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Families and FBI settle for $130M over Parkland school shooting, voucher accountability, and more

In the Legislature: Two Democratic legislators have proposed bills requiring private schools that accept state scholarship money to meet many of the same accountability rules required of public schools. The identical bills (S.B. 532 and H.B. 429) were filed by state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, and state Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil, D-Maitland. They want those private schools to be required to, among other things, hire teachers with bachelor’s degrees, follow a curriculum that meets state standards, require students to take state exams, and receive letter grades from the state. Orlando Sentinel. On Nov. 30, members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Commission will consider a proposal that would make school board elections partisan. News Service of Florida. House members will meet for four days next week for committee meetings. The 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 11. News Service of Florida.

Mask mandates case: Arguments in a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on face mask mandates have been set for the week of Feb. 7 in Miami. The suit was brought by parents of children with special needs, who claim the state’s rule violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and another law that protect the rights of people with disabilities. Their request for an injunction against the rule lost at the circuit court level in September, and they appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: The U.S. Department of Justice will reportedly pay the families of the Parkland school shooting victims nearly $130 million to settle a lawsuit against the FBI, state officials say money withheld by the state from the Alachua County School District over its face mask mandate should be released to the district soon since it is now in compliance, Hillsborough schools are signing USF students to job offers as a way to cut into the shortage of teachers, Martin County school officials sign a deal with a company to provide subs when there aren’t enough district employees to cover absences, and University of Florida researchers have discovered that pairing two over-the-counter medications can stall the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Families of the students and staff who were killed or injured during the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will reportedly receive nearly $130 million from the U.S. Department of Justice to settle a lawsuit. The families sued the FBI for its failure to stop the gunman even though it had information that he intended to carry out an assault on the school five weeks before the attack. Nikolas Cruz, a former student at Stoneman Douglas, has pleaded guilty to killing 17 and wounding 17 others. Associated Press. U.S. News & World Report. Reuters. WPLG.

Hillsborough: A severe shortage of teachers has prompted district officials to start signing recruits who are still in college. This month, 21 University of South Florida students signed job offers from the district, and district human resources chief Marie Whelan said she wished they could sign more. The district has about 500 teaching vacancies, and some schools are particularly hard-hit. For example, there are 29 openings at Gibsonton’s Eisenhower Middle School, and 14 of them work with special needs students. USF student Sade Amos, who has a spot at Martinez Middle, said she was moved by the signing ceremony. “I was so nervous,” she said. “It feels amazing, though, knowing that when I graduate, I am going to go somewhere where I can help people.” Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: School performing arts are finally back for the holidays after the pandemic year, though in many cases with masks and social distancing. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach recently returned with a show of students singing Aretha Franklin’s hits. “It was amazing,” said Paula Jaffe, who costumes dancers at the school. “This show, there was a different feel to it. You could feel the joy from the kids – that they were finally able to perform in front of a live audience. Everyone was just so excited. Different from any other show I’ve been a part of.” Palm Beach Post.

Marion: The number of new coronavirus cases in schools has plateaued while quarantines are declining rapidly, according to district data. Fifteen COVID-19 cases were reported last week, compared to 16 in each of the two previous weeks. Sixty-seven students were quarantined, a decline from 195 the week before and 125 three weeks ago. Ocala Star-Banner.

Santa Rosa: Preventing further learning loss during the pandemic and better communication are two things the school district should be doing to better meet the needs of its students, according to feedback from parents gathered at six town hall meetings in the past two weeks. The meetings drew 450-500 people, and Superintendent Karen Barber said district officials will use the feedback to help shape the five-year strategic plan, which she hopes to present to the school board in May. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: About $165,000 withheld by the state because the school district was considered to be a violation of the state’s rule on face mask mandates should be released to the district soon because it is now considered to be in compliance, said Jared Ochs, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education. When the funds were withheld, the district was requiring all students to wear face masks unless they had a doctor’s excuse not to. Last week, the district made masks optional. WGFL. WCJB.

Martin: District officials have signed an agreement with the company that supplies substitute teachers to provide paraprofessionals and subs when district employees aren’t available to cover absences. The contract with Kelly Services cannot exceed $100,000. “This gives us a little bit of flexibility where if there is a day or instance where we don’t have a substitute that’s an employee of the district that we can call on, we’ll have some flexibility with this company to be able to fill those positions,” said district spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo. WPTV.

Monroe: District and law enforcement officials are investigating who created an Instagram account where photos of special education students from Coral Shores High School were posted, in an apparent attempt to bully them. “They are taking this very seriously,” said school board member Sue Woltanski. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida researchers have discovered that pairing two over-the-counter medications can stall the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The treatment, developed with researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, could lead to the development of a product to be used against COVID-19. Florida Politics. A senior at the University of Central Florida is leading a drive to get an amendment on the 2024 ballot that creates ranked-choice voting in all Florida general elections. The system proposed by Loki Mole, 19, of Winter Park, allows voters to rank the candidates on the ballot from favorite to least favorite. The lowest vote-getter is disqualified and his or her votes go to the candidates ranked second on those ballots. The elimination process continues until one candidate has 50 percent of the votes plus one. “Is it sort of a long shot?” Mole asked. “Is it going to be difficult? Of course. … But I don’t think it’s impossible.” Orlando Sentinel. Dr. Scott Rivkees, former Florida surgeon general and professor of pediatrics at the UF College of Medicine, is taking a job at the Brown University School of Public Health in Rhode Island. USA Today Florida Network.

Unbundling, pods and more: Hybrid learning, part-time enrollment, unbundling of services, home-schools, pods and microschools were among the ideas discussed last week at the National Summit on Education as ways of reimagining education. “Our government, our country is no better than the education system we provide for our children,” said Bernita Bradley of the National Parents Union. “If we don’t decide to reimagine education, then we’re doing a disservice to what is supposed to be one of the greatest nations in the world.” reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: An important way to improve education outcomes and potentially school integration is to allow students to attend public schools without regard to their ZIP codes. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff