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Waiving accountability, Jefferson County gets offer from state, enrollment projections dip, and more

Around the state: Educators in Miami-Dade County are pressing the state to again waive accountability measures that are tied to its annual assessments tests, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran tells the Jefferson County School Board that it can retake control of the district if it can get a C grade from the state in the next year, a search firm recommends eight candidates be considered for the Broward school superintendent job, state economists are projecting that almost 22,000 fewer students will be enrolled in Florida’s public K-12 schools in the 2022-2023 academic year, Palm Beach school officials will develop additional rezoning plans for schools in the Boca Raton area after the first option was criticized by many in the community as favoring wealthier families, Duval health officials are dropping contact tracing when students become infected with COVID-19, Seminole County teachers and the school district tentatively agree on a contract that would boost starting pay to $47,500 and provide bonuses and small raises, and Osceola County school officials saying they could consider paying parents to drive their children to schools if the shortage of school bus drivers continues. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and the school board are pushing state leaders to remove accountability measures for this school year’s annual assessments because of the disruptions and lost instructional time caused by the pandemic. If the state agrees, it would be the second straight year that the state waived accountability for the results of those tests. And no annual exams were held in the spring of 2019 because most schools were closed because of COVID-19. Miami Herald. Dozens of community organizations are urging the school board to reconsider its approach to hiring a superintendent. Many believe the school board opted for a short window asking for applications because it has a favored candidate to replace Carvalho, who is taking over the Los Angeles school district next month. The board is expected to meet Tuesday to discuss the remaining 14 candidates. Two candidates are reportedly front-runners: Florida Department of Education senior chancellor Jacob Oliva, and Jose Dotres, deputy superintendent for the Collier County School District and a former Miami-Dade schools’ chief of staff and chief human capital officer. WPLG. Florida Politics.

Broward: Thirty-nine educators have applied for the superintendent’s job, a firm handling the search said last week. Ray & Associates determined 15 met the minimum qualifications, and recommended that the school board consider eight of them. They include interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright and Palm Beach County administrators Peter Licata and Keith Oswald. Others are Michael Cohen, a superintendent with the York Regional District School Board in Canada; Rafaela Espinal, an assistant superintendent with New York Public Schools; James Good, an associate superintendent in central Ohio; Michael Gaal, former deputy chancellor for Washington, D.C., schools; and Quintin Shepherd, superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District in Texas. School board members will review the list Jan. 24 and possibly hire a new superintendent in February. Sun Sentinel. A volunteer assistant basketball coach for Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines was arrested last week for having a gun at Plantation High School during a game. Shakeen Odean Morgan’s attorney said his client didn’t know he had the gun in his bag and didn’t mean to take it to Plantation High. WPLG.

Tampa Bay area: A record 7,098 COVID-19 cases were reported last week in the Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando school districts. That broke the previous high of 5,420 for the week ending Sept. 3. Hillsborough had 4,181 cases, up from 2,452 the previous week. Pasco reported 1,646 cases, up more than 500 from the previous week. Pinellas had 1,067 cases, up from 594, and Hernando had 204 cases, which was nearly double the previous week’s total. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will open a preschool program this fall in an Orlando affordable housing development. The nonprofit multifamily rental housing developer Ability Housing said last week it had signed a 10-year lease with the Bezos Academy to open a free Montessori-like preschool in its Village on Mercy apartment community. Forty students will attend the school full days and year-round. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL.

Palm Beach: At least two more plans for school rezoning in the Boca Raton area will be developed after a community backlash against the original plan, which would have moved about 800 elementary students to fill a new school and relieve crowding at others but was called favorable to wealthier members in the community. The district’s advisory boundary committee asked the district staff for alternative plans. The original plan will still be under consideration when the committee meets Jan. 27. A new plan must be in place before schools reopen in the fall. Palm Beach Post. School board members are being asked to approve a $300,000 settlement to a woman who was driving a golf cart in Wellington that was struck by a school bus. The woman was in a designated crossing for golf carts when the bus hit her cart. She was hospitalized with serious injuries. Palm Beach Post. Employees, vendors and visitors to county schools will be required to face masks for at least another week, the district announced Friday. The mandate has been in place for two weeks. WPEC.

Duval: Even as the number of coronavirus cases in the school district is growing, health officials said they will stop tracing contacts of people who were in close proximity to someone who comes down with the coronavirus. District officials will instead send home letters to parents of elementary students when someone in their child’s class tests positive. “The school will send only one letter per class per week notifying parents of possible exposure that week if a case is reported. A second reported case in that class during the same week as the first will not generate a second letter,” the district announced last week in a blog post. Florida Times-Union. WJCT. In the year since voters approved an extra half-cent on the sales tax for the next 15 years to fund the repairs to some schools and replacement of others, the district has collected $87.4 million. The $75.7 million that went to the district has been used to complete four projects, start another and begin design work on 45 others. About 40 schools will soon start seeing security enhancements on campus. The remaining $11.7 million generated by the tax has gone to charter schools in Duval. Florida Times-Union.

Osceola: The shortage of school bus drivers has district officials considering a potential partnership with the public transportation agency Lynx, using Uber or paying parents to get students to and from school. The district has 36 openings for drivers, and another 36 called in sick Friday, leaving the district to fill in on nearly 30 percent of its routes. “There has been some discussion of the possibility of paying parents to transport their kids,” said assistant transportation director Randy Wheeler, adding that “it’s all discussion at this time.” WESH. WFTV. More than 400 teachers called in sick both Thursday and Friday last week, according to district officials. On Thursday, only 136 of the openings were filled with subs. “Right now, not every teacher in Osceola County wants to go to work; they don’t feel appreciated,” said school board member Jon  Arguello. “Right now, the ball is not in the teacher’s court; right now the ball is in the leadership court to start solving these problems on a strategic issue.” WFTV.

Seminole: The school district and its teachers union have reached a tentative agreement that will raise starting salaries to $47,500, provide raises of $250 to $300 to most teachers, and pay teachers with 10 years or more of service bonuses ranging from $750 to $3,200. Union members and the school board will have to approve the deal. Orlando Sentinel.

Lake: More than $1 million has been raised to rebuild the Mount Dora High School football stadium. Members of the community pitched in $500,000, and the district and the Mount Dora Community Trust raised the rest. The stadium was built in 1961. District officials said artificial turf and a new track will be added later. WKMG.

Marion: Leah Bender, an English literature and composition teacher at West Port High School in Ocala, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. The other finalists were Beth Abel of Lake Weir Middle School, Jennifer Bourque of Harbour View Elementary School, Joanne Houghton of Fort McCoy School, and Hannah Whitston of Madison Street Academy. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: A 15-year-old student was arrested Friday and accused of having a loaded gun at Treasure Coast High School. Police said the gun was reported stolen in October 2020. TCPalm. WPBF. WPTV. A 7th-grader at a St. Lucie middle school dropped a piece of paper detailing a “hit list” at the school Thursday. He later told police officers it was a joke. The student was not arrested, but the school will consider disciplinary action. WPTV.

Leon: School board members are working on the district’s LGBTQ guide that will describe 41 terms for students and teachers “necessary to become familiar with the terminology that is commonly associated with the LGBTQ+ community.” For example, the guide defines the word “gay” for students in grades 3-12 as “a term that can apply to either to men or women who are physically and emotionally attracted to persons of the same sex.” Tallahassee Reports.

Alachua: City commissioners are being asked to spend $3 million to turn the Duval Early Learning Academy into a cultural arts center. Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who represents the district, said cultural arts programs would keep young people out of trouble. Gainesville Sun. A new national summer reading program will be introduced in Alachua. The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools is a six-week program to help low-income and diverse children become better readers. The $60,000 cost will be paid by the Children’s Trust of Alachua County. Gainesville Sun. The city of Newberry is projecting that 1,742 more students will be enrolled in the city’ three schools over the next 20 years. That growth and the zoning practices of the school district are leading to overcrowding, contends Mayor Jordan Marlowe. Main Street Daily News. A fire Friday damaged a room at the Sidney Lanier Center, according to fire officials. The cause is under investigation. WCJB. WGFL.

Nassau: School officials are offering COVID-19 testing to students who are symptomatic or previously tested positive and want to return to school before their 10 days of isolation are completed. Testing is today at the Yulee Community Center. WJXT.

Jefferson: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has told the Jefferson County School Board that it can retake control of the district if it gets a C grade from the state in the next year. Corcoran said the state would help find a company to help the district with the transition from control by a charter school company, and pay for that company through September. The district has until Jan. 28 to agree to the plan. Tallahassee Democrat. Tampa Bay Times.

Colleges and universities: A federal judge criticized an attorney for the University of Florida on Friday for “misleading” the court during arguments in a case brought by several professors challenging the school’s conflict-of-interest policy. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said Christopher Bartolomucci cited “newly discovered” facts at the hearing that had already been part of the public record. Walker interrupted his argument and asked, “Are you saying you are just incompetent? Or did you decide (you) really didn’t have a defense … and instead decided to drop this bombshell?” Walker said he would decide within 10 days whether to grant the professors a preliminary injunction against implementation of the policy. News Service of Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Associated Press. Bethune-Cookman University is suing the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune National Alumni Association over its use of the university’s name, logos and trademarks as well as its founder’s name. B-CU alleges the alumni group “falsely represents that it is associated with the university.” The alumni group has for years raised money for the college. B-CU’s trustees recently decided they wanted to start their own direct-support organization. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The associate dean of Florida State University’s School of Physician Assistant Practice, James Zedaker, has resigned after a school investigation found he violated FSU’s anti-sexual misconduct policy. Florida Politics. WTXL.

In the Legislature: On Tuesday, Florida’s Senate Education Committee will consider a bill that would ban schools from teaching critical race theory and employers from conducting training that involves various race-related concepts. The bill was filed by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and would carry out the wishes of Gov. Ron DeSantis. News Service of Florida. Bills requiring school districts to remove lead from their drinking water have been filed for the legislative session. State Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, filed S.B. 1648 and state Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, sponsored H.B. 1245. Both would require districts to install water bottle filling stations with filters to remove lead, identify all drinking water sources and install a bar code on each source, and install filters. Florida Senate.

Declining enrollment: Almost 22,000 fewer students will be enrolled in Florida’s public K-12 schools in the 2022-2023 academic year, according to a projection from state economists. If the projection holds, it will be the third straight year that enrollment has come in under expectations. Gov. DeSantis’ budget assumes 2,986,676 students in K-12 schools, but the latest projection is for 2,964,998. Politico Florida.

More on graduations: More reports about the 2021 high school graduation rates for Florida school districts. The state average was 90.1 percent, a tick higher than in 2020. Seniors in both classes benefited from the state waiving end-of-year tests previously required to pass to be eligible to graduate. Martin.

Around the nation: A majority of Americans support remote learning as a way to protect the health of students and school employees during COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a new Harris poll. The 74. America’s ongoing “digital divide” continues to give students problems when coronavirus outbreaks force a shift to online learning, say education experts. A lack of devices, slow Internet speeds and financial hurdles are still problems, especially for lower-income families. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Critical race theory is just one of the fake issues being pushed by Gov. DeSantis. But teacher raises is one of five real issues Florida needs to fix instead. Miami Herald. The freedom the governor is touting looks more like a race to the bottom for our public schools. We need to do better for our children, our families and our community. Jabari Hosey, Florida Today. Florida leads the nation in increasing access and providing choice when it comes to education. The EASE voucher does just that. By supporting students’ tuition, it makes college more accessible. And because the voucher follows the student, it enables the student to choose the higher education institution that is right for them. Elizabeth Smith, Orlando Sentinel. School choice opportunities have broadened over the last generation, giving parents more options for where to send their children to school. Andrew Campanella, Osceola News-Gazette.

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BY NextSteps staff