Broward backs off school closures for 2025, DeSantis signs education bills, deal rewards experienced, and more

Around the state: Broward’s superintendent says the district is no longer considering closing three schools, among five education-related bills signed into last Friday by Gov. Ron DeSantis are two that are intended to cut regulations for public school districts, plans for a special-needs charter school in Pasco County have been derailed by escalating costs, Martin County teachers reach a contract agreement with the district that calls for pay raises tied to experience, two Leon County schools remain closed today and all others are opening 30 minutes late after a severe storm hit the area Friday, and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s lawsuit against Florida State University was put on hold last week by a judge in North Carolina. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Superintendent Howard Hepburn announced Friday that the district is no longer considering closing three schools and moving a popular Montessori program. “School closures are no longer proposed at this stage,” district spokesman John Sullivan said. Instead, Hepburn “will recommend grade and program reconfigurations, explore partnerships, and sell property to regain students and bolster capital reserves.” The original plan, proposed by former superintendent Peter Licata in the face of declining enrollment and budget pressures, was widely unpopular with parents. Other elements that were less controversial will be kept, including converting Pines Middle in Pembroke Pines into a collegiate 6-12 academy and making Hollywood Central Elementary a K-8 school. School board members will discuss the latest changes at Tuesday’s workshop meeting. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ. WSVNWFOR.

Hillsborough: A former Gaither High School art teacher was arrested last week and accused of have a sexual relationship last year with a juvenile student at the school. Brian Singleton, 46, is charged with sexual battery as an authority figure over a student and soliciting sex acts with a child as an authority figure over a student. He was placed on administrative leave in December and resigned in March. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFTS. A 14-year-old student at Davidsen Middle School in Tampa was arrested Friday and accused of having a gun and ammunition at school. Resource officers were tipped that the boy had a gun in his backpack, and a search uncovered the firearm and nine bullets in a magazine for the gun. Deputies said the gun was stolen in 2021 during a burglary in Brandon. WFLA.

Palm Beach: Graduation ceremonies began May 9 for the school district and continue through May 23, with commencements at the biggest schools starting today. Most are being held at the South Florida Fairgrounds, and all are being livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel. May 30 is the final day of school, and the first day for students in the next school year is Aug. 12. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A 4th-grade teacher at San Jose Elementary School in Jacksonville has resigned after videos were emailed to school board members last week that showed her exposing herself in what appears to be an empty classroom. District officials reassigned the teacher after getting the videos, and she subsequently resigned. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. was critical of the district last week for being slow to act after teachers were accused of misconduct. WJAX. WTLV. A tree hit by lightning Friday fell through the roof of the Kids Learning Zone preschool in Jacksonville. The building was condemned, and the preschool will move to the other building on the property, which houses the program for infants. WJAX.

Pasco: Plans for a special-needs charter school have been derailed by escalating costs, according to district officials and their partners at Pepin Academies. School board members had committed $15 million to help Pepin open a school for about 400 students with special needs in grades 3-12 by the fall of 2025. But when the price rose to $18 million and Pepin missed the deadline for providing a letter of credit, the board ended the deal and said the $15 million will be redirected to other capital projects. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: The first of 23 graduations is Friday, and they continue through May 25 at various venues in the county. All will be livestreamed. The last day of school is May 24. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

Volusia: A former high school teacher was sentenced to 21 years in prison Friday for having sex with students who were 15 and 17 years old at the time. Arin Hankerd, 43, who taught at both Mainland and Atlantic high schools, will also have 30 years of probation after he gets out of prison and has been designated a sexual predator. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WFTV. An assistant principal at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach has been suspended without pay after an internal investigation showed she allowed students to use their cell phones during a recent state industry certification test. Brandy Meadows’ actions led to the results of all 82 tests being invalidated. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: Gulf Coast High School has decided that a drop in participation in music programs means that either band teacher Justin Goff or chorus director Lauren Pardee will have to transfer. Five years ago, 450 students were in the music program. Today, that number is 265, but school officials say neither of the programs is being cut. WINK.

Lake: Demolition is underway at the old Lee High School in Leesburg. The school was built in 1915 and closed in 2003, and a drive to preserve it failed because of significant structural issues. Completion of the work is expected this week. WKMG.

Manatee, Sarasota: High school graduation ceremonies begin Tuesday in Manatee County and Friday in Sarasota County, and continue through May 19. Six of the seven Manatee ceremonies will be held at LECOM Park, while the eight Sarasota graduations will be held at various venues. All graduations will be livestreamed. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Linda Carnes, a 9th-grade English teacher at Palmetto High School, celebrated 50 years on the job last week. She is the longest-serving teacher in the district. Bradenton Herald.

Leon, northwest Florida: All district schools will be open today except SAIL High School and Sabal Palm Elementary School but school buses won’t run because of road hazards caused by Friday’s storm, Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced Sunday. He said all other schools will open 30 minutes later than usual. A Leon woman was killed when a tree limb fell on her house during the storm, which caused widespread property damage and power outages and forced the closures of several school districts and colleges. Three Florida State University landmark buildings were among those damaged: Dick Howser Stadium, home of the FSU baseball team, the tent where the university’s “Flying High” Circus performs, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV. WFSU.

Alachua: Some students are challenging a Santa Fe High School rule that prohibits them from participating in student government class if they take dual-enrollment classes at Santa Fe College. “We have always focused on those kids that are Santa Fe High School students all day long,” said principal Timothy Wright, who said dual-enrollment students are still welcome to join clubs and athletic teams. WUFT. Mildred Russell, who was the District 2 school board member from August 2021 to November 2022, has died of cancer. She was appointed to the seat by Gov. DeSantis when Diyonne McGraw was removed after it was discovered she didn’t live in the district. McGraw subsequently moved and defeated Russell the following year to reclaim the seat. Gainesville Sun.

Martin: Teachers would be rewarded for experience under a tentative contract agreement reached by their union and the school district. Every year of experience would bring an $85 bump in a teacher’s base salary. They would also receive bonuses of $790, and teachers rated highly effective would get an extra $100 while teachers rated effective would receive $75. The deal, which will cost the district $1.5 million, will be voted on by teachers this week. If approved, it then goes to the school board May 21 for consideration. TCPalm.

Citrus: Darla Crotsley, a 1st-grade teacher at Homosassa Elementary School, is retiring this month at the age of 82. She taught in Pennsylvania and New Jersey before moving to Citrus County in 1995, where she resumed her career at Citrus Springs Elementary School, and then Homosassa Elementary. Citrus County Chronicle.

Putnam: A 9th-grader at Q.I. Roberts Junior-Senior High School in Florahome was arrested Friday and accused of having a gun at school. Deputies said the gun was in a holster inside the boy’s backpack. He told deputies he found the gun while walking to his bus stop. Palatka Daily News. WJXT.

Colleges and universities: The Atlantic Coast Conference’s lawsuit against Florida State University was put on hold last week by a judge in North Carolina until that state’s Supreme Court rules on FSU’s appeal of an earlier ruling by a court that denied the school’s motion to dismiss the case. FSU wants to leave the ACC, and the ACC wants the school to pay $572 million to do so. Associated Press. Gov. DeSantis said last week that he supports a $75 million budget allocation by the Legislature for starting a University of Florida graduate campus in Jacksonville. Florida Times-Union. Orange Technical College has opened a new branch in Eatonville to offer trades instruction and train public school employees. Central Florida Public Media. Florida State College at Jacksonville has chosen Manta Ray as a mascot. WJAX. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville Today. Harold Mills, a trustee at both the University of Central Florida and Rollins College, was arrested last week in Seminole County and accused of soliciting a prostitute and indecent exposure. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV. WESH. Graduation ceremonies were held last weekend for Pensacola State College, Edward Waters University, Palm Beach State College and Stetson University.

Education bills signed: Five education bills were signed into law last week by Gov. DeSantis. SB 7002 and SB 7004 provide districts some relief from regulation by waiving certification fees for certain educators, allowing district budgets to be published online instead of in newspapers, and letting districts pay more for teachers with advanced degrees. HB 1403 speeds the process to get state scholarship money distributed and expands vouchers for special needs students. SB 7032 provides financial help for dropouts to earn a diploma or workforce credentials, and HB 1361 provides $2 million in grants for middle and high schools to implement artificial intelligence programs for tutoring. Politico. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. WKMG. Florida Politics.

Chaplains in schools: Starting July 1, Florida’s schools could provide volunteer chaplains to provide support and services for students. But what had been a rush for states to copy the bill first approved in Texas is now a trickle. Of the 15 states that followed Texas’ lead, only Florida has followed through so far. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: U.S. News & World Report ranks Florida high school graduates 5th in the nation for “college readiness” even though the state’s SAT math scores are dismal. So why is the ranking so high? It seems likely that that the state’s continued emphasis on college entrance exams has contributed at least a little bit. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The Hillsborough school district needs to be much more open and convincing about the direction of 33 struggling schools if it hopes to win the voters’ support for additional tax revenue in November. Voters need to know what they’re buying, and the likelihood that more money will solve the problem. Tampa Bay Times. It took me six years to learn what the Scripps National Spelling Bee was trying to teach. I didn’t have to get rid of my fear to be the best. I just had to be brave. Dev Shah, Tampa Bay Times.


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BY NextSteps staff

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