Student fees suit proceeds, school raffles off guns, one state student in spelling bee finals, and more

Around the state: An appeals court has ruled that a student’s lawsuit can continue against the University of South Florida over fees the school collected during the pandemic, a charter school in Madison County raffled off an AK-47 and other weapons as a fund-raiser, an Orange County 8th-grader is one of 12 finalists in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a St. Johns school book review committee is recommending grade-level restrictions on two challenged books, the school safety bill passed by the Legislature is now before Gov. Ron DeSantis for a decision, the Duval County School District and the city of Jacksonville are hiring a New York company to assess the district’s school safety protocols, and 87 students at a Fort Lauderdale school are guaranteed two-year scholarships thanks to a donation and a match by Florida Prepaid. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Two net zero energy middle schools under construction in the district. Brickell Area Middle School and Ammons Middle School in South Dade are both expected to be open by August 2023. Brickell’s cost is $26.3 million and Ammons’ is $29.99 million. U.S. Department of Energy officials describe zero energy schools as “extremely energy-efficient buildings that produce as much energy as (they) use over the course of a year.” Miami Today. A 15-year-old student at the Mater Lakes Charter School in Northwest Miami-Dade has been suspended and is under investigation after posting a video on Instagram of him holding a handgun and mentioning the name of a teacher. He told police it was a joke. WSVN.

Broward: All 87 students at the Madeleine Halmos Academy and Jack & Jill Learning Center in Fort Lauderdale will receive two-year Florida college plan scholarships thanks to a donation from philanthropists Steve and Madeleine Halmos that was matched by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation. The total cost is about $700,000. “They have to stay in school, they have to get decent grades, they have to stay out of trouble, stay away from drugs, but if they do their part, they’ve got a scholarship waiting,” Halmos said. “This is extraordinary. I am not aware of anything in the state … like this, to provide each graduating 5th-grader the opportunity to attend a two-year college in the state of Florida,” said Florida Prepaid College Foundation director Cindy O’Connell. WPLG.

Duval: The school district and Jacksonville officials are partnering to hire a New York security company to assess the district’s security protocols at schools and make recommendations for improvements. Armoured One of Syracuse specializes in doors and glass, and claims its bullet-resistant products can slow down or prevent a shooter from getting into a classroom. The cost should be under $100,000, said Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. “They (Armoured One) need to learn more about what we are doing in … schools and how we utilize our protocols and our guidelines before we can all have a robust conversation about where we are,” said district Superintendent Diana Greene. Florida Times-Union. WJCT. WTLV. WJXT.

Pinellas, Tampa Bay area: Pinellas County lost the most student enrollment in the region during the pandemic, according to a recent survey by the American Enterprise Institute and the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College. Pasco’s district grew the most, at 6 percent, while Polk was up by almost 3 percent. Other districts in the area grew by 1 percent or less. Enrollments are critical because they determine state funding levels. Axios. Pinellas County School Board members have approved new principals for three middle schools and four elementary schools, and 21 assistant principals and two new administrators. Tampa Bay Times. Two families are suing Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, claiming the private school did not protect their children from being physically abused and racially harassed. Headmaster Robert J. Fine Jr. said the claims are being investigated. “This type of behavior is against our code of conduct and if we find that a student has violated that code, we take action to address the situation – up to and including expulsion,” he said. WTVT.

Lee: District officials are partnering with Florida’s Summer BreakSpot program to provide free breakfast and lunch for students over the summer. Meals will be available at 80 sites from June 7 through July 29. There are no income requirements, and children 18 and younger are eligible. WFTX.

Seminole: A Black Student Union has been formed at Oviedo High School, the second school in the district to have such a club. It’s open for anyone to join. “I’d been trying to get one started here for years,” said teacher Kimberly Finnegan. “We really have this underrepresented population … what can we do about it?” The other club is at Lake Brantley High, according to district officials, and Lake Mary, Seminole and others also are considering starting clubs. WESH. Oviedo High student Kyra Henriques has placed second in the world’s largest international high school STEM competition. WESH.

St. Johns: A school district media advisory committee recommended Wednesday that restrictions should be placed on two books and that four books should remain on school library shelves. A Court of Frost and Starlight, by Sarah J. Maas, should be removed from middle schools and be available only in high schools, the committee advised, and Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens, by Kathy Belge, should be restricted to high school students. The recommendations now go to Superintendent Tim Forson for a decision. WJXT.

Sarasota: Sixteen local high school students are studying the common history of oppression and persecution of both Jewish and African American people in the inaugural Impact Theatre Town Hall. The program pairs the students with elders from the Jewish and African-American communities, who share their experiences of fighting past discrimination and link them to current social injustices. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Lucie: Retiring Superintendent Wayne Gent said his final goodbyes Wednesday at Morningside Elementary School in Port St. Lucie. “I have to catch myself because we’ll be thinking about plans for summer school and summer programs and the fall, and I have to catch myself with staff that this won’t be my role anymore,” said Gent, whose 45-year education career included seven as superintendent. He said he’s most proud of the district students’ academic achievements. WPTV.

Citrus: District officials have scheduled a two-day training session for teachers and administrators to learn effective ways of reuniting students with their families after a school emergency. “Reunification is a labor-intensive, complex process and having enough trained personnel will be critical,” said Dave Vincent, district police chief. “The more significant the incident, the more complex the reunification will become.” Citrus County Chronicle. School board member Thomas Kennedy will be sworn in June 9 as president of the 2022-2023 Florida School Boards Association. Citrus County Chronicle.

Madison: A charter high school in Madison raffled off an AK-47 and other weapons as part of a month-long fund-raising campaign. James Madison Preparatory High School took a short break from the raffle when 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school were gunned down by an 18-year-old May 24. “Out of respect for these tragic events, we will not have a raffle drawing this morning,” wrote principal Mark Akerman in a Facebook postdated May 25. “We will resume raffle drawings on Tuesday, May 31. God bless each of you and your families.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Colleges and universities: A federal appeals court declined to dismiss a possible class-action lawsuit filed by a University of South Florida student who wants a refund for the fees she paid during the pandemic. The three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that student Valeriemarie Moore had “entered into a legal, binding contract with USF,” and that “When the Legislature has authorized a state entity to enter into a contract, it clearly intends that the contract be valid and binding on both parties.” News Service of Florida. Hundreds of thousands of former students at the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges chain will automatically have their student debt forgiven, the Biden administration announced Wednesday. About $5.8 billion in debt will be erased for 560,000 students who attended the college from its founding in 1995 to its collapse in 2015. Associated Press. Conservative politicians are increasingly pushing for “classical” education centers in colleges around the country, and devoting public funds to them. Salon.

School safety bill: The school safety bill approved by the Legislature this year and now on Gov. DeSantis’ desk tweaks several provisions in the existing law, but does not change the state’s gun laws or access to weapons. Among the changes in the proposed law: improving transparency around school emergencies, tightening requirements on who is eligible to become a school safety officer, increasing training to deal with students’ mental health issues, and requiring the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools to create a plan for family reunification after school emergencies. Miami Herald.

National Spelling Bee: An Orange County 8th-grader is among 12 U.S. students who have qualified for the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee tonight, which will be broadcast on the ION TV channel at 8 o’clock. After seven rounds of competition were completed on Wednesday, Ekansh Rastogi, a 13-year-old 8th-grader from Orange County, was the only Florida student still in the race for the championship. More than 240 students have competed. State students eliminated in earlier rounds Wednesday were Varshitha Bojanapati, 13, 7th grade, Palm Beach County; Aaron Kuebler, 12, 6th grade, Orange County; Juan Rondeau, 13, 7th grade, Miami-Dade County; Sydney Graham, 14, 8th grade, Leon County; and Brody Santos, 12, 7th grade, Miami-Dade. Four other state students were eliminated Tuesday. Scripps National Spelling Bee. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the nation: The Texas school shooting has led to calls for better hardening of schools against potential attackers. But many of the security measures called for are already in most U.S. schools, raising the question of how much further schools can, and should, go. Chalkbeat. At least 17 states have passed laws banning transgender female students from playing on women’s sports teams, and several others are considering restrictions. K-12 Dive. Two new studies suggest that federal spending for special education is inadequate and inequitable. Education Week. Public K-12 schools in the United States have become increasingly diverse in the past 10 years as the percentage of Hispanic students has grown and the percentage of white and black students has declined. The share of white students was 54 percent in 2009 but 46 percent in 2020, and the percentage of black students has declined in that period from 17 percent to 15 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of Hispanic students has gone from 22 to 28 percent. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: After the 2018 Parkland school shooting, Florida’s Legislature showed that some meaningful reforms could be accomplished when lawmakers on both sides focus on solutions instead of scoring political points. Tampa Bay Times. Florida is sometimes called the “Gunshine State,” but its red-flag law has saved lives by temporarily removing or restricting firearms from people considered a threat to others or themselves. Lizette Alvarez, Washington Post.

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BY NextSteps staff