Duval board picks Bernier as superintendent, K-12 social studies standards, Sumter schools under state investigation, and more

Around the state: Duval school board members voted Thursday to hire former Lee County superintendent Christopher Bernier to lead the school district, the state’s K-12 social studies standards still require students to learn “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” the FDOE is investigating the Sumter County School District for allegedly moving low-performing students to “shell schools” to remove their testing results to influence the calculation of school grades from the state, several advocacy organizations are asking to meet with state officials to discuss how universities are dealing with pro-Palestinian protests, Leon schools are starting a text messaging system to quickly contact parents during emergencies, and a 12-year-old girl in Gadsden County is among the thousands of Florida students who graduated this week. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: More than 14,000 district high school seniors have graduated or will soon. Ceremonies continue through May 29 in Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Those who can’t attend can watch on Hillsborough Schools TV. Tampa Bay TimesHillsborough County School District.

Orange: A Timber Springs Middle School lunchroom program assistant has been honored by the school board for saving the life of a 6th-grader last month. When Calvin Obura began choking on a mozzarella stick, Janira Arroyo performed the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge it. “Eventually, in like 30 seconds or so she got it out,” Obura said. “I’m really thankful.” WKMG.

Palm Beach: Graduation ceremonies have been held for Palm Beach Lakes and Dwyer high schools, and the Dreyfoos School of the ArtsPalm Beach Post.

Duval: Christopher Bernier, the former school superintendent of the Lee County School District, was chosen Thursday by the Duval school board to lead the district. The vote was 7-0 for Bernier over the other finalist, Daniel Smith, chief of staff for the Loudoun, Va., school district. Most cited Bernier’s experience in Florida as a deciding factor. He will take over July 1 for interim superintendent Dana Kriznar, who has led the district since Diana Greene retired last summer. Among the issues Bernier faces are the potential closings of schools because of budgetary pressures, lagging student academic performance and the state’s disapproval of the way the district has handled a series of teacher misconduct allegations at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville Today. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV. Florida Politics.

Polk: Graduation ceremonies have been held for Winter Haven High School and and East Area Adult School, Ridge Technical College, Traviss Technical College and West Area Adult School. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A new code of conduct was tentatively approved Thursday by members of the school board. It spells out types of physical harm and increases penalties for those who inflict it, and strengthens punishment for vaping or smoking and for students who try to pass off artificial intelligence work as their own. Board members are expected to take a final vote in June. WINK.

Pasco: A volunteer assistant football coach at Wesley Chapel High School was arrested last week and accused of having a romantic relationship with a student. School officials said Brian Nelson Mena, 26, has been banned from the school’s campus. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: A graduation ceremony was held Thursday for Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School. Florida Today. A teacher at Space Coast Junuior/Senior High School in Port St. John is under investigation for allegedly using a mixed martial arts hold to break up a fight at the school this week. The unnamed teacher used an “arm bar” on an 11th-grade girl. “He ended up putting my daughter’s head between his legs like an arm bar with his legs around her neck,” said the girl’s father, Larry Walker, who wants the teacher charged. WKMG.

Manatee: A private school in Palmetto has banned the use of cell phones in schools for all K-12 students. Educational Harbor Christian School founder and principal Stacey Mayo said students had been required to leave their phones in their bags, but when the distractions continued phones were then placed in a locked cubby during the school day. Violators are suspended for a day. Spectrum News 9.

Collier: Graduation ceremonies were held Thursday for Gulf CoastAubrey Rogers and Barron Collier high schools. Naples Daily News.

Marion: Students from the Hillcrest School and North Marion High School were awarded diplomas at graduation ceremonies Thursday. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: Graduation ceremonies were held Thursday for Port St. Lucie, Treasure Coast and Fort Pierce Central high schools. TCPalm.

Escambia: Graduation ceremonies were held Thursday for West Florida, Pine Forest and Tate high schools. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Graduation ceremonies were held Thursday for Leon High School. Tallahassee Democrat. District officials are launching a text messaging system called “Rapid Communication System” that they can use to send information directly to parents’ phones during emergencies. “When we need to get messages out, like we experienced over the course of the last month with several storm systems coming in at 7 in the morning, we need to get messages out,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. “They need to be on point, and they need to give parents direction as to exactly what they need to do.” WCTV.

Bay: Students from Bay High School graduated in a ceremony this week. Panama City News Herald.

Flagler: Students from Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast high schools received their diplomas in graduation ceremonies this week. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sumter: Florida’s Department of Education is investigating whether the school district is “improperly withdrawing low-performing students from various public schools and enrolling them in ‘shell schools’ in order to remove their statewide assessment results from the calculation of school grades.” Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said the allegations go back as far as the 2016-2017 school year. Sumter has received an A or B grade from the state in every year since 2010, except in 2021 when grades weren’t issued because of the pandemic. District officials issued a statement calling the allegations “unfounded” and saying the district will be “totally exonerated.” WKMG. WOFL.

Monroe: Students from Somerset Island Prep in Key West recently received their diplomas on jet skis, continuing the tradition that began during the pandemic. Florida Keys Weekly.

Gadsden: A 12-year-old girl graduated from the Tallavana Christian School near Havana on Thursday. E’leese Shelton learned to read at 3 and do math at 4, said her mother Danrell Shelton. Next for E’leese is Tallahassee Community College, then Florida State University and medical school, which she wants to start by the age of 16 or 17. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: Eight nonprofit and advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Florida and the NAACP, say the state’s response to pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses is unconstitutional, and they want to meet with state officials. It’s the second such request; the first was rejected by Chancellor Ray Rodrigues. Tampa Bay Times. The NCAA and the five biggest college sports conferences agreed Thursday to pay nearly $2.8 billion to settle antitrust claims. It the settlement is approved by a judge and the plaintiffs, it could lead to a revenue-sharing model steering millions of dollars directly to athletes as soon as the 2025 fall semester. Associated Press. New York Times.

Social studies standards: Florida K-12 social studies standards being considered by the state Board of Education next week still require middle school students to learn “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” That passage was widely criticized by historians, Democrats and even Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples, who said while the standards were “good, robust, & accurate,” the language was “wrong & needs to be adjusted.” Politico Florida.

Graduation barrier: For some Florida students, even ones with good grades, the results of a single state test could short-circuit graduation plans. WTSP.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s pipeline to bachelor’s degree-level STEM careers is anemic despite the large enrollment of the state’s public middle school students in algebra 1 and higher-level math courses. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff

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