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Teaching about race in schools, transgender ban, student vaccinations, face masks and more

Racial matters and schools: Talking about race in schools can be a contentious subject, and it’s about to get even more contentious soon. Gov. Ron DeSantis has vowed to keep any discussion of critical race theory, which contends that racism is rooted throughout American history and in its institutions, out of Florida’s K-12 classrooms because it “teaches kids to hate each other and their country.” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has proposed a new rule that says 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.” The Florida Board of Education will consider the rule June 10. And the state’s new civics curriculum standards, which are still under review, omit the word slavery or any mention of landmark Supreme Court cases dealing with gay rights and abortion. Florida Department of Education officials will begin a “listening tour” in the next two weeks to hear what state residents want in the state’s new standards for civics and other courses. Florida Phoenix. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Teachers around the state say they’re concerned that there will be critical race theory “policing” in the classrooms this fall, and that the new laws will make teachers “ultra cautious” while teaching about historical events. Florida Times-Union. NPR.

Transgender ban: The education bill that includes a ban on transgender females from competing in girls sports in high school and college has arrived on the desk of Gov. DeSantis. He has until June 12 to sign or veto it. The Fairness In Women’s Sports Act makes eligibility contingent on the female students’ “biological sex” on birth certificates issued “at or near the time of the student’s birth.” LGBTQ advocates are calling on DeSantis to veto the bill, but he said on a Fox News interview in April that he would sign it. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Schools and vaccinations: With coronavirus cases on the decline, vaccinations for some students now being offered, masks becoming optional and most students heading back to school classrooms in the fall, most districts are eliminating their hybrid remote learning option. So how will students continue learning if they are forced into quarantine because of exposure to the coronavirus? Districts are starting to work on options. WPEC. Vaccinations for students are becoming more widespread, but will they get the shots? Health officials worry that many will decline, leaving themselves and others vulnerable to the virus. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: Face masks will be optional for Miami-Dade students when they’re outdoors, the Manatee school board agrees to make masks optional at graduations, summer school and next fall, Orange County’s school board will consider switching to optional face masks, a Pinellas high school junior was arrested for hacking the district computer system and knocking every county school offline for two days, Escambia officials relent and will allow a high school yearbook editor who covered a student’s face in the book to walk at graduation, and Florida is ranked tops in the nation for educational choice by the Center for Education Reform. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Students can take off their masks during outdoor activities for the last two weeks of school, after the district reached an agreement with the teachers union. They will still have to wear masks indoors. School officials had announced the change May 18, but reversed the decision after the union said it violated its agreement with the district and had to be negotiated. The change takes effect Tuesday. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Hillsborough: A Blake High School English literature teacher is retiring after 52 years in the classroom. Barbara Walker began teaching in Georgia in 1966, and has been at Blake since 1997. She said students are pretty much the same now as they were when she started, other than having cell phones. “I hate to tell you after 52 years I haven’t seen lots of changes. But they still have the same complaints,” Walker said. “‘I don’t know if I can get this in on time Ms. Walker. I don’t understand Hamlet. Do we have to read this book?’ ” Her plans are to tutor and maybe write a book. WFTS.

Orange: A draft policy that would make face masks optional in schools will be reviewed Tuesday by the school board. If it’s tentatively approved as written, the policy would be the subject of a public hearing June 17 and also at a school board meeting July 13. The policy would be effective Aug. 2 if it’s approved by the board in July. WKMG.

Palm Beach: Fifty-four of the county’s best students were honored last week with Pathfinder High School Scholarship Awards for their achievements inside and outside the classroom. Each of the 18 first-place winners receives a $3,000 scholarship, while second-place winners get $2,000 scholarships and third-place finishers get $1,500. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A fire that damaged an abandoned, 112-year-old school Sunday is being investigated as suspicious. No one was injured. The school, Public School No. 8  on the city’s Eastside, was originally known as Graded Springfield School. It opened in 1909 and closed in 2005. It is widely believed to have been designed by Richard Lewis Brown, who was Jacksonville’s first black architect and worked with the school district. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV.

Pinellas: A 17-year-old junior at St. Petersburg High School was arrested last week and accused of hacking into the school district’s computer system,  shutting down the Internet at all 145 district schools for two days. The boy told police he had become “fixated” with infiltrating the system after seeing a video describing the vulnerability of school networks. He also said he “instantly” regretted what he did and tried to undo it. “By the time it was done, there was no way to undo it,” he said. “If I could go back, I wouldn’t do it again.” He was expelled from the school. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Last year, with no proms and virtual graduations, schools and parents scrambled to create memorable experiences for students. At Cocoa Beach High School, one innovation was to have seniors walk the beach, socially distanced, in caps and gowns. It was so successful that it was repeated this year, on Friday afternoon with graduation ceremonies Saturday night. Cocoa Beach Mayor Ben Malik called the beach walk perfect. “During the pandemic, the beach was our savior,” he said. “It allowed our residents to go surf, fish, swim, have some sort of peace of mind … We’re one of the few places you can come in and, you know, enjoy six miles of beach and be able to be socially distant and not be shut in.” Florida Today.

Manatee: One day after the school year ended, school board members approved an end to the mandatory face mask policy. Masks will now be optional at graduations and during summer school. “When the mask mandate was initiated in August, I firmly believe it was the right thing to do, and I think the mandate helped us complete this school year without missing a single day of school,” Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said at Friday’s board meeting. “To me, the decision today represents the closing of one chapter, and the beginning of a new one.” Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WUSF. WWSB.

Escambia: Officials at Tate High School in Pensacola have reversed their decision and will let the yearbook editor attend graduation June 7. Last week, Samantha Guerrier was told she couldn’t walk to pick up her diploma as punishment for altering yearbook photos of a student who was accused of cheating on the election for homecoming queen so she could win. Guerrier said she was told by the principal and her yearbook adviser to make the changes. An online petition was quickly started to support Guerrier, and about 6,000 people signed it. WEAR.

Alachua: A five-member team of students from Eastside High School in Gainesville has finished fourth in the National Science Bowl competition. The $2,000 the team won will be used for lab supplies and textbooks for the science department. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: School officials are considering going back to the dress code the district had in place before Hurricane Michael caused extensive damage to the area in 2018. “After the hurricane, we were glad they (students) were in school, so we relaxed the dress code quite a bit,” said board chair Steve Moss. “Now, we’re over two years post-hurricane and a lot of people have had the opportunity to recover and get back on their feet, especially financially.” He said principals offered two changes to that pre-storm code: ending requirements that students wear belts with pants and that they tuck in their shirts. The board is expected to vote on the dress code revisions in June. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: A custodian at South Fork High School in Stuart has been arrested and charged with transmission of material harmful to minors and battery. Deputies said Travis Tassy, 29, sent a student a lewd video of himself, then forced her to touch him intimately while they were at the school. TCPalm.

Citrus: When the school year began, the district was missing nearly 200 students that it was expecting. By the end of the year that number was down to 68. Kit Humbaugh, the director of district services, said it took a lot of phone calls and home visits to track down those unaccounted-for students. “We were very proud of the number we have located and found,” she said. “When you look at number of students we have in our district … it speaks a lot for the effort we put into finding our students.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: School officials are discontinuing the district’s coronavirus dashboard, they said Friday. The dashboard recorded the number of students and employees who contracted the coronavirus, and their schools. WKMG. A 14-year-old Flagler Palm Coast High School student has been arrested and accused of threatening to shoot a classmate after they argued last week on Snapchat. The boy has been charged with making written threats to kill. Flagler Live.

Monroe: Tammy Orcutt, who works at Gerald Adams Elementary in Key West, has been named the Monroe County School District’s counselor of the year. Key West Citizen.

Gulf: A second former officer of the Port St. Joe Band Boosters has been arrested and accused of stealing money from the group. Deputies said Christie D. McCulley, 44, the former treasurer of the boosters, has been charged with grand theft. Last week, the woman who followed McCulley as the treasurer of the band boosters, Andrea S. Kensington, was also arrested and accused of grant theft. Port St. Joe Star.

Colleges and universities: Florida Atlantic University faculty members are urging the school to stop asking students to disclose their criminal histories on their admission applications. WPEC. Sun Sentinel. After accepting more incoming students than it has room for, the University of Tampa is now offering $2,000 to any student to live off campus during the 2021-2022 school year. Earlier last week the school offered $3,500 grants for students willing to delay starting school for a year. Tampa Bay Times. Several states, including Florida, have passed laws allowing college athletes to be paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses. Starting July 1, the NCAA will have to navigate the differences in the laws from state to state, and possibly on the federal levels as well. USA Today.

Florida tops choice index: The state’s continued expansion of educational choice has lifted it to the top spot in the Center for Education Reform’s Parent Power! Index. The index measures states by the power they give parents to make decisions in how their children are educated. Florida got high marks in all four categories: policies that put students ahead of systems; value placed on the diversity of need and condition of every family; accessibility of information; and affording the power to parents to exercise education choice. redefinED.

Around the nation: President Biden’s proposed $6 trillion budget calls for an increase of 41 percent for the U.S. Department of Education, to $102.8 billion. It includes $100 billion over 10 years for school infrastructure, $3.5 billion for new universal preschool programs and funding two years of free community college for all students, $1 billion to double the number of counselors, school psychologists, nurses and social workers in schools, and a nearly 15-fold increase in money for full-service community schools. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Critical race theory has its merits and flaws. Some of the political left have taken the principles of this academic theory too far in the name of “wokeness.” But Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran aren’t trying to have an intellectual debate about an academic theory. They are trying to stop schools from teaching students to think critically. Miami Herald. The same conservatives who decry “cancel culture” aim to cancel teachers and anyone else who disagrees with them. They should leave the teaching of history to teachers, rather than micromanaging every element of their classrooms down to the decorations. Gainesville Sun. Critical race theory does not negate the achievement of America’s founding documents. It complicates them. It is true that the United States was founded on slavery. It is also true that the Constitution promises liberty. We should be able to talk about this like grown people. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix. Critical race theory is just the latest made-up boogeyman being targeted by Gov. DeSantis. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. If the state’s proposed new rule for teaching history and civics is used sensibly, there’s not much to worry about. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. The success of the Santa Rosa County School District’s Tenant-Based Rental Assistance program shows that a holistic approach to address the homelessness problem works. Pensacola News Journal. This summer, our schools and families face painful challenges as they work to bring students back together. Our children need the chance to make up any lost ground and reconnect with classmates. But we need that to happen in a way that doesn’t burn out students and teachers, all of whom have been through the ringer this past year. Nicole Carter, Sun Sentinel. Florida schools and the Tampa Bay Rays have both shown that you don’t have to spend lavishly to have success. Ron Matus, Florida Politics. Adding clothes to yearbook photos reveals a lot. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. What do graduation speakers say to this latest batch of COVID-19 graduates who have had the past three semesters of high school under the cloud of a limiting global pandemic? Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff