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Parkland grads get a message from Biden, drug and alcohol standards, masks, home-schoolers and more

Around the state: President Biden delivers a surprise message to graduates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who were freshmen in 2018 when a gunman killed 17 people at the school, face masks were made optional in the Polk, Pinellas and Collier school districts, today is the final meeting in the state’s listening tour about the proposed academic standards, home-schooling among black families soars fivefold during the pandemic, Manatee Superintendent Cynthia Saunders gets a glowing evaluation, and Florida Atlantic University receives a $10 million donation to create a biotech hub. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: County high school yearbook pages usually filled with pictures of proms and other school events instead highlighted effects of the pandemic on students, such as their struggles with financial issues, mental health and overcoming COVID-19, and such social issues as protests after the death of George Floyd. “My favorite thing about this book is that usually we’d never cover negative topics for students’ struggles. Whereas this year, we have to acknowledge that we and our student body have struggled during this time,” said Antonella Sira, yearbook editor in chief at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High. Miami Herald.

Broward: Graduates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland were surprised at Tuesday night’s commencement ceremony with a video message from President Joe Biden. “Three years ago, your lives and the lives of this community changed in an instant,” Biden told the graduates, referring to the 2018 shooting at the school in which 17 people were killed. “This class lost a piece of its soul. You’ve been tested in ways no young person should ever have to face – from a freshman year, a year of unspeakable loss, to a junior and senior year upended by a pandemic.” Nine of the victims would have graduated Tuesday. Instead, their parents were presented with their children’s diplomas. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. WPTV. WPEC.

Hillsborough: Frank George, 88, has been named the Hillsborough County School’s District substitute teacher of the year. “You know, I see a lot of people who are 60 that look 100!” George said. “They don’t do anything. You have to keep busy. And this has kept me young.” WFTS.

Duval: An 8th-grader at the LaVilla School of the Arts in Jacksonville has won best in show in an international art competition for middle and high school students. The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes awarded Naomi Alcantara $2,000 for her mixed-media artwork re-creating the childhood of Holocaust survivor Pavel Weiner. “Even when he was just a teenager my age, he pushed through the troubles of life in Terezin (in the Czech Republic) and had a lot of historical information he recorded,” she wrote in an essay that accompanied her art. “Despite being young, he saw hope through his struggles and worked hard to live life the best he could with his family and friends.” Florida Times-Union.

Polk: All seven school board members voted Tuesday to rescind the mandatory face mask policy and make masks optional immediately. A formal change in the student code of conduct will be discussed at the board’s workshop meeting July 27 and voted on in September. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA. WTVT. Residents of a Lakeland neighborhood said the traffic coming and going from Lakeland Christian School is dangerous and overwhelming their neighborhood, and are asking the city commission for help. A traffic study counted 100 to 140 vehicles a day on South Webster Avenue on weekends, but 700 to 800 when school’s in session. Commissioners directed city staff to schedule a meeting with the residents. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Parents vented for two hours about the face mask mandate at Tuesday’s school board meeting, saying their children couldn’t breathe, that the mask mandate was a “power trip,” that schools were like prisons and that unions and the Democratic party were behind COVID-19 measures. Afterward, board members unanimously voted to end the mandate immediately. But some of the parents still vowed to vote the incumbents out of office. Board member Eileen Long was distraught about the remarks and said, “This country is going down quickly and we’re helping. This isn’t about masks, this is about political issues, and don’t try to tell me it isn’t. I’m sorry I’m going off. But at 60 years old I finally realize what’s important. It’s being kind to each other.” Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. A 19-year-old St. Petersburg man has been arrested and accused of sexually battering a 14-year-old girl on a school bus. Authorities said Daniel Lee Sawyer, a former student at Gibbs High School, battered the girl at least three times, most recently last week. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: A new student code of conduct was approved Tuesday by school board members. While the controversial poster that discussed the treatment of LGBTQ students and the non-discrimination policy regarding gender identity and gender expression were removed, many of the pronouns such as he, she, him and her have been changed in the code to they and them. The new code takes effect immediately. WINK. WFTX. Three of the five candidates for the district’s interim superintendent position have withdrawn their names from consideration, leaving just Kenneth Savage, the district’s current chief operations officer, and Vickie Cartwright, the superintendent of Oshkosh Area School District in Wisconsin. Board members interviewed the candidates and will make a decision June 14. Cape Coral Breeze.

Volusia: Superintendent Scott Fritz won’t be formally evaluated by the school board until after the 2021-2022 school year, board members decided this week. Both the pandemic and Fritz’s leave of absence to be treated for cancer disrupted the usual schedule, which called for an evaluation in August. Instead, Fritz will get informal feedback from the board in August. “It’s really a mess,” board attorney Ted Doran said. “It’s confusing, but we’re going to get back on track.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Superintendent Cynthia Saunders received an overall rating of “highly effective” in her evaluation by school board members. Board vice chair James Golden gave Saunders a perfect score in each of the four categories graded: leadership/management, high-quality instruction, continuous improvement and effective communication. The evaluation earned Saunders a bonus of more than $18,000, or 9 percent of her $204,918 annual salary. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: School board members voted unanimously Tuesday to make face masks optional for summer school and the 2021-2022 academic year. The measure takes effect June 21. Board members also agreed that vaccinations would not be made mandatory, after members of the audience spoke against requiring them. Naples Daily News. WINK.

St. Johns: School board members agreed to a rezoning plan for High School III, which is under construction and doesn’t open until the fall of 2022. The redrawn boundaries will relieving overcrowding at Bartram Trails and Nease high schools. High School III, which will get a name, colors and a mascot in the fall, will become the ninth traditional high school in the district. St. Augustine Record. WJXT. Critical race theory is not taught in district schools and won’t be added to the curriculum, Superintendent Tim Forson said at Tuesday’s school board meeting, but that didn’t stop parents from speaking out passionately against it. WJXT.

Leon: An 18-year-old Chiles High School student has been arrested and accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in a school bathroom last week. Tashawn Fryson, who is accused of  lewd and lascivious behavior involving a victim between 12 and 16 years old, was suspended by district officials and a recommendation will be made to expel him. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: The agenda for Tuesday’s school board meeting was to discuss Superintendent Carlee Simon’s plan to reorganize the administration by eliminating some jobs and adding others. But the bulk of the conversation was about board member Diyonne McGraw, who signed an oath that she lived in District 4 even though she was elected to represent District 2. A group calling itself Concerned Alachua County Parents has started a petition drive calling on McGraw to resign, which she said she will not do. School board districts have not been adjusted since 2001, and board members agreed that rezoning may be necessary. Simon said school officials are still trying to “understand the dilemma that we’re in.” Gainesville Sun. Grief counselors are at Gainesville High School this week to offer support and consolation for students and employees who are mourning the death of senior Audrey Cheves in an auto accident Saturday. Audrey, who was a part of the school’s marching band and color guard for the past three years, just turned 18 and would have graduated in less than two weeks. Police are investigating the crash. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: Construction on the county’s first K-8 school in East Bay is nearing a conclusion, and school officials are preparing a schedule that will be duplicated at planned K-8 schools in Pace and Milton. It includes limiting interaction between elementary and middle school students by putting them on separate floors and releasing the younger children a few minutes early at the end of the day so they can be seated on the buses before the older children board. Pensacola News Journal. Free meals remain available for students in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties this summer. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: The district’s student dress code, which was relaxed after Hurricane Michael, was snapped back into place by school board members Tuesday night. Among the controversial changes are a ban against T-shirts with graphics other than the school logo and on girls wearing leggings unless they’re under a shirt that extends to a student’s fingertips, shorts, pants or a dress. WMBB. WJHG. District teachers reflect on the pandemic school year, with one calling it “annus horribilis,” Latin for horrible year, while others talk about the flexibility they found to deal with the unpredictable changes. Panama City News Herald.

Flagler: Rymfire Elementary School principal LaShakia Moore and Indian Trails Middle principal Paul Peacock are taking jobs in the district office as part of Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s reorganization plan. Their replacements have not yet been chosen. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Florida Atlantic University has received a $10 million donation from Jupiter philanthropist David J.S. Nicholson to turn the school’s Jupiter campus into a biotech hub. Sun Sentinel. Anthony Rolle, a former professor and department chair at the University of South Florida, has been hired as the dean of the school’s College of Education. Rolle is currently finishing a four-year appointment as dean at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Education and Professional Studies. Tampa Bay Times. Former Florida Speaker Will Weatherford has been elected to chair the University of South Florida’s board of trustees. Tampa Bay Times. Construction is under way on a $27.4 million student wellness center at USF. Tampa Bay Times. Richard L. Rubenstein, an internationally known Holocaust scholar who spent 24 years of his career at Florida State University, has died at the age of 97 in Bridgeport, Conn. Tallahassee Democrat.

Substance abuse standards: Most of the attention about the state’s new learning standards has been focused on civics education and the Holocaust, but they also include new rules for teaching students about drug and alcohol use. Those standards call for instruction about health risks, internal and external influences leading to use of drugs and alcohol, and how to stop using an addictive substance and how to encourage others to abstain. The final community meeting about the standards is today in Baker County. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. WTLV.

Black home-schoolers: The percentage of black families home-schooling their children went from 3.3 percent in April-May of 2020 to 16.1 percent between Sept. 30 and Oct. 12, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. That five-fold increased dwarfed the rate increases by other demographic groups. “The pandemic ended up being a catalyst to help parents fully realize their potential and ability to educate their children at home,” said Rasheeda Denning, founder and president of Black Homeschoolers of Central Florida Inc. “Some new families will return to traditional schools, but we’ve found that most of our families are enjoying this new way of schooling and will stay with home-schooling, seeking out support to help them on their journey.” redefinED.

Baker Act use declines: The number of people involuntarily committed for mental evaluation under Florida’s Baker Act declined in 2020, the first time that’s happened in 20 years. The overall decline was about 4 percent, according to the University of South Florida’s Baker Act Reporting Center. For children under 18, the decline was 5 percent. WTXL.

Varsity sports rule: A proposal to ban middle school students from participating in high school varsity sports by the fall of 2023 was tabled Tuesday by the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board members. It was referred back to the athletic directors’ advisory committee for further discussion. Gainesville Sun. Florida High School Football.

Opinions on schools: It’s Florida politicians like Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, not teachers, who are trying to indoctrinate students. Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff