FAMU gets $237.75M donation, tax referendum questions, proposed Broward school changes, and more

Around the state: Florida A&M University receives a $237.75 million donation during graduation Saturday, Pinellas school board members consider whether to extend a special property tax, opposition is beginning to grow against Broward schools’ plan to close three schools and make changes to nine others, Volusia schools cut the college-preparedness AVID program from most middle and high schools, Hernando school board members will consider 23 books challenges on Tuesday, and anticipated traffic leaving a weekend Holmes County music and arts festival prompts school officials to close two schools today. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Opposition is beginning to grow to the school district’s plan to close three schools and make significant changes to nine others. Longtime Fort Lauderdale education activist Mary Fertig said she’s “tremendously concerned this will destabilize” area schools “that we’ve been spent a generation building. The fact they would do this without consulting any of us is unbelievable.” School board member Allen Zeman said the format of town halls being held by Superintendent Howard Hepburn don’t give members of the public a chance to talk with school officials. The next town hall meeting is tonight at 6 at Fort Lauderdale High School. A board workshop is scheduled May 14 to discuss findings from the town halls, and final recommendations are due June 18. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Teachers union officials said they would initiate contract negotiations with the district earlier this year than in past years, specifically mentioning the improved relationship they have with the new leadership team of Superintendent Van Ayres. WFTS. Eleven students at the New Springs Charter School in Tampa reported feeling ill after eating candy at the school. “Employees of the school found a clear cylindrical container, with no label or markings, that contained two pieces of what resembled ‘Nerds’ brand candies sometimes legally sold as Delta-9 THC products in Florida,” according to a Tampa police statement. The students, all between the ages of 9 and 11, reported dizziness, nausea, lethargy and numbness in their legs and arms after eating the candy. WFLA. WTVT. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Palm Beach: A school district employee has been arrested on charges of grand theft and organized scheme to defraud. Deputies said Yarnell Williams, 46, completed a pandemic unemployment assistance application with a friend’s personal information that was approved, and kept the $9,000-plus received. The friend became aware of what happened after being told by the IRS that taxes were owed, and said the application was submitted without approval. Williams was placed on administrative leave by the district. WPBF.

Duval: Niveah Glover, a senior at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, has won $20,000 after being chosen as the 2024 Poetry Out Loud national champion by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Glover recited poems by Patricia Smith, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Ashanti Anderson. She was also runnerup in the category of original poetry.  National Endowment for the Arts.

Polk: Marilyn Morris of Lakeland, who recently worked as a teacher at Eagle Lake Elementary School, has announced she’s running for the District 1 seat on the school board. William Allen holds the seat. Also in the race is Bernnie Brandt of Lakeland. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board members will begin discussions Tuesday about renewing a special property tax that bolsters teacher pay, arts education and classroom technology, and whether to raise the amount from a half-mill to a mill. “Some research is going on in the background. But we have not talked about it as a board,” said vice chair Carol Cook. “We need it.” Board members Stephanie Meyer and Dawn Peters have questioned whether the tax should be renewed for the sixth time. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: A decline in participation and budget problems have prompted the school district to cut the college-preparedness AVID program from most middle and high schools. AVID stands for advancement via individual determination. It will continue only at Creekside Middle School, Spruce Creek High and Taylor Middle-High. WESH. More than 50 industry certification tests were invalidated after a Mainland High School employee allowed students to use their cell phones during a business class exam at the school Jan. 25. The employee said she thought it was okay to allow the use of phones because it was common for her do so. “Students were told they were able to use their phones for the math problems only due to the platform calculator being difficult to use,” according to a report. An investigation began after a teacher noticed the test results “showed significant gains.” WKMG.

Hernando: Twenty-three book challenges will be considered Tuesday at what looks to be an all-day meeting. School book review committees recommended keeping 12 books, keeping three others with restricted access, and removing eight others. School board members will decide what happens to the books. All the challenges were filed by Julia Thomas, who’s a member of the Hernando County chapter of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty. Suncoast News.

Walton: Two Freeport High School students were arrested last week after police found a gun inside a locked car in the school parking lot. Police said the gun was never inside the school, and school officials said no students were threatened. WJHG.

Monroe: A man has been arrested after using a tractor to destroy vehicles and ram a building Saturday on the campus of the College of the Florida Keys in Key West. Police fired shots at the man when he began ramming an occupied police vehicle, but missed. Miami Herald. WPLG. WFOR.

Holmes: Ponce de Leon High School and Ponce de Leon Elementary School are closed today because of traffic concerns from Vortex Spring following the Sol Fest music and arts festival over the weekend. “This closure is being done out of an abundance of caution due to the uncertainty of traffic conditions tomorrow morning along the Hwy. 81 corridor during our peak time for receiving students and buses beginning their routes,” district officials announced on Facebook. WMBB. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: Florida A&M University’s graduation on Saturday was punctuated with a $237.75 million donation from the Issac Batterson 7th Family Trust and chief executive officer Gregory Gerami. It’s the largest single personal donation to FAMU in its 136-year history and almost doubles the school’s existing endowment. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WFSU. Among other graduation ceremonies held last weekend were at UF, FSU, USF, UCF, UNF, Santa Fe College, Florida Gateway College, Florida Southern, University of West Florida, Florida Polytech, FAU, FGCU, Florida SouthWestern State College, Florida Tech, Ringling College of Art and Design, and Flagler College. UF President Ben Sasse urged leaders of other colleges to not give in to the “smallest, angriest group” during protests. Politico Florida. Three key groups are behind the pro-Palestinian demonstrations at USF are the Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society, USF Divest Coalition and the Tampa Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Tampa Bay Times. Most protesters are calling on schools to divest from companies that help Israel. But divesting has many layers. Tampa Bay Times. Today, a federal judge will hear a Biden administration request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Florida challenging the constitutionality of an accreditation system for colleges and universities. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: Title IX’s promise that no person experiences sex discrimination in federally funded education must be applied to all students. That is what Florida’s LGBTQ+ students deserve. It is what all Floridians deserve. Rand Hoch, Palm Beach Post. The most gross libertine and the most puritan censor have one trait in common — sooner or later, they’ll both go too far. That’s partly why Gov. Ron DeSantis recently needed to sign a bill to put some limits on a new law helping Floridians get library books and teaching materials removed if they consider them too risqué for public schools. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff

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