Random search plan dropped, racism charges in Broward, teachers protest unpaid leave, and more

Around the state: Volusia school officials have withdrawn a proposal that would have allowed them to conduct random searches of students and others on campus without cause, the Broward superintendent’s staff reorganization is drawing accusations of racism after several black administrators were assigned to principal’s jobs, Pinellas teachers file a grievance against the district after several teachers went unpaid when they had to miss school to quarantine under COVID-19 protocols, Polk’s superintendent proposes changes in the district’s hiring procedures after a teacher who was accused of sexual misconduct in Osceola County landed a job in Polk and was arrested for sexual assault just months later, Bay County is getting a new community school, and a cafeteria worker in St. Johns County is honored after acting quickly to dislodge a grape that was choking a 4th-grader. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: New Superintendent Vickie Cartwright’s administrative reorganization is drawing accusations of racism. Five black administrators in district-level positions were reassigned to principal’s jobs and could face pay cuts in six months, and a sixth who had been overseeing principals will now supervise alternative and non-traditional schools, which many members of the community see as a demotion. The changes were unadvertised and no interviews were conducted with employees who might have been interested, and no community input was solicited as district policy calls for in some cases. Cartwright denied the accusations, and pointed to three black administrators who are being promoted with raises under the new structure. Board members approved the reorganization, saying the changes needed to be in place before the start of the new budget year July 1, but several criticized Cartwright. “Not everybody was happy with what you did. You’re going to have to live with that. You own this,” said board member Ann Murray. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: The school district will provide meals for more than 8,000 students 18 years old or younger at 100 locations this summer. “One in five children in Hillsborough County is food insecure. We have a lot of hunger, and without having access to school breakfast and school lunch we just aren’t meeting the need,” said Shani Hall, the district’s general manager of student nutrition services. WFTS.

Palm Beach: School officials are holding job fairs to try to fill more than 100 teaching openings and dozens more in noninstructional jobs for bus drivers, custodians, food services and more. “Palm Beach County has never experienced this many openings, but neither has any other school district,” said Cathy Reynolds of the district’s human resources department. “These are different times.” WPTV. WPEC. School board members are expected to vote today to formally recognize the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law that bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for K-3 students. WPTV.

Duval: A Terry Parker High School assistant principal has been suspended without pay for 15 days for grabbing one student around the neck and hitting another while trying to break up a fight at the school in January. Oscar Harris was punished after a video surfaced providing “sufficient credible evidence” that he made inappropriate physical contact, according to district officials. WJAX.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid is proposing changes in the district’s hiring policies after a teacher who was accused of inappropriately texting a student in Osceola County, but acquitted, was able to get a job at Haines City High School more than a year later. Just months after he was hired in Polk as a special education teacher and basketball coach, Wayne Ricks was arrested and accused of having sex with a student. Heid wants to conduct a review of each applicant’s “affidavit of separation from previous employers,” disqualify a candidate for any job dealing directly with students if he or she has been fired or resigned for sexual misconduct with a student, and make candidates ineligible for educator certificates or working with students who are on the Florida Department of Education’s disqualification list, registered as a sex offender or have been found guilty to any of the felony offenses listed in the state statute. Lakeland Now.

Pinellas: The union representing teachers has filed a grievance against the school district after it refused to pay sick leave to teachers quarantined under the district’s COVID-19 policy. Several teachers were affected, and all the incidents came after the district’s COVID-19 paid leave policy expired. After the grievance was filed, district officials offered to update their sick leave policy with teachers. Tampa Bay Times. By this fall, every school in the county will have an alert system that will go directly to law enforcement and can be used to remotely lock or unlock school doors. WFTS. A driver who mistakenly hit her vehicle’s accelerator instead of the brakes smashed into a Clearwater day-care center Monday around 5:30 p.m. and hit five people. Police said the 57-year-old woman was waiting to pick up a family member at Building Blocks at Clearwater when the accident happened. She hit three children under 5 years old, their mother and a teacher. All were taken to a hospital and are expected to survive. The driver, who was cited for careless driving, was also hospitalized. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Lee: The city of Cape Coral is planning to add 15 miles of sidewalks throughout the city, with most of them being built near schools to help children get to school and home safely. Mayor John Gunter is asking the school district to match the city’s contribution for the project. Gunter said the plan is to build sidewalks on one side of streets within a mile of schools, then extend the sidewalks  to a 2-mile radius. The project will take several years to complete. WINK.

Brevard: Changes in the ways free meals will be distributed to students this summer could mean some low-income students going without. Last year, any student 18 or younger could pick up a box of food containing seven days of breakfasts and lunches. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is requiring that students eat the meals where they are picked up. That could pose problems for families who live away from the distribution sites and lack reliable transportation. Florida Today.

Volusia: School district administrators have backed off a proposal to allow random searches without cause of anyone on school campuses. After a heated debate at Tuesday’s school board meeting that questioned the constitutionality of searches without, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, “reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence they have broken or will break school rules or the law,” the plan was dropped. WFTV. A former teacher at United Brethren in Christ Academy in Holly Hill has been sentenced to five years and five months in prison, plus 55 months probation, for molesting a former student two years ago. Kristen O’Brien had been arrested for engaging in a sex act with a student over the age of 12 but younger than 16. WESH.

Collier: Members of the public got a briefing Tuesday on the new state students assessments process, called the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, or FAST. It will replace the Florida Standards Assessments end-of-year testing with periodic exams that will produce quicker results and allow feedback that can help teachers target areas where the students need work. The tests, which start next year, will be given within the first 30 days of the school year, around mid-term, and at the end of the year. WFTX.

St. Johns: A cafeteria worker from Cunningham Creek Elementary School was honored this week with an award for heroic action from Superintendent Tim Forson after saving a choking student. Sylvia Suarez used the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a grape stuck in the throat of a 4th-grader during a recent lunch period. “There’s a lot of things that I don’t remember at the moment because everything happened too fast,” said Suarez. “So it was just his eyes looking at me like saying help. And I heard somebody scream ‘He’s not breathing!’ and when I heard that, I just jumped in.” The boy has made a complete recovery. WJXT.

Sarasota: Thirty-two high school seniors have been awarded year’s worth of Florida Prepaid College Foundation scholarships by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County. “We are honored to provide this opportunity to high school seniors who most need extra support to realize their dreams of a college degree,” said Jennifer Vigne, the foundation’s president and CEO. The value of the 32 scholarships is $110,000. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: Bob Ward, a teacher and principal for the school district for 30 years who was the first principal when Highlands Elementary School opened in 1959, has died at the age of 96. In 1979, Highlands Elementary was renamed R.L. Ward-Highlands Elementary in honor of Ward’s work. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie, Indian River: School media specialists in St. Lucie and Indian River counties have been thrust into the uncomfortable position of defending their choices as more and more books in school libraries are being challenged by parents and activist groups. More than 150 books were challenged in Indian River County this past school year because of objections about sexual content, and 20 in St. Lucie County were challenged for the same reason. Officials in both districts refused to make media specialists available for interviews, citing time constraints. TCPalm.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Like other school districts around the state and nation, Escambia and Santa Rosa are looking to fill open teaching positions. Escambia has 139 teaching positions to fill, compared with 80 at this time last summer. Santa Rosa has just hired 104 teachers, but still has 190 open jobs. Both districts are also hiring support workers such as bus drivers, cafeteria and custodial staff, clerical positions and assistant teachers. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Alex Stemle, the recently named assistant principal at Godby High School, has announced he’s a candidate for the District 4 school board seat being vacated this week by Dee Dee Rasmussen. Stemle joins elementary teacher Laurie Cox and Susan Hodges, who works for an insurance company in the race. Tallahassee Reports.

Okaloosa: District 5 school board member Diane Kelley, who said May 27 that she wouldn’t run for re-election, has changed her mind and entered the race against Cara Marion. Joe Fagundes, who announced his candidacy when Kelley said she wasn’t running, dropped out of the race when she said she was. “I was never going to run against (Kelley). I was going to be the next person up,” Fagundes said. Two other board members are running for re-election. Lamar White is in the District 1 race against Jerry Buckman, and District 3 board member Linda Evanchyk is being challenged by Darrel Barnhill. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: Parker Elementary is being converted into a community school that will include services provided by the school district, Children’s Home Society Of Florida, PanCare Of Florida and Gulf Coast State College. Social and health services and more will be available to students and their families in the community. WJHG. School board members have approved spending about $12 million to build a two-story teaching building at Haney Technical College in Panama City. Classes in nursing, cybersecurity, nursing and technology programs will be held in the building when it’s finished in the fall of 2023. WJHG.

Martin: Construction has begun on the first high school in the village of Indiantown. The technical school is a joint project of the school district and Indian River State College, and will offer students instruction they can use to find jobs immediately after graduation. “There’s always going to be a job for an electrician, gas technician. Anyone who works with agriculture because we’re an agriculture community,” said 43-year Indiantown resident Deborah Banks, who worked as a teacher. Ninth-graders will be able to attend the school this fall, at a temporary location, during construction. WPTV.

Walton: Five candidates have filed to run for school board seats. In District 2, incumbent Kim Kirby is unopposed so far. In District 3, incumbent Bill Eddins Jr. is being challenged by Gordon Michael Porter, and in District 5 current board member Jason Catalano will run against Matt Carr. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Around the nation: Most U.S. schools chose to use simple COVID-19 mitigation strategies such as opening doors and windows or having classes outside instead of replacing or upgrading HVAC systems, according to a survey by the CDC of 420 schools. K-12 Dive. WLRN.

Opinions on schools: Social-emotional skills are not innate. They must be taught and practiced, just like reading and writing. Some parents, families and teachers are more effective at teaching SEL. If these skills are so essential to the workforce of tomorrow, why shouldn’t we give kids lots of opportunities to practice in the classroom? Jan Helson, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff