DeSantis opposes $200M cuts to districts, fourth anniversary of school shooting marked, and more

DeSantis opposes cuts: The House budget proposal to cut $200 million in funding to 12 school districts that defied the state’s ban on face mask mandates has drawn a sharp rebuke from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Instead, he said Friday, parents should have the right to sue districts that violate state rules or laws. “Rather than take money that may penalize a teacher or student because of the actions of some union-controlled school board members, my view would be — let’s not do that,” DeSantis said. “But what you could do is say any parent whose kid was illegally force masked this year in Florida, in any of those districts, they should have the right to sue if their kids have any negative effects of it.” State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who proposed the cuts, said he agrees with the governor that “rogue districts” should face financial consequences. “He just proposed another way of doing it,” Fine said. “The method he is proposing could be far more than $200 million.” DeSantis also suggested that private schools that get state scholarship money should be penalized if they require students to wear masks. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Florida Today. WFSU.

Around the state: The victims of the shootings four years ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be honored today, the Pasco County teacher who was hit by an SUV in a high school parking lot last week died Friday, an internal investigation clears Brevard school employees of wrongdoing for tying a face mask onto a 7-year-old girl with Down syndrome, the Miami-Dade, Broward and Duval school districts drop their face mask requirements for adults, the Orange County School District names a teacher of the year, Orange County teachers ratify a contract agreement with the district, and the Jefferson County school superintendent talks about the district’s future now that the district is under local control again. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward, Miami-Dade: Flags will fly at half-mast around Florida today and a moment of silence will be observed at 3 p.m. to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the deadly attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Seventeen students and employees were killed and 17 others were wounded by a 19-year-old former student on Feb. 14, 2018. Sun Sentinel. USA Today Florida Network. Coral Springs Talk. WTVJ. WSVN. Lori Alhadeff, who lost her daughter in the shooting, and Debbi Hixon, whose lost her husband, channeled their grief into political activism by running for and getting elected to the Broward County School Board. WFOR. Beginning today, teacher, school employees, visitors and vendors will no longer be required to wear masks in Miami-Dade or Broward schools. WTVJ. WPLG. WFOR.

Orange: Nancy Welch, a nursing instructor at Orange Technical College, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. District teachers have ratified a contract agreement with the district that provides $500 raises, $2,500 bonuses, no change in health insurance premiums and supplements of $500 to $2,500 for teachers with five years or more experience. Orlando Sentinel. School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins reflects on her 30-plus-year career in the school district, including the past 10 as superintendent. Jenkins announced last week that she’s retiring in December. WESH.

Palm Beach: A proposal that revises attendance zones at four elementary schools to fill a new school has been forwarded to Superintendent Michael Burke for consideration. About 800 students from Addison Mizner, Calusa, J.C. Mitchell and Verde. elementary schools would change schools next fall when Blue Lake Elementary School opens in Boca Raton. The proposal had been reworked after objections from parents, but some are still unhappy because their children are being moved to lower-rated schools. Palm Beach Post. The city of West Palm Beach has started a grants program to improve the reading and math skills of local elementary school students. Schools will be eligible for grants of up to $3,000 from a fund seeded with $25,000 from the city and $8,000 from the Community Redevelopment Agency. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: District employees and visitors will no longer have to wear masks at schools, officials announced Friday. “While students, staff, and visitors are strongly encouraged to wear a face mask, there is no longer any requirement for anyone to do so,” the district wrote on its website. “Previously, school visitors and employees working with students were required to wear a face covering.” Restrictions on attendance at school performances and sports events have also been ended. WJXT. WJAX. WTLV. Students and their belongings will be screened at schools today, which is the fourth anniversary of the Parkland shooting. District officials said it’s a precautionary move, not a decision based on any threats. WJXT.

Pinellas: A 9-year-old St. Petersburg boy was recently chosen as one of 20 finalists for Time magazine’s “Kid of the Year” award give to children between the ages of 8 and 16 who are trying to change the world. Miles Fetherston-Resch created the “Kids Savings Oceans” organization that sells merchandise made from plastic recovered from the ocean and recycled. He’s raised more than $23,000 that has been donated to ocean conservation organizations. The winner was 11-year-old Orion Jean from Texas, who launched a kindness initiative. Time magazine. St. Pete Catalyst.

Pasco: Ciara McKeon, the teacher hit by a sport utility vehicle in the parking lot of Anclote High School on Thursday morning, has died. McKeon, 28, was a physical education teacher and girls tennis coach at the school, and Saturday students created a memorial for her at the school. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the accident. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFLA. WTVT. WFTS.

Brevard: Three teachers and the principal at Indian Harbour Beach Elementary School violated no district or state policies last year when they tied a face mask to the head of a 7-year-old student with Down syndrome, according to a district investigation. “All rules, requirements, policies, and performance expectations were met and the case is closed as such,” said the internal report. The incident made national news, outraged conservatives who were already angry about face mask mandates, and led the girl’s parents to file a $100 million lawsuit against the school board. Florida Today.

Lake: An 18-year-old Leesburg High School student was arrested Friday after school resource officers said they found a gun in his backpack. Authorities had been tipped that the boy would have a gun at school. His backpack was searched Friday when he arrived at school, and officers said they found the gun. Daily Commercial. WFTV. Orlando Sentinel.

St. Lucie: Incoming superintendent Jon Prince said recovering student learning losses caused by the pandemic and dealing with explosive growth will be two priorities when he takes over the district this summer. Prince, who has been with the district for 30 years, including the last seven as deputy superintendent, was chosen last week to succeed Superintendent Wayne Gent when he retires in June. WPTV.

Alachua: The school district’s first dual immersion language program is expected to open in the fall at Terwilliger Elementary School. The program teaching lessons in both English and Spanish will start with kindergartners and add a grade each year. WUFT. Ray Holt, a business owner and a member of the school district’s advisory council, has announced he’s running for the District 3 seat on the school board in the Aug. 23 primary. Incumbent Gunnar Paulson said he isn’t running for re-election. Sara Rockwell has also declared her candidacy. WCJB. Alachua Chronicle.

Citrus: School board members say supply chain issues are affecting the district in more ways than one. A recent bid for a fire alarm system upgrade and replacement at Lecanto High School came in more than $200,000 over the engineer’s estimate, and only one company bid on the project. Eric Stokes, director of district facilities and maintenance, said this was the fifth time in the past month that an advertised job for the district drew only one bid. Citrus County Chronicle.

Wakulla: A career and technical education academy will be established on the campus of Wakulla High School, according to district officials. Lively Technical College is partnering with the school district on the project, which will funded with a $20 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast Inc., which oversees the distribution of funds from the state’s settlement from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. WTXL.

Jefferson: School Superintendent Eydie Tricquet talks about her plan for the future of the district now that the state has turned it over to local control after five years of control by a charter school company. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: Eleven candidates for the University of South Florida presidency have been named. More candidates, perhaps as many as 50 total, are expected to apply. Interviews are scheduled to begin in March. Tampa Bay Times. Florida prison inmates who hope to qualify for in-state college tuition when they leave prison are discovering that they must prove they were state residents for 12 months before being incarcerated. Some who have been in prison for years are finding that a difficult requirement to meet. Miami New Times.

Around the nation: Movements to ban books from school libraries, and to protect them, are gaining strength in Florida and across the country. Conservative groups are targeting books with content about sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, while opponents argue that students have a right to diverse publications in school libraries. Orlando Sentinel. Republican legislators around the country to pushing to require school districts to post all course materials online so parents can review them. Associated Press. Education experts are blaming the pandemic for the 37 percent turnover in U.S. school superintendents since March 2020. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: The Florida Senate should reject state Rep. Randy Fine’s attempt at revenge politics and strike the removal of $200 million in the House Budget from 12 school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on face mask mandates. Sun Sentinel. In the context of a year full of school board meetings hijacked by baseless conspiracy theories, outraged Facebook users and politicized paranoia, the law allowing parents to sue schools seems almost intentionally designed to mire districts in chaos and endless litigation that will hurt schools and cost local taxpayers all over Florida. Pensacola News Journal.  If state leaders are serious about performance measures for EASE funding, they should look for ways to measure the program’s real value to Floridians — and set fair, realistic benchmarks that don’t brand some of the state’s most well-regarded private universities as halfway on the road to failure. Orlando Sentinel. The Legislature is attacking core critical-thinking values, censoring students and educators, forsaking real American history for whitewashed versions — and refusing children the right to a public education in a healthy environment. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. By restoring the balance between higher education and work experience, more Floridians can connect to good-paying jobs in which they can thrive. State Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Nick DiCeglie, Orlando Sentinel. No longer are American parents blindly trusting their schools, the administrators and politicians to advocate for the well-being of students. The mismanagement of education during this pandemic has enlightened parents and reignited America’s fight, urgency and need for school choice. U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, Tampa Bay Times. Progress monitoring represents a promising and potentially monumental shift in education policy. But its success will come down to implementation. Mandy Clark, Naples Daily News. Florida has been a pioneer in mandating K-12 child sexual abuse prevention education. Cherie Benjoseph, The 74. Florida’s teacher shortage problems go far beyond the seven fields designated last week as critical teacher shortage areas. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff