Judge dismisses districts’ challenge to state mask rule, UF allowing professors to testify, and more

State wins mask ruling: A challenge by six school boards to the state’s rule banning districts from imposing face mask mandates on students was dismissed Friday by an administrative law judge. In a 25-page decision, administrative law Judge Brian Newman declared that the Florida Department of Health’s emergency rule struck the “right balance” on masks by allowing parents to opt-out and that the Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Duval, Leon and Alachua school boards “failed to prove that the emergency rule opt-out provisions facilitate the spread of COVID-19 in schools.” The school districts immediately announced that they would appeal. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. WTXL. WJCT. Gainesville Sun.

UF relents on testimony: University of Florida president Kent Fuchs said Friday that the three professors who were prohibited from testifying in a court case challenging the state’s new voting laws can testify after all, with no restrictions as long as “the activity is on their own time without using university resources.” UF had come under intense criticism for its earlier decision to forbid the three from testifying because it could have posed a “conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida and create a conflict for the University of Florida.” Fuchs also said the university will create a task force to review how the school deals with “requests for approval of outside activities involving potential conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment.” News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Despite the decision, the three professors have filed a lawsuit against UF, claiming their First Amendment rights were violated and asking the court to kill the school policy that led to a “stifling of faculty speech against the state.” Tampa Bay Times. UF faculty union leaders are calling on donors to withhold contributions until the school declares its independence from the state’s political leaders. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: Palm Beach County schools will now allow parents to opt-out of the mask mandate starting today instead of next Monday, Duval school board members approve a plan to pay $1,000 bonuses to instructional staff who weren’t eligible under the state plan earlier this year, a judge declines to issue a temporary injunction against a state legislator who is accused of cyberstalking a Brevard County School board member, two Flagler school board members are flagging a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement in a 5th-grade English workbook as inappropriate, Alachua’s superintendent has said she will communicate with one school board member only at board meetings and in writing after a phone conversation with him, the state will provide $5 million for a new substance abuse education initiative for Florida’s schools, and a Seminole County high school homecoming dance broke up early Saturday when false reports of a students with a gun were circulated. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward, south Florida: South Florida school and law enforcement officials said they are seeing an uptick in the number of social media threats against schools this year. “The students I have spoken to, they’re going through something and they don’t understand how to cope or have an outlet to vent,” said Miramar police detective Tiffany Roy. “So instead, they’re turning around and posting something to get some type of reaction. But they’re not even understanding there’s some type of consequence as far as law enforcement, not just the school.” Sun Sentinel. A 14-year-old middle school student was arrested Friday for having a loaded gun at Boyd H. Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, according to Broward sheriff’s deputies. The boy is a student at Lauderdale Lakes Middle. Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. WPLG. A poll shows that a large majority of Broward’s voters support face mask and vaccine mandates in schools. Florida Politics.

Tampa Bay area: Contract negotiations are ongoing between unions representing 25,000 teachers and the Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco school districts. The unions are pushing for the districts to get closer to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ aspirational goal of $47,500 a year as a starting wage for teachers, to boost pay for veteran teachers, and to provide $1,000 bonuses to those teachers and other instructional employees who were not eligible for the bonuses under the state plan earlier this year. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Pfizer vaccination shots will be offered to district students between the ages of 5 and 11 this week at several schools. Tuesday is the first day, with shots offered from 4-8 p.m. at Apopka, Boone, Evans, Freedom, Ocoee and University high schools. WFTV. Orange County School District.

Palm Beach: After an administrative law judge rejected a challenge by six school districts against the state’s ban on face mask mandates on Friday, district officials decided to accelerate their timetable to allow parents to opt-out of the face mask rules from Nov. 15 to today. “Fortunately, local health conditions have improved dramatically in recent weeks and the risk of virus transmission is far less than it was back in mid-August when the parent opt-out was rescinded,” read a statement from the district on Saturday. “Palm Beach County’s positivity rate has fallen from 17.9 percent as of Aug. 18, 2021, to 2.9 percent as of yesterday. Over this same period, the number of positive cases per 100,000 over a seven-day average dropped from 622.9 to 53.9.” Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: District instructional staff who were not eligible for the $1,000 bonuses paid by the state with federal relief funds earlier this year will get them belatedly. The school district and the teachers union have agreed that reading, science and math coaches, deans, librarians and others will get $1,000 bonuses. The cost will be about $1.5 million. Florida Times-Union. Students at the North Florida School of Special Education in Jacksonville are growing fruits, vegetables, olives, papaya and even fish at the on-campus farm. Students are “involved in the whole process” and learning life skills, said Berry Good Farms manager Jordan Williams. “They’re learning about sustainability, responsibility. Just learning how to use the foods that they’re growing.” WJXT.

Pasco: A school bus driver who failed to yield at an intersection last week caused an accident that killed the other driver, according to Florida Highway Patrol troopers. The 50-year-old school bus driver drove into the path of another car Wednesday morning. The car became wedged under the bus, and the 59-year-old driver died from her injuries on Friday. No students were on the bus. The investigation is continuing. WTSP.

Brevard: A judge declined a request from school board member Jennifer Jenkins to issue a temporary injunction Friday against state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. Jenkins alleges that Fine has been cyberstalking her. Another hearing has been scheduled Nov. 16. Florida Today. Parents of more than 7,100 students have opted-out of the face mask requirement since the district made that option available Oct. 22, according to district officials. That’s about 11 percent of the total enrollment. Masks are now optional for students in grades 7-12 but still required for students in pre-K through 6th. Florida Today. Threats of violence were made at five schools last week, district officials said. None were deemed credible, they said, but all were disruptive. Florida Today.

Osceola: The 3rd-grade teacher at Celebration K-8 who made all her boy students clean a bathroom last month after some of them defecated and urinated on the floor has resigned, according to district officials. The teacher could not identify the guilty party or parties, so she had all the boys go in the bathroom to clean up. After parents complained, district officials began an investigation. WESH.

Seminole: Oviedo High School’s homecoming dance ended abruptly Saturday when a rumor that a student who had been denied admittance had returned with a gun spread among those at the dance and caused many of them to quickly leave the building. Deputies said the student who had been denied admittance was taken into custody but had no gun. Extra police and counselors will be at the school today. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV. WOFL. WKMG.

Volusia: A complaint against school board member Jamie Haynes for remarks she made about the pandemic has been dismissed by the Florida Ethics Commission for a “lack of legal sufficiency.” A parent filed the complaint accusing Haynes of abusing her office and violating ethics standards when she made repeated suggestions that vaccinations were ineffective in protecting people against COVID-19. In a statement, Haynes said, “The questions I posed at the July 27th school board meeting were within my responsibilities as an advocate for student and staff well-being. The charges were politically motivated and an attempt to quiet my advocacy for students. No reasonable individual would question my motivation as corrupt or seeking any personal privilege.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Johns: Two school board members who had been invited to speak at the local Trump Club meeting today were disinvited after the board attorney said the event would be subject to the public notice requirement under the state’s open meetings law. Beverly Slough and Kelly Barrera had been asked to speak about “issues facing the St. Johns County Board of Education, followed by a question-and-answer session. This should be a very interesting meeting based upon the recent election results in the State of Virginia and potential redistricting.” St. Augustine Record.

Escambia: The district will use a nearly $3 million federal grant to introduce foreign language instruction at seven elementary schools. Escambia was one of just seven U.S. school districts to win a Department of Defense grant through the Knowing and Embracing World Languages Project. The money also will be used to add foreign language classes and expand areas of study at three high schools and four middle schools. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: Superintendent Carlee Simon said she will interact with school board member Gunnar Paulson only at school board meetings or in writing after she accused him of making sexist comments during a phone call, violating the Sunshine Law and mistreating district staffers. Paulson said the e-mail Simon wrote to notify him of their future communications “is full of misrepresentations of my conversation with you” and “reinforces my significant concerns of your leadership practices.” WCJB.

Martin St. Lucie: Sela Rosen, a 16-year-old junior at Martin County High School, spent a year organizing a climate change symposium that was held Sunday in Stuart. Representatives from Florida Power & Light Co., Loggerhead Marine Life Center, Audubon of Martin County, Port St. Lucie utilities department and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute gathered to discuss the effects of climate change on Florida and what they’re doing to address the crisis. Rosen said her goal was to educate the community about the crisis, and how people can help “stop the irreversible damage that will come with it.” TCPalm. Several free vaccination clinics for children 5-11 will be sponsored by the school district and its partner, Florida Community Health Centers. Schools are the sites for the first three clinics Nov. 12, 15 and 16, with appointments required. A fourth is a walk-in scheduled Nov. 20 at the health center in Lincoln Park. TCPalm.

Flagler: School board members Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright are questioning the inclusion of a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement in a 5th-grade English workbook, and want to establish a filtering process for books and materials before they are placed in school libraries. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: The politicization of the state’s higher education system has threatened the University of Florida’s accreditation and tarnished its reputation, academics say. The result could affect its eligibility for millions in federal grants, and threaten its ability to recruit faculty and raise money from alumni. USA Today Florida Network. The flu is sweeping through the Florida State and Florida A&M university campuses, according to officials from the schools. “Case numbers have skyrocketed and our University Health Center is overwhelmed with caring for ill students,” according to an e-mail from FSU provost Sally McRorie to faculty members. Tallahassee Democrat.

Scholarship’s effect: The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program has created “a rising tide of competition” that has improved academic performance in both private and public schools, according to a report published recently in the online education magazine Education Next. The FTC program began offering scholarships in 2002, and has grown from 15,000 students to more than 100,000. Researchers said the data showed that as the program grew, “academic and behavioral outcomes improved for students attending traditional public schools.” reimaginED.

Substance abuse initiative: The state will provide $5 million for a new substance abuse education initiative for Florida’s schools. The campaign is called “The Facts. Your Future,” which Gov. DeSantis said was suggested by his wife Casey. “This is really very special to be putting $5 million into a curriculum and a public messaging campaign that someday my children and you guys are going to see, and hopefully it will empower you with the facts to be able to make good decisions in life,” Casey DeSantis said. “Some people say it’s ‘Just say no,’ but here’s why.” WPTV. WKMG.

Around the nation: Education issues such as parents’ rights, mask policies and critical race theory played a key role in the victory of Republican Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race, according to political observers, but had a mixed record of success in 96 school board races in a dozen states. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: There is a right that should be added to Florida’s now famous Parents’ Bill of Rights. It is a right that Florida’s parents are badly in need of, but which most haven’t thought about – the right to understand how the academic decisions they and their children make in middle and high school affect their children’s career and economic prospects. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Members of the Volusia County School Board and County Council have been trying mightily to come up with new maps defining district boundaries. Both bodies have the same number of members and occupy the same county so you’d think this wouldn’t be an impossible task. Yet somehow it is. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff