Student testing could start soon, Bay leader denies allegation, Brevard assault report refuted and more

Around the state: The state’s new assessment testing system that measures student progress at three points during the school year could have students taking tests as early as this month, Brevard school officials said reports of a transgender student assaulting a girl in a middle school bathroom this summer are untrue, Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt denies information in a federal affidavit that a contractor performed work on his properties after Hurricane Michael in 2018, a Collier school board candidate’s campaign manager causes an uproar with anti-Semitic social media posts, Escambia school officials dispute a former elementary school teacher’s story about a school worker removing posters of black historial figures from his classroom, and Duval teachers and the district reach a tentative contract agreement. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The school district is one of several in the state asking voters this fall to approve a special tax to raise funds for schools. “Secure the Next Generation Renewal,” as the district is calling the measure, would double the property tax rate that has been collected since 2018 from .50 mills per $100,000 in taxable property value to 1 mill per $100,000. The money would be used to pay employees more, hire additional school security staff and improve mental health programs for students. Miami Herald. District officials are retranslating the Spanish version of the ballot question after a faulty translation was discovered that could confuse voters about the true intent of the tax request. A corrected translation will be placed on the supervisor of elections’ website, distributed by the district and be posted at polling locations. Sun-Sentinel. The district’s school year begins Tuesday, and Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said it’s ready despite staff shortages and the implementation of new laws restricting the way such things as race and sexual issues can be taught. Cartwright said her primary focus will be on students’ progress in math, science and English. “By honing in on that and really setting the bar high, we know that our students will rise to those expectations,” she said. WPLG. WSVN.

Hillsborough: School officials are making a special effort to help new immigrant families register and enroll their children in school and get the requred immunizations. More than a third of the district’s students are Latino, and bilingual events like the ones held this week are meant to help bridge the language and cultural barriers and integrate new students. One was Honduran-born Valeska Torres, 27, who needed help to make sure her 6-year-old daughter Sofía was enrolled in her zoned school and up-to-date on her vaccines. “It seemed a little bit complicated,” Torres said, “but now it’s much better thanks to the help and advice of all these people.” Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: A program started three years at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach for students grieving for the loss of a parent could soon expand to other schools in the county. Cori Walls started Steve’s Club in honor of her father, who died  before she was a year old. It meets after school twice a month for students who have lost one or both parents. “It’s the club that nobody wants to be in,” said Walls. “They’ve lost their parent, they’ve lost an income. They’ve lost someone they trust, but they’ve also lost somebody that could hopefully guide them to their future. What matters is that the kids that are all dealing with the death of a parent are having the resources available to them.” Sun-Sentinel.

Duval: District officials and the teachers union have reached a tentative contract agreement that would raise the starting teacher from $47,500 to $48,700. Union president Terri Brady said the raise is welcome, but that the district needs extra funding to also provide more money to veteran teachers. Both she and the district hope that will come from a proposed property tax hike on the Aug. 23 primary ballot. Union members have 10 days to vote on the proposed deal. If they approve, it would go to the school board. WJXT. WTLV. Larger class sizes, longer bus routes and new COVID-19 protocols are among the changes students can expect when they return to school Monday. Florida Times-Union.

Pinellas: A preschool teacher in Dunedin was arrested this week after allegedly punching a 4-year-old “repeatedly” on the playground. Ashley Richards, 32, was charged with felony child abuse after being seen by a witness striking the child and shouting, “Do you want me to hit you?” She has been placed on leave from the KinderCare Learning Center. WTSP. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: A South Fort Myers High School student was arrested this week and accused of having a gun in a car on campus. The gun was discovered after another student reported it. No students were threatened, said school officials. WBBH. U.S. Department of Justice.

Brevard: School officials say a reported assault by a transgender student of a girl in Johnson Middle School bathroom this summer did not happen. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, referenced the report in a letter Thursday to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. asking for an investigation. “It did not happen,” said district spokesman Russell Bruhn. “There’s no record of law enforcement being contacted. There is no record of anybody at (the district) being contacted about this. No parent or student. It is irresponsible to send this letter to the state. It’s an attack that is unjustified. And it’s an embarrassment for our state government.” Florida Today. WFTV. WMFE. “School libraries are not closed (and) book fairs have not been banned,” Superintendent Mark Mullins assured school board members and school staff this week after questions were raised about the district’s policy to comply with new state laws. Florida Today.

Seminole: A former Oviedo High School teacher has been found guilty of attempting to coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Dennis Line, 51, repeatedly tried to set up a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old girl, the DOJ said. His sentencing is Nov. 2, and he is facing a minimum of 10 years in prison. WESH.

Volusia: Security has been upgraded for district schools, safety and security leader Michelle Newman said this week. Each school will have police radios to contact 911 dispatch, access to emergency buttons, trained school resource officers and mental health counselors, and law enforcement officers who have undergone additional training and re-training. “We have to strive for an A+, a 100 percent, every single day,” Newman said. Schools open Monday. WFTV.

Collier: The campaign manager for District 5 school board candidate Timothy Moshier recently posted anti-Semitic comments on social media. Katie Paige Richards’ TikTok posts promoted a theory that Jews are trying to control the West by using porn to render white Christian men impotent, and she later answered yes when asked online if she is anti-Semitic. Moshier initially said he didn’t see a problem with the video, but later said he had not been aware of Richards’ views and said, “I disavow the anti-Semitic references in those posts in the strongest terms.” He also said Richards is no longer associated with his campaign. Naples Daily News.

St. Johns: More than 43,400 students were in classes the first day of school Wednesday, according to district officials. That’s an increase of 1,665 students, or 4 percent compared to last year. Elementary students totaled 12,042, K-8 schools 10,062, middle schools 7,136 and 13,601 students were counted in high schools. The opening of Beachside High School, the district’s newest school, was delayed until next week by construction issues. It’s expected to have 1,250 students. St. Augustine Record. WJXT.

Escambia: District officials are disputing an O.J. Semmes Elementary School teacher’s account of a school administrator removing posters of black historical figures from his walls. Their investigation reports that two district employees, a board-certified behavior analyst and a behavior coach, were assisting teacher Michael James with the setup for his room for autistic students. They said the room needed to be reconfigured for his assignment, and that the bulletin board behind his desk that the posters were on had to dedicated to state-required curricular materials he would use. They said they asked James about removing the posters and he responded, “Yes, do whatever needs to be done.” They also said the posters were left for James to use as he wished. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. WJHG. Warrington Middle School in Pensacola has begun its final year before being turned into a charter school in the fall of 2023. The move is being made because Warrington didn’t get a C grade from the state this summer after years of receiving D grades. Principal Denny Wilson said he was nervous about how the school’s teachers and staff would respond, but said after the first meeting, “I was pleasantly surprised just from the feel I got from the energy in the room. … I actually think we’re going to have a really good school year.” Charter Schools USA takes over the operation of Warrington next fall. WUWF.

Okaloosa: District 3 school board incumbent Linda Evanchyk, a former teacher, is being challenged for re-election by Darrell Barnhill, a former Walton County School Board member. Evanchyk and Barnhill recently answered questions about the need for new schools, whether greater transparency is needed from the board, and whether changes made during the district’s 2017 abuse allegations go far enough. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: School Superintendent Bill Husfelt denied Thursday that a local contractor being investigated by the FBI did work at any of his properties after Hurricane Michael in 2018. An affidavit from federal investigators said that GAC Contractors Inc. did not do the work on public property that it was paid to do, but instead cleaned up properties owned by several public officials, including Husfelt. He denied that, saying, “(GAC’s workers) never stepped foot on my property.” WFSU. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. School officials said they have only 95 school bus drivers for 95 routes, and other transportation employees are driving buses when someone calls in sick. Five workers were called on to drive on the first day of school, which also limits their time to be able to train new drivers. Panama City News Herald.

Monroe: Students in grades K-8 will not be allowed to use their cell phones in schools this year. A new district policy states that students “must have their phones put away and will not be allowed to have them out at any time while on campus unless specifically requested by a teacher.” Key Largo School principal Darren Pais said, “What led to that was, I mean — ugh — they’re so addicted to their phones. Something would be on Snapchat or on TikTok. And they would start arguments with each other. Or they would literally just leave class so they could go dance in the bathroom. Such a distraction.” WLRN.

Colleges and universities: Federal and state policies on university accreditation are on a collision course. This spring, the Legislature passed a bill that would require colleges and universities to change accrediting agencies ahead of their next accreditation cycle. This summer, the U.S. Department of Education adopted a policy requiring schools to demonstrate “reasonable cause” for switching accreditors and get federal approval before doing so. The agency also will evaluate whether any change is voluntary. Politico Florida. University of Central Florida researchers have been granted $4.5 million to creat an advance warning system for businesses “to help them manage future health crisis situations that may arise.” Florida Politics. University of Miami criminology professor Alex Piquero has been named by President Biden to head the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. He starts the new job Monday. Miami Herald.

Testing, testing: The state’s new testing system, which measures student progress at three points during the school year,  could have students taking assessments as early as this month. The first testing window for grades K-2 is Aug. 8 through Sept. 30, and the window for all other students is Aug. 15 through Sept. 30. “You will start to see students being provided that opportunity to assess pretty soon,” said Peggy Jones, director of research and accountability for Pasco’s schools, because districts may want to get a handle on students’ base knowledge as soon as they can. Tampa Bay Times. Only 48 percent of Florida’s 5th-graders passed last spring’s statewide science exam with a Level 3 score or higher, and only 23 percent scored at Level 4 or 5, which is considered proficient. Florida Phoenix.

School openings: The Wakulla County School District began classes Thursday, the 63rd of the state’s 67 districts to do so. Sixty-two opened their doors Wednesday. First day of classes in Duval and Volusia are Monday. Broward opens Tuesday, and Miami-Dade on Wednesday. Florida Department of Education.

A statewide shortage: School districts around the state continue to look for teachers, school bus drivers and other employees to fill open positions. The issue of staffing shortages has become “much more difficult this year and the problem much more serious” this year. said Bill Montford, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “And there are a multitude of reasons why,” he said. “You have COVID, and quite frankly the whole atmosphere of being a classroom teacher today is just more challenging than it was even a few years ago.” News Service of Florida. The Florida Department of Education has created a website intended to help military veterans become teachers. A new law allows vets who don’t have college degrees to teach if they have served a minimum of 48 months and received an honorable discharge, have at least 60 college credits with a 2.5 GPA or higher, and pass a Florida subject area exam. WEAR. WPLG. Florida Politics.

Education and elections: Eighty-two percent of parents surveyed in a Harris poll said they would vote across party lines on education issues. The poll, which was conducted in May, was commissioned by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. It said it wanted to gain insight into the parental “behaviors, experiences, preferences and attitudes” that were fueling the exodus of students from public schools. The poll did not detail what specific issues would compel voters to cross party lines. The 74.

Around the nation: Students exposed to someone with COVID-19 should not have to quarantine from schools this year, according to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also recommended that schools no longer test routinely for asymptomatic students, but to do so only during an outbreak or a high-risk event at the school. Associated Press. Politico. NPR.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s recent crackdown on academic freedom at public universities and colleges already is having its apparent intended effect: professors are muzzling themselves. In the process, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his sycophants are risking the reputation of Florida’s university system, one that the state has spent decades and millions of dollars cultivating. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff