Trustee Hosseini linked UF-DeSantis on pandemic decision, withheld funding returned, and more

UF trustee was link to state: University of Florida trustee chair Mori Hosseini was a liaison between UF president Kent Fuchs and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office in August when administrators were considering moving some courses online because of the pandemic, according to newly released text messages. Fuchs drafted an e-mail to faculty informing them that no courses were to be moved online, even temporarily, then sent it to Hosseini for review. Hosseini replied, “Governor’s office have this,” a reference to an internal UF message raising the possibility of some UF courses going remote. Hosseini also asked for a copy of the e-mail Fuchs was planning to send students the next day so he could forward it. UF officials said it’s common for the president to confer with the board chair. Hosseini had no comment. Fresh Take Florida.

State returns funds: The Florida Department of Education has returned $877,851 to eight school districts whose funding had been withheld because they didn’t comply with the state’s ban on face mask mandates in schools. The U.S. Department of Education had filed a cease-and-desist complaint when money it sent to the Broward and Alachua districts in federal grants also was withheld by the state. That complaint was withdrawn this month when the state released the federal grant money to those districts. Funding to the other districts was restored Nov. 29. Florida Phoenix.

In the Legislature: Two Democratic legislators have filed bills that would require Florida high schools to hold bipartisan voter registration presentations to give eligible students the option to register or pre-register online to vote. S.B. 1228 was filed by state Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, who is running for governor, and H.B. 903 is sponsored by state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. Six other states have such programs. The 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 11. The Capitolist.

Around the state: A Broward teacher could be fired today by the school board for insubordination for repeatedly refusing to wear a face mask at school as required for most of 2021, some Broward school board members say under-capacity schools should be closed or merged, Palm Beach County School Board members are considering putting restrictions on public comments at board meetings, a private school in Indian River County is being sued after a student drowned during an end-of-the-year event, Bay County’s superintendent says homelessness and mental health issues among district students are at an all-time high, central Florida school districts continue to struggle to put qualified teachers in every classroom, and a $43.8 million restoration of the historic St. Petersburg High School has been completed. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: An off-duty Miami-Dade police officer was arrested during his son’s wrestling match at North Miami Senior High School on Saturday and accused of aggravated assault. Officers said Guillermo Cuba, 50, ran onto the mat and pushed the victim to the ground. Later, Cuba showed the victim a gun and said, “I’ll kill you.” The incident was recorded on school surveillance cameras, according to the police report. “The officer has been relieved of his duties and our Professional Compliance Bureau is working closely with the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department,” said police director Freddy Ramirez. WTVJ. WPLG. WSVN.

Broward: District officials are recommending that the school board fire John C. Alvarez, 57, a science teacher at Piper High in Sunrise, for repeatedly not wearing a mask at school as required by the district from March until masks were made optional Nov. 19. Alvarez is accused of insubordination, neglect of duty and incompetence.  The board is expected to make a decision at today’s meeting. Sun Sentinel. About 51,000 fewer students are attending the district’s traditional public schools now than they were 15 years ago, and some school board members are proposing a re-evaluation of resources that could include closing, merging or overhauling schools with low enrollment. “With all of the expectations on us, and to be able to pay teachers more money, we just can’t have schools empty without any students in them and be able to continue to deliver the highest level of services we need to,” said school board member Lori Alhadeff. There are 51 traditional district schools that have enrollment at 70 percent or less capacity, a level that’s considered insufficient, and 17 are at 55 percent or less, which the district calls critically underenrolled. The board will ask for community input and could start making changes as early as next fall. Sun Sentinel.

Orange, central Florida: School districts around central Florida continue to struggle to fill teaching jobs and find people willing to work as substitutes. Orange County has 190 open teaching jobs, and has been able to fill only 80 percent of the openings with subs in October. That left 3,900 classrooms to be filled by other school employees or by sending students into other classrooms. Lake County has 50 teaching jobs open instead of the usual 5-10 at this time of year, and the Seminole County district has 81 openings. Orlando Sentinel. Guns, mental health and parenting involvement were the focus of a community meeting Monday at Carver Middle School to discuss how to curb the escalating violence in the neighborhood. Among the suggestions were starting a gun buyback program, adding four “safety coaches” to help students with difficult situations at school, and having more parents visible at the end of the school day. WKMG. WFTV. WESH. Shots were fired Monday afternoon in the parking lot at East River High School in Orlando, according to school officials. No one was hurt and no arrests were made, but the school canceled a girls basketball game that was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and a movie night on the football field. WKMG.

Palm Beach: School board members have signaled that they’re agreeable to putting restrictions on public comments at board meetings. A proposal reviewed last week would prohibit speakers from criticizing board members, limit public comments to one hour on agenda items and 30 minutes on non-agenda items, cap comments on any one topic to 30 minutes, and ban public comments from being broadcast. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: A substitute teacher at Lakeland High School has been arrested and accused of sexually battering a student. Deputies said Ayanna Davis, 20, admitted having sex with a student at least four times. At least one of the liaisons was captured on video and posted on Snapchat, according to deputies. Lakeland Ledger. WESH. Orlando Sentinel.

Pinellas: A $43.8 million restoration of St. Petersburg High School has been completed. The work was trickier than a standard rebuild because the school is in the state and national historic registry and the restoration has to preserve the school’s original architecture and historic features. That meant hand-painting much of the exterior and special gold lettering that has been part of the school since it opened in 1926. Bay News 9. WFLA.

Brevard: A revised policy on public comments at school board meetings, the process for renaming schools, and a proposed contract agreement between the school district and the teachers union will be voted on at tonight’s board meeting. Time for comments will be cut depending on the number of speakers who have signed up, but the comments will be filmed. Florida Today.

Volusia: A 16-year-old DeLand High School student has been arrested and accused of making threats against the school. Police said the student posted to social media a threat of a shooting at the school on Monday. WESH. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Johns: The school district will test a tracking program for school bus riders at one school during the next academic year to see if it’s something they want to use at more schools. Students will be issued ID badges that are scanned when the students get on and off buses, allowing the district to track them and also gauge the efficiency of the bus routes. The school doing the test has not been disclosed. WJXT.

Marion: Ten cases of COVID-19 were reported by the school district last week, a decline of 41 percent from the week before. Nine of the cases were among students. Since late August, the number of cases has declined 98.6 percent. Ocala Star-Banner.

Okaloosa: School district officials and deputies are investigating reports from several students at Ruckel Middle School in Niceville that they were sexually harassed by boys at a recent school dance. A fight was also reported. No arrests were made. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: Homelessness and mental health issues among district students are at an all-time high, Superintendent Bill Husfelt said in a video posted Friday on the district’s Facebook page. The district is reporting mental health referrals are up 30 to 40 percent over the levels seen after Hurricane Michael devastated the county in 2018. WJHG. Three Mowat Middle School students were arrested Monday and accused of bring guns to the school. Lynn Haven police said they arrested a 13-year-old and two 15-year-olds following a disturbance on a sidewalk at the school, and they found two handguns that had been reported stolen. WMBB. WJHG.

Indian River: The father of a student who drowned in the Indian River Lagoon during a last-day-of-school celebration at the private Saint Edward’s School in Vero Beach last May is suing the school for negligence. Bidensky “BT” Termidor, 18, jumped into the water as part of the school’s Senior Walk tradition. None of his classmates noticed he hadn’t come out of the water for about 10 minutes. The boy’s father, Faniel Termidor, contends the school of “negligent supervision” for not having lifeguards or paramedics at the event. TCPalm.

Citrus: At today’s meeting, school board members will consider approving new boundaries for the five board districts. District administrators are recommending that the board adopt the county commission’s redistricting map. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: New College in Sarasota has announced it will guarantee admission to students who have earned an associate in arts degree from Hillsborough Community College, Lake-Sumter State College, Florida SouthWestern State College, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota and Daytona State College. Sarasota Magazine. Philanthropist Timothy Ubben has donated $5 million to the University of South Florida to help fund research led by his doctor, Dr. Jose D. Herazo-Maya, into the detection and prevention of severe lung scarring. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: Students in black-majority schools fell three more months behind their peers in white-majority schools during the pandemic, according to research from McKinsey & Co. The achievement gap grew from 9 months to 12, the research shows. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Will Democrats ever begin to recognize that it is their (my) party – not its political enemies – that maintains dominion over the lower-income family, deepening its isolation from both civic participation and personal responsibility over its own precious young kin? John E. Coons, reimaginED. Florida’s black charter school students have a level of reading achievement similar to white students nationally as well as in Florida. But a large achievement gap remains in math. We clearly have a great many miles to go. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: Keep moving. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. How dare a bunch of weirdo so-called “scholars” complain about being forbidden to testify against Our Wise Governor’s fine new election laws or teach a class with a title where the words “critical” and “race” appear way too close together? Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff