Limits on restraints approved, two districts close schools today over COVID surge, and more

Limits on restraints: School personnel would be prohibited from placing misbehaving students with disabilities in handcuffs, zip-ties, straightjackets or other devices under a bill approved Thursday by the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee. School resource officers, safety officers, guardians, or security guards would still be permitted to use restraints on students, but only those in grades 6-12. “We want to make sure that no parent sends their child to school and the child comes home with bruises, or the child comes home with some kind of stress that could have been avoided,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix.

Also in the Legislature: A bill creating a “Victims of Communism Day,” which would be marked every Nov. 7 with 45 minutes of class instruction on communist leaders and the suffering of victims under their rule, was unanimously approved by the House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater. Florida Politics. The House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee has approved a bill that would require schools to give parents of students receiving mental-health services information about additional services available in the school or the community. It was proposed by state Rep. Christine Hunchofsky, D-Parkland. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: The Holmes and Gulf school districts are closed today because of staff shortages caused by COVID, Miami-Dade’s school board meets Tuesday to discuss its process to select a new superintendent, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund has announced plans to launch a marketing campaign in the spring with a goal of hiring 1,000 minority male teachers for the district by 2025, the Palm Beach County School District’s plan to redraw school boundaries to address overcrowding at some schools has triggered complaints that it favors wealthier parents, and a student loan company is canceling nearly $2 billion in debt to settle a complaint brought by 40 state attorneys general. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The school board meets Tuesday in a special session to “determine the appropriate process to screen, identify and hire an appropriate, qualified applicant to serve as superintendent of schools,” according to the meeting agenda. Sixteen people applied to succeed Alberto Carvalho as superintendent. Some community leaders have taken issue with the board’s decision to accept applications for just seven days and expedite a selection, with some saying it was an indication that the majority on the board had a favored candidate. T. Willard Fair, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, said the list of candidates “is not my issue. I would be the last one to say (who) should or shouldn’t be on there. My issue is how (the school board) arrived at the names.” Miami Herald. WPLG.

Palm Beach: The district’s plan to redraw school boundaries to address overcrowding at some schools has triggered complaints that the plan favors wealthier parents. At issue is the proposal to send students from Calusa Elementary, J.C. Mitchell Elementary and Verde K-8 School to a new school, which is being called 05-C until it’s named. About half the students in the new zone for Calusa live in gated communities or neighborhoods within country clubs, where the average home costs $1.8 million. “The optics are that Boca Raton politicians are using the opportunity around this rezoning to turn Calusa Elementary into a free private school,” charged Courtney Renaud, a Calusa Elementary parent whose child would be moved from the school. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. A student at Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach was hospitalized after falling down a stairwell. Principal Esther Rivera said the student “was transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries,” and that counselors were available to talk with students about the incident. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The Jacksonville Public Education Fund has announced plans to launch a marketing campaign in the spring with a goal of hiring 1,000 black and Hispanic male teachers for the district by 2025. “We wanted to make this an aggressive but achievable goal,” said fund vice president Coretta Hill. About 43 percent of the district’s students are black, but only 3 percent of its teachers are African-American men. WTLV.

Pinellas: A 59-year-old substitute teacher has resigned after being reported for repeatedly using a racial slur during classes at Lealman Innovation Academy, where about 75 percent of the students are black. Karen Boettge, who is white, yelled the word several times in class Wednesday, according to students. Principal Connisheia Garcia reported Boettge to the human resources department, which placed her on a do not use list. Boettge then resigned. Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: A popular middle school principal is fighting back against the district’s plans to demote him to a grants specialist position when he returns from leave after having surgery. Joe Musselman has been the principal at Hudson Middle School since 2014. He said he’s being pushed out of the job without cause, and has filed a grievance alleging that he’s being discriminated against because he was not offered accommodations when he asked for a medical leave. According to district records, Musselman’s performance has been monitored for months. Issues included cleanliness of the school grounds, missing job evaluations for more than half the staff, a lack of a branding plan for its transformation to a Cambridge curriculum, and some key job vacancies not being advertised. The school board is being asked Tuesday to approve the job change for Musselman. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia, Flagler: Since students and employees returned to Volusia and Flagler schools last week, 495 students and 251 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus. Since schools opened in the fall, 4,538 cases have been reported for the two districts. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Grief counselors will be on hand today at Flagler Palm Coast High School after a 16-year-old student was shot and killed Wednesday night. Noah Smith was wounded in a drive-by shooting and later died in the hospital. Flagler Live. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Lucie: The school district has opened a second COVID-19 testing site for students, employees and their families, at Fort Pierce Central High School. Tests are also being given at Manatee Academy. Both are open on a first-come, first-served basis. WPBF.

Sarasota: Three school board seats open this fall, and so far two are contested. Incumbent Bridget Ziegler is running for re-election in District 1, and is unopposed. District 4 incumbent Shirley Brown won’t run for re-election. Lauren Kurnov, who has worked in administrative roles at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and New College of Florida, and former district administrator Robyn Marinelli have filed to replace her. In District 5, incumbent Jane Goodwin is retiring. Three candidates have come forward: Sandra Jimenez, who moved to Florida a little over a year ago; Nora Cietek, a former school administrator in Schenectady, N.Y.; and Gregory Wood, a rowing coach and small business owner. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. School board members have again been unable to agree on changes to the policy covering public comments at board meeting. Board attorney Mike McKinley said there are three different proposals. He’ll craft another proposal and bring it to the next meeting for consideration. Charlotte Sun.

Escambia: The Florida Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Marcus May, the former CEO of a charter school management company who was convicted of racketeering and fraud. May, whose Newpoint Education Partners operated 15 schools in six counties, was convicted in Escambia in 2018 of using another company he owned to sell computer equipment at exorbitant markups to the company’s charter schools, and of getting kickbacks from a friend who sold goods to the schools. News Service of Florida.

Charlotte: Lawrence Benjamin, a civil estimator and project manager in the construction industry, has announced his candidacy for the District 1 seat on the school board. Others in the race are incumbent Cara Reynolds and Kathleen Y. Futch. Charlotte Sun.

Holmes: Schools are closed today because because “Holmes County and the Holmes District Schools are seeing a spike in COVID and other seasonal illnesses,” Superintendent Buddy Brown announced Thursday. Schools reopen Tuesday. WMBB. WJHG.

Gulf: An increase in the number of teachers who have called in sick has prompted the school district to close today. Superintendent Jim Norton called it a “wellness day.” Students return to class Tuesday. WMBB. Port St. Joe Star.

Colleges and universities: The college student loan company Navient has agreed to cancel loans for about 66,000 borrowers, and pay restitution to another 350,000 borrowers as part of a $1.7 billion settlement with attorneys general from 40 states who accused it of making predatory private loans and illegally pushing federal student loan borrowers into higher-cost repayment plans. NPR. CNN. Politico. The private Galen College of Nursing has announced it will open campuses in Gainesville and Sarasota, doubling the number of schools it has in the state. Gainesville Sun.

Opinions on schools: It’s indefensible that a contracting scandal has further distracted from the academic achievement of children in Jefferson County who have already languished too long. The DeSantis administration talks big about accountability. This episode cries out for much more. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff