Vaccination worries in schools, federal food aid approved, district sued over masks rule and more

Around the state: Public health officials worry that the fight over COVID-19 vaccinations in Florida is spilling over to other vaccinations long required by school districts, Florida’s application for about $1 billion in federal food aid money for children in low-income families has been approved, Hillsborough’s school board is being sued by a group of 39 parents over the district’s face mask mandate, Brevard’s school board will reconsider its mask mandate at Tuesday’s meeting, a Lee County School Board member is under fire after statements she made about Guatemalan students, a Polk teacher has been fired for organizing a protest at Kathleen High this week that resulted in 15 students being arrested, a transgender student has been elected homecoming queen at an Orange County high school, Okaloosa district officials are investigating the showing of an R-rated movie with rape scenes at Niceville High School, and the Taylor County superintendent has moved up the date of his resignation from Dec. 1 to Oct. 8. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties have all relaxed rules for attending school sporting events and other extracurricular activities. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Thirty-nine parents are suing the Hillsborough County School Board over the district’s face mask mandate. They’re asking a circuit court judge to issue an order stopping schools from enforcing the rule because they said requiring a medical exemption to go to school unmasked violates parents’ constitutional freedoms and the state’s new Parents’ Bill of Rights law. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay area schools have been open more than a month, but there are still plenty of job openings for teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and more. Tampa Bay Times. Abby DiCenzo, a sophomore at Bell Creek Academy in Hillsborough County, has become the first female football player in Florida to score a touchdown in a high school football game. A week ago, she scored against Berea Christian. “She told me early on her goal was to score a touchdown,” said head coach Willie Murphy. “When I had the chance to put her in there, she earned it. When I told the team that they were like ‘Yes, let’s do it. Let’s get her that touchdown.’ ” WTVT.

Orange: Students at Olympia High School in Orlando have elected the school’s first transgender student as homecoming queen. Evan Bialosuknia said the decision “made me feel like I actually belonged. Not just like a joke. Cause that was one of my fears. I was in bed one night like, ‘What if they were just doing this to laugh at me?’ ” Bialosuknia, 17, started transitioning from male to female a few months ago. WESH. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: The school board is not responsible for injuries suffered by a student who was hit by a car as she walked to her school bus stop in 2015, according to a Florida appeals court. A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal overturned a circuit court decision and said the school board “did not have a duty to warn (the child) because it did not create the busy roadway.” News Service of Florida

Duval: A charter school is holding a mandatory meeting among its 6th-graders after a group of them were caught vaping on campus this week. The KIPP VOICE Academy students have been suspended, and the school announced that “our next steps have been to conduct a mandatory town hall meeting for the 6th-grade team to ensure that we address the commitment of excellence and the status of our school culture.” WJXT.

Polk: A world history and African American studies teacher at Kathleen High School in Lakeland has been fired after organizing a protest against school policies this week that resulted in the arrests of 15 students. Tomaris Hill, 33, faces misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and conspiring to interfere with the educational process. Deputies said Hill and about 200 students were calling for the firing of principal Daraford Jones over the student dress code and a recent decision to not allow dancing at the upcoming homecoming dance. Orlando Sentinel. Winter Haven High School football coach Charlie Tate has resigned after a physical altercation with a 14-year-old student during a physical education class this week. Tate said he resigned rather than serve a suspension for the rest of the football season. “In today’s society, I should not have done that,” he said. “Would I do that same thing to my son, yes I would.” In 2018, Tate was briefly fired after allegedly pushing a shopping cart into a student, but was rehired when the state attorney declined to pursue charges. WFLA.

Lee, southwest Florida: Some members of the community are calling for the resignation of Lee County School Board member Chris Patricca over comments she recently made about Guatemalan students. “The biggest challenge principals have with students from Guatemala is getting them out of the bathroom,” she said at a recent community forum. “They’ve never seen running water before. They go in there, turn the faucet on and flush toilet and are fascinated by plumbing.” Patricca quickly apologized, releasing a statement that said, “I genuinely feel badly that I hurt people’s feelings. I was speaking as an individual, not on behalf of the Lee County School Board or the Florida School Boards Association. Individuals hailing from Guatemala are most certainly valued members of our community. I vow to do better now and in the future.” WFTX. WINK. The number of threats against schools in southwest Florida is on the rise, and some district officials are blaming pandemic-related stress. WFTX. An administrative assistant and coordinator of high school operations for the Florida Southwestern Collegiate High School has been sentenced to 40 years in prison after being found guilty of stealing $87,000 from the school. Lisa Ann Betz, 61, was charged in January with stealing money she collected for school events. Fort Myers News-Press. Associated Press.

Brevard: After being pressured by the Florida Department of Education and warned of repercussions by the county’s legislative delegation over the district’s face mask mandate, school board members will meet Tuesday to reconsider their policy. Board chair Misty Belford said she called the meeting on the advice of the board’s general counsel, Paul Gibbs. Florida Today. A negligence lawsuit has been filed against the school board after a Satellite High baseball player was struck in the temple during a batting drill March 10 and allegedly did not receive appropriate medical attention. Florida Today.

St. Johns: The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in February to decide if the school district violated a transgender student’s rights to use boys bathrooms at Nease High School. The student, Drew Adams, and his mother filed suit in 2017. A district judge ruled in Adams’ favor in 2018, and a three-member panel of the appeals court upheld the decision in July. The district asked for, and was granted, a hearing from the full appeals court. News Service of Florida.

Escambia: The Pensacola State College Board of Trustees voted this week to back a proposal to open a charter high school on the college’s Warrington campus. If the Escambia County School Board also approves the school, the Pensacola State College Charter Academy would allow sophomore, juniors and seniors to pursue high school diplomas, an associate in arts degree or an associate in science degree, and earn transferable college credits. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: Two district teachers have won state awards for their work. Wilkinson Elementary social studies teacher Lorraine Evatt won the Dr. Theron Trimble Florida social studies teacher of the year award for elementary schools, while Lake Asbury Junior High social studies teacher Josh Hailey won Florida’s Recipient Excellence in Teaching History Award. Clay Today.

Leon: The Florida Charter School Appeal Commission has approved a recommendation to overrule the school board’s decision rejecting an application from Red Hills Charter Academy. The issue now goes to the state Board of Education on Oct. 20 for a final decision. School board members said they denied the application because of budget and safety concerns. Tallahassee Democrat. A Trinity Catholic School teacher was arrested Wednesday on charges of possessing and transmitting child pornography, according to sheriff’s deputies. Mark Clow, 54, is on administrative leave until the investigation is completed. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV. A Godby High School student has been arrested and accused of having a gun in his car on campus. It’s the fourth arrest this month of students having guns at school, and came a day after law enforcement officials pleaded with parents to lock up their weapons. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Okaloosa: School officials said they are investigating the recent showing of an R-rated movie to students in a AICE Classical Studies course at Niceville High School. The movie, Alexander, about Alexander the Great of Macedonia, has several rape scenes and incidences of domestic violence, prompting complaints from some parents. WKRG. WEAR. WMBB.

Alachua: An attorney who represents parents fighting the district’s face mask mandate and quarantine rules has sent a cease-and-desist letter to district officials. The letter said decisions by Superintendent Carlee Simon are threatening to cause immediate harm to children and families. District officials said current protocols will remain in place. WCJB. Two teenagers have been arrested and accused of making five bomb threats against two Newberry schools. The 17-year-old male and 15-year-old female are students at Newberry High School, which was the target in four of the threats. WCJB. WGFL. WJXT.

Citrus: Antonio Elijah Hicks of Inverness has been identified as the 16-year-old student who died after collapsing at Citrus High School’s  football practice Tuesday. The district is investigating the circumstances of his death. Citrus County Chronicle. WTVT. Robert John Cummins II, the principal of the Cypress Creek Juvenile Correctional and Treatment Center in Lecanto, has been arrested after he allegedly violated a five-day-old stalking injunction. A judge had ordered Cummins, 57, to have no contact with a woman, but deputies said he violated the injunction by contacting the woman’s lawyer to request some personnel files from a previous disciplinary hearing she was involved in. Citrus County Chronicle.

Gilchrist: For the 10th time in 11 years, the school district received a grade of A from the state. The district is the fourth-highest ranked in the state, according to the Florida Department of Education. Trenton Middle-High, Bell Middle-High and Trenton Elementary all received A grades. Bell Elementary did not receive a grade. Gilchrist County Journal. Florida Department of Education.

Taylor: School Superintendent Danny Glover, who had announced he was resigning Dec. 1, has moved the date up to Oct. 8. He notified Gov. DeSantis in a letter dated Sept. 28. He gave no reason for the change. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: Mike McConnell, a former National Security Agency directed, was hired as the director of the state agency Cyber Florida in February 2020 without a national search or interviews with any other candidates and has worked remotely, visiting Florida just four times despite a clause in his contract requiring him to spend two days a month at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where the agency is headquartered. WFTS. The top lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board said college athletes are employees and should have the right to organize and negotiate their working conditions. Associated Press. WTVJ. The University of South Florida has received a donation of $1.2 million from Andrew and Eileen Hafer to expand a program that offers “students with intellectual disabilities a chance to excel in a university setting,” said interim president Rhea Law. University of South Florida. Declining enrollment and borrowing from its endowment fund helped put Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens on probation. The Commission of Colleges will measure the university’s progress and decide whether to lift the probation next June. WTVJ. Ashley Bell Barnett has been elected chair of the Polk State College Board of Trustees, and Greg Littleton is the new vice chair. Lakeland Ledger.

Federal food aid: Florida has been approved to receive about $1 billion in federal aid to provide $375 per child to each family that qualifies. The state chose not to apply for the funds after the end of the last school year. It was the only state that hadn’t applied, but changed its position after it became a political issue. Associated Press.

Vaccine resistance: Public health officials worry that the fight over COVID-19 vaccinations in Florida is spilling over to other vaccinations long required by school districts, and some districts are reporting that an increasing number of students aren’t getting them. “This is another public health crisis on top of a public health crisis,” said Dr. Patricia Emmanuel, chair of the College of Medicine Pediatrics at USF Health, part of the University of South Florida. USA Today Florida Network.

Choice consistency sought: About 62 percent of Americans said they would be less likely to vote for candidates who oppose school choice but send their own children to a private school, according to a new poll from RealClear Opinion Research. reimaginED.

New laws begin today: Among the new state laws that go into effect today is one that makes it illegal to make written threats against schools and other institutions electronically. Previously, the law only covered online threats that were sent directly to the subject of the threat. Another new law revises existing child welfare laws. Patch.

Around the nation: School boards across the country are asking the U.S. government for help from federal law enforcement to deal with increasingly violent confrontations at board meetings, usually over masks, vaccines and how race issues are taught in schools. NPR. Associated Press. About 2 million U.S. children and teens regularly used vaping products in 2021, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. That’s down from previous years, but researchers said comparisons are invalid because this year’s survey was done remotely, while those in previous years were done in person Politico. Associated Press. Florida Phoenix. Florida ranks 25th in the nation for its teacher retirement system with a C grade in ratings compiled by Bellwether Education Partners. No state received an A, and only three got a B. Nineteen states and the District of Columbus got F grades. The 74. Absenteeism surged among U.S. students learning the English language during the pandemic, including in Palm Beach County, according to data supplied by 11 school districts. The 74.

Opinions on schools: In the short term, Republicans can get some political capital from making a ruckus about critical race theory and masks. But in the long term, Americans do not want to fundamentally undermine the institution of public education, and it is entirely possible that they will push back when they see it threatened. Kathryn Joyce, The New Republic. Education savings accounts could help rural schools join the broad, nationwide coalition of parental choice advocates. Garion Frankel, reimaginED. Testing is as relevant as ever, but it should go back to its original purpose of evaluation for planning purposes – not reward and punishment. Rhonda London, Florida Times-Union. For many county school board members who have been forced to the front lines of the battle over masks in schools, the “privilege” of their office is subjecting them to abuse and harassment that is way out of line. The only way to cool this overheated debate is for everyone with a stake in it to commit to returning to more civil discourse and common courtesy. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff