Special session agenda set, DeSantis running for re-election, changing mask mandates and more

Special session agenda: Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders said they have four bills they plan to pass during the special legislative session that begins Monday and will end on or before Nov. 19. S.B. 2B/H.B. 1B would prevent schools or government agencies from requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, and schools from requiring masks or the COVID-19 vaccine with parents given the right to sue districts over violations and collect attorney’s fees if they win. It does not include a prohibition on private employers requiring vaccinations. S.B. 4B/H.B. 3B would create a public records exemption for personal medical information or an employee’s religious beliefs that are in files created during an investigation by an employer. S.B. 6B/H.B. 5B would remove Florida from the jurisdiction of the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and S.B. 8B/H.B. 7B would repeal the authority of the state health officer to mandate vaccines. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. WFTS. Florida Politics. USA Today Florida Network.

Also in the Legislature: A Senate bill filed to repeal last year’s law banning transgender females from competing on women’s high school and college teams has drawn a companion proposal in the House. State Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee, said she filed H.B. 6065 in hopes of avoiding economic repercussions threatened by groups threatening boycotts of the state over the law excluding female transgender athletes. Florida Politics. Florida’s five K-12 scholarship programs would be renamed under a bill filed by state Rep. James Bush III, D-Opa Locka. The name Bethune would be added to the beginning of each scholarship name to honor Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and civil rights activist who founded what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. reimaginED.

DeSantis running again: Gov. DeSantis officially launched his 2022 re-election campaign on Monday, vowing to continue his fight against vaccine and mask mandates, any teaching of critical race theory in schools and to advocate for parental rights to decide on education and health-care issues for their children. Three Democrats are challenging him: U.S. Rep. and former governor Charlie Crist, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, and state Sen. Annette Taddeo. News Service of Florida. Fox News. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Around the state: School officials in Miami-Dade and Broward are considering relaxing their face mask mandates for students, five of the six school districts that lost a challenge to the state’s face mask rule Friday are asking a court to expedite its consideration of their appeal of the ruling, Moms for Liberty is suing the Brevard County School Board over its new policy on public comments at board meetings, ground is broken for a $97 million high school in Collier County, the number of English language learners in the Okaloosa school district has increased by a hundred over last year, and Citrus school board members vote today on a raise for employees. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami, Broward: School officials in Miami-Dade and Broward are expected to announce today that face masks in schools will become optional for all students. Elementary students in Miami-Dade and preK-8 students in Broward are still required to wear masks. If those districts relax their rules, Alachua will be the state’s last school district to maintain a strict masks policy with preK-8 students required to wear masks through Dec. 7 unless they have a doctor’s note to opt-out. Sun Sentinel. Both the Miami-Dade and Broward school districts will start offering vaccination clinics this week for children between the ages of 5 and 11. Miami Herald. WFOR.

Brevard: The conservative activist group Moms for Liberty is suing the school board over its new policy on public comments at board meetings. The policy shortens the time for individual comments and bans speakers from making “personally directed,” “abusive” or “obscene” remarks at meetings, which the group said the board is using to limit speech and access for opposing viewpoints. Florida Today.

Osceola: Two students have told police they saw a 15-year-old student with a gun or a fake firearm at the Oviedo High School homecoming dance Saturday. The boy had been suspended and was turned away from the dance, but returned. Police were called after reports that a student had a gun. Sheriff’s deputies said they found no gun, but arrested the boy on charges of trespassing and disrupting a school function. Orlando Sentinel.

Manatee: District officials are asking members of the community for their opinions on a proposed school board seats redistricting map. The lines are being redrawn to better balance the number of residents in each district and ensure that the voting strength of minorities isn’t diluted. The redistricting coincides with a switch to single-member districts, a system in which only residents of a district vote on their representative. Board members are expected to take a final vote on the plan Dec. 14. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: Ground was broken Monday for a high school being built in North Naples. School GGG, as it’s being called until it’s named, will cost about $97 million and is scheduled to be completed by August 2023 with a capacity of about 1,880 students. It will offer academies for law studies, engineering, health science, information technology, and entrepreneurship and finance. Naples Daily News. WINK. WBBH.

Okaloosa: The number of English language learners (ELL) in the school district has increased by a hundred over last year, up to 1,497, according to Lisa Tucker, the district’s ESOL/Student Intervention Services specialist. “The number of English language learners steadily rises every single year,” said Tucker, who has worked for the district for five years. ELL students who are considered immigrants now total 830, which is 92 higher than at the same time during the last school year. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: High school students are helping 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-graders at Norton, Idylwild and Irby elementary schools improve their reading through the district’s Teen Trendsetters program. The students are matched with mentors for an hour on Wednesdays and Thursdays. “I think it’s just another way for us to get kids more practice in reading … but I think all kids enjoy the interaction with not just their peers but with older kids, and so this is a good way for them to build a relationship with another role model student,” said Kelley Kotsamo, a volunteer and partnership coordinator for the program. Gainesville Sun.

Citrus: At today’s meeting, school board members will consider a tentative contract agreement that will give 3 percent raises to teachers, school and district administrators, and nonunion classified and professional/technical employees. Citrus County Chronicle. The state attorney has announced that no charges will be filed against the head of a school for a juvenile corrections center who was accused of violating a restraining order. Robert John Cummins II, 57, who was the principal of the Cypress Creek Juvenile Correctional and Treatment Center, was accused of violating a restraining order by asking a woman’s employer for records of her previous disciplinary hearing. Citrus Chronicle.

Putnam: The emphasis on school safety since the 2018 Parkland school shootings has tightened what students can and cannot say on campus. Jayceon Ware, a 13-year-old student at Interlachen Junior-Senior High, discovered that in September when he heard there would be a shooting at the school and repeated it. School officials told him it wasn’t true and told him to stop repeating it. When he did so, he was arrested by the sheriff’s office and charged with a second-degree felony for “making terroristic threats,” even though the deputies’ report noted that he didn’t make a threat to commit violence himself. “I was being a dumb kid,” Jayceon said. “I thought I knew everything and I didn’t. It was a mistake, and I realize that.” He appears before a judge Nov. 23. WUFT.

Levy: The 110-acre Kirby family farm in Williston became a home school when former public school teacher Tracy Kirby decided to pull her sons out of public schools because they were being bullied. The home-schooling led to tutoring, which led to the creation of a school co-op two years ago that provides personalized education and helps parents prepare lessons to satisfy home education requirements. Ten children joined in the co-op in the first year, and it since has attracted another 30 students who have special needs, are foster children or are sick, and there’s a waiting list of 15. reimaginED.

Colleges and universities: Ralph Wilcox, the provost at the University of South Florida since January 2008, has announced he is stepping down from the role in 2022 to return to the faculty. A search for his replacement will begin in the spring, and Wilcox said he’ll stay on as long as needed to help with the transition. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times.

State rule challenge: Five of the six school districts that lost a challenge to the state’s face mask rule Friday are asking a court to expedite its consideration of their appeal of the ruling. The Miami-Dade, Broward, Duval, Leon and Alachua school boards petitioned against the Florida Department of Health’s emergency rule, issued Sept. 22, that gave parents the sole discretion to opt-out of district mask requirements and decide if their asymptomatic children who were exposed to the coronavirus should have to quarantine. Orange County school officials also challenged the rule but are not participating in the appeal. News Service of FloridaTallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCJB. WJCT.

Around the nation: The Biden administration is encouraging school districts to sponsor clinics offering vaccinations for children 5 to 11, and to get the word out that the vaccines are available to the 28 million eligible children. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: As our system moves away from ZIP code herding students into schools, we will require a more varied, flexible and equitable system of transport. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Teacher unions are comprised of good people working in bad systems. With the appropriate business model, teacher unions would be an asset in our efforts to create a more effective and efficient public education market. Doug Tuthill, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff