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DeSantis signs early learning bills, top principal and two teacher of year finalists named, and more

Early learning bills signed: A bill aimed at improving accountability in early education was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. A Division of Early Learning will be created within the Department of Education to oversee 30 regional voluntary pre-kindergarten programs, which have come under scrutiny after testing showed only about half of preschoolers were ready for kindergarten. “We need to do better than that,” said DeSantis. “This legislation for accountability will turn the tide for these families and their students, and they will make them more prepared than ever to enter kindergarten.” In addition to the new department, which is authorized to withhold funds from preschools for poor performance, the law will require more training for pre-K teachers and allow testing of preschoolers. DeSantis also signed another education bill that would expand training for reading teachers and create a statewide monitoring system to measure literacy progress. The goal is to have 90 percent of 3rd-graders reading at grade level by the end of the decade. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. TCPalm. WPLG. Florida Phoenix. WTVJ.

Principal of the year: Jennifer Pryor Halter, the principal at Green Cove Springs Junior High School in Clay County for the past six years, has been named Florida’s principal of the year by the state Department of Education. “The Florida Department of Education could not have chosen a better leader for this honor,” said Superintendent David Broskie. “Principal Halter is … a mentor to beginning and novice principals, a strong collaborator on many of our district committees, and is an instructional coach to her faculty and staff, always encouraging them to be the best educators possible for their students.” WJXT. WJCTFlorida Department of Education. Clay County School District.

Teacher of year finalists: Two of the five finalists for the 2022 Florida teacher of the year award were announced Tuesday by the Florida Department of Education. Frank Garaitonandia, an art teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary in Volusia County, and Jim Schmitt, a history teacher at Mandarin High School in Duval, were surprised with the news in their classrooms by their superintendent, principal and state officials. The other three finalists are expected to be announced this week, and the teacher of the year will be named July 22. Florida Times-Union. WTLV. WJXT. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Around the state: Federal coronavirus relief aid may arrive in time to bail out Hillsborough County School District from its immediate financial problems, Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis has been given an improvement plan by the school board, Pasco school resource officers will no longer have access to student records after an agreement between the district and sheriff’s office was revised, an attorney for the Miami-Dade County School District will help the Broward school board in its termination negotiations with the superintendent and general counsel, face mask policies continue to be a source of controversy for school districts around the state, and a Hendry County principal who got caught on tape paddling a student is receiving support from the Clewiston community. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: An attorney for the Miami-Dade County School District has agreed to help the Broward school board negotiate termination agreements with Superintendent Robert Runcie and general counsel Barbara Myrick, who were both indicted by a statewide grand jury on April 15. Walter J. Harvey is taking a two-day leave of absence from his job to provide pro bono help to board chair Rosalind Osgood in the negotiations. Miami Herald. Students 16 and older can now get free vaccinations at one of six county high schools. WSVN. WPLG. WTVJ. WFOR.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: The district is expecting to receive $100 million in federal coronavirus relief money this week that it can use to avoid a financial takeover by the state, the district’s chief financial officer said this week. Romaneir Johnson said the money is expected by Thursday, but Superintendent Addison Davis warned that “there is nothing in writing” about the payment. If it arrives, it would get the district out from under the state threat. Tampa Bay Times. At a retreat Tuesday, school board members put together an improvement plan for Davis, establishing seven areas Davis must make progress on by the end of the summer: climate and culture, stakeholder trust, leadership style, board member relationship, communication, learning environment, and way of work. WTVT. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times. The end to mask mandates is nearing in Tampa Bay area school districts. Pinellas will make face masks optional after the end of the semester June 9. Pasco’s mandate continues through May, and school board members said it won’t be renewed. Hillsborough told its parents Tuesday that masks will be required through the end of the school year and then be re-evaluated. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Bay News 9.

Orange: Student-athletes will have to get electrocardiograms before they can play school sports beginning with the fall season, the school board has decided. The district joins Brevard and Osceola, which enacted such policies in 2019. Volusia County will make the tests mandatory in the fall of 2022. “It saves lives. It’s that simple,” Orange County School Board member Pam Gould said of the tests to check for heart problems. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: At today’s meeting, the school board will consider a proposal revising the district’s set of core principles. There are new mission and vision statements to be voted on, and for the first time an “equity statement” that spells out the district’s dedication to “dismantling racism and other systems of oppression and inequity.” The equity statement is being added because of concerns over the long-standing racial achievement gaps and disparities in discipline and enrollment in advanced courses. Palm Beach Post. The school district has completed a projected that will bring free Internet service to about 25,000 students. The new network was built with federal coronavirus relief funds. WPTV. Dozens of parents are renewing their calls for the district to end its face mask mandate. WPTV. WPEC. A group of home-schooled children in Deerfield Beach get lessons in math, science and design from a couple who use surfboards and skateboards to make their points. The class is called Surf Skate Science and has been held every Friday on location for the past two years. “With architecture, science or any related pursuit, you have to be creative as well,” said Toni Frallicciardi, who majored in ocean engineering at Florida Institute of Technology. “So, adding art to the equation is essential, because art and design are always present in some way. The main thing is we want to get kids excited about learning.” redefinED.

Lee: School board members agreed to hire three local consultants to help them search for a six-month interim superintendent to replace the retiring Greg Adkins, then retain a national consultant to help find a permanent replacement. The first search begins Friday, with applications taken until May 21. Adkins announced his retirement in mid-April after running the district for five years. His contract ends June 30. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: District school resource officers will no longer have access to records of students’ grades and disciplinary history that they have used to create a list of children who could “fall into a life of crime.” School officials and the sheriff’s office announced the change Tuesday, though the revised agreement still allows a sheriff’s analyst to access the records and use them in case of an emergency. Superintendent Kurt Browning said he proposed changing the agreement because it was becoming a distraction. Sheriff Chris Nocco said the agency was “voluntarily making this update to (its) agreement with the Pasco County School Board to ease any anxiety that parents may have as a result of misinformation perpetuated by media reports.” Those reports led to the U.S. Department of Education opening an investigation into the legality of sharing the records. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Escambia: Tate High School’s homecoming queen will be charged as an adult for her role in rigging the school election so she would win. Emily Grover and her mother, Bellview Elementary assistant principal Laura Carroll, were arrested in March and accused of using Carroll’s access to the district’s student data system to cast hundreds of fraudulent votes. Grover was 17 when she was arrested, but turned 18 in mid-April. Both will be arraigned May 14. Pensacola News Journal. Associated Press.

Leon: A parent resource room may be opened this summer at Hartsfield Elementary School in Tallahassee. Principal Rhonda Blackwell said the idea emerged from parent workshops. The room gives the school a dedicated and technologically updated space to hold workshops on such things as technology awareness literacy. WTXL.

Bay: The school board is voting May 11 on whether to make face masks optional in schools. Board chair Steve Moss, who favors the proposal, said if masks are made optional the board will then have to decide whether the change begins immediately or later, such as at the start of summer school or when schools resume in August. Panama City News Herald. WMBB.

Martin: School board members will hold an emergency meeting next week to consider whether to make the use of face masks optional in the district. Dozens of parents protested against the mandate at Tuesday’s workshop meeting, and vowed to continue to do so until it’s eliminated. WPTV.

Nassau: In the latest spat over school dress codes in northeast Florida, a Yulee Middle School student and her mother said there’s a double standard when it comes to dress code enforcement after the 8th-grader was cited. Fourteen-year-old Alice Wagner said she was told her undergarments were visible, although she had a sweater covering her white top. “(The teacher) told me I was ‘letting them hang out for the whole world to see,’ as I was exiting the classroom,” she said. “I went to the bathroom and I came back and I said, ‘You need to stop sexualizing 14-year-old girls.’ ” The disagreement turned into an argument with school administrators, and Wagner was suspended for 10 days. Her mother, Sarah Wagner, said Alice crossed the line in the way she talked to her teachers, but added, “I understand why she was angry. She was basically sexually harassed by her teacher. … The teacher did apologize, she did understand what she did was wrong.” WJXT.

Hendry: Parents, teachers, members of the Clewiston community and even some school board members spoke at Tuesday’s board meeting in support of the principal who was caught on video paddling a 1st-grader for damaging a computer. Central Elementary School’s Melissa Carter is under investigation for the incident, which was recorded by the student’s mother. WBBH. WINK.

Colleges and universities: Florida Southern College’s graduation is May 15. Tickets are limited and the ceremonies will be livestreamed. Lakeland Ledger. A new cybersecurity center with four classrooms and a cyber warfare range for students was dedicated Tuesday at Pensacola State College. The center is in the school’s new $15 million Baars Technology Building. Pensacola News Journal.

Vaccination issues: Businesses and schools will soon be forbidden by law from requiring people to provide proof of vaccination for services, but a bill that would have protected workers whose bosses don’t allow them to get the shots died in the legislative session. Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis said such protections are largely unneeded anyway. “The idea that a business is going to say, ‘prove to me you haven’t been vaccinated’ – that’s just not going to be an issue,” DeSantis said. “The issue is, are you going to say you have to show this to come into a movie theater or a ballgame or whatever?” Florida Politics.

Grant for STEM programs: STEM programs at 20 K-12 schools around the state will be bolstered with a $110,000 grant from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to the Florida PTA, which will distribute the funds. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Four-day school weeks lead to reductions in student learning, according to a study of almost 700,000 Oregon students between the 2004-05 and 2018-19 school years by an Oregon State University economist. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Students should be prioritized, not programs, when legislation for open enrollment in schools is considered. Karla Phillips-Krivickas, redefinED. Voters gave us the mandate to do what “we can,” and so we did. And next year, we will work even harder to advocate for the betterment of our state and the lives of our people. Because we can. State Rep. Randy Fine, Orlando Sentinel. The Legislature’s Republicans passed legislation that too often appealed to their most extreme supporters rather than mainstream Floridians seeking common-sense solutions to our greatest challenges. State Rep. Ben Diamond, Tampa Bay Times. Renewed scrutiny on how the Baker Act can better serve mentally ill Floridians, especially children, is important and overdue. Tampa Bay Times. Gov. DeSantis should veto the legislation banning transgender females from competing in girls sports, because transgender youth should not be used for quick wins and politician gains when policies require expert consultation and thoughtful consideration. Laura Stargel, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff