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Schools receive millions in recognition awards, Hurricane Ian updates, classroom grants and more

Around the state: U.S. President Joe Biden announced the formal launch of the federal application for student loan forgiveness, Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded $200 million in School Recognition Awards to public schools, districts rolled out their reopening plans in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, safety issues in Sarasota, and a new president was chosen at Florida International University by the Board of Trustees. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Palm Beach: Four candidates for the Palm Beach County School Board raised more than $325,000 hoping to win two seats when voters hit the polls on Nov. 8. That’s more than double the amount raised by all the candidates who ran in three school board races in 2020. The Palm Beach Post.

Lee: Nine additional schools were cleared over the weekend to be re-opened Wednesday, school officials announced. That brings the total to 70 schools and eight special centers that will re-open this week. Superintendent Christopher Bernier said the biggest obstacle to reopening schools has been air quality tests. Meanwhile, parents in Lee are ready to see their kids getting on the bus and heading back to school, and many need their kids back in classrooms so that they can return to work. WINK News. Ft. Myers News-Press.  Associated Press.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid gave the school board here an update on the district’s Hurricane Ian shelters, which opened one day before the storm ravaged the area. The district ran 17 shelters countywide with a capacity of about 30,000 residents sheltered at the schools. Lakeland Ledger. The Polk Symposium on Special Education will be held at Auburndale High on Oct. 29. The event is free and designed for families with children who participate in the Exceptional Student Education programs. Families of students who have disabilities can find out more about resources, ask questions and attend sessions on ESE topics. Lakeland Ledger.

Pasco: The race for school board district 1 is unsettled  after Judge Susan Barthle essentially handed the election to one candidate based on eligibility issues, leading two other candidates to make plans to appeal the ruling. Tampa Bay Times.

Collier: The education foundation in Collier, Champions for Learning, surprised teachers with funds. Champions for Learning awarded 280 grant checks that totaled $166,288 to 55 schools in Collier County. Funds will help implement creative and innovative learning experiences for students. Naples Daily News.

Leon: Seventh grader Landon Huber built the forge for a science fair project after watching his favorite TV show, “Forged in Fire.” Now, Huber and his project are headed to Washington, D.C.  for the 2022 Broadcom MASTERS, a STEM competition for middle school students.  Tallahassee Democrat.

Charlotte: Port Charlotte Middle School won’t open for at least several months. A set of portable buildings are being bused to the campus, and each student will get a new iPad with internet connectivity built in. The portable buildings will be set up and ready for in-person instruction on Nov. 1. The Daily Sun. Fox 4.

DeSoto: Many schools in this county are slated to reopen three weeks after Hurricane Ian slapped into southwest Florida. Officials are taking a phased approach. Fox 13. 

Schools rewarded: Gov. Ron DeSantis is awarding $200 million in School Recognition Awards to 1,400 public schools for their performance during the 2021-22 school year. Eligible schools received a school grade of “A” or improved one letter grade from the previous year. Schools can use the money for nonrecurring faculty and staff bonuses, nonrecurring expenditures on educational equipment or temporary personnel to help maintain or improve the performance of students. DeSantis presented the awards at Toledo Blade Elementary School in North Port less than three weeks after Hurricane Ian struck southwest Florida.  “We trust the schools will make the good decisions, but it’s really important that when you have success that that is recognized, and that’s what these awards are doing,” DeSantis said. Florida Politics. WTSP.

School zone bike accidents: Some worry that Sarasota county lags when it comes to prioritizing safety initiatives near public schools. They point toward a lack of traffic calming initiatives that include three-way stops and crossing guards, and are asking for more to be done. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Slow internet speeds: A list was compiled that included Florida school districts with the slowest internet speeds. Fifty-two have slow internet, with the 10 slowest being located in various counties across the state. Islander News.

Absenteeism issue: Pre-pandemic chronic absenteeism will likely continue, according to data released by the U.S Department of Education. The 74th. 

Gubernatorial race: Education issues that include parental rights, teachers unions and school boards have become key in the race between Gov. Ron DeSantis and challenger Charlie Crist. Tampa Bay Times.

University and college news: President Joe Biden on Monday announced the formal launch of the federal application for Americans who seek student loan forgiveness. CNN. The Washington Post. ABC Action News. Gov. Ron DeSantis and conservative lawmakers have been critical of Florida’s higher education system, saying universities are offering degrees in “zombie studies” and labeling campuses as “socialism factories.” Various efforts have been made to reshape the state’s 40 colleges and universities. Politico. Florida International University Board of Trustees selected Kenneth Jessell, interim president, as the university’s next president. Jessell was chosen unanimously by the Board of Trustees to serve as FIU’s sixth president. Now, the Florida Board of Governors must confirm the appointment, which may occur during an upcoming meeting in at University of South Florida. “I’m very emotional,” said Jessell after he was chosen. “It’s a little bittersweet because I lost my mother on Friday.” Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: Two things are coming soon: State-level NAEP results and Halloween. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED.  A surge in the number of microschools has spread across the country. These co-learning communities with hired educators gained popularity before 2020, but disruption from the pandemic thrust them into the mainstream. Some wonder if these microschools will last or if interest will fade. Kerry McDonald, reimaginED. One item on the November ballot that benefits the future of Flagler County and its students is the half cent sales surtax. Cathy Mittelstadt, The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY Camille Knox