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Districts consider consultants, face masks, reading test scores, paddling principal seeks deal and more

Around the state: The Hillsborough school board is being asked to hire a consultant to analyze district enrollment and recommend whether school boundaries need to be adjusted, Duval’s board is being asked to consider hiring a consultant to help lure students back to district schools, school boards in Orange and Sarasota counties will vote today whether to make face masks optional in the fall, Osceola school board members will vote today on a new contract with school resource officers, the percentage of 3rd-graders scoring at or above grade level on state reading tests declined in the Collier and Lee school districts but improved in Jackson, and the Hendry County elementary school principal who was caught on video paddling a 6-year-old girl in front of her mother in April wants to negotiate a settlement with the state Department of Education. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Arnold Notkin, who taught physical education to students at Leroy D. Fienberg Elementary School in South Beach in the 1960s and 1970s, has died at the age of 87. His body was among those recently pulled from the rubble of the collapsed condominium in Surfside, bringing the known death toll to 94, with at least 22 more missing. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: The school board is being asked to consider hiring a consultant to analyze district enrollment and recommend whether school boundaries need to be adjusted. Dozens of schools, mostly in Tampa and its older suburbs, are losing enrollment while crowded conditions are common in the growing suburbs in the south and east parts of the county. The cost of the study for the cash-strapped district is expected to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The board will receive a report outlining a timeline for the proposal today, and discuss it at its July 27 workshop meeting. Tampa Bay Times. Helen A. Davis Elementary School 5th-grade teacher Kayla Godwin was suspended for five days for shoving a desk into a student, and school principal Patrick LaLone was given a letter of reprimand for inaccurately reporting the details of the incident. A representative of the school advocacy group Teaching for the Culture said the punishments weren’t severe enough. WMNF.

Orange: A day before the school board is expected to consider making face masks optional in schools for the 2021-2022 academic year, county officials said they are strongly recommending that everyone, vaccinated or not, wear a mask indoors. The recommendation comes as the county’s 14-day positivity rate jumped from 4.28 percent on June 28 to 7.78 percent Monday. “We have been above 400 (a day) since Thursday,” said county health department director Dr. Raul Pino. “Now the week before that we were at 200 a day. So, it has doubled and it will double next week if we do not do what we need to do.” But County Mayor Jerry Demings said he was not ready to make face masks mandatory. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel.

Duval: The school board is being asked to consider spending as much as $1.2 million for a consultant to lure students back to the public school system from charter and private schools and from being home-schooled. About 30,000 students do not attend district schools now, and school officials said convincing just 2,000 of them to return would add $14.8 million to district funding from the state. WJCT. The school district is one of 17 in the country that posted “statistically significant positive district effects in 2019” in helping students overcome poverty and other opportunity gaps, according to a report by the Council of the Great City Schools. Florida Times-Union. A 100-foot tower will be built to provide Internet service at Matthew Gilbert Middle School, thanks to a $180,000 grant from the Internet Society. The tower will also expand access to the Richard L. Brown Gifted and Talented Academy. The tower is expected to go live in January. WJXT.

Pinellas: Gary Mabe, a history teacher at Osceola High School for 21 years who took students on tours of Europe every summer for 17 years, died May 28 from glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. He was 56. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee, Collier: Third-graders in both the Lee and Collier school districts posted fewer grade-level or above reading scores this year than they did in 2019. Both districts are working on learning recovery this summer and have plans for further programs in the fall to help students catch up. Collier students reading at or above grade level dropped by 1 percentage point, from 61 percent to 60 percent, and the percentage of Lee 3rd-graders scoring at or above grade level in reading declined from 58 percent to 50. The average score in Florida was down 4 percentage points, from 58 percent in 2019 to 54 percent this year. Naples Daily News.

Brevard: A free summer enrichment program at the Harry T. and Harriett V. Moore  Cultural Complex is fighting the “COVID slide” with individualized lessons and activities for students. The program began July 5 and continues through July 30. Florida Today.

Osceola: The school board is expected to vote today on a revised contract with school resource officers. Changes to prevent violent confrontations on campuses have been proposed, including more training for SROs. The review was launched after an SRO slammed a Liberty High School girl to the ground in January. The deputy’s actions are still under investigation by the state. WESH.

Sarasota: School board members are expected to vote today to make face masks optional in schools in the fall. A majority of the board has signaled its intent in several previous discussions about masks. Board member Tom Edwards said he’s comfortable making the change from mandatory to optional. “If you’re an adult or a child that’s old enough to be vaccinated and you choose not to be vaccinated, and you choose not to wear a mask and you get sick, that seems to be more your responsibility than someone else’s,” he said. “If it looks to become a problem, you can have an emergency mask policy if you needed it.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bay: Parents who want their children to take a school bus in the fall have until July 21 to register on the district’s website. The number of bus routes was recently cut back because of a shortage of drivers. There are currently 105 bus routes, but only 96 drivers. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: School board members are being urged today to reconsider their decision several years ago to close the Indiantown school bus depot. That decision to move the bus depot to Stuart, about 20 miles from Indiantown, was made for financial and logistical reasons, said school board chair Marsha Powers. But now questions are being raised about response times in case of an emergency. “My main concern is what happens in the event of an emergency when our schools have to be evacuated and there’s no bus transportation available to get them safely off campus,” Powers said. TCPalm.

Sumter: The Villages Charter Middle School is being revitalized this summer with new floors, paint, furniture and technology. The work precedes the opening of a new high school building in 2023. The charter school, which opened in 2000, now has more than 3,300 students in K-12. Villages Daily Sun.

Hendry: The elementary school principal who was recorded on video paddling a 6-year-old girl in front of her mother in April wants to negotiate a settlement with the state Department of Education, which had said her actions could bring sanctions. Melissa Carter, the principal at Central Elementary School, initially said she would fight any state attempt to sanction her. She now has 45 days to come to a negotiated agreement with the DOE. WINK.

Jackson: The percentage of the district’s 3rd-graders who scored at or above grade level on the state reading tests jumped from 58 percent in 2019 to 62 percent this year. That gain was tied with Madison County for the most improvement of any state district. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: Florida State College at Jacksonville is one of 26 U.S. colleges and universities receiving grants from the U.S. Department of State to help students study abroad. Only five community colleges received grants, and FSCJ was the only one in Florida. Jacksonville Daily Record.

Around the nation: Fights within U.S. school districts about critical race theory are forcing some teachers and administrators out of a job. Some are being fired or not having their contracts renewed, while others are resigning because they’re tired of dealing with the issue. NBC News. Several Biden administration officials reportedly think that the most vulnerable Americans will need a coronavirus booster shot. Politico. Summer camps around the country are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, leading health officials to wonder if schools are next. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: In a country that fundamentally disagrees on important topics, we need to allow people to choose among schools. To do otherwise is to invite cultural “forever” war. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. School choice programs keep spreading, and it is now incumbent on advocates and educators to make them successful. It is not as thrilling as 11th-hour legislative negotiation, but it is now about parent outreach and program administration if we want these programs to deliver on their promises advocates made to families and taxpayers. Mike McShane, Forbes. Why are unions and Democrats so opposed to giving poor children a choice in schooling? Washington Post. Legislation meant to regulate the teaching of history in schools is an effort to “proscribe any curricular activities that would give rise to discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” Self-censorship, in short, is the only way to avoid the perils of critical race theory. Rene Lamarchand, Gainesville Sun. Only pure patriotism, the kind that Gov. Ron DeSantis and other great Americans exhibit on a daily basis, can defend this nation against the dangerous excesses of knowledge and other socialist plots against the land we love. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix. In the 1960s and ’70s, conservatives waged a war against sex education, saying it was poisoning the minds of America’s youth. Now the latest bogeyman is critical race theory. Alex Samuels and Kaleigh Rogers, State legislatures are wise to ban schools from promoting race essentialism, collective guilt and racial superiority theory. Christopher F. Rufo, TCPalm. I’ve been a professor since 1990, and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I have never seen a more egregious bill than the one requiring belief surveys on college campuses. John Scolaro, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff