Graduation requirements eased, Cartwright chosen in Broward, Jefferson regains autonomy, and more

Tougher requirements waived: Higher graduation testing standards that were adopted in 2018 and scheduled to go into effect this spring were delayed Wednesday by the Florida Board of Education. The decision to delay for one year keeps lower test score requirements in place and allows the continued use of an alternate test to the algebra 1 assessment. Superintendents had asked the state for the delay, fearing that thousands of seniors otherwise wouldn’t be eligible to graduate. Deputy education commissioner Juan Copa agreed, saying disruptions caused by the pandemic justified the delay. The changes are “consistent with the compassion and grace that has been extended to Florida students for the past two years,” Copa said. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. WMFE.

Teaching vacancies: Florida has nearly 4,500 teaching vacancies, an increase of 800 over last year, and that number could grow to 9,000 by the end of the year according to a report reviewed and approved Wednesday by the state Board of Education. And little help is coming from colleges; the report projects only about 3,300 aspiring teachers are graduating every year. The report also discloses that about 10 percent of the courses being taught statewide are being led by teachers who aren’t certified in that field. “I worry about the thousands and thousands of students who are currently without a full-time teacher,” said Catherine Boehme, public policy advocate for the Florida Education Association. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Jefferson control restored: Five years after the state gave control of the Jefferson County School District to a charter school company, the local school board and district officials have been put back in charge. Wednesday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran lifted state oversight of the district as long as it makes monthly budget reports to the state for at least a year and maintains reserves of 5 percent in its general fund. “We’ve been working on this for over six months,” said Jackie Pons, Jefferson’s transition principal and former Leon County superintendent. “We had school board members with tears in their eyes. It’s been five years since this community has had local control of their school system.” Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WTXL.

Around the state: Broward interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright was hired by the school board Wednesday for the permanent job, a House budget withholding $200 million from 12 school districts that defied the state’s ban on face mask mandates for students has been approved by a committee, a bill’s provision to eliminate salaries for local school board members has been revised to instead set eight-year term limits, a bill allowing speed cameras to be placed in school zones gets the approval of another committee, Clay schools choose a teacher of the year, and the University of Florida is appealing a judge’s recent order blocking UF from enforcing a conflict-of-interest policy that allowed it to prohibit professors from testifying in court cases. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School officials have agreed to sell a 1-acre parking lot next to district headquarters for $25 million to a developer who plans to build a 43-story residential tower on the land and another parcel. The development would also include an auditorium for the school district. Miami Herald. A 7th-grader who was wrongly accused of posting a bomb threat against her school on social media in November, then handcuffed and sent to juvenile detention for 14 days, has been exonerated. Thirteen-year-old Nia Whims told police she didn’t make the threat, but she wasn’t cleared until Jan. 28, when it was discovered that another student created fake e-mails using Nia’s name to create an Instagram account. “It was heartbreaking that everybody thought it was me,” Nia said. WPLG. Bobby Carlton, who coached the Miami High School football team to a national championship and was also a longtime athletic director at Miami Southridge High before retiring in 1989, died Sunday at his home in Alabama. He was 89. Miami Herald.

Broward: In an 8-1 vote, school board members decided Wednesday to remove the interim tag from the title of Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. Her supporters pointed to her 20-plus years of classroom experience in selecting Cartwright for the top job over the other finalist, Michael Gaal, a former administrator with the District of Columbia school system. “When I compare the level of classroom experience, it’s striking as to who the right person is,” said board member Nora Rupert. Cartwright was hired as the interim superintendent last July after former superintendent Robert Runcie was indicted on a charge of perjury. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: A decision by school board members last June to deny a charter school application was upheld Wednesday by the state Board of Education. The board cited financial concerns about Hillsborough County Acceleration Academy, which would have focused on dropouts or students who were in danger of dropping out. Academy officials appealed, but the decision was upheld by the state’s Charter Review Commission and the state board. Tampa Bay Times. District officials offered incentives totaling $33.7 million over two years to teachers during a contract bargaining session Wednesday. But the money, which would come from federal coronavirus relief aid, would be in the form of one-time bonuses. That’s all district officials can afford, they said, due to the ongoing financial struggles of the district. Union officials are unhappy with the proposal. Talks resume Monday. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: For the first time since 2004, peanut butter will be reintroduced into school cafeteria menus Feb. 22. It was removed because of the number of students who have allergies to peanuts. Cafeterias will add signs and stickers warning students, and a list of allergies will be shown at checkout. WFTX. WBBH. Three parents and two students asked school officials this week to remove three books with themes of violence and sexuality from school libraries. School board member Debbie Jordan told them parents can place an alert on their children’s library account to prevent them from checking out books they believe is inappropriate. WINK. A 13-year-old middle school student has been arrested and accused of making threats to shoot students at South Fort Myers High School. WBBH.

Brevard: Changes in the way the district responds to discrimination and harassment complaints were approved by the school board Wednesday in a 3-2 vote. Board member Katye Campbell, who voted against the changes, said, “It’s still my conviction (that) what’s best for students, including our transgender students in particular, is to not open wide the doors when it comes to restrooms and locker rooms.” Florida Today.

Lake: A 12-year-old student at Grey Middle School in Groveland was arrested Tuesday and accused of threatening a mass shooting at the school. Police said the girl wrote the threat on the wall of a school bathroom, then tried to blame it on a classmate. She later confessed and told officers that she was angry at the classmate for bullying her. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL.

St. Johns: District teachers must report to school officials when students request the instructors use a different name or gender pronoun, according to a new policy adopted by the district. The district will then notify the child’s parents of the request. WJCT. WTLV. WJAX.

Escambia: Officials in the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County said they want to use $9 million in federal coronavirus aid to immediately increase pay for preschool teachers to $15 an hour. WEAR.

Clay: Melissa Matz, a 7th-grade math teacher at Lakeside Junior High School in Orange Park, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Jacquelin Edwards of Clay Hill Elementary was selected as the school-related employee of the year. Clay Today. Clay County School District.

Leon: School board members approved Superintendent Rocky Hanna’s appointment of a committee to help the district support LGBTQ students. The committee includes district officials, students, medical professionals and members of the community. WTXL. Tallahassee Reports.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida is appealing a judge’s recent order blocking UF from enforcing a conflict-of-interest policy that allowed it to prohibit professors from testifying in court cases. News Service of Florida. Seminole State College has gotten approval from the state Board of Education to begin offering bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and exceptional education in the fall. WKMG. U.S. college officials said they are struggling to hire enough therapists to keep up with the demand from students for mental health services. Kaiser Health News.

House budget advances: The House’s state budget, which would withhold $200 million from 12 school districts that defied the state’s ban on face mask mandates for students, was approved Wednesday by that chamber’s appropriations committee. “We’re talking about $200 million to reward 55 school districts that did the right thing and send a message to 12 that ‘you hurt your children, don’t do it again, follow the [laws] we pass out of the Legislature,’ ” said state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. Politico Florida. Sun Sentinel. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Phoenix. Capitol News Service. WFSU.

Also in the Legislature: Eliminating salaries for local school board members is no longer part of H.B. 1467, but term limits is. The bill was revised this week to establish an eight-year term limit for board members. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Speed cameras could be placed in school zones under a bill approved by a Senate committee. Florida Politics. A bill allowing juvenile records for certain crimes to be expunged was approved at its final Senate committee stop. Florida Politics. The “Parental Rights in Education” bill requires parents to be notified about their children’s activities in school. Would that requirement extend to a child asking for and receiving vegetarian meals, a Democratic senator asked at a hearing this week. State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the bill sponsor, wouldn’t say yes or no, but said, “anything that relates to (students) should be part of the discussion with parents, not keeping parents in the dark.” USA Today Florida Network. Halfway through the legislative session, the actions of the Republican majority remain closely aligned with the goals of Gov. Ron DeSantis. USA Today Florida Network. News Service of Florida.

Education podcasts: The authors of a report, Controlling the Narrative: Parental Choice, Black Empowerment, and Lessons from Florida, talk with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about the extent to which black families in Florida have embraced school choice. More than 1 in 6 black students participate in education choice by attending charter schools or using state scholarships to attend private schools. reimaginED. Here are all the education choices available for Florida students. reimaginED.

Around the nation: At least 11 states other than Florida are considering education choice legislation this spring, according to ExcelinEd. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: A gun alert at his Palm Beach County school last week drives home education’s new reality to a veteran teacher: “I now understood that the teaching profession that I have dedicated my whole adult life to had eternally changed. … Perhaps with this understanding, it is time to curtail my passion and retire.” Joe Cominio, Palm Beach Post. Two years ago, two high school friends decided to convince lawmakers to pass their bill making it easier for young people to vote through online registration. They’ve gotten nowhere in the Republican-dominated Legislature, but aren’t giving up. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Liberty is not writing laws that limit speech to the most conservative of beliefs. It’s not banning challenging books that encourage broadening our worldview if for a second, just to question our own perspective. And it’s not doing away with cucumbers, pickles, bananas or any other phallic grocery store item just because someone, somewhere chooses to make something of it that it is not. Stephana Ferrell, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff