Muslim school threatened with loss of state vouchers, closed Broward schools could reopen as charters, book reviews, and more

Around the state: The state is threatening to cut off taxpayer-funded vouchers to a private Muslim school in Miami that’s associated with a dentist who has made inflammatory remarks about Jewish people, charter school operators are showing interest in turning any schools closed by the Broward County School District into charter schools, Hillsborough County teachers are reporting more air-conditioning issues in schools, Nassau’s school board is being sued over book removals, Leon County’s superintendent says severe storms in the past week caused $8-$10 million in damage to schools, Florida A&M University is reopening Monday after the storms closed its campus, Escambia’s superintendent said he will pitch in to help review 228 school library books that have been set aside to be checked for content, and high school graduations are being held around the state. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: State officials have ordered a private Muslim school in Miami to explain their relationship with a dentist who has made inflammatory remarks about Israel, turn over a list of all of its employees, including teachers and school personnel, and the names of those with leadership roles at the mosque that owns and operates the academy. If Reviver Academy fails to respond, it could lose its eligibility to receive voucher money, said Cathy Russell, the deputy executive director of the Florida Department of Education office that oversees the state’s school choice program. “In Florida, we will not tolerate calls for genocide,” she said. Miami Herald. A bus driver who works at Lukas Transportation and drives for a private school has been arrested and accused of inappropriately touching a 16-year-old girl. Police said Juan F. Gonzalez, 75, tried to kiss the girl, then fondled her Wednesday. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

Broward: If the district does close underenrolled schools in the future, that doesn’t necessarily mean no students will ever attend them again. A state law states that “if a district school board facility or property is available because it is surplus, marked for disposal, or otherwise unused, it shall be provided for a charter school’s use on the same basis as it is made available to other public schools in the district.” At least one charter operator is discussing the possibility of acquiring abandoned schools. “The state statute is very, very important to us,” said Thomas Good, vice mayor of Pembroke Pines, which operates a charter system. This week, school board members rejected Superintendent Howard Hepburn’s recommendation to not close any schools, and directed him to prepare a plan that would close up to eight schools. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: A summer begins to set in, teachers, students and their parents say air-conditioning problems are increasing. Many teachers have taken to Facebook to document their issues, and are getting responses indicating that they aren’t alone. “Eighty degrees in my room and I’m arriving at 6:40 a.m., temperature rises as the day goes on, so humid the walls are literally sweating and my computer screens are fogging up,” wrote one. Others posted photos of thermostats with temperatures reading 80 degrees and above. District officials said they are looking into all complaints. In 2018, county voters approved a half-cent sales tax to be used for maintenance issues that had been deferred and to replace all air-conditioning units over 10 years. Spectrum News 9.

Palm Beach: Graduation ceremonies were held this week for Leonard and Pahokee Community high schools and South Tech Academy. Palm Beach Post. YouTube.

Pinellas: Graduation ceremonies were held Thursday for Boca Ciega, Seminole, Lakewood, Countryside and East Lake high schools. Tampa Bay Times. Top editors for Seminole High School’s yearbook and news magazine reflect on their four years, including a first year with masks, social distancing and few activities. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: A graduation ceremony was held Thursday for Cape Coral High School. Fort Myers News-Press. A student who was sexually abused by a former teacher at Diplomat Middle School in Cape Coral is suing the school board, alleging the district did not protect the student. Joseph Reynolds pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of child pornography and sending inappropriate pictures to a student in April 2023. As part of a plea deal, he’ll spend 12 years in state prison and be on probation for another eight years. WINK.

Brevard: School board members agreed this week to fire a Lyndon B Johnson Middle School physical education teacher who allegedly encouraged two boys to fight in  the locker room after a gym class last year. Paul Eller was placed on leave at the time, and police recommended to the state attorney that he be charged with child neglect, culpable negligence and disruption of a school function. WOFL.

Manatee: Graduation ceremonies were held this week for Lakewood Ranch, Braden River and Parrish Community high schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: Graduations for the county’s eight high schools begin May 22 with Vanguard’s and conclude May 28 with West Port’s. Marion Technical College’s graduation is June 13. Ocala Star Banner.

Sarasota: Four administrative appointments were announced this week by the school district: Kirk Hutchinson, Venice Elementary principal, is the district’s new chief of students services; Cindy Thro, Atwater Elementary principal, is the new executive director of elementary schools; Jamie Hannon, principal of Southside Elementary, is becoming the principal for the new K-8 school located at Skye Ranch; and Allison Foster has been named the principal of Southside Elementary. Sarasota County School District. Charlotte Sun.

Escambia: Superintendent Keith Leonard said he will pitch in to help the district’s coordinator of media services, Bradley Vinson, go through 228 school library books that are off the shelves until they’ve been reviewed. “Bradley and I will go through every one of those,” Leonard said. “We will make decisions where we can make decisions. Where we cannot, that’s where we start back up committee work, we go into your policy and do the things that we need to do. However many (books) it ends up being, we will work to bring those back here.” Community members have been complaining about titles stuck in “book jail” that they’d like to see back in libraries. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Severe storms that hit the area in the past week caused $8-$10 million in damage to schools, Superintendent Rocky Hanna said. Several campuses were affected. WCTV.

Alachua: County commissioners agreed this week to place renewal of a 1-mill tax for the school district on the November budget. The tax was first approved in 2008, and the $24 million it generates every year pays for all or part of the salaries for nearly 20 percent of teachers in the district, including music and art teachers as well as librarians, counselors and school nurses. If it’s approved, it will remain in effect until June 30, 2029. Gainesville Sun.

Martin: A graduation ceremony was held Thursday for South Fork High School. TCPalm.

Charlotte: A graduation ceremony was held Thursday for Port Charlotte High School. Charlotte Sun.

Nassau: The school board is being sued in federal court by the co-authors of the book And Tango Makes Three and parents and students for removing the book from school libraries. The book tells the story of two male penguins raising a chick in a zoo. Attorneys for the district contend it was removed as part of a “weeding out” process of books that have rarely been checked out. A similar case in Escambia County has been placed in the mediation process. News Service of Florida.

Jackson: Construction has begun on the second phase of a K-8 school in Grand Ridge that will merge students from Sneads Elementary and Grand Ridge Middle onto the Grand Ridge campus. Phase 1 of the work was renovating 12 middle school classrooms. Phase 2, which began this week, includes the construction of 24 elementary classrooms. The work is expected to be completed in 2026. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: Florida’s Supreme Court will hear arguments June 5 in a student’s lawsuit against the University of Florida for charging him fees during the pandemic, when the school was closed. Florida Phoenix. Daytona State College trustees have awarded President Tom LoBasso a 4 percent raise, taking his annual salary just past $350,000, and a $50,000 bonus. LoBasso has been at DSC since being named interim president in January 2015. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Florida A&M University will reopen Monday. It has been closed since a tornado struck the campus May 10, damaging roofs, downing trees and utility poles, blocking roadways and knockin g out power across the campus. WTXL. Florida Southern College will start an architecture program, President Anne Kerr said Thursday. Lakeland Ledger.

Opinions on schools: In exchange for the state’s largesse in funding vouchers, why not mandate private schools that accept vouchers file a detailed, publicly available annual report? Why not require data on revenue, expenses, salaries for top executives, kids’ test scores, the number of certified teachers and whether auditors think the school is at risk of closing for lack of money? If the goal is returning educational power to parents, why shouldn’t they be given information, the most powerful tool of all? Sun Sentinel. The stripping away of any forum of fostering and promoting ideas of different views is counter to the core principles in Brown vs. Board of Education. As Chief Justice Earl Warren so stated, education is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. Brice L. Atkins, Tallahassee Democrat. Seventy years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that separating schoolchildren by races was unconstitutional, is segregation here to stay in Florida schools? Boaz Dvir, Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff