Choice and school closings, rethinking laptops, 13 from Florida in national spelling bee, and more

Around the state: Florida’s wildly popular school choice programs are drawing thousands of students away from public schools and prompting some large districts to consider closing dozens of underenrolled schools, Orange County officials say the cost of repairing laptops is not sustainable and they’re looking for ways to save money, 13 Florida students are competing this week in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a “bike bus” program is gaining popularity at a Miami-Dade elementary school, a Volusia County 4th-grader is killed when a vehicle hit her bike Friday morning as she rode to school, and graduation ceremonies continued at districts around the state. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: After seeing videos of a “bike bus” at an elementary school in Portland, Ore., a parent of a student at Springview Elementary School in Miami Springs proposed students and their parents ride bikes to school every Friday. It started with about seven riders a year ago, and now up to 20 regularly participate in the Springview Bike Bus, with a turnout of 45 on the May 8 ride that coincided with National Bike and Roll to School Day. Children look forward to the weekly rides, said parent Monique Gonzalez. “My daughter jumps out of bed,” she said. “It kind of serves as a beautiful reward after a week of working so hard at school.” Miami Herald.

Orange: The district has been providing laptops to students since 2013, but officials now say that maintaining the laptops is not sustainable and they’re looking for ways to cut costs. “The repair cost is not something we can continue to sustain,” Superintendent Maria Vazquez said at a recent meeting. Staff is considering leasing programs as a way to cut costs for repairing older laptops, and also may reconsider allowing younger students to take their laptops home. In the past two years, the district has purchased more than 183,000 new laptops and refurbished nearly 20,500. Orlando Sentinel. More than 1,160 students from the Florida Virtual School received high school diplomas last week in a ceremony in Orlando. WJAX.

Palm Beach: Students from Seminole Ridge, Suncoast and Atlantic high schools have been awarded their diplomas in graduation ceremonies this month. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: County commissioners have released $115 million in educational impact fees that the school district will use to build a 2,500-student high school in the Poinciana area. Another $59 million was released for modernization and construction of other schools. School officials expect enrollment to grow in the northeast part of the county, where as many as 15,000 homes could be built in the near future. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A charter school company with nine schools in the Tampa Bay area is in a dispute with a key service provider that has landed in court. Plato Academy wants to fire Superior Services, which runs the early learning and extended day programs at all nine campuses, for allegedly violating state school safety rules. Plato served Superior a termination notice, but Superior has sent a letter to parents saying that it is going nowhere. It has sued Plato, alleging the company has violated its agreement. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Graduation ceremonies have been held for Palm Bay, Viera, Cocoa and Edgewood high schools. Florida Today. A student at Oak Park Elementary School in Titusville brought a grenade to school Friday. District officials initially thought it was a toy, but later said it was a real grenade that was incapable of exploding. WOFL.

Volusia: Graduation ceremonies have been held for Mainland, Seabreeze, Spruce Creek, Atlantic, Deltona, Pine Ridge, New Smyrna Beach, University, Taylor and Volusia Online high schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal. ShaoLan Kamaly, a 4th-grade student at Sugar Mill Elementary School in Port Orange, was killed Friday morning when a vehicle hit the bike she was riding as the driver pulled out of the dropoff area near the school entrance. Police are continuing the investigation. WOFL. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WESH. WFTV.
Manatee: Bradenton Christian School held graduation ceremonies last Friday. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. All seven county high schools will have weapons detecting systems in place when schools reopen in August, and the machines will also be deployed randomly at middle schools. The systems are touchless and walk-through, and similar to those used at many sporting and entertainment events. WWSB.
Collier: Graduation ceremonies were held last week for Naples, Golden Gate, Lely, Immokalee, Palmetto Ridge and Lorenzo Walker Tech high schools. Naples Daily News.
St. Johns: School board members will consider removing four books from school library shelves at a special meeting today. They are: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Freedom Writer’s Diary by the Freedom Writers, L8r, G8r by Harry N. Abrams, and A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard. All are intended for high school students. WJXT.
Marion: Students from Forest, Dunnellon, Lake Weir and Trinity Catholic high schools received their diplomas in ceremonies Saturday. Ocala Star Banner.
St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Graduation ceremonies were held last week for St. Lucie West Centennial High School, the Pine and St. Edward’s schools, and Lincoln Park, Somerset College Prep and Fort Pierce Westwood academies. TCPalm.
Escambia: Graduation ceremonies have been held for Escambia, Washington and Pensacola high schools. Pensacola News Journal.
Leon: Graduation ceremonies were held last weekend for Chiles and Lincoln high schools. Tallahassee Democrat. The superintendent of the Florida State University Schools for the past nine years has resigned to take a job with a charter school company. Stacy Chambers leaves next week to join Charter Schools USA, and will be replaced on an interim basis by Christopher Small, the school’s educational program director. Tallahassee Democrat.
Okaloosa: Students from Crestview High School were awarded their diplomas in a graduation ceremony Friday. Northwest Florida Daily News. The district has joined the state’s Summer Food Service Program to provide free breakfasts and lunches to children 18 and under. Meals will be served at a variety of sites. Areas where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free and reduced-price meals during the school year are eligible. WKRG.
Alachua: Many school officials are looking forward to July 1, when a new law goes into effect that places restrictions on book challenges in schools. “(Challenges have) taken up at least 90 percent of my time in doing the research, and interpreting the law, and, you know, putting together the reviews, and the meetings, and the hearings, and reading the books,” district media specialist Patty Duval said at a book review committee meeting last week. WUFT.
Santa Rosa: Graduation ceremonies were held last weekend at Pace, Navarre and Gulf Breeze high schools. Pensacola News Journal.
Bay: Students from Mosley High School graduated in a ceremony last week. Panama City News Herald. Abdullah Mubarak, who graduated last week from Rutherford High School, was the only county student to win a National Merit Scholarship. He plans to attend Duke University this fall. Panama City News Herald.
Citrus: Graduation ceremonies were held last week for Seven Rivers Christian, Lecanto and Crystal River high schools. Citrus County Chronicle.
Highlands: Students from Sebring High School and the Highlands Virtual School received diplomas in ceremonies last week. Highlands News-Sun. A charter bus driver has been arrested and accused of driving under the influence. Keith Shifflett, 55, was driving 30 Sebring High School students to Daytona Beach for a class trip when parents who were following saw him running red lights and cutting off drivers. One driver pulled in front of the bus to stop it. WTVT.
Columbia: Demolition of Niblack Elementary School in Lake City will begin this week. Students from the 70-year-old school will be moved to Melrose Park Elementary while a new school is being built with funds from a half-cent sales tax approved by voters. It’s expected to be open by the fall of 2025. “It is bittersweet,” said principal Makeba Murphy. “I went to 6th grade here. Lots of memories here.” WCJB.
Washington: Students from Vernon High School received their diplomas in a ceremony on Friday. Foster Folly News.
Gulf: Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka high school students were awarded their diplomas last week at commencement ceremonies. Port St. Joe Star.
Colleges and universities: New College of Florida alumni are criticizing school leaders for removing trees and plants from the school’s campus near the Uplands neighborhood to build beach volleyball courts and a multi-use field that are expected to be completed by the time opens this fall. “All of these projects have included consultations with environmental and biological experts to ensure the environmental footprint of New College is enhanced,” college officials said in a statement. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A University of Florida student has been banned from the campus for three years for allegedly being involved in a scheme to divert biomedical samples of dangerous drugs and toxins from a campus laboratory to China. Nongnong “Leticia” Zheng, a 21-year-old senior marketing major, has not yet been charged but is the target of a grand jury investigation. Fresh Take Florida. Florida International University has placed its police chief, Alexander Casas, on leave. School officials did not explain why, but there are reports that he’s been accused of groping employees and behaving inappropriately. Miami Herald.
National spelling bee: Preliminaries begin today for 245 contestants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee being held in National Harbor, Md. The quarterfinals and semifinals are Wednesday, with the finals Thursday. All competition is being shown on the ION television network. Florida students competing are: Claire Smith, 13, Volusia County; Nicasio David, 13, Lee; Sree Vidya Siliveri, 13, St. Johns; Camila Sanchez Izquierdo, 13, Miami-Dade; Jasmine Perez, 11, Broward; Rylan Wise, 13, Collier; Elvis Avetis, 13, Orange; Nathan Crabbendam, 13, Orange; Velvizhi Sethirayar, 11, Orange; Amara Chepuri, 11, Manatee; Bruhat Soma, 12, Hillsborough; Jordin Oremosu, 14, Hillsborough; and Allie Winsor, 13, Leon. Dev Shah, a 14-year-old from Pinellas County, won in 2023. Scripps National Spelling Bee. Associated Press.
School choice and closings: Florida’s wildly popular school choice programs are drawing thousands of students away from public schools, prompting some large districts to consider closing dozens of underenrolled schools. Broward, for instance, has 49,000 empty classroom seats and the school board is pushing to close schools to save money. “If your product is better, you’ll be fine. The problem is, they are a relic of the past — a monopolized system where you have one option,” Chris Moya, a Florida lobbyist representing charter schools, said of traditional public schools. “And when parents have options, they vote with their feet.” Politico Florida.

Book removals: State education officials are misrepresenting the law governing book removals and restrictions, charges the free speech advocate group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. “The overall result is unnecessary and likely unconstitutional censorship emptying libraries throughout the state,” the group said in a statement last week. The Florida Department of Education did not comment. USA Today Florida Network.

Around the nation: Second-term Republican U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, who came to prominence in southwest Florida in part by his backing of charter schools, support for school vouchers and condemnation of  “woke” education, is now among the people being discussed as a potential running mate for Donald Trump. New York Times.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *