Testing bill advances, board term limits delayed, Ladapo confirmed, financial literacy, and more

Testing revisions approved: Members of the House Education Committee signed off on a proposal to revise the state’s standardized testing process, setting up a vote before the full House. The bill would replace end-of-the-year Florida Standardized Assessments with a series of computer-based periodic assessments that would also provide quick feedback to teachers to focus on areas where students need to improve. House members did adjust it by removing a provision that could have led to more traditional public schools closing or being turned over to a charter school operator if they failed to meet the state’s accountability marks. Some teachers object to the bill because they say it will bring even more testing into schools, not less, cutting further into time for instruction. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. News Service of Florida.

Senate stalls term limits: The Senate Rules Committee’s review of a House bill that would impose eight-year term limits on school board members and increase scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials was postponed Wednesday at the request of state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota. Gruters is the education chairman in the House and chair of the Florida Republican Party. No reason was given for the delay. The bill had been approved Feb. 10 in the House by a 78-40 vote. News Service of Florida.

Also in the Legislature: Dr. Joseph Ladapo was confirmed as Florida’s surgeon general Wednesday by the Senate. The vote was 24-15 along party lines, with Democrats critical of the choice because Ladapo hasn’t fully supported COVID vaccines. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. The bill that would require high school students to take a half-credit financial literacy class before graduating unanimously passed its final House committee on Wednesday. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Democratic members of Congress are asking U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to investigate proposed budget cuts to 12 school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on face mask mandates in schools. WTVT.

Around the state: Hillsborough school board members approve renewals for five charter schools and a raise for school bus drivers, some Palm Beach school district police officers are lobbying for the department to be taken over by the sheriff, face masks will be optional for teachers and other adults in Orange County schools starting Monday, a school superintendent from Mississippi was chosen to lead the Lake Wales Charter School System, two women were escorted out of a Marion County School Board meeting this week and one of them was arrested, the number of home-schooled students in Escambia’s and Santa Rosa’s schools districts is up more than 60 percent, and Volusia school board members postponed a decision on extending the contract of Superintendent Scott Fritz. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Teachers overwhelmingly voted to keep the current United Teachers of Dade leadership in place for the next three years. The union was being challenged by the union’s People over Politics caucus. Karla Hernandez-Mats of the Frontline caucus was re-elected as president for the third time. Miami Herald. School officials reached an agreement with the nonprofit group Friends of WLRN to manage the public radio news station and NPR affiliate. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: School board members have approved renewals for five charter schools that are projected to enroll about 3,000 students next fall. One of the schools received an A grade from the state, but three others got C grades and one received an F. About 33,000 county students attend charter schools, which amounts to 15 percent of the total student enrollment. In other developments, the board signed off on pay raises from $14.57 to $16.04 an hour for school bus drivers and also approved naming a new K-8 charter school in Apollo Beach after Dorothy Carter York, who taught in the district for 45 years. It opens this fall. Tampa Bay Times. Stacy Hahn announced this week that she is running for re-election to the District 2 school board seat she’s held since 2018. She’s the only announced candidate for the seat so far. Florida Politics.

Orange: Teachers and other adults will no longer be required to wear face masks on the campus of district schools, starting Monday. School officials cited the continuing decline in coronavirus cases for making mask-wearing voluntary. WKMG. WOFL. WESH.

Palm Beach: With 68 openings in the school district police department, some officers are again lobbying for the sheriff’s department to take over the district force. Police Benevolent Association president John Kazanjian said the shortages and other issues pushed the officers to reach out to Gov. DeSantis asking for the takeover because they fear for student safety. District officials denied any students are at risk, and said the district “has no plans of entering into conversations with any other law enforcement agency regarding a merger.” WPEC. A 27-year-old volunteer cheerleading coach at Boynton Beach Community High School has been arrested and accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to a 14-year-old student. Kassidy Sottilare was arrested after the girl and her mother reported the contact to police. School district officials said Sottilare is a data processor for the Palm Beach Virtual School who previously worked in the district as an after-school counselor and in the food services department. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPEC. WPLG. WPTV. Miami Herald.

Polk: An educator from Mississippi was chosen this week to be the next superintendent of the Lake Wales Charter School System. In a 4-3 vote, the system’s board of trustees picked Wayne Rodolfich, superintendent of the Pascagoula-Gautier, Miss., school district, to lead the charter system. Rodolfich was the only finalist with experience as a K-12 teacher, administrator and superintendent. He now begins contract negotiations with trustees, and intends to start the job in July. Lakeland Ledger.

Pasco: Richard Berrios, a 20-year-old substitute teacher at James M. Marlowe Elementary School in New Port Richey, has been arrested and accused of molesting two female students. Deputies don’t believe there are additional victims. WTSP. WFLA. WTVT. WFTS.

Brevard: Superintendent Mark Mullins told the school board this week that students are slowly regaining some of the learning lost during the pandemic. The percentage of black, Hispanic, milt-ethnic and white students reading two or more years behind grade levels each improved by 2 or 3 percentage points from the fall of 2021 to winter. “When we looked at this data earlier, we I think all of us had a little bit of heaviness in seeing where kids were starting off this school year, and to see the progress that has been made this year is absolutely phenomenal,” said school board chair Misty Belford. Florida Today. WFTV. School officials said Wednesday that the district will take part in a pilot program placing cameras on school buses to catch drivers who illegally pass stopped buses. Cameras will be mounted on 10 buses for 45 days to capture data that supporters hope will help support legislation to authorize the use of the technology around the state. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

Volusia: A decision on whether to extend the contract of Superintendent Scott Fritz was put on hold this week when a majority of school board members said they didn’t have enough information to make a decision. That deferral came after a three-hour meeting at which seven community residents argued against an extension, citing the face mask mandate in schools and other decisions about COVID safety protocols. Five residents spoke in support of Fritz. The issue will get another hearing March 22. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Marion: Two women who said at this week’s school board meeting that they were suing the board and four of its five members because of “illegal” COVID mandates and more were escorted out of the meeting for their behavior after the announcement, and one was subsequently arrested for “disturbing the peace/interference with school administration functions.” Patricia Driscoll and Judy Lavender said their lawsuit, which excluded only board member Don Browning, also aims to stop the district from teaching children about critical race theory, LGBTQ issues and more, and gave the board 72 hours to meet their demands. Lavender then tried to walk on the stage where board members sat, and Driscoll threw the lawsuit intent letter at the dais. Driscoll was later arrested, and Lavender and Robert Schmidt, an aide to Browning, were issued trespass warnings. Ocala Star-Banner. WCJB.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: The number of students being home-schooled in Escambia and Santa Rosa jumped more than 60 percent after the pandemic started, according to the Florida Department of Education. Each county had 1,300 home-schooled students during the 2019-2020 school year. By the following year, the count was 2,111 in Escambia, an increase of 62.4 percent, and 2,150 in Santa Rosa, an increase of 65.4 percent. “There is no doubt in my mind that the pandemic created a lot of uncertainty for parents. So as a result, having the option to legally educate your child at home started to become really attractive,” said Lupita Eyde-Tucker, an administrator for several Florida home education help groups. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: Thirty-nine district high school students and one from a private school have been named National Merit Scholarship Program finalists. It’s the second-highest total in the district’s history. Buchholz High had the most, with 19, while Gainesville and Eastside high schools each had 10. Gainesville Sun. WGFL.

Citrus: School board members have approved spending almost $300,000 of federal coronavirus relief funds to update technology at district schools. More than $85,000 will be used to buy the lesson, video and activity creation delivery platform called Nearpod, and almost $213,000 will buy 91 BenQ interactive smart boards, which sync with desktops, iPads and other devices. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: The interim president of the University of South Florida, Rhea Law, has applied for the permanent job. Law, an attorney, was named interim president last August when Steve Currall stepped down. Tampa Bay Times. The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at USF is being investigated for committing alleged antisemitic acts during initiation. A Jewish student pledging the fraternity reportedly had a swastika drawn on his forehead. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: Learning pods flourished during the pandemic. Now that most students are back in school, the continuation of pods as an education alternative will depend on state and local policies and funding, said Jennifer Poon, the co-author of a new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: High poverty rates. Trouble reading. Staff turnover. A culture of failure. There’s no single reason that Hillsborough County operates far more schools than any other district in Florida that the state deems “persistently low performing.” The causes are deep and complex, and addressing them will require more resources and a sustained commitment by the school district. Tampa Bay Times. Two bills in the House continue a troubling trend of lawmakers and other state officials looking to see where they can place guardrails on what students should be exposed to in Florida classrooms. Danielle Brown, Florida Phoenix.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff