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Revised S.B. 86, transgender athletes’ eligibility bills coming up, social distancing reconsidered and more

In the Legislature: S.B. 86, the bill that would tie student aid to choice of majors and change funding for Bright Futures Scholarships goes before the Senate Education Committee today. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the bill’s sponsor, is offering an amendment that would reduce instead of eliminate Bright Futures funding for students who choose majors “that DO NOT lead to jobs.” The bill has drawn opposition from students and educators. News Service of Florida. The Center Square. Neither the Senate nor the House bills that would bar transgender athletes from participating in girls sports at schools have had a committee hearing yet, but the rhetoric in Tallahassee is already ratcheting up. S.B. 2012, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, would allow transgender girls to compete only if they comply with Olympic testosterone levels. H.B. 1475, sponsored by Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, would ban any transgender girl from competing. Critics of the proposals say they are an example of bigotry and try to address a problem that doesn’t exist. “This is not about sports, this is about marginalizing and demonizing the transgender community in all aspects of life,” said Gina Duncan of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida. Stargel and Tuck said they want to keep a level playing field, and Tuck said, “I don’t think we should wait until there is a problem to have a policy.” Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Capitol News Service. A bill proposing a moment of silence at the start of every school day will be voted on today by the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee. Florida Politics. Democratic-backed bills (S.B. 188 and H.B. 551) that would make it easier for schools to use solar power have yet to advance and are given little chance to do so. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Social distancing rules: Researchers are now saying that social distancing in schools can be safely reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet as long as face masks are worn and other sanitizing measures are taken. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued no changes in its social distancing guidance, but White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has said the CDC is reviewing the data from the recent study. Associated Press. WINK. New York Times. Business Insider. The Independent. NPR.

Around the state: Palm Beach school officials are considering focusing on equity in their next five-year plan, Martin County teachers and the district continue their impasse over teacher raises, an Escambia County assistant principal is accused of hacking student accounts to manipulate votes for her daughter to be elected homecoming queen, a meeting about renaming a Duval County school gets emotional, and Pinellas school officials say they’re making progress on closing the achievement gap between black and white students but still have a ways to go. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: School workers of any age can now sign up for coronavirus vaccinations through Miami-Dade County’s online portal. The decision by Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is counter to the executive order of Gov. Ron DeSantis, which currently restricts vaccinations to school workers over the age of 50. Miami Herald. About 22,000 students who live in areas of Miami-Dade County with limited Internet will soon have access to free service in their homes. The Miami Foundation, Achieve Miami and Comcast are partnering to provide two years of paid Internet for students and their families. WTVJ. South Florida school districts are reporting a shortage of substitute teachers because of the coronavirus pandemic. Schools have been using teachers during their scheduled planning periods and assistant principals to cover classes while they recruit new subs. WPEC.

Palm Beach: The school district’s new five-year plan will focus on education equity, according to school board members who are working on the plan with a consultant. Racial achievement gaps and disparities in discipline and enrollment in advanced courses are among the inequities being discussed, although the plan is not expected to be ready until later this year. The last five-year plan, initiated by then-superintendent Robert Avossa, made progress on the goals of improving 3rd-grade reading, high school readiness, high school graduation and post-graduate success, but fell short in three areas and especially in what it called the most important: raising reading levels in 3rd grade. Palm Beach Post. Only 1,873 of the school district’s 9,000 or so school employees eligible for Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccinations appeared at the four schools offering the shots last weekend. Justin Katz, the president of the teachers union, suggested that many didn’t have time to prepare. The announcement was made Friday morning, and the shots were given Saturday and Sunday. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Emotions ran high Monday night during a community meeting to discuss the school district’s proposal to rename Robert E. Lee High School. The district wants to rename Lee High and eight other schools named for Confederate figures or historical figures who allegedly perpetrated violence against native Americans. Superintendent Diana Greene is expected to tell the school board today how much the renamings would cost, and where the money will come from. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV. Melanie Williams, who was fired March 9 as principal at the Cornerstone Classical Academy charter school in Jacksonville, said she has done nothing wrong. A midyear evaluation of her performance, though, shows low marks for functional leadership, communication and operational/organizational. WJXT.

Pinellas: Four years into a 10-year plan to close the achievement gap between black and white students, the school district said progress is being made but more is needed. The Bridging the Gap plan is focused on reducing the differences between the races in graduation rate, academic achievement, discipline rate, advanced course work, minority hiring and special education. The biggest improvement has been in graduation rates, which are at 91.5 percent in the district and 85.5 percent for black students, up 20 percentage points since 2016. WFTS.

Leon: Three county elementary schools are among the lowest-performing 300 in the state. The list is compiled by the Florida Department of Education by using three-year averages of test scores in English language arts. As a result, Oak Ridge, Hartsfield and Pineview elementary schools will have school days extended by 1.25 hours for added instruction in reading and math. Tallahassee Reports.

Alachua: Kevin Purvis, who directs the district’s Human Resource Department, has been named the interim principal for the rest of the school year at Buchholz High School in Gainesville. He replaces Jim Tenbieg, who was reportedly removed 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. WCJB.

Escambia: An assistant principal at Bellview Elementary School in Pensacola has been arrested and is accused of hacking into students’ accounts at Tate High School to cast fraudulent votes for her daughter to be elected homecoming queen. Laura Rose Carroll, 50, and her 17-year-old daughter Emily Rose Grover are charged with offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices, unlawful use of a two-way communications device, criminal use of personally identifiable information and conspiracy to commit the offenses. Grover did win the election in October, but the school district contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement when it discovered there had been unauthorized access into students’ accounts. Carroll has been suspended. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel.

Martin: Nine months after Gov. DeSantis signed a bill targeting money for teacher raises, the Martin County School District and its teachers union still haven’t reached a contract agreement. Pay for veteran teachers continues to be the holdup. The money made available from the state would allow the district to bump the minimum teacher pay to $44,900, but the union wants veteran teachers to get raises as well. District officials said their offer complies with the mandate of the bill that they improve starting salaries to work toward the aspirational goal of $47,500. But union representative Arian Dineen said veteran teachers would get nothing, “We started off at $2,200 and came down to $ 1,800 and when they came back to the table just this past week, they withdrew the three-year language and they also withdrew the money, so nothing,” she said. WPTV.

Walton: More than $300,000 was raised in a virtual foot race last month to benefit the Seaside School Foundation, which supplements the budgets for the Seaside Neighborhood School and Seacoast Collegiate High School charter schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida will hold in-person graduations May 7-9 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. They will be the first graduations held by the school since December 2019. Each student gets two tickets for guests, and masks are required. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. WFLA. The woman who was hired to be a spokeswoman when Florida Gulf Coast University opened in 1993 is stepping down. Susan Evans, who is now the vice president, chief of staff and corporate secretary for the board of trustees, was the last remaining employee whose tenure has spanned the university’s. Fort Myers News-Press.

FHSAA reclassifications: The Florida High School Athletic Association has released its classifications and districts for the 2021 football season. There are still eight classes, and this alignment is for the next school year only. Sun Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: S.B. 86 has undergone some changes, but a provision reducing Bright Futures awards to students who earn college credits via AP, IB, AICE and dual enrollment programs in high school would still penalize college students majoring in engineering, the physical sciences and computer science who pass AP Physics 1 and similar algebra-based physics courses in high school. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Education savings accounts can cut out the middle man and provide engaging educational opportunities. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Micro schools will work for small groups of affluent parents; however, this model does not serve the purposes of public education, and there are many questions about using public funds to support this type of innovation. Dorene Ross and Elizabeth Bondy, Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff