Black history debate intensifies, Parkland school tour, excused absences policy tightened in Marion, top court to hear UF fees suit, and more

Around the state: The debate over the state’s new standards for teaching black history continues to engulf the presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Miami-Dade teachers will receive raises of 7 to 10 percent under an agreement with the district, a bipartisan congressional delegation will tour the site of the Parkland school shooting in Broward, the director of a new office in the Florida Department of Education set up to “facilitate partnerships with district leaders” has spent much of his time corresponding and meeting with conservative school board members, the state Supreme Court said Thursday it will hear a student’s lawsuit that contends the University of Florida should return fees to students during the time the campus was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marion County school officials tighten their policy on excused absences, Leon school board members tentatively approve a budget of $666 million, and Polk’s school superintendent said he’s shocked and disappointed by the performance of the district’s students on the recent state reading test. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Teachers will get pay raises ranging from 7 to 10 percent under a tentative contract agreement reached this week between the district and the educators’ union. Salaries for paraprofessionals and school security monitors would go up 6 percent, and wages for clerical staff and part-time teachers would rise by 4 percent. The deal also boosts supplements for special education teachers and for educators with advanced degrees, and increases the starting teacher salary to $52,470. Union members and the school board have to approve the agreement. WFOR. WPLG. Miami Herald. WSVN.

Broward: A bipartisan congressional delegation will tour the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building where 17 students and staff were murdered and 17 others wounded by gunman Nikolas Cruz on Feb. 14, 2018. “You will have the somber experience of touring Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the site of the deadliest high school shooting in our country’s history. Immediately following the tour, members will have the opportunity to meet with survivors and parents to discuss the challenges children face at school and to help find ways to mitigate these present dangers,” U.S. Reps. Jared Moskowitz and Mario Diaz-Balart wrote in a letter inviting their colleagues to a private tour and a roundtable on Aug. 4, the same day a re-enactment of the shooting is scheduled, with live ammunition, as part of a court case. The building is scheduled to be torn down later this year. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Politics. WPLG. School board members have rejected the recommendation of state administrative law judge and will not reinstate a former teacher who was fired in connection to sexual abuse charges that were later dropped. Wyman Gresham taught at Lauderhill 6-12 until the allegations were made, then worked two years at the book depository before he was fired in December 2019. He said he will appeal the board’s decision. Sun-Sentinel.

Palm Beach: One of the students allegedly involved in the 2021 sexual assault that led to five Palm Beach Central High employees being arrested this week for failing to pass along the report to authorities has himself been arrested. The charge is lewd or lascivious battery committed by a person under 18 on a person younger than 16. Palm Beach Post. Reggie Myers has been named the interim principal at Palm Beach Central High, replacing the arrested Darren Edgecomb. Myers is a former principal at Park Vista High who retired in 2021. WPTV. WPEC. Teachers can get some professional advice on how to dress on the first day of school from the nonprofit organization Dress for Success Palm Beaches’ teacher appreciation program. “After the pandemic, we felt a lot of teachers were struggling to go back into the workforce and we know teachers don’t get paid a lot,” said Joe Ann Fletcher, executive director of the group. “We decided we would help them feel good about themselves, so we wanted to dress them from the inside out.” WPBF.

Polk: More than half of the district’s students failed the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking reading test this spring in preliminary scores released by the Florida Department of Education. Fifty-eight percent of 3rd-graders, 61 percent of 8th-graders and 60 percent of sophomores scored below grade level. Only 4th-graders finished above 50 percent, with 53 percent earning a score of 3, 4 or 5 on the test that’s graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with a score of 3 considered grade level. Superintendent Frederick Heid said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the scores. Lakeland Now.

Pasco: Teachers recently underwent four days of training to prepare for the school year that begins Aug. 7. They were briefed on new laws and rules, materials and strategies, discipline, grading practices and more. But also tucked in was a 90-minute session reminding them to not forget why they became teachers. “Your days are going to be challenging. You are going to want to throw in the towel sometimes,” said Pasco eSchool teacher and session leader Desiré Mosser. “Remember the why that got you into this profession. You have an ability to make an impact in students’ lives every single day.” Tampa Bay Times.

Marion: The school district has tightened its policy on excused absences, and the change has angered some parents who call it invasive. No longer will a simple note to the note to the school excuse an absence. A specific reason has to be included, and if the absence is tied to a death the family is requested to also provide an obituary or prayer card. WOFL.

Leon: A budget of $666 million for the 2023-2024 fiscal year was tentatively approved this week by school board members. That’s an increase of about 2 percent over last year’s spending of $653.4 million. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the budget emphasizes higher employee salaries and benefits, school safety and property insurance. With federal COVID funding money running out, Hanna said the district also needs to find $7 million to pay for 90 positions that were added during the pandemic. Sept. 7 is the final public hearing and vote by the board on the plan. Tallahassee Democrat.

Clay: All students at 20 district schools will receive free meals during the 2023-2024 school year regardless of their family income and will not have to fill out an application, district officials have announced. Parents of students at other schools will have to apply to determine if they’re eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Reduced prices are 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast. Students who don’t qualify will pay $1.75 for breakfast. Elementary students pay $2.50 for lunch and older students pay $2.75. Clay Today.

Colleges and universities: Florida’s Supreme Court said Thursday that it will hear a student’s lawsuit that contends the University of Florida should return fees to students during the time the campus was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s one of several cases now in courts in Florida and elsewhere in the country. No date was set for arguments. A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in January that an Alachua County judge should have dismissed the case, leading to the appeal to the top court. A key issue is whether a contract to provide services paid through fees existed between UF and the student. The appeals court ruled there was no express written contract, and therefore UF was protected from the suit by sovereign immunity, which generally shields government agencies from liability. News Service of Florida. Bethune-Cookman University provost William Berry has been named acting president of the school. He replaces interim president Lawrence Drake, who took over leadership duties in June 2022 but resigned the position at the end of last month. Berry is the third temporary leader at the Daytona Beach school since E. LaBrent Chrite abruptly resigned in March 2021. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The evolution of the effort to allow college athletes to be compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses was the subject of a seminar Thursday in Tallahassee reviewing the rules in-state and nationally. News Service of Florida.

Black history standards: The furor over the state’s new black history teaching standards continues to dominate the presidential campaign of Gov. DeSantis. Thursday, he again defended the standards against charges that they imply there were skills-learning benefits for slaves, sparred with a reporter in Iowa and directly criticized conservative black U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida for suggesting that part of the standards needs to change. Donalds, who supports Donald Trump, was mystified that he’s become a target of the campaign, saying, “what’s crazy to me is I expressed support for the vast majority of the new African American history standards and happened to oppose one sentence that seemed to dignify the skills gained by slaves as a result of their enslavement. Anyone who can’t accurately interpret what I said is disingenuous and is desperately attempting to score political points.” Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus is calling on the Justice Department to investigate whether the changes to the state’s curriculum are a violation of federal discrimination laws and the College Board is rejecting claims by DeSantis and others that some parts of the new standards align with an Advanced Placement African American history course Florida rejected early this year. Politico Florida. CBS News. USA Today. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics.

DOE office’s activities: The director of a new office in the Florida Department of Education set up to “facilitate partnerships with district leaders” has spent much of his time corresponding and meeting with conservative school board members, including Moms for Liberty members and those endorsed by Gov. DeSantis, according to a review of records. Terry Stoops began work as director of the Office of Academically Successful and Resilient Districts in April. Before that he worked for the conservative John Locke Foundation in North Carolina, focusing on education policy. DOE’s press office didn’t respond to requests about the office and Stoops. Orlando Sentinel.

Private teacher recruitment: Florida’s private schools are trying to raise teacher salaries to compete with the escalating pay provided by public school districts, but are also countering by stressing the perks of less bureaucracy, smaller classes and greater flexibility. “I have found that teachers are drawn to our schools for a variety of reasons,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Miami. “Many are seeking our specific religious mission. Teachers often cite the warm family-focused environment of our schools. Many teachers have told me that they are able to focus on teaching children without the effects of politics or an impeding bureaucracy.” reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: The Florida State Board of Education has an opportunity to raise expectations to ensure students are prepared for the future. I urge board members to rise to the occasion and raise passing scores so students are prepared to successfully compete for opportunities with students from across the country. Jeb Bush, Miami Herald. Florida’s ham-handed and offensive assertion about the “benefits” the enslaved derived in America puts it at the head of a centuries-long effort to whitewash the New World’s original sin. Tim Padgett, WLRN. New College trustee Christopher Rufo’s inordinate influence in Florida is a lesson for the day, sooner or later, when the Florida Legislature remembers that it’s supposed to be an equal, independent branch of government. Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff