PBC clears path to free school meals through Oct. 20 in Irma’s wake

File photo behind the scenes at a Palm Beach County school cafeteria. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the school district has the go ahead to offer free meals to all students from today through Friday, Oct. 20, Palm Beach County school officials announced Monday.

“Breakfast is always free in Palm Beach County, and for the next month, the District is pleased to be able to provide lunch meals at no cost as well,” according to the notice posted on the district’s website.

The permission comes in the form of a waiver granted because of the storm’s impact across the state. The meals still come under the National School Lunch Program, which means students have to select a complete meal – not pick from an a la carte menu – in order to qualify. Snack items are still available at regular prices.

Feds direct schools: Allow transgender students to pick restroom

The Obama administration has written the most sweeping school restroom pass in decades, telling public schools across the nation Friday to permit transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that fit their chosen gender, according to reports that appeared first in The New York Times.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement accompanying the directive, which is being sent to school districts Friday.

Forcing students to use facilities based on the sex they were at birth as opposed to the gender they identify would be sex discrimination and a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, according to the joint guidance release by the U.S. Deparments of Education and Justice.

The directive comes amid a battle between the federal government and North Carolina.

It also comes a day after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a civil rights complaint against the Marion County school district in Ocala, Florida over a new transgender policy that dictates students use the restroom that matches their sex at birth.

pbc student handbookThe Palm Beach County School District has not waded in to any debate about who can use which school restrooms. In the student handbook, the district states that it “prohibits harassment or discrimination against students for any reason including gender expression and/or gender identity, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, marital status, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, linguistic preference, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or social/family background.”

According to a USDOE press release, the guidance issued Friday details schools’ obligations to:

·         Respond promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment of all students, including harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived gender identity, transgender status, or gender transition;

·         Treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their school records or identification documents indicate a different sex;

·         Allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and access sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity; and

·         Protect students’ privacy related to their transgender status under Title IX and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The schools can take offer “additional privacy options to any student for any reason. The guidance does not require any student to use shared bathrooms or changing spaces, when, fore example, there are other appropriate options available; and schools can also take steps to increase privacy within shared facilities.”

 

 

Norovirus sidelined 250 Boynton students, unlikely to abate soon, says health department

citrus coveThe nasty gastrointestinal bug that sidelined more than 100 Citrus Cove Elementary school students last week has now been identified as norovirus, the quick-spreading scourge that is most notoriously associated with outbreaks on cruise ships.

Palm Beach County health officials confirmed Monday that lab results identified the source of the illness that spiked absences at the school beginning in the middle of last week.

The school, in the Boynton Beach area, typically sees about 60 of its nearly 1,000 students sick on any given day, but last week the number rose to 90 on Wednesday and hit more than 250 by Friday. Monday, 137 were absent and another 49 were sent home, said school district spokeswoman Kathy Burstein

“We don’t feel it’s peaked yet,” O’Connor said Monday. “We don’t want to speculate. But (the outbreak at) Wellington Elementary last year went on for a good 30 days even with a spring break. It came back when the kids came back.

“We’re hoping to get it under control as soon as possible. The school district is being much more aggressive with the cleaning part this time,” O’Connor said.

Principal Laura Green sent a note home to parents urging them to double down on hand washing efforts and keep sick children at home after symptoms abate for at least 48 hours to stop the contagion.

That part is key, O’Connor said. “Any sooner and they can still shed the virus.”

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At the same time, sanitation crews scoured the campus daily cleaning water fountains, bathrooms, rooms in which students were absent and common areas including the cafeteria and library, school district officials reported.

In an abundance of caution, the county’s Supervisor of Elections also relocated two voting precincts in Tuesday’s election. Voters casting ballots in precincts 3138 and 3164 should head to Boynton Beach High at 4975 Park Ridge Blvd. instead.

Norovirus is sometimes referred to as food poisoning or stomach flu, but it’s not actually the flu. Instead, it is a virus that inflames its victim’s stomach and intestines leading to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. Getting it once does not give you any immunity from getting it again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports norovirus is the most common cause of “acute gastroenteritis” in the United States, infecting 19 to 21 million a year, and sending from 56,000 to 71,000 people each year to the hospital. It can be fatal, killing 570 to 800 people annually.

It is spread when you touch things already contaminated with the virus and then put your fingers in your mouth. Sharing food, eating off the same utensils and coming into close contact with someone who is already sick can make you sick too.

We hear about outbreaks on cruise ships, but they happen in a variety of closed places including daycare centers, nursing homes and schools, the CDC reports. We’re in the middle of norovirus season – from November to April – when outbreaks are most common.

 

Illness sweeps Boynton area elementary school, prompts voting to be moved

sickThe county’s health officials have been notified and the school district’s cleaning crews have been deployed to battle a gastrointestinal illness that is sweeping through Citrus Cove Elementary in Boynton Beach this week.

The as yet unidentified illness also prompted the county’s elections supervisor to relocate voting precincts at the elementary, moving them to the auditorium at Boynton Beach High for Tuesday’s elections.

Concerns were raised Wednesday when absences at the school hit near 90 – far above the average 60 at the campus of nearly 1,000 students. Thursday, absences went up further to 117, said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the state Health Department in Palm Beach County.

The health department was contacted and an effort began to sanitize rooms daily where students reported to be sick. The common areas including the cafeteria, library and water fountains are also being sanitized daily, Principal Laura Green told parents in a letter home this week.

The symptoms of this illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The department continues to investigate the cause. It does not appear to be the flu, which is a respiratory illness.

The school’s doors remained open for class Friday, but parents have been reminded that hand washing with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the illness.

If a child becomes ill, officials are asking parents to keep him or her at home until they’ve been symptom free for 48 hours.

No other school in the district has reported a similar outbreak.

Questions? Call the Epidemiology at Florida Department of Health in Palm beach County at 561-671-4184 or call the school.

 

 

Is your kid getting the 150 minutes of PE state law requires?

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Recess at Limestone Creek Elementary, (Damon Higgins / Palm Beach Post)

The bill to require 20 minutes of recess a day seems unlikely to make it through the last days of the Florida legislature. Update: It failed.  At least kids still have PE, right?

Florida law already requires physical education class for 150 minutes a week in elementary school. But do students actually get the full 150? Most parents look at the schedule the school sends home with their children, add up the minutes and say, ‘No.’

Take Limestone Creek Elementary in Jupiter, for example.

Like most schools, Limestone has a number of courses its students cycle through one  per day, called “the wheel”. The wheel is a seven-  or eight-day rotation that includes five subjects in a given semester: art, music, PE, computers and either media (the library) or guidance. PE is in the rotation more than once, the administrators explained, so that each student gets PE via the wheel three times a week for 35 minutes a day.

That’s 105 minutes.

Look at the wheel schedules as at other schools collected from parents across the district, you see the same thing. A half hour three days a week. Thirty-five minutes on Day Four.

“I don’t know one wheel that would get to 150 minutes,” said the district’s Chief Academic Officer Keith Oswald.

Instead, each school is charged with creating schedules that have classroom teachers cover the rest of those minutes either inside or outside the classroom, Oswald said. These additional minutes are not to be confused with recess, which is encouraged by district policy, but not required, Oswald said.

PE is defined by Florida law as “physical activities of at least a moderate intensity level and for a duration sufficient to provide a significant health benefit to students”  in a program reviewed by a certified PE teacher.

By district policy, PE is supposed to be an activity in which students practice motor skills and social skills.

It includes “individual activities as well as competitive and non-competitive team sports,” according to policy.

These days, every Palm Beach County elementary school has at least one PE teacher, some have two – one, in the Glades, has three, said Eric Stern, who is in charge of physical education curriculum for the district. That’s more than were in school about a decade ago, he recalls.

But it’s not enough for every student, every day.

So the district relies on classroom teachers for the rest.

The district has given them training in a variety of ways to do PE,  Stern said.

“It could be indoors or outdoors. It could be a jump rope lesson, relay races, a modified game of kickball. That’s what it could be,” Stern said.

The district has created physical activity packets with 100 suggestions that require little or no equipment. Teachers can also tap into resources such as GoNoodle, an online trove of activities and games to employ in the classroom. (According to GoNoodle’s monthly report, more than 1,800 teachers tapped into the site and played more than 25,000 “physical activity breaks”. Allamanda Elementary was a top user this month with 930 breaks played.)

Every minute, in every classroom is not monitored by the district, however.

Each school submits its plans to the district as part of its “master board” of scheduling. But that board does not drill down to each teacher’s room. It’s up to the principal to be sure each teacher has scheduled that time for his or her students, Oswald said.

“It is challenging. Principals and teachers are frustrated because there are not enough hours in the day to get everything on there that is required,” Oswald said.

They aren’t the only ones frustrated.

Sharon Owen, a mother of two, questioned how much playground time her children were getting. A proponent of the failed required recess bill, she looked at her children’s schedules and didn’t see 150 minutes of PE either.

“I’ve spoken to my school about this and they’ve used recess to get to the 150 minutes of PE. They’re telling me recess is structured with a teacher. They say recess is the same thing. To me, they’re not following the law.

“People need to know they’re kids aren’t getting recess. People say kids are getting PE, but are they? Pick one. It’s recess or it’s not.”

Missed the story on recess?

Joy Kastanias wants to be clear: Her daughter is getting recess at school daily, but in the Jupiter mom’s circle of friends, the girl seems to be the exception.

So many people told the parent activist, “I don’t know why my kid isn’t getting recess,” that Kastanias started asking around. Eventually, she found herself seated before the Palm Beach County School Board armed with a fistful of woe and advocating for a law to do what many teachers can’t – find time for children to play.

It shouldn’t be so hard, Kastanias argued. The district’s own wellness policy“encourages” daily recess in the lower grades.

Yet it has become urgent enough that like-minded parents have managed to forward a bill during this legislative session that would demand 20 minutes of recess daily for every elementary student in Florida.

Read more… 

 

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A day to fight bullying, the origins of the pink T-Shirt and a movie star

It’s that day of the school year once again when we consider bullying, how to prevent it and what to do when confronted with it…and don pink T-shirts – but we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, know that several Palm Beach County Schools have planned events or conversations for this day, including Okeeheelee Middle School which has perhaps the biggest headliner of the day: The actor who played football player Michael Oher in the movie The Blind Side, Quinton Aaron.

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School officials say Aaron will spend the day at the school in suburban West Palm Beach. He’s talking at morning assemblies and then working with smaller groups at lunch time.

Now, back to those pink T-shirts…

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Wearing a pink T-shirt made one boy in a school in Canada a target for bullies in 2007. But his classmates didn’t stand for it. They rallied by buying a mass of pink tank tops at the local dollar store and handing them out for kids to wear the next day.

Out of that show of support was born Pink T-Shirt Day – now an international event.

Wednesday in Palm Beach County, the Literacy Coalition is sponsoring events to further the anti-bullying message during Pink T-Shirt Day.  Suncoast High School students volunteered to support Pink T-Shirt Day in the district’s schools. And Berkshire Elementary in West Palm Beach is making a day of it with dancing, art-covered halls and more.

Here’s part of the Pink T-Shirt Day origins story from The Globe and Mail:

“David Shepherd, Travis Price and their teenage friends organized a high-school protest to wear pink in sympathy with a Grade 9 boy who was being bullied [for wearing a pink shirt]…[They] took a stand against bullying when they protested against the harassment of a new Grade 9 student by distributing pink T-shirts to all the boys in their school.

‘I learned that two people can come up with an idea, run with it, and it can do wonders,’ says Mr. Price, 17, who organized the pink protest. ‘Finally, someone stood up for a weaker kid.’

.. 

As they stood in the foyer handing out the shirts, the bullied boy walked in. His face spoke volumes. ‘It looked like a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders,’ Mr. Price recalled.

“The bullies were never heard from again.”