Just 37% of state students pass new civics exam, medical care in schools, Pasco contract, and more

Civics testing results: Just 37 percent of students in grades 6-12 passed the new Florida Civic Literacy Examination last spring, according to data released by the Florida Department of Education. Students are given a passing grade if they correctly answer at least 60 percent of about 80 questions. More than 157,000 students took the exam, and 58.745 passed. The highest passing rate was recorded at the lab-school based out of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where 98 percent of 46 students scored at the 60 percent level or higher. St. Johns and Santa Rosa school districts were next with 57 percent pass rates. At the other end of the scale, only one of 31 Jefferson County students passed, and in Glades County five of 58 students passed.  Florida Phoenix. The pandemic wiped away two decades of gains in reading and math for the nation’s 9-year-olds, according to the latest results from National Assessment of Educational Progress testing. “It’s clear that COVID-19 shocked American education and stunned the academic growth of this age group of students,” said Peggy Carr, who heads the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test. “We don’t make this statement lightly.” The 74. Chalkbeat.

Around the state: Palm Beach County school officials said children of parents who don’t opt-in for medical services can’t be given even minor medical care such as bandages or ice packs, Pasco County school employees sign a contract that provides them with their biggest raises in years, Alachua school board members decide now is not the time to start a national search to replace the district’s interim superintendent, Lee County school officials will hold a series of town meetings to discuss the possibility of shrinking school zones to keep students closer to their schools, and 10 Florida teachers talk about leaving their district jobs and starting their own schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Newly installed school board members said Wednesday that the district needs to push harder to match the A grades that neighboring districts Miami-Dade and Palm Beach received this year. Broward was awarded a B grade by the state and hasn’t gotten an A since 2011, and the most recent state testing assessments showed declines among all students. New board chair Torey Alston said, “We are in a learning crisis. … My heart is aching. Clearly, we’re in trouble.” Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. Newly appointed school board member Ryan Reiter had an injunction placed against him in 2017 and 2018 after his former fiancee accused him of physical and verbal abuse. The order was dismissed about a year later when the woman did not appear in court to pursue the case. Reiter said Wednesday that the abuse did not happen. Sun-Sentinel. Another former neighbor of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz testified Wednesday that Cruz’s behavior was characterized by sharp outburts of anger, followed by apologies. Defense attorneys are trying to convince the jury to sentence Cruz to life in prison instead of death. The trial continues today. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press.

Hillsborough: A 15-year-old Hillsborough High School student was arrested Wednesday and accused of having a loaded gun on campus. Officers were tipped by another student about the gun, and it was found wrapped in a T-shirt inside her backpack. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT.

Palm Beach: The state’s new Parental Rights in Education law prompted the district to adopt an “opt-in” question for medical services on its student registration form, and children of parents who don’t select it can’t be given even minor medical care such as bandages or ice packs. As of Aug. 25, more than 3,300 parents had opted out of medical care, and about 57,000 forms have not been returned. Palm Beach Post. School officials will no longer report COVID-19 cases of teachers or students to the district, parents will no longer be notified if a COVID case is reported in their child’s classroom, and the COVID-19 dashboard has been discarded. “It’s nice to be in the endemic stage, you know? Knock on wood,” said Superintendent Mike Burke. Palm Beach Post. A 2nd-grade teacher at Timber Trace Elementary School in Palm Beach Gardens was arrested Wednesday and charged with possession of child pornography. Deputies said Edward Jeffrey Parker, 54, is charged with 30 counts of possessing child pornography of 10 or more images. He has worked at the school since 2002. Palm Beach Post. Miami Herald. WPTV. WPEC. WPLG.

Polk: Former school board member Billy Townsend has filed a campaign finance complaint against newly elected board member Rick Nolte. Townsend, who supported Nolte’s opponent, Sarah Fortney, in the Aug. 23 primary, alleges that Nolte accepted at least $6,200 in illegal cash donations. Record show Nolte loaned his campaign $5,200 on March 10, and that 10 people made cash contributions of $100 during the last reporting period. Florida law states that it’s a misdemeanor for a person to make cash or cashier’s check donations of larger than $50 to a candidate, or for a person to accept cash donations larger than $50. Lakeland Now.

Lee: School officials are holding the first in a series of town hall meetings to discuss the possibility of shrinking school zones to keep students closer to their schools and cut down on tardiness. The current system is a lottery that requires a lot of busing, and the district estimates as many as 2,100 students arrive late to school every day. “This is not a transportation fault. This is our assignment process and trying to have a transportation system work within all the choice,” said Superintendent Christopher Bernier. Parents could still enter a school choice lottery if they choose to, Bernier said. WINK.

Pasco: Teachers and support employees have reached a contract agreement with the district that will provide them with their largest raises in years. Teachers will get an average of 5.4 percent higher pay, and the starting teacher salary was boosted from $39,845 to $46,425. The deal also eliminates the experience cap that had been placed on retirees who wanted to return to teaching and professionals with specialized licenses. Support employees will get raises of 10 percent or more. Those who still aren’t making the state-required $15 an hour after those raises will be bumped up to the minimum. Union and school board members still have to approve the deal. Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee: School officials are contracting with the Florida Center for Early Childhood to provide mental health services to students in 10 elementary schools that have been identified as having the greatest need for the therapy program. Children will be able to get counseling services during the school day, with the approval of their parents. “We are increasing access to services by circumnavigating the barriers,” said Florida Center CEO Kristie Skoglund. “Families in crisis don’t always have the means to nurture mental wellness due to schedules, finances and transportation. This program normalizes therapy and makes it convenient for the family.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Okaloosa: District 5 school board member Diane Kelley has been cleared by the state attorney of violating public records laws. The allegations were by Cara Marion, who lost to Kelley in the Aug. 23 primary. Marion said Kelley held an unredacted report bearing her daughter’s name in front of a TV camera. Kelley said she felt “exonerated and exhilarated,” but also “disgruntled and disheartened” by the episode. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: School board members have decided that now is not the time to launch a national search for a superintendent to replace interim Shane Andrew, who has been leading the district since March when he took over for the fired Carlee Simon. District 4 board member Leanetta McNealy said finding a new superintendent in the last thing the board needs to focus on right now. “I’m pleased with what’s happening with the current superintendent,” she said. “Superintendent Andrew has only been on the board for a little while and he needs more time with this board, especially the new board.” Newly elected District 3 board member Sarah Rockwell said a new strategic plan needs to be put in place first. “The way I see it, we do strategic planning starting the next school year and then the next year find a new superintendent,” she said. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Students who live within 2 miles of Mowatt Middle School in Lynn Haven will no longer to be able to ride buses to school, the district told parents this week. The change was made because construction on Highway 390 has been completed and includes sidewalks for students to get to the campus. Superintendent Bill Husfelt said a shortage of school bus drivers has forced the district to cut back on bus routes. WMBB.

Charlotte: Crossroads Hope Academy is opening a second campus in Punta Gorda in October that will house and educate 24 boys between the ages of 12 and 17 who have had multiple failed placements in the Florida foster care system. Charlotte Sun.

Flagler: Only 49 percent of the county’s 10th-graders is reading at grade level, according to results of the Florida Standards Assessments reading test from last spring. That’s down from 53 percent in 2021, and 55 percent in 2018. The decline mirrors the performance of sophomores around the state, and places the district tied for 24th out of 67 school districts. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: An appeals court has ruled that Miami Dade College is not entitled to collect $201,087 in attorney fees and costs for producing public records requested by a law firm involved in a 2016 case about a development project on college-owned land. MDC hadn’t provided an estimate or an invoice before producing the records. News Service of Florida.

Politics and education: It didn’t take long for Gov. DeSantis to go after Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Karla Hernandez-Mats, charging that as the Miami-Dade teachers union president, she helped shield a child predator from being fired for years. A closer look at the relationship between Hernandez-Mats and Wendell Nibbs auggests the association is complicated and a logical target for Republicans. Tampa Bay Times.

Starting a school: Ten Florida teachers who took the leap from the security of a public school job to starting their own schools talk about the challenges of the process and the rewards. Two things they quickly discovered: there were plenty of students interested, and the state’s scholarship and education savings account programs made alternative schooling a reality for many families. The research was conducted by Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer the scholarship programs and hosts this blog. The 74.

Around the nation: About 700 U.S. school leaders sent a letter Monday to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona asking for more guidance about how to apply for extensions to the deadlines for spending coronavirus relief funds. “The sooner we know whether a liquidation extension can be granted, the better we can plan for the most effective and efficient use of ESSER funds,” the letter stated. K-12 Dive. The Biden administration is partnering with job-recruiting companies to find new applicants for open teaching positions across the country. USA Today. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Parents must insist that their children are taught by trained professionals who both address children’s learning needs and keep them safe. Our children deserve better, and the state of Florida needs more solutions than the governor is offering. Anindya Kundu and Pedro Noguera, Miami Herald. A vision of the future of Florida classrooms, with retired cops replacing career teachers. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff