Legislative session on vaccine mandates begins, Alachua drops suit against the state, and more

Special session begins today: Legislators return to Tallahassee today to begin a special legislative session called by Gov. Ron DeSantis that is aimed at curbing vaccine mandates by the federal government and anyone else who imposes them. Among the proposals being considered during the session, which is scheduled to conclude by Friday or earlier, are regulations blocking public and private employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, and penalizing schools that require students to wear masks in schools. “At the end of the day, we want people to be able to make informed decisions for themselves, but we’ve got to stop bossing people around,” DeSantis said last week. “We’ve got to stop the coercion. We’ve got to stop trying to browbeat people.” Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. Capitol News Service. News Service of Florida. Fresh Take Florida. WFSU. Washington Post. Reuters.

Around the state: The Alachua County School District has dropped out of the lawsuit challenging the state’s rule on face mask mandates, 11,000 Duval students have submitted forms to opt-out of mask mandates, Brevard school officials begin planning how to spend $140 million in federal coronavirus aid, Santa Rosa school officials are considering bonuses as a way of easing the shortage of substitute teachers, many districts are offering vaccination clinics for students 5 and up and their parents and district workers, and plans are underway for rebuilding Turie T. Small Elementary School in Daytona Beach and converting the existing school into a space for the community. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The school district and University of Miami Health System have partnered to offer vaccinations at several schools over the next two weeks. Clinics will offer COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, coronavirus tests and other school-required vaccinations. WTVJ. WPLG. An ongoing dispute between the Florida High School Athletic Association and county high school basketball referees is expected to cancel most of the games scheduled to begin this week. The Miami-Dade referees want a local officials association independent of the district-run athletic conference. But the FHSAA has declined to sanction the proposed Miami-Dade Basketball Officials Association. Miami Herald.

Broward: A 16-year-old student at Northeast High School in Oakland Park was arrested Friday when a loaded handgun was discovered in his backpack, according to the sheriff’s office. The boy and another student jumped over a fence at the school Friday around 11:30 a.m., but were quickly stopped by a school resource officer and security staffers. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: The 8-year-old 2nd-grader who collected 40 days of suspensions in September and October for refusing to wear a face mask is back in class. Fiona Lashells had become a symbol of resistance to mask mandates, and last week the school board agreed to relax masking rules. She said it “kind of felt a bit weird” to be back in school, but she was happy to see her classmates. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: More than 11,000 district students have submitted opt-out forms so they won’t have to wear face masks in school. That’s an increase of 8 percent in the week since the school board voted to allow the opt-out by parents instead of requiring a medical excuse. Last week was the first since September without a mask mandate. Florida Times-Union.

Pinellas: The charter school company Athenian Academy Inc. has bought a property in Clearwater from Building Hope Hercules Inc. for nearly $8 million. Athenian Academy is a K-8 Greek charter school that emphasizes math and foreign languages. It also has a school in Fort Myers. St. Pete Catalyst.

Lee: The school district and Golisano Children’s Hospital are collaborating to offer vaccination clinics today through Saturday at county schools and medical centers for students 5 and up, their parents and district employees. Parents must accompany their children to the clinics. WINK. Community suggestions are being solicited for a new elementary school being built near Lehigh Acres Middle School, which opened earlier this year. Comments are welcome on the proposed school design, academic programs, the school name and more. The first community meeting is in December. Construction of the school will begin early next year and is expected to be completed by the fall of 2023. WINK.

Brevard: School officials are sifting through about 600 suggestions from the community, parents, students and district workers to finalize how to spend $140 million the district will receive in federal coronavirus aid. Bridging learning gaps caused by pandemic, funding mental health resources and buying more electronic devices for students are expected to be priorities. Districts must use at least 20 percent of the aid to address learning losses, and some of the money is likely to go toward bonuses for employees. Plans must be finalized by December and submitted to the state for approval. Florida Today.

Volusia: Plans are underway for rebuilding Turie T. Small Elementary School in Daytona Beach and converting the existing school into a space for the community. “It’s more than just the rebuild of an elementary school,” said Superintendent Scott Fritz. “It’s the revitalization of a community.” The school will stay open as the new school is being built on property just north of the current building. Completion on the new school is expected in the fall of 2023. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: Law enforcement officials said the number of threats made against schools has been unusually high so far this academic year. “We’ve been very busy,” said Lake County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kelly Stone, who is in charge of school resource deputies in the south end of the county. “It is a trend; it is extremely high this year. A lot of this is on social media.” Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: School board members will begin consideration of districts maps for board elections. Most members said they would like to have the same maps as the ones county commissioners use for their districts. But all three maps commissioners are considering would make board member Bridget Ziegler ineligible for re-election in 2022 and Karen Rose ineligible for re-election in 2024. School board attorney Dan DeLeo said state law does not permit maps that cut a sitting member out of their district. “I would not let them do that. … It’s not going to happen,” said DeLeo, who said he expects only minor changes. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: Nineteen district students were expelled from schools last week for committing Level 4 offenses, such as drugs, weapons, and group fighting, that require expulsions under the student code of conduct. The expulsions, approved by the school board last, take the total for the 2021-2022 school year to 43 after 60 days of classes. Before the pandemic, the three-year annual average of expulsions was 133. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: The school district is partnering with Florida Community Health Centers to offer coronavirus vaccinations to students, their families and district employees at three schools this week. Reservations are required at clinics today and Tuesday, but Saturday’s is for walkups only. WPTV.

Alachua: The school district is the latest to drop out of the legal fight against the state’s ban of face mask mandates. Friday, the district joined Orange and Leon in deciding to not pursue an appeal of an administrative law judge’s ruling that the six districts challenging the ban “failed to prove that the emergency rule opt-out provisions facilitate the spread of COVID-19 in schools.” All state school districts are now in compliance with the state rules. News Service of Florida. District officials have decided to turn off comments on the district’s Facebook page because of an increase in personal attacks and inappropriate postings. Comments are still permitted on the district’s Twitter and Instagram posts. WCJB. Students from the Cornerstone Academy in Gainesville have prepared 10,000 meals to send to needy people in Haiti. WCJB.

Santa Rosa: To combat the shortage of substitute teachers, district officials are considering offering bonuses for subs who work a certain amount of time in a 10-day period, and bonuses for referrals. “We’re just looking at incentivizing for second semester and looking at a bonus program,” said assistant superintendent Liz West. “If we are to look at something later on down the line, that’s a possibility, but at this time we are currently looking at how we can increase substitute participation for second semester.” Certified subs with at least a bachelor’s degree are paid $10.97 an hour, or $82.28 for the standard 7.5-hour shift. Staff EZ, which helps manage subs, said it has fewer than 400 right now, compared to 600 in a typical year. Pensacola News Journal.

Martin: Free vaccination clinics for children 5-11, their families, and school district employees will be offered at district schools Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The project is a joint effort of the school district and Florida Community Health Centers. TCPalm.

Flagler: County commissioners have tabled a school board request to double school impact fees. They agreed to discuss it again within 60 days, and suggested there could be a middle ground negotiated that would raise fees, but not as much as school board members want. Daytona Beach News-Journal. When school board member Jill Woolbright complained to Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt last week about four library books she thought were inappropriate, she also filed a criminal complaint against one of them with the sheriff’s office. She told deputies that “it’s a crime to have the book in the media centers.” She was referring to the book All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson, a black LGBTQ activist. Deputies said the claim is being investigated. Sunday, school board member Cheryl Massaro issued a statement criticizing Woolbright as a “rogue school board member.”  WESH. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida president Kent Fuchs’ appointment of a task force to review the school’s conflict-of-interest policy has been called a public relations stunt by the three professors who were initially barred from testifying against the state in a voting rights case and subsequently sued the school. They said the people on the task force are the same people who had developed the conflicts policy now being reviewed. Miami Herald. Florida State University’s Board of Trustees has changed school policy to reserve a seat on the committee on campus names for an alumnus who has an “ethnic or racially diverse background” in order to increase diversity on the committee. Florida Politics. The Citrus County Hospital board is donating $1 million to the endowment fund of the College of Central Florida to help Citrus students enrolled in health care fields. Citrus County Chronicle.

Opinions on schools: As we look around at the still-unfolding aftermath of the pandemic, the evidence is clear: Our students need help now. They missed many months worth of instruction and suffered socially and emotionally. We must pay them back what they are owed, and we must find a way to build a more equitable, nimble and responsive American education system. Now more than ever, we need deep and lasting reforms. Robin Lake, The 74. The special legislative session that begins today is sure to embolden anti-vaxxers, confuse businesses and undermine public health. Tampa Bay Times. This special legislative session is an expensive publicity stunt that will further polarize Floridians and put many Florida businesses in an awkward box: They’ll have to choose whether to obey a federal vaccine mandate and violate state law or play by DeSantis’ rules and face the wrath of Washington. The silence you hear is from a cowering business community, forced to play along. Sun Sentinel. By teaching cost-benefit analysis to elementary school children, we can make them better informed. It can easily be done in an apolitical way. Jonathan J. Shuster, Lakeland Ledger.

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BY NextSteps staff