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Bonus plan for educators draws federal scrutiny, watching Elsa, cap and gown contract, and more

Bonus plan questions: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal to use $216 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to give teachers and principals $1,000 bonuses conflicts with federal guidelines on how the funds may be used, the U.S. Department of Education has informed the state. Those guidelines say the funds must be used for “specified statutory purposes,” such as addressing student learning loss and summer enrichment or after-school programs. Florida can use federal funds for the bonuses, but they must be drawn from the appropriate account. The finding could force state leaders to reshuffle the education budget before the bonuses can be paid. “It is surprising that the U.S. Department of Education would suggest that a $1,000 disaster relief payment is not ‘reasonable or necessary’ given the dedication teachers in Florida have shown to keep schools open, allow in-person learning, and recover lost learning the entire school year,” said a spokesperson for DeSantis. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Watching Elsa: Gov. DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for 15 counties in the projected path of Tropical Storm Elsa. The storm is expected to affect Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties today and Tuesday. The storm could affect summer school schedules. WSVN. WKMG. WFSU. Tampa Bay Times. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Department of Education.

Around the state: Broward school officials will review an exclusive contract with a company to provide caps and gowns to graduating seniors, a 7-year-old student who was the daughter of a Miami-Dade firefighter is among the victims pulled from the rubble of the collapsed condo in Surfside over the weekend, the collapse raises questions about the safety of Broward schools that have also had structural problems, and a reading program started by Manatee County restaurant owners has grown sevenfold since 2017. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The 7-year-old daughter of a Miami-Dade firefighter was one of the victims found over the weekend in the rubble of the Surfside condominium that collapsed June 24. Stella Cattarosa, a student at Von Wedel Montessori School in Miami, was one of five family members who were in the building. The death toll now stands at 24, with more than 120 still unaccounted for. The remainder of the partially collapsed condo was demolished Sunday. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WLRN. WPLG.

Broward: School officials said they are reviewing the exclusive contract the district has with Herff Jones to supply caps and gowns to graduating seniors. Students are required to get their gear from the company, and parents have complained that the costs are double or triple what students pay in neighboring districts. School board members will discuss the contract at a meeting this month. Sun Sentinel. The collapse of the condo in Surfside has prompted questions about the safety of some Broward schools. In March, part of a roof caved in at James S. Rickards Middle, and four other schools with the same design were also considered to be in danger. District officials said repairs have been or are being made, and those four schools will be reopened in August. Students at Rickards will probably attend other schools while the main building is replaced and until temporary modular buildings are in place. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: Several advocacy groups protested the proposed updates to the state’s education standards, particularly the banning of teaching critical race theory, which suggests racism is embedded in American institutions. The protests at school district headquarters came less than two weeks before the state Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the standards. WJXT. The head football coach at Fletcher High School has been arrested and accused of domestic battery. Deputies said a woman called them Thursday after she had an argument with Robert Raulerson, 53. The woman had visible injuries, according to the deputies’ report. Raulerson, who was appointed the Fletcher High football coach in January 2020, “has been removed from any duties with student contact until the matter is concluded.” WTLV. WJXT.

Manatee: A reading program started by the owners of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar has grown from helping 78 students in 2017 to serving about 540 children this year. John and Amanda Horne started Dive Into Reading to help children of their customers. Now the program has spread to two more of the restaurant’s locations, and the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, Gecko’s Grill and Pub and O’bricks Irish Pub and Martini Bar. Bradenton Herald.

Colleges and universities: Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton has announced the creation of two new degree programs: Nursing and artificial intelligence, and nursing and biomedical engineering. WLRN. Kathleen Plinske has taken over as the fifth president of Valencia College in Orlando. She replaced Sandy Shugart, who retired after 21 years as president. Positively Osceola. Katherine M. Cobb, the president of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, has been named to the board of trustees at Stetson University in DeLand. Viera Voice. Robert C. Wynn, who started the athletic program at the State College of Florida in Bradenton and was its baseball coach for 23 years, has died at the age of 89. Bradenton Herald.

Around the nation: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Maine that could settle the issue of whether families can be barred from using education choice scholarships to send their children to religious schools that conduct religious activities. redefinED. NPR. The Supreme Court issued rulings on student speech, compensation for college athletes, juvenile justice and more in this year’s session. Education Week. About 2.4 percent of Florida’s students did not return to schools for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to an analysis of state data. The pandemic and the subsequent shift to remote learning were cited as primary reasons. Education Week. The World Health Organization is recommending that schools conduct COVID-19 testing in the fall to avoid the “harmful” effects of remote learning. Medical Xpress. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found racial disparities as schools began to reopen for in-person learning. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: It’s our responsibility to care about all children, regardless of their economic means. We cannot simply sit back and allow our children to be pushed through underperforming schools, unprepared for the rest of their lives when they graduate. It’s our responsibility to fight for the right of every parent to determine the best school for his or her child. Najimah Roberson, redefinED. Gov. DeSantis pandered to right-wing hysteria and vetoed a bill that would have created a program of “citizen scholars” to teach high school students how government works and to encourage them to get more involved in their own communities. Steve Bousquet, Sun Sentinel. Why would the governor veto the state’s most innovative lesson in applied civics to its students? What happened? Well, it’s what usually happens with Gov. DeSantis – he listens to the wrong people. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. This year’s lawmaking session produced lots of ugly bills on education and more that required lots of rationalizing to justify, and that’s going to become an annual event as long as voters keep electing Republicans who let it happen and Democrats who too often don’t even try to stop it. Orlando Sentinel. When Florida completes its survey of college students, I hope it releases the results, with quotes from those surveyed. That may be a thick volume, but we all could use a better sense of what our young people are thinking. Jay Mathews, Washington Post. It’s disturbing that nearly a year after Diyonne McGraw was elected to the Alachua County School Board, and seven months after she was sworn into office, that she was singled out for a search undertaken to determine whether she actually lives in the district she was elected to represent. James F. Lawrence, Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff