High school graduation rate declines expected, Broward schools reopening, DOE intervention in Hernando, and more

Graduation declines? School officials around the state are bracing for graduation rates to decline by as much as 10 percent this year because of the ongoing effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of changes in students using alternative tests to be eligible for graduation. Students who choose to use the SAT test to become eligible for graduation now must score a 480 or higher on the math and reading, a 50-point increase over the previous standard. And they will no longer be able to use the PERT math test as a comparative score for passing the Algebra 1 course exam needed to graduate. Students from low-income schools are expected to be most affected. District data suggests 400 at-risk seniors in Leon County will be affected, 300 in Lake County and 200 in Bay County. “While we currently face many educational challenges, I cannot think of one with more potential for harm or disruption than applying new concordant scores to the Class of 2023,” Lake Superintendent Diane Kornegay wrote in a letter to legislators last week. Andres Malave, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said, “Leaders, having received this information late this week, are aware and reviewing the issue.” Politico Florida.

Around the state: Broward schools are reopening today after closing for two days last week when record rainfall caused flooding, the Florida Department of Education said a Hernando teacher who made a threatening statement toward students was removed from the classroom only after it intervened with the school district, Palm Beach school officials say uncertainty about next year’s budget is causing them to pause school renovations and the start of construction on a new school, a Collier County teacher is under investigation for showing middle school students a video celebrating “Confederate History Month,” a second Leon County charter school has been notified that it’s failing to adhere to its contract with the district, and superintendents from around the state say the Sarasota school board’s consideration of hiring an educational consultant to conduct a “district improvement study” without a recommendation from a superintendent is extremely unusual. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School officials said Sunday they will operate on a normal schedule for all schools today after being closed two days last week because of record rainfall and widespread flooding. “All school campuses and administrative offices will be open. After-school care, events and activities will also operate on a normal schedule,” the district announced on Twitter. Friday, district officials said at least 20 campuses had sustained an accumulated damage of $2 million. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ.

Orange: Wekiva Elementary School kindergartners will learn how to ride a bike during physical education class under a collaboration with All Kids Bike that’s being funded by Adrenaline Bike Works on Mount Dora. It’s the first program of its kind in central Florida schools. “Our whole goal is to teach every child in America how to ride a bike in their P.E. class,” said Lisa Weyer, the executive director of All Kids Bike. “Our hope is that we get into all the public school systems in the United States.” Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: District officials said they will halt renovations at Roosevelt and Carter high schools and table discussions about building a high school in Riviera Beach because of uncertainty in their budget for the 2023-2024 school year. They said the new universal school choice law, a proposal for more cost-sharing with charter schools and enrollment questions have left them without the information they need to estimate the district’s revenue. District chief financial officer Heather Frederick said she’s never seen such a gap between budget proposals brought by politicians in the House and Senate. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Police and prosecutors are expected to question 140 students from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts as part of their investigation into faculty conduct at the school. An outside outside law firm will examine handling of “reports of improper conduct over the history of the school,” Superintendent Diana Greene has told parents of students. School employees will undergo new training on ethics and responsibilities of educators, and students will be offered voluntary after-school sessions on “deflecting, rejecting, and reporting” sexual advances and their rights under federal Title IX protections against sex-based discrimination. The moves were initiated after the school’s vocal department chair, Jeffrey Clayton, was arrested last month and accused of lewd conduct with a student, and two other teachers were removed from the classroom.  Florida Times-Union. WTLV.

Lee: Fort Myers High School has canceled its last seven baseball games this season after its head coach and assistant coach were fired and players staged a walkout that resulted in a forfeit. Assistant coach Alex Carcioppolo was fired Feb. 16 after using a racial slur in a text message to the team. Head coach Kyle Burchfield was removed April 5, with no reason given, and some members of the team walked out April 6. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX.

Brevard: The 11 semifinalists for the superintendent’s job submitted written and video responses Friday that have been posted on the district website. They answered questions about the state’s new universal school choice law, preparing students for the workforce, dealing with negative comments or criticism, issues they would prioritize and the role the central office of the district plays. Finalists will be chosen Tuesday, with interviews April 27 and 28, and a superintendent being named May 2. Florida Today.

Volusia: Construction has begun on an elementary school in Daytona Beach that will be named after a longtime district principal. The Turie T. Small Elementary School honors a pioneer who was the principal of South Street School and served 50 years in education. WFTV.

Collier: District officials are investigating a Manatee Middle School teacher who showed a class a video celebrating “Confederate History Month” in April. The video states that the Civil War “may be more correctly titled” as the “War to Prevent Southern Independence.” School spokesman Chad Oliver said, “It should be noted that Confederate History Month is not included in Collier County Public Schools’ curriculum guides and instructional materials. This video was neither sanctioned nor approved by the district and is no longer accessible. This incident is being promptly addressed and an investigation is underway by the district.” WFTX. WINK. WBBH. A former office manager at Sabal Palm Elementary School has been arrested and accused of stealing $8,114.45 from the school. Deputies said Cecilia Hernandez, 50, had put some of the money in her personal bank account. WBBH.

Sarasota: Superintendents from around the state call the Sarasota school board’s consideration of hiring an educational consultant to conduct a “district improvement study” without a recommendation from a superintendent extremely unusual. “It’s something I’ve never heard of before,” said Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning. “It would send a loud message to the superintendent that they don’t value my opinion and they don’t trust my employees to get the work done.” Sarasota board members will consider the contract at Tuesday’s meeting. WFTS.

Escambia: School board members decided last week to overrule a review committee and order the removal of two books from school libraries. Push by Sapphire and Lucky by Alice Sebold had been challenged over sexually explicit content. The board then decided to halt the review process until the district gets further guidance from the state about what violates the law. Pensacola News Journal. Negotiations between the district and Charter Schools USA are continuing over the fate of Warrington Middle School, school board members said during a meeting Friday. The school will either be turned over to the charter company or close, but district officials are wary of Charter’s proposal to expand the school into a K-12. WEAR.

Leon: A second charter school has been put on notice that it has not fulfilled its contract with the school district. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said Governors Charter School students have not received grades for previous quarters or years; attendance is not being taken consistently; students are missing immunization records; missing documentation for Federal Title I reimbursements; missing SESSIR data, and no documentation of employment of mental health staff and a law enforcement officer. “The foregoing facts lead us to conclude that Governors Charter Academy is grossly out of compliance,” Hanna wrote. The school has five days to respond with a plan to comply with the contract. Earlier this month, Hanna notified the Tallahassee Classical School that it didn’t have a minimum of five members for more than 60 days, a violation of the charter school contract. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV. WTXL.

Alachua: A civics and law program studying the U.S. government and legal system has been launched at the Micanopy Academy charter school. School officials said the program “is the first such dedicated course of study in Florida” and will “cover a wide range of topics that will build upon the school’s 7th-grade civics course to include politics, case studies, economics, ethics and more. Through real-world engagements such as mock debates and trials, field trips and internships, students will deepen their understanding of U.S. law and how it affects their lives.” Mainstreet Daily News.

Hernando: A Fox Chapel Middle School teacher who reportedly said she “wanted to shoot some students due to them not performing to their ability” was apparently removed from the classroom only after the Florida Department of Education intervened. A statement issued Friday by the DOE read, “Earlier this week, the department was informed of a situation regarding student safety at a school in Hernando County. Upon the department bringing the concern to the superintendent Wednesday evening, only then did the district remove the teacher from the school, effective yesterday, Thursday, April 13.” District officials said they had no further comment. WGFL. Florida Department of Education.

Putnam: A 6th-grade teacher at Middleton Burney Elementary in Crescent City who is also a youth pastor was arrested Friday and accused of possession of child pornography. Deputies said Edward Wilds had more than 54,000 child pornography images on his electronic devices. He’s been removed from the classroom, according to Superintendent Rick Surrency. WTLV. WGFL. WJXT.

Walton: A school bus driver hit a car in a private driveway Thursday, then drove away and continued dropping students at their stops. The driver of the car the bus hit followed it, and when deputies arrived at the scene the school bus driver was cited for hit and run and improper backing. WJHG.

Around the nation: Scholastic is apologizing to a children’s book author for asking her to delete a reference to “the deeply American tradition of racism” describing the story’s real-life historical backdrop in World War II when the U.S. government forcibly relocated more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to dozens of internment sites from 1942-1945. Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall refused, calling the request deeply offensive and a “horrible demand for censorship.” NPR. A cart often used to wheel televisions and overhead projectors around schools is being recalled after reports that three children died between 2006-2016 when they tipped over. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: Nine public school district superintendents across Florida (out of 29 in which superintendents are appointed rather than elected) have resigned or been replaced since November. You can thank the emphasis on book restrictions, gay or transgender “indoctrination” in classrooms, critical race theory, and other “culture war” issues that are changing the environment in which school administrators must operate. TCPalm. Sarasota County School Board members, what exactly is it you feel is so broken it requires an expensive and disruptive overhaul by an outside entity to whom you’re willing to cede inordinate control, though it knows nothing about our history, our district’s culture or our community’s values? Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Diversity, equity and inclusion programs at universities are not a political filter but a benchmark to ensure we not only learn about DEI in a learning environment but to comply with a standard that enforces anti-discrimination laws in education and the workforce. Carvis C. Durr, Orlando Sentinel. I like to think that the legal tab to the Palm Beach County School District included some billable time that might best be described as “introduction to lawyering.” Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. The atmosphere of censorship, intimidation and racism in our schools is a redo of the state’s shameful racist history. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff