CNN.

Around the state: Orange County schools have changed their face mask mandate and will allow parents to opt-out, face masks are now optional in Monroe County, an elementary school field trip sparked a social media frenzy, death threats against a Broward school board member and a state investigation, an Orange County mom who has volunteered at an elementary school has been banned from campus after it was discovered that she has a page on an adult web site, Seminole school officials expect a “sick-out” by school bus drivers today in a dispute over pay, and substitute teachers in Volusia County are getting a raise. 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 one of the last in the state to still have a face mask mandate that requires a note from a doctor to opt-out. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said has said that could change soon, perhaps as soon as early November. But there are many benchmarks that have to be met before the mandate will be changed, he said. They include: Two consecutive weeks of an average of 100 or fewer coronavirus cases per 100,000 population; new case positivity rates declining for two consecutive weeks; daily student cases declining for two straight weeks; at least 80 percent of children 12-18 having at least one vaccine dose, and 60 percent fully vaccinated; new COVID-related hospitalizations remaining below 100 a day for two straight weeks; fewer than 15 percent of the hospital beds in the community occupied by COVID patients; and new student quarantines below 1.5 percent districtwide for two consecutive weeks. Miami Herald.

Broward: An elementary school field trip has sparked a social media frenzy, death threats against a school board member and a state investigation. Wednesday, a group of kindergarten students from Wilton Manors Elementary visited Rosie’s Bar & Grill to learn about restaurants and businesses. Rosie’s is popular with Wilton Manor’s LGBTQ community, and includes “campy” adult humor in its furnishings and menu. The visit went viral after school board member Sarah Leonardi posted some photos from the trip on Facebook and wrote, “I was SO honored to be invited to chaperone Wilton Manors Elementary’s field trip to the incredible Rosie’s!” Commenters suggested she should be removed from office, and some said she should be killed. The state also jumped into the controversy by announcing an investigation. “We have an investigator going down there tomorrow to determine if there is a legally sufficient complaint,” said Jared Ochs, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education. “The health, safety, and welfare of Florida’s 2.9 million students is of utmost importance.” Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR.

Orange: Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said Thursday that the district was ending its face mask mandate for students with opt-outs permitted only for medical reasons. Starting Monday, students are still required to wear masks, but the district will accept opt-out notes from parents. School employees, parents and visitors continue to be required to wear masks. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WESH. A mom who has volunteered at Sand Lake Elementary School has been banned from campus after it was discovered that she has a page on OnlyFans, an adults-only site where creators of sexually explicit content are paid by subscribers. Victoria Triece, 30, who has two children at the school, said she’s been on the site for two years. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WESH.

Palm Beach: The district’s enrollment, including charter schools, now stands at 191,798 students, which is 6,335 below the peak in the fall of 2019. Enrollment in the traditional district schools declined by 518, but that was offset by a gain of more than 700 students in charter schools and 426 more students moving to district virtual programs. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A school bus driver who crashed into an embankment on I-295 Thursday morning was charged with driving under the influence. No children were on the bus. Troopers said Lisa Annette Mims, 58, “failed to safely negotiate a curve.” District officials said the bus and driver are not part of their fleet. The bus is owned by BESI Transportation. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Polk: No costumes are allowed at school district athletic events, school officials reminded students and parents on Thursday. “Although Halloween is approaching, costumes and props of any kind are still not permitted at any school district athletic events,” district officials said in a press release. “This is Polk County Public Schools’ normal practice throughout the year.” Lakeland Ledger.

Seminole: School officials are bracing for a possible shortage of bus drivers today when a “sick-out” has been planned as a protest over pay, according to reports. Union officials said it is not involved in the protest. School officials warned parents in a message Thursday night that a protest would cause “major delays.” District spokesman Michael Lawrence told parents, “If a sick-out were to occur, it would have a significant impact on the district’s ability to transport your students to and from school.” Orlando Sentinel. WESH. WKMG. WOFL.

Volusia: Substitute teachers are getting a pay raise. This week, the school board approved a proposal to boost sub pay from $10 an hour to $13.50. Also being approved was a plan to have one substitute for each school who can take the pay raise or accept $11.50 an hour but with health and retirement benefits. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make this attractive,” said Mark West, the district’s chief human resources officer . “In order to ensure we have enough adults on campus, we need to think outside of the box.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: The district’s face mask mandate ends after today, making masks optional for students and school employees. School board members meet in a workshop session, but no discussion of masks is on the agenda. “We still have to be careful when we can, but we’re just in a much safer environment now,” said board member Charlie Kennedy. Bradenton Herald. Teachers will lose $5,000 a year in pay if voters don’t approve the extension of a tax for schools, school officials said this week. The tax, first approved in 2018, raises about $46 million a year, and 51 percent of the money goes to improve teacher salaries. The election is Tuesday. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Johns: A pride flag has been removed from the window of a Nease High School teacher’s classroom after complaints from a political activist and some parents. The teacher is the sponsor of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club. Thursday, a large group of students protested the decision. WJXT.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: The expansion of state scholarship programs for K-12 students could have an impact of millions of dollars for Treasure Coast school districts. District officials said the programs will attract more students who otherwise would have gone to a public school, and the loss of students means reduced funding from the state. In St. Lucie County, that’s projected to be $14.7 million, while Martin figures to have $3.4 million less in state funding and Indian River $3.1 million less. “Anytime there’s a loss of funding, there’s a concern,” said St. Lucie schools spokeswoman Lydia Martin. “We support parent choice, but it has an impact on public schools.” TCPalm. The Martin County School District is considering placing kiosks loaded with safety equipment on every campus. Inside the kiosks would be enough emergency equipment, from tourniquets to bandages, to save 10 people. The pilot project is being offered to the district at no charge by CRM Safety Solutions of New Jersey WPTV.

Leon: Baleasa Hill, a reading coach at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Tallahassee, has been named the district’s Glenn-Howell distinguished educator of the year for the 2021-2022 school year. WCTV.

Nassau: School officials said they have no authority to discipline two white students who made a video using racial slurs. The Yulee High School students were off campus when they made it, the school year had not begun and the two boys were not yet Yulee High students, they said. “While schools do have jurisdiction to discipline students for their on-line, off campus behavior under certain circumstances, this case did not meet the criteria,” said Mark Durham, the district’s assistant superintendent of instruction. The boys said they did it as a joke and it was not meant to be circulated outside their circle of friends. WJCT. WJXT.

Monroe: Face masks are now optional for students, teacher and other school employees. The school board approved the change this week. Key West Citizen.

Transportation scholarships: Participation on the Florida Transportation Scholarship, which is part of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, has more than doubled from last year, from 212 to 500-plus this year. The scholarship offers $750 for families to use for transportation to a public school other than the one they are assigned. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarship programs. reimaginED.

Colleges and universities: J. Michael Francis, a history professor at the University of South Florida, has been awarded the officer’s cross, signifying a third class rank in the Order of Isabella the Catholic, by King Felipe VI of Spain. Francis was honored for research into the early Spanish roots in Florida’s history. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: The Biden administration’s pared-down $1.75 trillion social spending proposal includes $400 billion for child-care and universal pre-K, but funding for school construction and two years of free community college were removed. The 74.

Opinions on schools: U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who is Hispanic himself, can use his voice to truly represent Hispanic communities that are desperately asking for more school options and a shot at a great education. Valeria Gurr, reimaginED. Disallowing teachers to use all resources under the pretext that only the Declaration of Independence defines American history denies the necessary historic and ethical exploration of the treatment of Native and African Americans (and many, many others). It is tantamount to bad teaching. Ben Graffam, Lakeland Ledger.

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BY NextSteps staff