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New superintendent for Seminole, proms with no dancing, face mask suit dismissed and more

Around the state: An assistant superintendent for the Lake County School District has been chosen to run the Seminole district, the Seminole school board also approved proms with no dancing, a circuit judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Indian River County School District’s face mask mandate, Duval’s school board gives Superintendent Diana Greene a “highly effective” rating, Hillsborough school board members want to survey every family that leaves a district-run public school for a charter school to ask why, a charter school company that improved the Jefferson County School District over the past five years is turning the operation of the schools back to the local school board, a program is being started in the Lee County district for young 5-year-olds who need an extra year of social and emotional development, and the requirement that students and staff wear face masks in Manatee schools has been extended for 90 days. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School officials said they would add a six-week summer school program and develop other ways to help about 60,000 students who have fallen behind during the pandemic to catch up. “it’s not just going to be about academic support but it’s also going to provide enrichment opportunities,” said Superintendent Robert Runcie. WPLG.

Hillsborough: School board members are concerned about the growing number of students who are choosing charter schools over traditional public schools, and have tentatively decided to ask each family that makes the change to tell them why. There are 52 charter schools in the county that enroll 30,809 students, or about 15 percent of the student population, and at least a half-dozen more are opening soon. “We have got to do a better job at finding out why people are leaving our schools,” said board member Melissa Snively. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: Superintendent Diana Greene has been rated as “highly effective” by the school board it its evaluation of her for the 2019-2020 school year. Greene earned a score of 38.6 out of a possible 48 points. Two of the seven members did not participate since they are new to the board. The board praised Greene for her “fearless leadership” through the pandemic, getting a school sales tax referendum approved by voters to repair and replace schools, and the district’s push to provide every student with a laptop. Florida Times-Union. WTLV. The district’s mental health awareness and suicide prevention initiative in schools that tells students it’s okay to “remove their masks” has come under fire by some parents. “Face coverings have been required in most school settings since the district reopened in August, but Duval County Public Schools is giving students permission to ‘take off the mask’ when it comes to expressing and getting help for any emotional struggles they are experiencing,” read the initial email the district sent to parents. After the backlash, district officials said the words were not meant to be taken literally but that the message will be adjusted. Florida Times-Union. The Cedar Creek Christian School in Jacksonville has switched to remote learning until Feb. 22 because of a surge in reported coronavirus cases. The private K-12 school has about 280 students. WJXT.

Lee: The school district is starting a “Young Five” program for students at 10 schools who are eligible for kindergarten but may need an extra year of social and emotional development. Students must turn 5 between May 1 and Sept 1, 2021, to be eligible. “Young Five students will have a certified teacher who will provide engaging lessons in literacy, math, social/emotional, and motor skills developmentally appropriate for their age,” said Bethany Quisenberry, the director of elementary curriculum and instruction for the district. WINK.

Seminole: Chad Farnsworth, an assistant superintendent in the Lake County School District, has been chosen as the new superintendent of the 67,000-student district by the school board in a 3-2 vote. The other finalist was Serita Beamon, the school board’s attorney. Those who supported Farnsworth cited his experience in teaching and running another district. He was elected superintendent in Bradford County from 2012 to 2016. Farnsworth is expected to be offered a three-year contract paying $165,000 to $195,000 a year, and start work in March or April. He’s replacing Walt Griffin, who is retiring this spring after nine years in the job. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Dancing will not be permitted at proms this year and social distancing will be observed, according to a letter from district officials to parents this week. The letter added that graduations will be held in school auditoriums instead of in an arena, and students will have to reserve time slots. WKMG.

Manatee: The school district’s policy to require students and employees to wear face masks in schools has been extended 90 more days. Superintendent Cynthia Saunders made the recommendation at Tuesday’s school board meeting, and board members concurred. “We’ve been able to maintain very limited cases within the school district,” said board member Scott Hopes. “We’ve been able to contain the number of quarantines. It’s lower than the community in general. The CDC has not changed its guidelines in regard to schools and the mask recommendation.” Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: A school district naming committee is recommending that the new K-8 school currently under construction in Nocatee be called Pine Island Academy. The name was chosen from a list of five options. The recommendation now goes to the school board. The school opens in the fall. WJAX. WJXT.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: A new Equity and Cultural Sensitivity Committee has been launched by the Santa Rosa County School District as a way to improve equity for both students and staff. Committee members hope to have their first goals established by next month. “We want to make sure again that all of our students have every opportunity for success. We expect to see that reflected in graduation rates, opportunities to take advanced classes, opportunities to get industry certifications, access to Internet services,” said school board chair Wei Ueberschaer, who also sits on the new committee. Pensacola News Journal. Student demand for mental health services in Escambia and Santa Rosa schools is rising. The number of students in the two districts who have been referred for help is nearing the totals for the 2019-2020 school year, with four months before schools are dismissed. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: School board members have approved school calendars for the next two school years that includes a full week off at Thanksgiving. WTXL.

Bay: A wellness room has been created at Rosenwald High School so students will have a calm place to relax. The room will include yoga mats, peaceful music, essential oils, activities and counselors. WJHG. School board members approved a change order that will add at least $73,000 to the cost of demolishing a building at Bay High School. The original cost was $286,000. WJHG.

Martin: A proposal to build a voluntary pre-K program at Jensen Beach High School has drawn some support from the school board because it would tie into the school’s Early Childhood Academy, but has not moved forward because there are questions about the cost and whether there’s enough space. “I think it could be a great program,” said board chair Marsha Powers. “I just don’t know if it’s the proper way at this time to allocate our finances or our space.” TCPalm.

Indian River: A lawsuit challenging the school district’s requirement that face masks be worn in schools and on buses has been dismissed by a circuit court judge. Parents of several students filed the lawsuit, calling the mask mandate an “irrational policy” that created a separate and unequal learning environment because it forced students who don’t want to wear masks to learn remotely, and that it intruded on their right to determine medical treatment for their children. But Circuit Judge Janet Croom said their arguments were “unpersuasive” and that the suit “fails to state a legally sufficient claim.” TCPalm. WPTV.

Baker: Several Baker County High School students have been suspended for five days for participating in a racially offensive conversation on the social media platform Snapchat. The title of the conversation contained a racial slur. WJAX.

Jackson: Students in the Future Farmers of America chapter at Marianna High School have finished building a $40,000 greenhouse, and now will start planting flowers and tomatoes and moving other plants in. WMBB.

Jefferson: Five years after taking over the Jefferson County School District, Somerset Academy Inc. is preparing to turn control back to the local school board. The charter school company leaves a district with higher student scores on state standardized tests, a better district grade from the state, a much lower rate of disciplinary referrals, and higher teacher pay than it inherited. redefinED.

Colleges and universities: First Lady Jill Biden pledged Tuesday to “make sure that everyone has access to free community college and training programs.” Her husband, President Joe Biden, vowed during the campaign to make two years of community college or training free. Associated Press. In-person classes resume Feb. 15 at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. Classes have been online only since the second semester began Jan. 11. WKMG. Eastern Florida State College’s trustees have extended the contract of president James Richey to 2026. Richey declined a pay raise, and will continue to make $345,299 a year. Florida Today. College students who are doing teaching internships are finding they have to adapt to new working methods. WINK. Two Florida State University students have redesigned the university’s ID card with a signature strip on the back so it can be used as a valid ID for voting. Tallahassee Democrat. A former dean at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota has filed a lawsuit against the school. Christopher Schaffer was fired in September after several complaints were made about his behavior, suing the school. Bradenton Herald.

In the Legislature: The bill that would require public union members, such as teachers, to confirm they want dues taken out of their pay goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Unions say the bill is intended to destroy their organizations. Supporters contend they simply want to make sure workers have the final say about the deductions. News Service of Florida. The bill that would require colleges and universities to make annual assessments to ensure that their faculties have a wide variety of political philosophies and prohibit schools from denying approval for controversial speakers to talk on campus was approved Tuesday by the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: A coronavirus relief package that includes $130 billion for schools was pushed through the Education and Labor Committee in Congress on Tuesday. Associated Press. About 13 percent of all U.S. teachers had never used digital media devices in their classrooms until the coronavirus pandemic arrived last March and sent students home to learn remotely. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: The rainbow coalition that is the education choice movement would like to welcome its newest member: Randi Weingarten! Yes, that Randi Weingarten. President of the American Federation for Teachers. In an interview with The New York Times, Weingarten noted she has friends and family who have, according to the Times’ paraphrasing, “pulled their own children out of public schools because remote learning was not working for them. They have a right to look out for their individual children.” Yes, they do! And don’t they all? Ron Matus, redefinED. Education savings accounts would be great equalizer for schoolchildren. Here’s why. Shaka Mitchell, redefinED.

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BY NextSteps staff