Florida and federal aid, sales-tax holidays, ‘indoctrination’ rule, double-dipping and more

Federal aid and Florida: When the Biden administration proposed a $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus stimulus package, many Republican politicians in Florida immediately criticized it as wasteful spending that was not needed, and some even suggested the money be rejected. But staring into the face of a $3 billion budget shortfall, lawmakers took the money and used it on a variety of pet education projects that might not have been funded otherwise. Teachers and principals are receiving $1,000 bonuses, for example. In his announcement, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “A lot of people thought a year ago we were going to have a massive shortfall, that you’re going to have to slash education and all this other stuff. In fact, we were able to meet the needs,” though he didn’t mention he was using federal money. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, got $200 million to send books into the homes of students to bolster literacy rates. “A lot of my conservative friends … are concerned with (what) the long-term economic drag that coughing up that much money to the states could possibly be,” said state Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. “But when it comes to the rubber really meeting the road, a lot of that fades away because we do have priorities.” State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, added, “I wish they’d (Congress) never done it. But you can’t penalize Florida for the stupid decision of Joe Biden.” Politico. School leaders from other states talk about how they plan to spend the money they’re getting from the relief bill. Among the ideas are summer enrichment programs, incentives for teachers already on the payroll instead of hiring, and experimenting with new school calendars, social-emotional learning curriculum, and more. K-12 Dive.

Sales-tax holidays: The bill authorizing three tax-free holidays was signed Friday by Gov. DeSantis. The largest is the 10-day back-to-school July 31 through Aug. 9, when no taxes will be levied on the purchase of clothes and backpacks for less than $60, school supplies under $15 and electronic devices under $1,000. Taxes will also be suspended May 28 through June 6 on equipment for emergency preparedness, and July 1-7 for tickets for concerts, sports events, museums, ballets, theaters, plays, musicals, fairs, festivals and cultural events. The three holidays are expected to save people almost $200 million in taxes. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Pensacola News Journal. Florida Politics.

DeSantis backs proposed rule: Gov. DeSantis announced his support for a proposed Florida Department of Education rule that would prohibit teachers from expressing their personal views to “indoctrinate” their students. The rule, which will be considered by the state Board of Education June 10, declares that teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” Lessons must be “factual and objective” and can’t “suppress or distort significant historical events.” DeSantis also took another shot at critical race theory, which teaches that racism is embedded in American society and its institutions. DeSantis has vowed to ban the use of it in public schools, saying it teaches students to hate their country and each other. “We’ll be taking action, don’t you worry,” he promised. News Service of Florida. WTXL. WFSU. Florida Politics.

School opening best practices: Florida reopened schools much earlier than most states during the pandemic, putting school leaders in position to share their best practices with other districts. “What we’ve learned is what we instinctively knew but couldn’t prove,” said Sandra Himmel, Citrus County superintendent. Among the tips they offered: communicate often and collaborate with employees, parents and parents; take advantage of technology, such as using school buses as mobile Internet providers in rural areas and issuing hotspots to students with spotty home service; provide as much time as possible for remediation, such as after-school programs and extended summer school; teach students to learn instead of simply mastering content; be flexible to adapt quickly to changes in circumstances; evaluate to see what can be done better the next time; and make an extra effort to support employees. “It’s difficult to make it to the end of a crisis having retained all the great teachers, staff and leaders who started the journey with you,” said Lake Superintendent Diane Kornegay. K-12 Dive.

Around the state: A Broward school district investigation discloses that a security manager was working a fulltime job during the hours he was working for the district, Palm Beach’s school board is considering removing a phrase from an equity statement after it causes an uproar among some parents, a member of the board of trustees at Florida State University has called the process to choose finalists for the president’s job unfair, a Sarasota private school teacher’s 2016 pandemic simulation school project led to the development of an exercise that is used by schools around the country, and students at two Pasco schools will have to wear masks at graduation because their ceremonies are being held a day before the district’s policy making masks optional goes into effect. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A district investigation has found that a schools security manager worked a fulltime job for months during the same hours he was on duty for his district job. A committee of district administrators recommended that Terrance Wilson, 54, be suspended for five days. But Jeff Moquin, chief of staff for Superintendent Robert Runcie, reduced it to a written reprimand, the lowest level of discipline possible. Wilson has given up his second job as chief of security for Florida Memorial University but will keep his $91,167-a-year job as an area security manager for the school district. Sun Sentinel. Prosecutors called Superintendent Runcie’s attorney’s argument for dismissal of a perjury charge “next-level sophistry” at a hearing last week. The attorney argued that the statewide grand jury that indicted Runcie exceeded its scope because its jurisdiction is limited to crimes that occur in more than one county, and his alleged offense occurred only in Broward. Miami Herald.

Orange, central Florida: School board votes on making face masks optional for the next school year are scheduled June 22 in Seminole County and July 13 in Orange. Both boards have faced intense opposition from parents to the mask mandates, and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has urged districts to make masks optional for the 2021-2022 academic year, arguing that masks “serve no remaining good.” Masks will be optional starting with summer school in neighboring Lake County. Osceola has not yet made a decision, but officials there said they expect masks to be optional when schools resume in August. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: School board members are considering removing a controversial phrase from an “equity statement” they approved last month after it created an uproar in the community. The statement reads, in part, that the district “is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage and transforming our system by hearing and elevating underrepresented voices, sharing power, recognizing and eliminating bias, and redistributing resources to provide equitable outcomes.” Many parents complained that the inclusion of the words “white advantage” are racist and divisive. The board will reconsider the statement at Wednesday’s meeting. Palm Beach Post. WPBF. The school board has taken a dispute over giving charter schools money from a 2018 property tax referendum to the Florida Supreme Court. The ballot language specifically excluded charter schools from receiving money from the tax hike, but charter schools filed a challenge and won at the appeals court level. News Service of Florida. A former interim head football coach at William T. Dwyer Community High School in Palm Beach Gardens has been arrested and accused of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and lewd and lascivious battery. Reginald D. Stanley, 55, was the coach in 2019. The charges stem from incidents between 1998 and 2002. The victim came forward in 2020 with information that prompted an investigation. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: The community vote on renaming schools overwhelmingly endorsed new names for six schools that honor Confederate officials, but not for the three that bear the names of colonizers Andrew Jackson and Jean Ribault. Tammy Hodo, the president of All Things Diverse, called the results discouraging. “It is a bit concerning that black students don’t see the connection of oppression when it comes to Jean Ribault,” she said. “I don’t know if they understand how the oppression and genocide of our indigenous population relates to the experiences of our ancestors and the mistreatment and genocide they experienced. I find it interesting that the correlation can’t be made as we do discuss not using one’s culture as mascots or another’s culture as customs.” Superintendent Diana Greene will consider the public’s preferences and make a recommendation on renaming the schools next month to the board. Florida Times-Union.

Pinellas: Tropicana Field’s full capacity can be used for high school graduations, according to stadium officials and school officials. Seating will be general admission, and guests are being asked to wear masks. Graduations will be held at the stadium June 1-3. WFLA. A science teacher at Tarpon Springs Middle School has been arrested and accused of sending a sexually explicit video to a 15-year-old former student. Stephan Badertscher, 31, subsequently resigned from his job, district officials said. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Lee: In a letter to parents, the school district said the face mask mandate will remain in place for the rest of this school year, though they will be voluntary during outdoor activities as long as students stay apart. Wearing a mask will be optional for summer school and the 2021-2022 school year. WINK.

Pasco: Graduating students at two schools will have to wear masks at their ceremonies because commencements are scheduled one day before the district’s face mask mandate ends May 28. Parents had lobbied the school board to allow mask-free graduations for the eSchool and Marchman Technical College, calling the one-day difference arbitrary. The district compromised and will allow students to remove masks while walking across the stage to pick up their diplomas and for photos. “It is a shame, but it is what it is,” said district spokesman Stephen Hegarty. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Face masks in schools will be optional after the spring semester ends June 3, school board members decided Friday. They had been scheduled to meet June 8 and make the decision about masks for the 2021-2022 school year, but moved it up when parents complained that was too late for them to get their children into private schools if they were faced with another year of wearing masks. Many parents had called for the face mask mandate to end immediately so seniors could get their diplomas without being required to have a mask. Graduations are May 27-29. Florida Today. WFTV. WOFL.

St. Johns: The yearbook adviser at Bartram Trail High School made the decision to edit about 80 photos of girls in the yearbook because she felt they violated the school’s dress code, district officials confirmed Friday. The yearbook coordinator, teacher Anne Irwin, authorized changes that covered girls’ chests and shoulders. The school is offering refunds for the $100 yearbook. St. Augustine Record. WJXT.

Sarasota: In 2016, Todd Brown, a charter middle school civics teacher at the Sarasota Military Prep Academy, created a lesson around a pandemic outbreak in which students acted out the parts of government officials, epidemiologists, medical teams, media and members of the public. The exercise was so successful that it drew the attention of a Harvard geneticist, and led to the creation of a mobile app called Operation Outbreak that is now used in lessons in schools around the country. Hechinger Report.

Marion: A math teacher at Fort King Middle School in Ocala has been arrested and charged in connection with a murder in Alachua County. Martesha Williams Johnson, 30, is one of three people arrested after the shooting last week of 44-year-old Tyerune G. Blocker. Deputies said they intended to shoot another man who was standing nearby but hit Blocker, who was described as an innocent bystander. All were charged with murder and attempted murder. Johnson has been placed on administrative leave. WKMG. Gainesville Sun.

Leon: The former basketball coach at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee has been arrested and charged with forgery. Dimitric Salters, who is now the coach at the Munroe Day School in Gadsden County, is accused of redirecting $13,000 that should have gone to the school to his personal accounts during the 2016-2017 school year. WTXL. The Florida A&M University Developmental Research School has been named a National Beta School of Distinction for increasing its Beta Club membership by at least 10 percent from the previous school year. School Beta Clubs stress academic success, honesty, leadership and service. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: A new charter school has been approved by the school board that promises to integrate music and other arts into academics. The Constellation Charter School of Gainesville anticipates opening in the fall of 2022 with about 98 students in grades 1-5, and eventually expanding through 8th grade and accepting up to 164 students. It has not yet selected a location. Gainesville Sun. Mokshvi Shah, a 16-year-old junior in the Cambridge program at Gainesville High School, has raised more than $7,500 since May 8 for COVID-19 relief in India, where she was born. Gainesville Sun.

Monroe: Denise Santiago and Nicole Smith, both from the Horace O’Bryant School, have been named the Monroe County School District’s principal and assistant principal of the year, respectively. Key West Citizen. Claire Schoonover, a sophomore at Key West High School, was recently chosen as one of 50 students worldwide to participate in this year’s Freedom Writers program that helps teacher learn how to turn at-risk students into authors. Schoonover wrote about overcoming dyslexia. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: A member of the board of trustees at Florida State University has called the process to choose three finalists for the president’s job unfair, and questioned the transparency of the search. Two members of the search committee defended the process, saying it was fair and complied with the state’s Sunshine Law. The trustees meet today. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics. Some incoming freshmen at the University of Tampa are scrambling for options after being notified by the school that they’ve been put on a waiting list for on-campus housing because fall enrollment has exceeded capacity. Tampa Bay Times. Gov. DeSantis has reappointed David Lawrence Jr. to the Florida A&M University board of trustees. Lawrence is the chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida, and has been on the FAMU board since 2015. Tallahassee Democrat.

Around the nation: As schools are relaxing their face mask mandates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a study that shows wearing masks and making ventilation improvements slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools. COVID-19 rates at 169 K-5 schools in Georgia between Nov. 16 and Dec. 11 were 37 percent lower at schools that required students and employees to wear masks than at those that didn’t. NPR. The success of vaccines has many questioning the value of the Biden administration’s COVID testing program. Politico. Many states are opting out of assessments testing, or reducing the number of tests students are taking. Florida New Times. In his first speech since leaving the attorney general’s position, William Barr questioned the constitutionality of school funding and said, “The time has come to admit that the approach of giving militantly secularist government schools a monopoly over publicly funded education has become a disaster.” Fox News.

Opinions on schools: The evidence shows that giving parents more choices, including vouchers, improves academic achievement for children. Ron Matus, Tallahassee Democrat. Over 3 million students from prekindergarten to 12th grade call Florida home, and each of them has unique educational needs. Giving their families the flexibility to meet those needs provides students with a much better chance at academic success and a bright future. Skyler Zander, Orlando Sentinel. An embarrassing number of Florida legislators have wormed their way into snazzy college positions that should have gone to actual academics. Fred Grimm, Sun Sentinel. John Thrasher should be FSU’s last politician president. It’s a mark of his success that he will be followed by an academic who can harness our tremendous research potential. FSU professor Will Hanley, Tallahassee Democrat. The conclusion one could derive from a recent study is that both intellectual stimulation and removal of negative role models can influence a disadvantaged kid’s life. Adding positive role models — caring and involved adults — from preschool on is icing on the cake. Murad Antia, Tampa Bay Times. Sarasota County School Board members wisely refrained from taking the clearly reckless, rash and ridiculous step of prematurely halting the district’s mask-wearing policy. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. When you give COVID-19 mask protesters a kvetching opportunity, you soon discover that for many, it’s really not about the mask. Complaining about wearing a mask is just an opportunity for them to put on their “patriot” attire, dust off their Nazi references and imagine themselves as God-anointed, heroic figures in American history. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Something beautiful happened in Florida during the pandemic. It was the unrelenting commitment of Florida’s educators. John Legg, Florida Politics. Deciding whether a student would make a fine engineer, scientist or health professional based on the color of their skin or their gender or the place they grew up is more than just a tragedy. It’s a crime. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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