Lessons one year after the school shutdown, S.B. 86 back for a hearing, school board pay and more

One year after the shutdown: A year after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic closed schools, students and educators talk about what they learned, what they lost, what they gained, how they adapted to the changes in education, how the pandemic could affect the future of education, and their hopes for the 2021-2022 school year and beyond. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Florida Phoenix. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR. WLRN. Gainesville Sun. WCTV. Remote learning had a large, and largely negative, impact on learning. Miami Herald. Five things we’ve learned about schools during the pandemic. Chalkbeat.

In the Legislature: The bill that would change the way Bright Futures Scholarships are funded and tie financial aid to student majors that “lead directly to employment” is back on the Senate Education Committee agenda for Tuesday. S.B. 86 was pulled from consideration last week after being roundly criticized by students and educators. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said “several potential changes” are expected, but “we’re still going to be looking to scale back the Bright Futures portion of that opportunity if it does not lead to a job.” Florida Politics. WOFL. WFLA. A resolution that could eventually eliminate pay for school board members was approved Friday by the House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee. If it’s approved by the Legislature, a constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballot in November 2022, and would take effect if more than 60 percent of voters approve it. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. The Senate is expected to take up a revised bill this week that offers schools and business protection against COVID-related lawsuits, and another that would prevent authorities from arresting anyone under the age of 7. Associated Press.

Around the state: Hillsborough asks Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho for advice on how to handle its financial crisis, Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins says she’s waiting for guidance from the state before deciding on the future of the district’s remote-learning platform, a door-decorating contest at a St. Petersburg middle school for Black History Month leads to diversity training for the entire staff, six Lee County teachers are presented with Golden Apple awards, Lake County schools honor their rookie teacher and school-related employee of the year, Charlotte County’s school superintendent gets a glowing review from the school board, and a Gainesville high school principal is removed from the job. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A 17-year-old former South Miami Senior High student who disabled the district’s online learning platform last fall in a cyberattack has agreed to a plea deal that will keep him out of jail. He was sentenced him to one year of probation and 30 hours of community service. “All of this was a mistake,” the boy told the judge. “I didn’t mean to cause harm.” Miami Herald. WFOR.

Broward: All school employees will be eligible to get a coronavirus vaccination beginning on Tuesday, regardless of age, district officials said. Superintendent Robert Runcie said the vaccinations will allow the district to offer a more normal educational experience. Sun Sentinel. WPLG.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: The financial crunch the Hillsborough County School District faces led officials to ask for advice from someone who went through a similar problem 13 years ago. Superintendent Addison Davis asked his colleague, Alberto Carvalho of the Miami-Dade School District, for tips. Carvalho said, “I’m not here to teach you anything you don’t already know. You know exactly what needs to be done. It’s not a skill set.” It just takes “the political courage and the fortitude to do what is right.” In 2008, Carvalho broke ties with vendors, self-insured the district, cut about 1,000 jobs, and addressed competition from charter schools by opening the district’s own charters. Tampa Bay Times. The number of coronavirus cases in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando schools fell below 500 last week for the first time in months. The numbers of cases was the same week-to-week in Hernando, but down in the other three school districts, and the four-county total has dropped from 619 to 456 in the past two weeks. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said the district is waiting for guidance from the state before deciding whether to continue offering the virtual learning platform LaunchEd@Home for the 2021-2022 school year. About 68 percent of the district’s students started the year on LaunchEd, which allows students to stay enrolled in their schools and follow classes on the normal schedule from home on a computer, but that’s dropped to about 40 percent. “We know that was created under the commissioner, the Florida Department of Education’s executive order which allowed us to create the innovate plan and then to continue it in December once we received the updated and revised plan. So now the question is, will that be extended beyond the summer?” asked district spokesman Scott Howat. WKMG.

Palm Beach: More than 5,000 students in Lake Worth Beach will soon be getting free, high-speed Internet access through a program led by the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and money from the federal CARES Act. The plan is to then expand the program to another 20,000 students across 13 communities that lack reliable Internet service before the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. “I cannot overstate this,” said Superintendent Donald Fennoy. “This project is life-changing, a game changer in education and access.” Palm Beach Post.

Polk: As Florida Standards Assessments tests are given between now and May, many state parents don’t know that their children can “opt out” with the “good cause” exemption, according to the organization Opt Out Florida. Students may use alternative tests or present a portfolio of their work instead of sitting for the statewide tests. Jennifer Sabin, who heads the Opt Out Polk organization, calls the FSA a “test and punish” and has opted her daughter out for the past five years with no repercussions. Lakeland Ledger. A district teacher has been arrested and accused of stealing her grandmother’s life savings. Laura Pollard Ramos, 40, a history teacher at the Dundee Ridge Middle Academy, allegedly stole more than $66,000 since in the past three years. She was given her grandmother’s power of attorney in 2013. School officials said she will be fired. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG.

Pinellas: A door decorating competition for Black History Month turned divisive at Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg, leading one teacher to call the police on another and prompting the principal to order diversity training for the entire staff. A white teacher’s door had photos of NAACP founder W.E.B DuBois, the second U.S. president John Adams and Mingo Nation Chief Logan over a flag with the words, “All my colors matter, what history is in your DNA?” Members of the Black History Month Committee objected that it wasn’t a black history thing, and removed it. The white teacher called police, who declined to file charges. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Six teachers were presented with Golden Apple awards on Friday. They are: Nathan Buehler, a 5th-grade teacher at Mirror Lakes Elementary School in Lehigh Acres; Jamie Ayres, a 9th-grade English teacher at Cape Coral High; Bryan Williams, a JROTC instructor at Mariner High in Cape Coral; Joseph Camputaro, a 5th-grade teacher at the Sanibel School; Melissa Holland, a kindergarten teacher at Tanglewood Elementary in Fort Myers; and Marylin Prysi, a kindergarten teacher at Villas Elementary in Fort Myers. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX. School officials said they have a shortage of substitute teachers that ranges from 5-10 percent every day. Some subs don’t want to work because they’re worried about contracting the coronavirus in schools, and because they aren’t eligible for vaccinations at federal sites if they haven’t worked this school year. WINK. Isabel Liu, a student at Cypress Lake Middle School, has won the Lee County Spelling Bee for the second time. She advances to the regional competition. WFTX.

Manatee: The district’s decision to consider locating a medical magnet program at Lincoln Memorial Academy has been welcomed by a majority of students. “I feel like it would be good for people who actually want to go to school for that,” said Anton Brown, a 7th-grader at Lincoln. “They can get a head start and learn it before they actually major in it.” The next steps will be preparing the curriculum and settling on a new name, since Lincoln Memorial Academy is owned by the leaders of the school when it was a charter school. Bradenton Herald. District spokesman Mike Barber announced Friday that no proms will be held at district high schools this year. He said holding proms could spread the coronavirus, but holding them with the necessary safety measures such as social distancing could turn them into “some sort of dystopian comedy.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. District teachers and employees began receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccination Saturday at Braden River High School. About 1,000 shots were administered. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: Theresa Spann, the culinary arts teacher at Umatilla High School, has been named the Lake County School District rookie teacher of the year, while April Dempsey, the food service manager at Grassy Lake Elementary, was chosen as the school-related employee of the year. Daily Commercial.

Marion: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the school district dropped 18 percent last week, according to school officials. Two weeks ago there were 38 cases, and last week 31 were reported. More than 420 others were sent into quarantine because of their close contact with one of the 31 infected. Ocala Star-Banner.

Clay: Clay High School officials have has announced that it will not have a prom this year. “The nature of prom makes planning an environment that conforms to CDC guidelines difficult,” read a statement from school officials. “At this time, Clay High School is unable to have a 2021 prom in a safe environment. We will continue to evaluate the situation.” WJAX.

Leon: A “popup preschool” will make stops this week in the Greater Bond and South City communities. The idea by community activists is to draw children, like an ice cream truck would, and hand out educational activities that children can do with parents and grandparents. “We talk a lot about kindergarten readiness and put a lot of responsibility back on schools and the school board, and I think all of that is important,” said activist Talethia Edwards. “But we know that the parent is the first teacher.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Jim Tenbieg has been removed as principal at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, reportedly for failing to notify the parents of children who were interviewed by authorities during an investigation of former band director Shawn Barat for allegedly sending sexually suggestive messages to a student. Barat later resigned. An interim replacement for Tenbieg is expected to be named this week. WCJB.

Bay: Is a school district brochure about the coming tax referendum for schools simply informational or is it political campaigning? Some district employees believe it’s political advertising lobbying voters to approve the 1-mill property tax hike. Superintendent Bill Husfelt denies that interpretation, saying, “We’re not doing anything wrong or illegal or unethical.” Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen said anyone who thinks the brochure is a problem should file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics. WJHG. WMBB.

Charlotte: School board members have given Superintendent Steve Dionisio glowing reviews and extended his contract through 2024 at the same rate, $164,500 a year. Dionisio received a score of 9.31 out of 10 from the board. “That’s practically perfect,” said board member Kim Amontree. “It doesn’t get much better than that.” Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: Superintendent Sandra Himmel told a community group last week that school face masks mandates will continue through the summer, traditional graduations with limited attendance are expected, and that prom plans are still being discussed by high schools. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: An assistant dean is suing the University of South Florida for pay discrimination based on gender. Fai Howard was hired in 2017, and discovered the following year that she was being paid significantly less than a male colleague in a similar position. When she pressed the issue, it took two years for USF to give her a bonus that she said did not address the pay inequity, and she filed suit in February. Tampa Bay Times. A longtime Florida State University professor has been allowed to resign while being investigated for allegations of sexual misconduct. Richard Feiock, 62, had been at FSU since 1990. Florida Phoenix. Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins has been appointed to the University of Central Florida Board of Trustees by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Orlando Sentinel. DeSantis also has appointed Maximo Alvarez and Jorge Gonzalez to the Florida State University Board of Trustees. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Here’s what the $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus stimulus package will mean for K-12 schools in America. Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: The very American conception of reality might best be kept distinct from, though necessary to, the concept of social and legal equity and rights. But is this even relevant to schooling and the curriculum? To me, it seems to be the first and fundamental question for the human mind — however one answers it. And it is an inequity to deprive the equal human child of its challenge. John E. Coons, redefinED. Proposals that would limit funding for Bright Futures Scholarships and put more restrictions on teachers unions and others are among the very bad bills being considered by the Legislature in a session that has the potential to become the worst ever. Orlando Sentinel. Here’s why you shouldn’t send your children back to school yet. Devin Gladstone, Palm Beach Post. Private schools that accept scholarship students must meet high standards on academics, finances, health and safety. Most importantly they are accountable to the families they serve – if the parents aren’t satisfied with the school, they can take their children and scholarships elsewhere. Deborah Suddarth, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. At a moment when the Volusia County School Board could have provided support for LGBTQ students, members instead flinched. Pat Rice, Daytona Beach News-Journal. All I see in Senate Bill 86 is a ham-handed attempt to deprive arts and humanities departments at our state’s universities of students. That will not do anything to improve the opportunities that students have to enter economically robust careers, and it may make the present situation worse. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. S.B. 86 is an amazingly ill-mannered, foolish and anti-intellectual little piece of legislation that would pull the Bright Futures financial aid rug out from under anyone who isn’t pursuing a “useful” major. R. Bruce Anderson, Lakeland Ledger.

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BY NextSteps staff