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Broward school closures under consideration, social media ban bill revisions, and more

Around the state: A plan to close or repurpose at least five Broward schools in 2025 gets its first public hearing Thursday, revisions in the bill to ban social media accounts for students under 16 are being discussed today in a Senate committee meeting, a bill reinstating COLA adjustments to state workers’ pensions is in jeopardy, Citrus Superintendent Sandra Himmel announces she’s retiring after 20 years of leading the district, Hernando school board members will decide Tuesday whether to remove three challenged books from school libraries, a Polk school board member has been found by the the state ethics commission to have a conflict of interest, and the Marion, Hernando and Escambia school districts announce their teacher of the year winners. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: At least five district schools would be closed or repurposed in 2025 under a proposal from Superintendent Peter Licata that will be discussed at a public hearing Thursday. Dozens more could follow. A list of 68 schools with average enrollment of just 59 percent of capacity was released last week. About 54,000 school seats are unfilled, and a decline of another 4,300 students is expected next fall because of last year’s law making state vouchers available to any student, school officials say. “We have to understand that the more money we spend on students that aren’t here, the less money we spend on students that are here,” Licata told the school board last week. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. A website announcing the candidacy of former Fort Lauderdale city commissioner Heather Moraitis for the District 3 school board seat was disputed last week by Moraitis, who said she has thought about running for the board but hasn’t made a decision yet. District 3 incumbent Sarah Leonardi, who was elected in 2020, is the only announced candidate. The deadline to qualify for the August ballot is June 14. Sun-Sentinel.

Tampa Bay area: With the end of hundreds of millions in federal pandemic spending for programs to recover students’ learning losses, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco school officials are carefully considering what programs they want to keep, and how to pay for them. “It’s all about priorities,” said Pasco school board member Colleen Beaudoin. In Hillsborough, continuation of the Cambridge advanced program in high schools was the focus. In Pinellas, it was the Read Across Pinellas program that pays for individualized tutoring, and Pasco hopes to keep instructional assistants added to kindergarten classerooms. Tampa Bay Times.

Polk: School board member Lori Cunningham has been found by the Florida Commission on Ethics to have committed a conflict of interest because her company, Applied Images, sold $16,000 worth of school uniform shirts to Lake Wales Charter Schools and a Dundee school over the past four years. That is “a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between her private interests and the performance of her public duties,” the commission ruled. Cunningham has 10 days to appeal the Jan. 30 ruling. Lake Wales News.

Brevard: Two candidates are in the running to succeed Jennifer Jenkins as the District 3 representative on the school board in this year’s election. Redistricting moved Jenkins’ home from District 3 to District 4, and she’s said she’s not running for a second term. John Thomas, CEO of the Home Builders and Contractors Association of Florida’s Space Coast, filed to run in May, and now he’s being joined by Amber Yantz, who works in real estate and filed for the seat last week. Both are Republicans. Jenkins is the only Democrat on the board. Florida Today. Construction has begun on a new Brevard Adult & Community Education CDL training facility in Cocoa. Superintendent Mark Rendell said that it will be at the core of a new technical college, which is expected to open in two years, and the district is also talking with local aerospace companies to identify their needs. WFTV.

Marion: Jennifer Brown, a math teacher at Forest High School in Ocala, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible for the statewide honor. Ocala Star-Banner. A 14-year-old student at Howard Middle School in Ocala was arrested Friday and accused of posting a threat on the social media site Snapchat to commit a shooting at the school. He faces a charge of a charge of written threats to kill or do bodily harm. WKMG. WCJB.

Escambia: Cassi McGee, a 4th-grade teacher at Pine Meadow Elementary School, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year and now moves on to the statewide competition. WEAR.

Hernando: Jaime Suarez, a math teacher for gifted children at the Challenger K-8 School in Spring Hill, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year, and is now eligible for the state competition. Hernando Sun. School board members will vote Tuesday whether to keep three books that have been challenged for content. All were flagged by Julia Thomas, who belongs to the Moms for Liberty activist group. School book review committees have recommended all three stay in school libraries. The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person has been challenged at Hernando High School for “inflammatory racial commentary” and more, and The Kite Runner and America at Nature Coast Technical School for sexual content. Suncoast News.

Citrus: Sandra Himmel, school superintendent for the past 20 years, has announced she will retire at the end of the calendar year. Himmel graduated from Citrus High School, then taught there before successfully running for the school board. After serving two terms on the board, she won the superintendent’s race in 2004. Himmel has thrown her support in this year’s race to assistant superintendent Scott Hebert, who announced his candidacy in the August primary after Himmel’s decision. Citrus County Chronicle. Florida Politics.

Sumter: Logan Brown, a business and geometry teacher at the Villages Charter High School, has announced his candidacy for the superintendent’s job in the school district. He joins Richard Allen Shirley Jr. in the race to succeed Shirley’s father, also named Richard, who is retiring after leading the district since 1996. Villages News.

Monroe: School officials are proceeding with plans to build 150 units of affordable housing for teachers in Key West, if they can get $20 million from the state. To move ahead, workers in the district headquarters will have to be relocated to Bruce Hall on United Street so it can be torn down for the housing project. Key West Citizen. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Florida A&M University’s law school dean has resigned after the trend of poor bar exam passage rates for students has continued. In July, only 41.7 percent of FAMU students passed the exam, after only 52.6 percent passed in July 2022. Deidre Keller, who had been the dean four years, will remain on the faculty. Tallahassee Democrat. A physics professor at the University of Tampa has been arrested and charged with child sex exploitation in Georgia. Ethan Deneault has been placed on administrative leave. WTSP. WTVT.

In the Legislature: Revisions in a bill that would ban students under 16 from having social media accounts will be discussed today by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The similar House bill, which was approved by the House, is heading for a review by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. The revisions are intended to address concerns about the legality of the bill. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. A measure in the House to reverse a 2011 decision removing a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for teachers and other workers receiving state pensions is in jeopardy after Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she didn’t see “it making it to the finish line.” Florida Politics.

COVID grand jury report: A statewide grand jury empaneled by Gov. Ron DeSantis to investigate “criminal or wrongful activity” related to COVID-19 vaccines has issued its first interim report. It concludes that lockdowns, masks and lockdowns were ineffective in stopping the spread of the virus. The conclusions contradict recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and drew criticism from some medical experts who questioned what doctors, scientists and professors the grand jury spoke to. Sun-Sentinel.

Around the nation: SAT exams will move online this spring for all U.S. students. The digital version will be shorter, going from three hours to two, and students will be allowed to use calculators for the math portion. Students can use tablets or laptops for the exam. CBS News. More than 200 U.S. school districts are suing social media companies, contending that their products are harmful to students’ mental health. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Removing sociology from the State of Florida higher education system follows a few-years-long pattern of politically driven extreme measures. The only difference is that the intensity of the actions has increased, hurting the quality of education and society as a whole. Saso Venovski, Orlando Sentinel. As we watch the sustained attacks, the pain and the suffering Florida’s so-called leaders continue to inflict on our children, I often think of the African proverb, “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” Barrington Salmon, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff

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