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11 Lee schools badly damaged, Sarasota phasing in return, restricted books, charter growth and more

Around the state: Eleven of Lee County’s 81 schools suffered “heavy damage” when Hurricane Ian struck a week ago, including a school on the National Register of Historic Places, Sarasota is planning to begin a phased-in reopening of schools in the north part of the county next week, DeSoto County schools will be closed for at least two more weeks, the Florida Department of Education announced that 68 of 75 state school districts will be open by Thursday, about 100 Escambia school library books are now restricted to students who have parental consent, Pasco administrators are recommending that an elementary school be closed, charter schools continue their steady growth in the state, more than 85,600 students attended private schools with a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship during the 2021-2022 school year, and some parents and doctors are critical of an Florida High School Athletic Association survey that asks female student-athletes details about their periods. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: All school board members but one said they supported the district’s $237,000 payout to three administrators who were asked to resign after they were criticized in the statewide grand jury report. Board members agreed with the district’s contention, and the board attorney’s opinion, that the payments were separation agreements, not severance, which is limited by law for state employees. Sun-Sentinel. A neuropsychologist testified Tuesday that Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was faking the symptoms of fetal alcohol disorder when he did poorly on reaction tests. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Summarizing what happened Tuesday in Cruz’s sentencing trial. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Lee: Eleven of the district’s schools suffered “major damage” when Hurricane Ian came ashore last Wednesday near Fort Myers, Superintendent Christopher Bernier said Tuesday. Among them was Fort Myers Beach Elementary School, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. State Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, said the school and two others were “destroyed,” but school spokesman Rob Spicker said the district is not ready to give up on it yet. “We recognize the historical and educational value the school has on Fort Myers Beach and will work with our inspectors, construction partners and the community to determine the next steps,” he said. Bernier said while schools won’t be opening this week, “we certainly are not going to wait until January. … We were, and still are, significantly impacted. That is not going to stop us from opening schools as soon as possible.” Administrators will provide another assessment Thursday. Fort Myers News-Press. Florida Politics. WLRN. WFTX. Free packaged sandwiches, fresh juices and snacks will be available to Lee County students and their families, teachers and other employees today, courtesy of the Miami-Dade County School District. Food can be picked up from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the district’s office. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: District administrators are recommending that Mittye P. Locke Elementary School in New Port Richey be closed. Enrollment has declined steadily over the past seven years, and is only 57 percent filled this year, and the 56-year-old school needs extensive repairs. If the recommendation is approved, Locke’s 425 students would be distributed among nearby Richey, Cotee River, Anclote or Gulf Trace elementary schools for the 2023-2024 school year, and parts of Locke could be used for other programs. A school board vote is expected Oct. 18. Tampa Bay Times. While District 1 school board candidates Al Hernandez and James Washington have had civil interactions despite their policy differences, their proxies have been busy making accusations along partisan lines. Hernandez has the endorsement of Gov. Ron DeSantis, while Washington is supported by the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida and the teachers union. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia, Flagler: After being closed for a week by Hurricane Ian, all 69 Volusia schools reopen today. “Schools are the cornerstone of stability for many families. It’s where our students get their meals. It’s where our students get their normal from, and so it’s a delicate balance between when is the right time to reopen our schools,” said school board chair Ruben Colón. The district has been forced to move some school bus stops to avoid still-flooded streets. Flagler, which welcomed students back on Monday, reported more than 1,000 students absent. The district has an enrollment of about 13,000. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WOFL.

Collier: All county schools have electricity and have been cleaned and will reopen Thursday, district officials announced Tuesday. It’s unclear if all schools will be fully staffed, so administrators may have to make temporary adjustments to schedules and class sizes. Naples Daily News.

Sarasota: District officials have created a phased-in approach to reopening schools, with north-county schools beginning classes early next week. South county schools would reopen about a week later, said Superintendent Brennan Asplen. Another news conference will be held Thursday with updated details, he said. “Obviously, we want to open ASAP, and as you probably know, north county and south county took different amounts of wind and water,” Asplen said. “However, all of our schools had water intrusion and damage.” Other problems include power outages, downed power lines, flooding cable and cell phone outages, water and plumbing issues and some structural damage. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. WUSF. WTSP. WWSB. WFLA. WFTS.

Escambia: After a teacher raised concerns about the “inappropriate” content of more than 100 books in school libraries, district officials decided to put the books on a restricted list while they are being reviewed. Only students with parental consent can check out the books during the review. “The issue that we were faced with, was that there were a lot of books,” said Superintendent Tim Smith. “One person put forth a lot of book titles, and so then it became, ‘Well, this process is not a fast process. So, what do we do with a book that’s been challenged?’ ” He said reviews are done by several committees that analyze the books for literary value and whether they comply with state law. Recommendations are then made to the school board, which will decide to place them back in libraries or remove them. Pensacola News Journal.

Columbia: Voters will be asked Nov. 8 to approve the addition a half-cent to the sales tax for the next 20 years to benefit the school district. The projected $6 million a year the tax would generate will be used for building and renovating schools, improving safety and security and upgrading technology. WJXT.

DeSoto: Schools will be closed for at least the next two weeks because of damage suffered when Hurricane Ian struck last week, Superintendent Bobby Bennett said Tuesday. He also said DeSoto County High School could be closed for two months after extensive water and roof damage. Administrators are working on alternate plans for those students to share DeSoto Middle School. “We might have to have a schedule that brings middle-schoolers in a little earlier than normal and dismisses them, and bring our high-schoolers in for just a couple of hours a day,” Bennett said. “But we want to be able to have face-to-face contact with our kids.” Bennett said remote learning will also be an option once power is restored to all county residents. WPTV. WFTX.

Colleges and universities: Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach is closed for the rest of the week because of damages caused by the storm. Some buildings were damaged, flooding was reported and trees were uprooted. School officials will provide details about the reopening later this week. WJAX. WFTV. WKMG. More than 500 University of Central Florida students are asking the school for help after Hurricane Ian flooded their off-campus apartment complexes. Sun-Sentinel.

Survey’s personal questions: Female student-athletes in Florida are being asked a series of questions about their periods in a survey given annually by the Florida State High School Athletic Association. The questions, which are marked as optional, ask girls when they had their first and most recent periods, how many they had in the past year, how much time they usually have from the start of one period to another, and their longest time between periods in the past year. Some parents and doctors say they’re shocked that such personal and sensitive information is asked, then kept by school districts and is accessible to coaches, but other doctors contend the information can help them screen for issues that may affect the girls long term. Palm Beach Post.

Scholarship funding: More than 85,600 low- and middle-income students attended private schools with a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship during the 2021-2022 school year, the Florida Department of Education recently reported. The total amount of scholarships awarded was $568.8 million, or an average of about $7,300 per student. About 39 percent of the students receiving funding were Hispanic, while 28 were black and 27 percent white. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. reimaginED.

Florida’s charter growth: Charter schools in Florida continued their steady growth during the 2021-2022 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education. More than 700 charter schools enrolled 361,939 students, a gain of about 20,000 students from the year before and a continuation of the growth in each of the past 10 years. About 45 percent of the students are Hispanic, with about 30 percent white and 19 percent black. Florida Department of Education.

Opinions on schools: If the state’s scholarships offered education savings accounts, more students not currently eligible could access enriching environments. Ron Matus, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff