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A claim of racial and gender bias, drinking water advisory, the cost of renaming schools and more

Around the state: Charges of gender and racial bias made against a high-ranking Hillsborough school official are dismissed but Superintendent Addison Davis said the case is not closed and at least one school board member favors an investigation, 20 Palm Beach County schools are under a drinking water advisory after toxins were discovered in water samples, the cost of renaming six Duval County schools would be about $825,000, at least 4,000 Polk County students are considered homeless, vaccination rates for students are lagging behind other age groups in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and the Orange County School Board will consider a proposal to make face masks optional. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: The district’s Office of Professional Standards has exonerated middle school chief Marcos Murillo of charges of gender and racial bias made by four principals and an assistant principal. But Superintendent Addison Davis said the matter is not closed, and he’s advised school board members not to  talk about the case. Before Davis issued that request, board chair Lynn Gray said she would support hiring an outside investigator. “I think that’s where we’re at,” she said. “I think it’s an outside investigation.” The case raises questions about Murillo’s record, but also about perceived double standards experienced by black women. “There is a mindset of black administrators cleaning up schools and moving from school to school and never being promoted,” Turner-Bartels K-8 assistant principal Jacqueline Enis said in her complaint. “If they question it, they are retaliated against or blackballed.” Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: School board members will begin a discussion today that could lead to making face masks optional in the fall. Any changes in the current policy requiring face masks must go through a process that could culminate in a vote as early as July 13. Union officials will have to approve the change in working conditions, but have already said making masks optional in the fall is agreeable as long as the CDC and the district’s science and medical experts support it. Spectrum News 13. WFTV.

Palm Beach: Twenty district schools are under a drinking water advisory after elevated levels of a toxin produced by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, were discovered in water samples from the East Lobe of Clear Lake and at the treatment plant that supplies water to West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, and South Palm Beach. All school water fountains will be shut down and bottled water will be issued to students at the affected schools. WPTV. School board members will decide Wednesday whether to join a partnership that would offer coronavirus vaccinations to students over 12, their families and other members of the community at four district properties. If the partnership with the Health Care District of Palm Beach County is approved, it would extend until June 30, 2022. WPTV. WPEC. Employees at Boca Raton Community High School are trying to boost students’ spirits by holding “Motivational Mondays,” a video featuring employees and students sharing their personal stories about overcoming struggles. WPTV.

Duval: School board members vote tonight on the proposal to rename six schools that now carry the names of Confederate figures. Superintendent Diana Greene has recommended changing the names. An updated cost analysis estimates the district would have to spend more than $825,000 to make those changes. Greene said $623,000 of that will come from private donations, with the rest being picked up from sponsorship money from the district’s beverage contract. WJXT.

Polk: At least 4,000 Polk County students have been identified as homeless by school officials. “Homelessness is everywhere,” said Ben Ruch, the district’s homeless liaison. “You may not be able to see it, and it may not look like what you expect.” The district helps many of those students through its Homeless Education Advocates Restoring The Hope project, which provides social services, clothing, school supplies and transportation to schools. Graduating seniors are given a rolling duffel bag filled with personal hygiene items, linens and nonperishable food, as well as $100 in food gift cards. “These aren’t ordinary gifts; it’s to help these students eat, live and survive day to day,” said Vickie Griffis, a district accountant. “These items will help them get by as they leave the school system and head out on their own.” Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Fourth-graders from Mid Cape Global Academy in Cape Coral have been busy delivering birthday boxes to help feed struggling families in the community. “I loved helping kids that maybe don’t have many things, and helping them to have a better birthday,” said 4th-grader Sophia Perez. WFTX.

Volusia, Flagler: The number of coronavirus cases in Volusia and Flagler schools this academic year has passed 3,000, according to the Florida Department of Health. In the week of May 9-15, Volusia reported 45 cases and Flagler 4, taking the total since Sept. 6 to 3,041. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee, Sarasota: Vaccination rates are lagging for students 12 and up in both Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to health officials. About 11,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 have received at least one dose in Sarasota County, with fewer than 1,400 in the 12-14 age group. In Manatee, about 9,100 shots have been given to people in the 15-24 age range, and 827 in the 12-14 group. Sarasota health officer Chuck Henry estimates that 25-28 percent of Sarasota County’s residents in their 20s are vaccinated, but that falls to about 15 percent of those in the 12-to-19-year-old category. “We’re actively working with our school board team and our school health nursing teams to talk about the opportunities for vaccine clinics in schools,” said Henry. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: Two Ocala Vanguard High School students have been honored by the National Merit Scholarship Program, which recognizes students who score in the top 3 percent of 1.5 million entrants from 21,000 high schools on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and a National Merit Scholarship qualifying test. Mahan Miryala, 17, and Andy Shar, 15, are now eligible for scholarships through the program. Ocala Star-Banner.

Clay: Henry Burkes helped build Middleburg High School in 1980 and has spent the last four decades as a custodian keeping it in good working order. The school recently honored him for his devotion by naming a campus street Henry Burkes Way. “I had no idea this was happening,” Burkes said. “It was a big surprise and it’s an honor.” Middleburg reading teacher Ruth Gardner said the decision to honor Burkes was an easy one. “He built this school,” she said. “It’s the least we could do.” Clay Today.

Alachua: Fifty-nine Alachua students are receiving two-year, prepaid college scholarships to any Florida college or technical program through grants made available by the Take Stock in Children program and the Education Foundation of Alachua County. The two organizations combined to make $700,000 available for the scholarships. Gainesville Sun.

Colleges and universities: A planned four-story apartment complex aimed at Florida Atlantic University students has been rejected by the Boca Raton City Council. The project would have included a pedestrian bridge to FAU. “FAU has a housing problem – there’s no question – and it bleeds over to the city,” said deputy mayor Andrea Levine O’Rourke. “Is it our responsibility? I’m not sure.” Palm Beach Post. Albert E. Dotson Sr., an entrepreneur and civic activist who was on the Florida International University Foundation board of directors from 1983-2001 and chaired the FIU board of trustees from 2009-2011, has died at the age of 83 in Miami. Miami Herald. U.S. colleges and universities are fighting provisions in a Senate bill that would more closely scrutinize dealings with foreign nations and individuals. Politico.

Opinions on schools: Thirty years after the first charter school was started, the innovation they bring to education lies within the built-in flexibility and autonomy to design and implement classroom instruction. Nina Rees, redefinED. Few Florida high school students use the dual enrollment mechanism to get a head start on bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields. Instead, these students more often use Advanced Placement courses to attempt to get that head start. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Gov. Ron DeSantis should veto all three growth-related bills approved by the Legislature, including the one that would harm schools by capping the percentage that impact fees can be raised in a given year. Orlando Sentinel. Progress is being made to fight “period poverty” in schools and the Tallahassee community. Lashawn Gordon and Catherine Register, Tallahassee Democrat.


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BY NextSteps staff