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State again investigating Broward construction program, teen resiliency survey, books and more

Around the state: A second state investigation has been launched into Broward’s troubled school bond program, Florida teens did well in overall resiliency in the recent state survey but continue to struggle with depression and bullying, Leon district officials and the teachers union reach a contract agreement, Hernando’s school board votes to remove two books from school libraries, several of the so-called “culture war” bills have run into trouble during this session, and legislators are considering bills that would require aspiring teachers to be trained on dealing with mass casualties and schools to teach the history of communism in grades K-12. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A Florida Department of Education auditor will conduct an investigation into the school district’s troubled $800 million construction bond program, Superintendent Peter Licata has told school board members. It’s the second state investigation into the program and will cover projects from 2014 to 2022. Three areas will be the focus of the investigation: Any “intentional or willful actions” to pass the bond in 2014 using “insufficient or misleading information,” district employees responsible for roofing problems, and separation packages for three former employees: chief of staff Jeff Moquin; David Watkins, director of school climate and diversity; and Ron Morgan, assistant chief building official. Sun-Sentinel.

Palm Beach: For the second time in the past month, a student has been arrested and accused of having a gun at William T. Dwyer High School. There were no injuries, and the student didn’t threaten any classmates, school officials said. WPTV.

Polk: A 14-year-old Auburndale High School student was hit by a car as she was walking to school Friday. She was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a possible concussion. Police said they don’t expect to file charges against the driver. WTVT.

Brevard: School officials want to expand the district’s voluntary prekindergarten program and improve marketing so that families know there are classes available. “If we could figure out a way to market more effectively to these potential students, I think that that’s huge,” said board chair Megan Wright. There are about 120 VPK providers and 1,400 students enrolled. Florida Today.

Osceola: A Poinciana High School physical education teacher is being credited for saving a student who began choking on gum. Erica Kane was taking attendance when gum got stuck in Jasmine Pinero’s throat. Kane stepped on to perform the Heimlich maneuver and dislodged the gum. WOFL.

Seminole: A school district mentoring program has graduated 97 percent of the students who have completed it, compared to 80 percent of their Florida peers, and about 90 percent of those students have enrolled in college, compared to 30 percent of all state students. Take Stock in Children mentors help students stay on course to graduate,  complete student aid forms and deal with personal issues. There are 107 students in the program. WKMG.

Marion: Parental reaction to the conversion of Wyomina Elementary School in Ocala to participate in a year-round school test was mixed, with some worried about the disruption to family schedules while others believe it will improve learning. For the next five years, Wyomina will have the same 180 days as all other students, but in 60-day trimesters with breaks in between instead of a longer vacation in the summer. Ocala Star-Banner. WCJB.

Leon: District officials and the union representing teachers have reached a contract that provides raises of $575 a year and an additional $100 for each year of teaching experience. The agreement, which has to be ratified by the school board and union members, will cost the district $5.12 million and will require reductions in administrative staff, Superintendent Rocky Hanna said. Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee Reports.

Santa Rosa: A two-year pilot program placing cameras on school buses to catch drivers who illegally pass stopped buses will go live March 4. District transportation director Travis Fulton said the test showed tens of thousands of violations just in the past year, and that each of the 200 buses averages three illegal passes a day. Violators caught on camera will be mailed a $225 fine. WEAR.

Hernando: School board members voted last week to remove two of three books challenged for sexual themes and racially charged content, even though an advisory committee had recommended all three remain available to students. The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person, and The Kite Runner will be taken out of school libraries after the 3-2 votes by the board. Board members voted 3-2 in favor of keeping the novel America in libraries. Suncoast News.

Martin: A school district maintenance worker has been arrested and charged with three counts of possession of child pornography. Deputies said Travis Stanton Merritt, 51, had videos on his phone of minor girls engaging in sex acts with adult males. Merritt has been suspended and will be terminated “as soon as policy allows,” said district spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo. TCPalm. WPEC.

Colleges and universities: Florida Memorial University has received a $1 million donation from JPMorgan Chase that the historically black university will use to expand its technology programs by hiring more staff, giving more scholarships and buying newer equipment. Miami Herald. Evelyn Keiser, a pioneer for women in education and a cofounder of Fort Lauderdale’s Keiser University, died Feb. 5 in Pompano Beach. She was 100 years old. Sun-Sentinel.

In the Legislature: Several of the so-called “culture war” bills have run into trouble during this session. USA Today Florida Network. Even as state universities begin curtailing activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion, state lawmakers are pushing further restrictions through teacher training. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Should aspiring teachers be trained on how to deal with a mass casualties incident at their school before they can be certified? That’s the idea behind HB 903, which calls for aspiring teachers to be schooled on “identifying, preventing, preparing, addressing, and responding to mass casualty incidents” as part of their certification process. If the Legislature approved it, it would take effect in the fall of 2025. WPTV. The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee will consider a proposal Tuesday that would require schools to teach “age and developmentally appropriate” lessons on the history of communism in grades K-12. Florida Politics.

Teen health survey: Florida has released the results of its statewide survey on youth resiliency, which replaced the state’s participation in the Center for Disease Control’s youth risk behavior survey after Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. called it inflammatory and sexualized. While teens scored highly in overall resiliency, the survey did show they continue to struggle with depression and bullying. WFTS.

Around the nation: Even as schools target the effects of social media and are offering more mental health services for students to overcome the impact of the pandemic, many parents are resisting and politicians are increasingly add more restrictions in the name of parental rights. Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: Metal detectors at schools might seem like overkill ― right up until the moment school officials are forced to answer questions about whether they did everything they could to prevent a tragedy from happening. TCPalm. Florida has somehow solved its shortage of teachers certified in reading and English for speakers of other languages, but the situation in every other certification area is dire. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Rather than cower to pressure and reverse course on divesting potential Chinese Communist Party influence from Florida’s schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his appointed officials should double down by addressing SB 846’s lack of enforcement mechanism and working with his state’s college and university presidents to rid Florida’s academic community of any and all CCP ties and vulnerabilities. Edward Woodson, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff

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