Federal-state mask war continuing, special session, new school project killed in Lee, and more

Another U.S.-Florida lawsuit? All of Florida’s school districts are now in compliance with the state’s face mask rules, or will be soon, and the state has won several legal skirmishes over its masks rule. But the struggle between the state and the federal government continues. Tuesday, the state Board of Education authorized Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to “vigorously defend” the state against a cease-and-desist order filed with an administrative judge over Florida’s withholding of federal grants from school districts that violated the state’s ban on face mask mandates. Corcoran was also given the go-ahead to file a lawsuit against the federal government over the issue, if necessary. “It is my hope that districts will continue to comply with Florida’s laws,” Corcoran said. “But should that change, we must vigorously defend the state’s authority to control its education system.” The board also said that the state will restore funding that has been withheld from districts that defied mask rules but are now in compliance. Miami Herald. Florida Phoenix. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Forbes. WFSU. Florida Politics.

In the Legislature: A series of bills intended to limit vaccine mandates in businesses and masks in schools moved through the Legislature on the second day of the special session Tuesday. Among other things, the bills would let let parents sue schools over mask mandates and stop schools and governments from having vaccine mandates, and would bar businesses from imposing vaccine mandates on workers unless they allow exemptions for medical or religious reasons, proof of immunity from a previous COVID-19 infection, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear. Votes on the bills are expected today. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV. Florida Phoenix. Capitol News Service. One of the bills being considered would give enormous discretionary powers to the state surgeon general to make decisions on how to fight the pandemic. What can Florida expect from its new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who has downplayed the effectiveness of masks and vaccines? Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: Lee County School Board members decided unanimously on Tuesday to suspend the construction of a K-8 school in Estero, the Hillsborough County teachers union is asking the district to increase the starting pay for teachers to $49,200 from $46,900, a lawsuit has been filed against the Leon school board on behalf of a Tallahassee couple who contend the board violated their rights by excluding them from discussions about their child’s gender identity, Flagler’s sheriff says decisions about books in school libraries is a job for the school board instead of his office, and several school boards elect a new chair and vice chair. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School officials have launched a social media campaign to remind students about the potential dangers of making social media posts. The campaign is called #ThinkB4UPost. In October, social media threats were directed against five schools. WSVN. A tiny school in a big county is turning heads with its imaginative ideas and unconventional approach to education. Colossal Academy, in Davie, has but 10 students who take part in directing their own education with hands-on, project-based learning heavy on technology and entrepreneurship. It offers core lessons through the Florida Virtual School and partners with a home co-op. “This is what education should be,” said Shiren Rattigan, founder and teacher who previously worked in public and private schools that, in her opinion, didn’t work for students or teachers. “I’m making it up as I go, but I’m having so much fun doing it. And really, what was the choice?” reimaginED.

Hillsborough: The teachers union has opened contract negotiations with the district by calling for a starting salary of $49,200, which is $2,300 a year more than the current minimum. It also wants annual supplements ranging from $500 to $5,000 for veteran teachers who have reached the salary ceiling of $68,400, some special education teachers who have taken on administrative work, counselors with advanced academic degrees and others. District officials said they will consider the request, but cautioned that they must spend carefully to avoid another financial crisis. The next bargaining session is Dec. 13. Tampa Bay Times. The Texas-based charter school company IDEA Public Schools has launched two schools in the county this year and has another on the way. The company’s emphasis on college preparation and individual attention have made it attractive to many parents. But can it work in Hillsborough? And if it does, what will that mean for the school district? Tampa Bay Times. A parents group is lobbying the school district to rename the mascots for the mascots for Chamberlain and East Bay high schools. Chamberlain’s is the Chiefs, and East Bay’s is the Indians. Names that referenced native Americans were changed at six schools in 2019, but not at East Bay and Chamberlain. WTSP.

Orange: The school district has partnered with Randall Construction Holdings Inc. to create the Randall Academy to give students a path from the classroom to jobs in the construction industry. Twelve students are in the pilot program. They attend school half a day and then work a half-day at a paid construction job. WKMG.

Palm Beach: A 14-year-old student at William T. Dwyer High School who was last seen riding his bicycle Monday evening was found dead Tuesday morning in Palm Beach Gardens. No details were released about the cause of death for Ryan Rogers. Grief counselors are at the school to help console students and employees. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: Darryl Willie has been sworn in as the new chair of the school board at Tuesday’s meeting, while Kelly Coker was elected vice chair. WJXT.

Lee: School board members unanimously decided Tuesday to stop the construction of a new K-8 school in Estero, agreeing that the need for a new school was greater on the east side of the county instead of in an area where about 70 percent of the residents are retirees. About $3 million has already been spent on the project, but the board decided the district has better uses for the nearly $100 million the school would have cost if completed. Several board members want an audit of the project and an investigation into why the project got this far along. WINK. WFTX. WBBH. Andrew Chuang Saladin, a sophomore at Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, has been declared the Microsoft World Champion for Powerpoint. Saladin, who won the state championship in May, collects $7,000 and a Microsoft Surface Pro. He’s the third Dunbar student to win the title. WBBH.

Brevard: School board voted unanimously at Tuesday’s meeting to keep cameras rolling for end-of-the-meeting, non-agenda comments from public speakers, and decided to move ahead on implementing a new policy limiting the amount of time allotted for comments. A final vote on the policy is expected next month. The board also elected Misty Belford as chair for the fourth time. Matt Susin was elected as vice chair for the third time. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. A school board member’s request for a temporary injunction against a state legislator will be heard Dec. 13, a judge announced Tuesday. Board member Jennifer Jenkins alleges that state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, has cyberstalked her and harassed her on social media. Fine called the request “dangerous,” and suggested Jenkins should resign if she couldn’t take “legitimate criticism.” Florida Today. Two district psychologists have been honored by the state. Jessica Copeland has been named the 2021 early career school psychologist of the year, and Charlie Eccleston was chosen as the school psychologist of the year. Space Coast Daily.

Seminole: Increasingly violent fights are occurring almost every day at Markham Woods Middle School in Heathrow, parents contend, and they said little is being done about it. School district spokesman Michael Lawrence said all students involved have been “disciplined accordingly,” but that the details are confidential. WKMG.

Sarasota: Jane Goodwin has been elected chair of the school board by her colleagues, and Tom Edwards has been chosen as vice chair. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: Eric Cummings has been elected as chair of the school board for the second time in three years, and Allison Campbell was chosen as the vice chair during the board’s annual reorganization meeting on Tuesday. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: A lawsuit has been filed against the school board on behalf of a Tallahassee couple who contend the board violated their rights by excluding them from discussions about their child’s gender identity. The parents said the district spoke to their child about gender identity without their consent. District officials contend one of the parents gave them permission to take the lead in the gender identity discussion. Tallahassee Democrat. Twenty students from various county schools have a plan to plant 200 Japanese magnolia trees on Jan. 22 at Broadmoore Pond Park to celebrate the county’s and Tallahassee’s bicentennial. WCTV.

Alachua: A court hearing is today on the lawsuit some parents filed against the school board and Superintendent Carlee Simon over the school’s face mask mandate for students. The suit could be dismissed as moot since the district ended the mandate and now allows parents to opt-out of the district’s face mask mandate for their children. Since that option became available last Friday, nearly 2,400 parents have submitted opt-out forms. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. A divided school board elected Rob Hyatt as its chair at Tuesday’s meeting, and kept Tina Certain as vice chair. The results broke with the board’s custom of elevating the vice chair into the chair slot when it opens. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB.

Flagler: While the sheriff’s office says a complaint about a book’s presence in a school library is “under review,” Sheriff Rick Staly made it clear at Tuesday’s school board meeting that “we don’t decide what the community standard is. This is a school board issue. If they have concerns, they need to give direction to their superintendent, and her, to her employees. They need to do their job and not try to drag in the sheriff’s office.” Board member Jill Woolbright filed a criminal complaint over a book last week. Flagler Live.

Monroe: The teachers union has filed a complaint with the state against the school district, contending that it engaged in unfair labor practices by unilaterally making face masks optional. The union had been negotiating with the district over a memo of understanding about COVID-19 protocols, but the memo hadn’t been approved when the board changed the masks policy. Key West Citizen.

Jackson: A math teacher for Florida Virtual School who also tutors county students told the school board Tuesday that 80 to 100 high school students still haven’t passed the Florida Standards Assessments and end-of-course exams needed to graduate. “I just think that there’s a lack of resources, a lack of curriculum and these kids are scrambling to be able to even graduate when we really should be encouraging them to do something greater than just getting by,” said Kerri Eaton. Board members said they would investigate her concerns. WMBB.

Jefferson: Somerset Jefferson K-12 Charter School has honored three of its employees: Keith Morley has been chosen as the middle school teacher of the year, Sharico Bellamy is the elementary teacher of the year and Carla Cummings-Morley is the noninstructional employee of the year. Jefferson County Journal.

Colleges and universities: Records from the Florida State University professor show that three professors recently committed sexual misconduct against students. One was fired, another was suspended and later resigned, and a third remains at the school teaching music. Fresh Take Florida. More than 17,000 University of Miami students have received checks ranging from $200 to $2,500 from the university. The money came from the school’s share of coronavirus relief aid, and was distributed “to all students in an equitable manner, prioritizing those with financial need,” John Haller, UM’s vice president for enrollment management, wrote in an e-mail to students. Miami Herald. The University of South Florida trustees have made an on-campus football stadium as one of nine proposed goals for interim president Rhea Law to make progress on before a permanent president is selected. Tampa Bay Times. The number of foreign students attending U.S. colleges this year is up 4 percent after a decline of 15 percent last year because of the pandemic, according to a survey of more than 800 U.S. schools. Associated Press.

Civics and debating champs: Two Florida students have won the first National Civics and Debate Championship. Simon Denahan, who attends Kanapaha Middle School in Alachua County, is the middle school champion, and the high school champion is Alex Vihlan of Lake Mary Preparatory School in Seminole County. Florida Department of Education.

Opinions on schools: Threats to Florida’s public education should not come from Florida officials appointed or elected for their stewardship of the same. But make no mistake, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to weaponize public education haven’t ended. Robert Sanchez, Gainesville Sun. Florida needs a Children’s Bill of Rights to protect the vulnerable students who don’t have the kind of parents the Legislature imagines. Sally Butzin, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff