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$100M suit filed over girl’s attached face mask, DOE kills webpage with LGBTQ links, and more

Around the state: The parents of a 7-year-old Brevard girl with Down syndrome who came home from school with a mask tied to her face in October has filed a federal lawsuit demanding $100 million in damages, a Florida Department of Education web page with links to LGBTQ advocacy groups has been removed from its website, Polk State College is spending $1.2 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to retire student debt accumulated during the pandemic, a Tampa man is suing Hillsborough’s superintendent after getting an $8,020 bill for a public records request, and Manatee school officials name finalists for the teacher and support employee of the year awards. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: District officials said they haven’t heard of any identity thefts among any of the 50,000 students and employees whose personal information was hijacked by ransomware hackers between November 2020 and March 2021. But experts said they might not know until they get a call from a credit card company or receive notices that they owe money. The district is offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection service for a year to anyone affected. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: A Tampa man is suing school Superintendent Addison Davis after he was presented a bill of $8,020 for a public records request. Blake Warner, the father of a Mitchell Elementary School student, filed a public records request Oct. 26 for “all documents, emails, notes, etc., between school board employees (including attorneys and school board members) that are in regards to mask mandates” since October 2019. The district said fulfilling the request would produce 70,000 pages of paper. Warner asked to review the records for free, but state law requires exempted information to be redacted, which the district said would take 390 hours. Florida Politics.

Brevard: The parents of the 7-year-old girl with Down syndrome who came home from school with a mask tied to her head in October because she couldn’t keep it on has filed a federal lawsuit against the school board and the girl’s teachers. Jeffrey Steel and Shirley Bezerra Steel want $100 million in damages. They claimed the school’s action amounted to child abuse and put Sofia Bezerra’s life in danger. A police investigation disclosed last week that the Steels staged photos of the mask tied to Sofia’s head and lied during questioning. Florida Today. WKMG.

Manatee: Finalists for the Manatee County School District’s teacher of the year award are Joseph Baker, a social studies teacher at Buffalo Creek Middle; Cory Bernaert, a kindergarten teacher at Harvey Elementary; Christian Davis, a STEM teacher at Sea Breeze Elementary; and Deelah Jackson, a 4th-grade teacher at Samoset Elementary. Finalists for the support employee of the year are Melissa Causey, Lee Middle’s senior secretary; Nora Jacoby, Parrish High guidance secretary; Kari Keech-Babcock, Lakewood Ranch guidance secretary; and Caryn Nussbaum, Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary paraprofessional. The winners will be announced in February. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Sarasota: A Sarasota High School student has been arrested after allegedly making a threat against the school on social media, according to district officials. WWSB.

Alachua: School officials are asking for the community’s help in deciding how to spend $61 million the district will receive in federal coronavirus relief aid. By law, 20 percent has to be used to address learning loss due to the pandemic. An online survey will take suggestions until midnight Friday. Gainesville Sun.

Colleges and universities: A Florida Institute of Technology student was shot and killed by police officers Friday night on the Melbourne campus after wounding three classmates and an officer with a knife. He was identified as Alhaji M. Sow, 18, a sophomore from Riverdale, Ga., who studied aeronautical science. WKMG. Florida Today. WOFL. WFTV. WESH. About $1.2 million in debt accrued by Polk State College students during the pandemic will be paid off by the school, officials announced Friday. The school is using some of the money it received in federal coronavirus relief aid. Lakeland Ledger. Associated Press. Six University of Florida professors are asking a federal judge to issue an injunction against the school’s new conflict-of-interest policy. The suit contends the policy “provides the university unbridled discretion to restrict faculty speech on public issues based on impermissible considerations that have nothing to do with faculty integrity or discipline.” News Service of Florida. WGFL. UF’s board of trustees chair Mori Hosseini called the protest by professors against the conflict-of-interest policy “disrespectful” and said, “This will not stand.” News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Daytona State College will begin offering health-care management degrees next fall. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The University of Florida has posthumously awarded a doctorate in music to rock singer Tom Petty. Tampa Bay Times. University of Florida doctoral student Hope Hersh has helped develop a way for astronauts to bake bread in space. Mainstreet Daily News.

DOE removes page with LGBTQ links: A Florida Department of Education web page with links to LGBTQ advocacy groups has been removed from its website. DOE officials said the page, which originated from the Safe Schools Department and contained links to resources related to bullying, was under review. Some of the links directed readers to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, an LGBTQ advocacy group. Florida Capital Star.

Around the nation: Nearly nine months after Congress set aside $800 million to help homeless students, most of the money has yet to reach Florida and other states because of red tape and a lack of urgency from state lawmakers or officials, according to an investigation by the education website Chalkbeat. “We just kept waiting and waiting,” said Debra Albo-Steiger, who helped homeless students for the Miami-Dade County School District before leaving the district in August. “There was some type of bureaucracy — I don’t know what it was– that interfered with it coming out faster.” Chalkbeat. The parents of the student accused in the shooting deaths of four classmates at a Michigan high school have been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors said James and Jennifer Crumbley bought a gun, made it available to their 15-year-old son and resisted his removal from school a few hours before the shooting. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: It would be a dangerous mistake to undo a decision Floridians made more than two decades ago when they voted to make school board races nonpartisan. The current system isn’t perfect, but it works, and one reason why is that nonpartisan elections are open to all voters. Sun Sentinel. Critical race theory, books and white parents clutching their pearls are a political gold mine for the Republican Party. That’s why these efforts to “protect” students from harmful content aren’t just about parental control. This is about narrative control and who gets to tell their version of American history. The GOP-preferred version excludes voices and erases the experiences of a large share of Americans. Miami Herald. The GOP bid to exert political control over education calls for courage, not cowardice, University of Florida. If anything, the university should be sounding the warning bells through scholarship and placing its efforts where they belong — in studying the rise of right-wing extremism in Florida. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. No matter how State Rep. Randy Fine and a Jacksonville attorney try to spin it, the photos of a 7-year-old Brevard girl with Down syndrome wearing a mask tied tightly to her face that outraged so many of us a few months ago are as genuine as snapshots of Bigfoot. Staged. Phony. Fake. John A. Torres, Florida Today. A new report tells an old truth: school choice saves money. Mike McShane, EdChoice. During the next several months, high school students and their parents will be choosing the courses they will take during the 2022-2023 school year. It is more important than ever that college-bound students who might consider college majors in STEM fields take the math and science sequences leading to precalculus and calculus in math, and chemistry and physics in science, that will give them the best chance to succeed in college. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff