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New, tougher graduation standards may be delayed, superintendent searches, and more

Delay for new graduation rules? Stricter high school graduation standards scheduled to begin for this year’s senior class could be delayed because of the educational disruptions caused by the pandemic. In 2018, the state Board of Education voted to require higher ACT and SAT scores and end the option of using alternative test scores as a substitute for the state algebra exam as requirements for graduation. But after more than two school years of COVID-related school closures, online learning and quarantines, tens of thousands of students are struggling to meet the existing standards, prompting the call for a delay. “I don’t mind having tougher standards,” said Seminole County School Board member Tina Calderone, “but implementing them for students who have had most of their high school years disrupted by the pandemic seems unwise.” The state Board of Education meets Feb. 9 to consider delaying the implementation of the tougher standards. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: A finalist for the Broward superintendent’s job was recently accused of covering up for a principal who said in 2018 that he couldn’t say the Holocaust was a historical fact, St. Lucie County School Board members have tentatively agreed on a new superintendent but want him to meet the public before making it official, Orange schools extend a requirement that all adults wear face masks on school campuses and on buses through February, face masks are now optional for all adults in Palm Beach County schools, four Alachua schools are in violation of the state’s class-size requirements, Escambia schools name a teacher of the year, and returning Jefferson County schools to local control could hinge on whether the Legislature passes a bill to change the state’s standardized testing process, which is used to assign grades to schools and districts. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: One of the three finalists for the superintendent’s job was recently accused of covering up for a principal who said he couldn’t say the Holocaust was a historical fact. Keith Oswald, chief of equity and wellness for the Palm Beach County School District, was named in a lawsuit by a district investigator who alleges that Oswald knew about the statements made in 2018 by Spanish River High School principal William Latson but failed to report them. Broward school board members meet Tuesday to re-create last week’s meeting in which the finalists were named, since questions were raised about whether the process complied with the state’s Sunshine Law. WLRN.

Tampa Bay area: While the number of coronavirus cases is generally declining in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando schools, the number of cases in January will probably be higher than the totals for the entire 2020-2021 school year. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: A requirement that adults wear face masks on county school campuses and on school buses has been extended through February. Affected are all employees, volunteers, visitors and vendors. Students are also being encouraged, though not required, to wear masks in class. WKMG. WFTV.

Palm Beach: Face masks will be optional for adults in schools, starting today, as the month-long mask mandate expires. Superintendent Michael Burke, in consultation with health officials, announced Friday that conditions had improved enough to allow the change. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. Sun Sentinel. Congress Middle School in Boynton Beach is closing its cafeteria to 8th-graders this week because of the increasing numbers of fights during lunchtime. “After several unsafe issues with Grade 8 lunches the past couple of days, I have decided to have Grade 8 students eat in their classrooms for the rest of the week,” principal Denise O’Connor told teachers in an e-mail last week. “The children’s anxieties are high. And the teachers’ anxieties are even higher, because the kids are fighting constantly,” said a Congress Middle teacher.  “They get off the bus fighting. They go to the bathroom fighting.” Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Symptomatic school students, employees and their families are now eligible to receive free at-home COVID-19 tests from the district at five schools and the health department, while supplies last. Patch.

Lee: The list of candidates for the superintendent’s job has been cut to two, according to a report: Christopher Bernier, superintendent of schools in Clark County, Nev.; and Michael Ramirez, a former Broward County teacher and administrator who is deputy superintendent of schools in Denver. The school board is expected to take a final vote this week. WFTX. A committee has pared a list of 300 or so school name suggestions down to six that the school board will consider for the elementary school being built in Lehigh. Construction is scheduled to begin in late March, and the board wants to have a name by then. Among the suggestions: naming the school for inventor Thomas Edison, baseball great and humanitarian  Roberto Clemente, the Spanish word for Sunrise, and Lee Ratner, who is credited with founding Lehigh Acres. Fort Myers News-Press. The Immokalee Foundation has received $2 million in donations that it will use to bolster its Career Pathways Program, which prepares students for careers in business management and entrepreneurship, education and human services, engineering and construction management and health care. Half the money came from the Wasie Foundation of Minnedota, and the Naples-based Ray Foundation matched it. Fort Myers News-Press. An 18-year-old student at Royal Palm Exceptional School was arrested Friday and accused of having a knife at school. Police said the boy made no threats against classmates or employees. WBBH.

Seminole: A shooting Jan. 19 on the campus of Seminole High School in Sanford has spurred a review of security at all county schools. The district is hiring a consultant to evaluate security on all campuses and make recommendations for improvements, and a task force of district officials, police officers and members of the community will begin meeting to address the problems at Seminole High. WFTV.

Osceola: An Osceola High School student was taken into custody for questioning Friday after a pellet gun was allegedly found in his backpack. Police said they responded to a report of a student with a gun on campus, used surveillance footage to identify the student and then detained him. No one was hurt, and there were no reports that the boy had threatened anyone. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WESH.

Volusia, Flagler: The number of coronavirus cases among students and employees in the Volusia and Flagler school systems fell 41 percent last week from the previous week. Schools reported 806 cases last week, down from 1,364 the week before. Volusia accounted for 462 students and 145 employees who tested positive, while the counts in Flagler were 180 students and 19 staff members. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Susan Agruso, a former school superintendent in New York and a volunteer on the school district’s audit committee for the past six years, said she’s a candidate for the District 2 school board seat in the Aug. 23 primary election. She’ll run against Harold Byrd Jr. to succeed longtime board member Charlie Kennedy, who has said he has no plans to run for another term. Bradenton Herald.

Sarasota: Voters go to the polls March 8 to decide whether to renew the special 1-mill property tax for the school district. The tax was first approved in 2002, and was renewed in 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018. It generates more than $71 million a year that the district uses for 30-minute longer school days and higher pay for employees. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The recently retired chief for the school district’s police department has announced his candidacy for the District 5 seat on the school board. Tom Enos joins Sandra Jimenez, Nora Cietek and Gregory Wood in the race to succeed Jane Goodwin, who is retiring. Patch. Elton Strawderman, the offensive coordinator for the Sarasota High School football team, has died of complications from COVID-19. He was 49. WWSB.

Marion: School board members are working on revising policies that take into account changing standards on gender identity of students. For example, the original policy on searches for contraband stated that they would be conducted by employees of the same sex as the student. Then it was changed to same gender, then the district decided to do away with references to sex or gender. Another policy being reviewed is the use of student names on official records. The district uses names from birth certificates for those records, not a student’s chosen identity. But board attorney Jeremy Powers also pointed out that there are federal cases concluding that “a school’s persistent refusal to respect a student’s gender identity should be considered discriminatory.” Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: School board members said they are prepared to name deputy superintendent Jon Prince to replace Wayne Gent as school superintendent but have decided to wait until after holding a forum for Prince to answer questions from members of the community. That’s scheduled Feb. 7. “My mind is like 90 percent made up, so yes, I need to listen to the community input, but I don’t think it would really change my decision,” said board vice chair Troy Ingersoll. “But at the same time, the community has to have the opportunity to speak.” Board members were dissuaded from conducting an external search because of the cost. WPTV.

Escambia: Jamiliya McBride, an instructional coach at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, has been named the district’s teacher of the year. WEAR.

Alachua: Four county schools have been told they’re out of compliance with the state’s class-size requirement. Buchholz High School, Howard Bishop Middle, Mebane Middle and Oakview Middle have core subject classes that have been reported to be filled with too many students. Middle schools may have no more than 22 students in a room, and the high school maximum is 25. The district must file a plan by tomorrow on how it intends to correct the problem. Gainesville Sun. Negotiations continue on a contract between the school district and its teachers. District officials are proposing a $357 raise for teachers with less than 10 years of experience, and $238 for teachers with 10-plus years of experience. Teachers are also being offered $1,000 bonuses, which the district would pay by using coronavirus relief aid. Gainesville Sun.

Jefferson: Returning the school system to local control could hinge on whether the Legislature passes a bill to change the state’s standardized testing process, which is used to assign grades to schools and districts. State officials said the local school board can regain control of the district only if it raises its district grade from an F to a C next year. Approval of the bill making changes in testing would provide a transition time in which districts would not be held responsible for poor performance. WFSU.

Colleges and universities: Elizabeth Béjar has been named the acting provost at Florida International University to become the first Hispanic woman in the role at the school. She replaces Kenneth Furton, whose resignation takes effect March 1. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Around the nation: Even as the Biden administration is pushing “test to stay” programs to keep children in U.S. schools, some states are adopting policies to cut back on COVID testing and contact tracing. Politico. A year-long study by researchers from Yale University suggests that having children wear masks in child-care centers reduces the number of closure by up to 14 percent. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Why do the needs of a handful of unknown, unnamed out-of-state college presidential applicants overrule the right of Florida citizens to know, understand and oversee the use of public funds in our public higher education institutions? Andrew Gothard, Florida Phoenix. What sort of grade-point average do you need in a Florida high school to be eligible for an abortion? Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. It seems quite hypocritical to have state legislators scoff at the federal government’s requirements as an invasion of state’s rights but then act the same way when it comes to local elected bodies and officials. Jacquelyn Steele, Tallahassee Democrat. Several key education proposals figure prominently in the state’s legislative session. F. Chris Curran, Gainesville Sun. H.B. 1467 has two very different ideas that have been paired together: public involvement with the selection of books and instructional materials in schools, and school board member salaries. Neither is a good idea. Cortney Stewart, Citrus County Chronicle. The time has come for us as a society to accept that school shootings are the symptom, not the illness. Providing additional police presence and metal detectors completely overlook the most important things we can do as a community to stop these outcomes before they begin: parental involvement, community intervention, and zero tolerance for the excuses and reasoning provided for the unacceptable actions. Seminole County School Board chair Amy Pennock, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff