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Legislature approves anti-vaccine mandate bills and adjourns, rising costs and more

In the Legislature: Gov. Ron DeSantis got what he wanted from a legislative special session, as lawmakers on Wednesday approved all four bills he proposed to limit vaccine mandates in businesses and mask mandates in schools, and then adjourned. Once DeSantis signs the bills, parents will have the right to sue schools that require masks, and schools and businesses won’t be able to impose vaccine mandates on workers without allowing exemptions for a variety of reasons. The regular 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 11. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Capitol News Service. Florida Phoenix. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. WPLG. WTVJ. WINK.

Around the state: Rev. James Golden was unanimously elected as the chair of the Manatee County School Board, becoming the first African-American man to hold the position, skyrocketing construction costs have added more than $135 million to five Sarasota County school projects, more than 10 percent of Palm Beach County’s public school students have submitted forms to opt-out of the face mask mandate, Pasco school officials close the comments sections on the district’s Facebook and Twitter pages, a new Okeechobee High School will be built behind the current one, and deputies dragged a woman from the Lee County School Board meeting this week. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A former government teacher at the Terra Environmental Research Institute magnet high school pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of sexual battery of a helpless victim. With the plea deal, Tom Privett was sentenced to two years in prison, two years of house arrest and 20 years of probation with an ankle monitor. Miami Herald. High school basketball games will go on as scheduled after the Florida High School Athletic Association granted provisional sanction to a new organization of high school basketball referees called the Miami Dade Basketball Officials Association. Miami Herald.

Palm Beach: More than 10 percent of the district’s students have submitted opt-out forms so they won’t have to wear face masks in schools, according to district officials. That’s 17,000 students, a number that has grown by about 1,000 a day in the five days since the district allowed parents the option of opting-out. Palm Beach Post. The 2022-2023 school year will start Aug. 10 and end May 26, with a week off for Thanksgiving, the school board decided Wednesday in a 6-1 vote. Palm Beach Post. School bus drivers protested Wednesday against their working conditions. Some are doubling and tripling up on routes to covers for a shortage of drivers. More than 180 of the 692 driving positions are vacant as of this week. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. The school district will distribute nine meals and snacks to students today at 16 schools to cover the time they’re away from school over Thanksgiving. WPTV. Ryan Rogers, the 14-year-old freshman at William T. Dwyer High School who went missing Monday and whose body was found Tuesday, died in a bicycle accident, his mother said Wednesday. Cindy Rogers said her son apparently lost control of the bike and it flipped. WPEC.

Duval: A school district committee is finishing work on a “Parents Bill of Rights” that is aimed at providing easier online access to information about the rights that are already in place and to spell out ways parents can get more involved in their child’s education. The proposal is expected to be ready for a school board vote by January. WJXT.

Pinellas: A trilingual Montessori school is scheduled to open in January in St. Petersburg. The program will offer self-directed and hands-on learning, “full immersion in French, English and Spanish,” extended care and a complete summer program for about 75 students between the ages of 1 and 6. The De La Fontaine Trilingual Montessori School also has a Seminole location. WFLA.

Lee: Tuesday’s school board meeting was interrupted when a woman was dragged from the board room after trying to comment on the selection of a new school board chair. Tara Jenner contended she had a right to speak, but board attorney Kathy Dupuy-Bruno said she did not have the right to speak at a pre-reorganization meeting, according to state statutes. When Jenner persisted, deputies removed her from the room and dragged her down a hallway, a video showed. WFTX.

Pasco: Pasco school officials have decided to close the comments sections on the district’s Facebook and Twitter pages. The ban was prompted by a nasty comment on a post congratulating the principal of the year. “Every time we post something positive out there, there are people who always have to find fault and be critical. Even when there’s nothing to be critical about,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. “We’re shutting them off.” Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee: Rev. James Golden was unanimously elected as the chair of the school board, becoming the first African-American man to hold the position. “I am deeply, deeply honored to gain the trust of my fellow board members and become the first African-American man to not only be elected to the school board, but to be the first African-American man to serve as the chair of the school board in Manatee County,” Golden said. “And I stand on the shoulders of giants.” He was referring to Ruby Byrd and Barbara Harvey, black women who had previously chaired the board. Gina Messenger was elected as the vice chair. Bradenton Herald. WTSP.

Sarasota: The cost of building and renovating schools is skyrocketing, school board were told this week, requiring the board to add more than $135 million to its long-term capital improvement plan. Chief operations officer Jody Dumas said the combined costs for three new schools have gone from $230 million to $317 million. Renovations at North Port High have increased from $27 million to $59 million, and from $15 million to $30.8 million at Sarasota High. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: School district employees who did not get a $1,000 bonus check from the state this year aren’t being forgotten by the school board. All employees not classified as classroom teachers or principals who worked during the 2020-2021 academic year and are currently employed also will get $1,000 from the district, which will use federal coronavirus relief funds. WEAR.

Martin: A Martin County High School teacher whose racy photo ended up on social media has received a written reprimand for violating the school board’s standards of ethical conduct. The photo showed the teacher nearly naked, kneeling on a bed and dressed in a harness. He told district officials it was intended to be used only on a restricted dating site, but somehow got onto social media where students could see it. WPEC. District students and staff can receive the Pfizer vaccination against COVID-19 from 3:30-6:30 p.m. today at Warfield Elementary and Friday at Port Salerno Elementary. Pre-registration is encouraged but not required. WPTV.

Indian River: School board members have agreed to appoint a commission that will check school library books for sexually explicit content. The local chapter of the group Moms for Liberty contends that more than 50 books should be removed because they contain graphic sexual imagery or discussions about critical race theory. WPEC.

Monroe: School board members have assured Superintendent Theresa Axford of another two years in the job. Axford took over when Mark Porter retired July 31, 2020. Axford’s contract will be discussed at the next board meeting. In other developments, the board also re-elected John Dick to the chair position and Andy Griffiths as vice chair, and updated its plan on how the nearly $13 million the district has received in federal coronavirus relief will be spent through Sept. 30, 2024. Key West Citizen.

Okeechobee: A new Okeechobee High School will be built behind the current one, school board members decided this week. The cost is projected to be about $83 million, with work to begin within a year. The contractor expects the school to be ready for occupancy by August 2024. WPEC.

School choice questions: A weekly series of webinars sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School Taubman Center for State and Local Government aims to explore whether choice, which had stalled before the pandemic and then took off as school campuses closed and parents scrambled for alternatives, will continue after the coronavirus transitions from an existential threat to a manageable problem. reimaginED.

Colleges and universities: The three University of Florida professors who were temporarily banned from testifying against the state’s new election law in a lawsuit have filed reports with the court saying the law will have a disparately negative impact on black, Hispanic and disabled voters. News Service of Florida. The UF Faculty Senate is calling for the administration to hire an independent investigator to determine whether academic freedom at the school is being unduly influenced by outside groups. Miami Herald. Retired University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley, once an academic expert on drug laundering in South America, was sentenced this week to six months in prison for laundering millions of dollars for drug smugglers. “I am ashamed of my irresponsible behavior,” Bagley said at the sentencing. “I have spent my life as an academic working to understand and improve conditions in many countries in Latin America, and to be here today is the greatest departure from the life that I have aspired to.” Miami Herald. Associated Press.

Around the nation: The FBI has begun tracking threats against U.S. teachers, administrators and school board members to gauge the extent of the problem. The plan is part of the U.S. Justice Department’s effort to deal with the increasing reports of threats over such issues as critical race theory and teaching about racism, face masks, vaccinations and more. New York Times. Republicans in Congress have introduced a “Parents Bill of Rights Act” to “defend parents’ fundamental rights against efforts to shut them out of their children’s education.” Politico. Religious leaders said they’re worried about a nondiscrimination clause in President Biden’s Build Back Better bill that could disqualify children who use their programs. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: People of good will can make reasonable arguments about what should and should not be on public school reading lists and library shelves. Some material is too sexually explicit or too violent for some ages. Surely we can at least agree on that. But the objections raised in Florida, Tennessee and other states are more about manipulating history than anything else. Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff