FAMU VP resigns and trustees hiring outside firm to investigate $237M donation, top teacher finalist and more

Around the state: A Florida A&M University vice president resigns and an outside firm is being hired to investigate a controversial $237 million donation to the school, a Hillsborough high school physics and engineering teacher is one of the finalists for the state teacher of the year award, Miami-Dade school board members express their support for volunteer chaplains in schools, a state representative is calling on the Florida Department of Education to suspend scholarship funding for students at a Muslim school in Miami that he says is training “future terrorists,” a Pinellas school board member makes a formal challenge to a school library book, and a Brevard school board member helps start an organization to “limit the influence of far-right extremists” on local school boards. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board members voiced their approval Wednesday to allow volunteer chaplains in schools as a way of providing “additional resources” to students. A bill giving chaplains access to schools was approved by the Legislature earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. “There is a need for another voice, not a voice for religion, but another voice to help our children be better citizens,” said board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall. WSVN. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, is calling on the Florida Department of Education to suspend scholarship funding for a private Muslim school in Miami that he claims is training “future terrorists.” Fine said Reviver Academy is owned by a mosque that is connected to dentist Dr. Fadi Kablawi, a prayer leader at the mosque whom Fine accuses of making anti-Semitic statements. Fine also wants the state to reprimand Kablawi. Newsweek. Miami Herald. Florida Politics.

Broward: A circuit court judge said Wednesday that former Broward deputy Scot Peterson, who was acquitted of felony child neglect and other charges for his actions during the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, will have to go to civil court to try to force the sheriff’s department to pay his legal fees of nearly $250,000. WTVJ. WPLG.

Hillsborough: Clayton Nylund, a physics and engineering teacher at Blake High School in Tampa, has been named one of five finalists for the Florida teacher of the year award given annually by the state Department of Education. The winner will be announced July 25. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Department of Education. Five district schools are closing this month: Cleveland and Kimbell elementaries, and Adams, McLane and Monroe middle schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: Graduation ceremonies were held Wednesday for West Boca, Olympic Heights and Royal Palm Beach high schools. Palm Beach Post. A student at L.C. Swain Middle School in Greenacres has been removed from campus after being accused of physically assaulting a school cafeteria worker. The student faces criminal charges and disciplinary action from the school. WPEC.

Duval: Six community meetings will be held between May 21 and June 20 so school officials and members of the school board can hear the thoughts of the community about plans to close or consolidate some schools. “We want the community to be involved and have input into this process,” said board chair Darryl Willie. Any board decisions are months away, and wouldn’t take effect at least until the fall of 2025. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV.

Pinellas: School board member Stephanie Meyer has filed a formal challenge against a school library book at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, asking at a board meeting this week, “In what context are graphic descriptions of deviant sexual acts appropriate for minors?” The novel is Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk, which tells the story of a teen model who struggles with her looks after being shot in the face and includes explicit discussions about sex and drugs. Less than a handful of Florida school board members have filed formal book challenges, according to the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which tracks them. District officials are forming a committee to consider the challenge. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Contract talks between teachers and the district got heated this week when district officials disputed union leaders’ reference to an average Brevard teacher salary of $50,863, 38th in the state and $2,234 below the state average. Those 2022-2023 figures came from the Florida Department of Education. The district contends the current figure is $58,762 after adding raises given to teachers with funds from a millage increase, and said that ranks the district fifth in the state. But union president Anthony Colucci said that comparison mixes Brevard’s new average with other districts’ older averages. “You can’t compare our data from this year to other districts’ data from last year and add in millage,” said Colucci. “Is that the kind of used car salesman tactics that this board supports?” Bargaining is expected to resume next month. Florida Today.

Volusia: For the second time this year, the school board has postponed voting on a proposal to add random searches of students to the code of conduct. Superintendent Carmen Balgobin recommended the board include the searches in the code, but on a 4-1 vote the board decided to pause consideration so vandalism consequences can be included. Early Monday, students pulled a senior prank by toilet-papering, plastic-wrapping and spray-painting parts of the DeLand High School campus. “In light of our recent events, I think our code of student conduct does not address vandalism and things that are a result of senior pranks, and so I think this is something that we need to definitely take a serious look at,” said board member Ruben Colón. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A graduation ceremony was held Wednesday for Bayshore High School. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Collier: School board members voted against two proposals that would have redrawn school boundaries, and instructed the district staff to modify the proposals and bring them back to the board later in the year. The new boundaries are needed to deal with enrollment growth and the opening of two new schools in the fall of 2025 and 2026, district officials said. WINK.

Marion: Esperance J. Han, a graduating senior at North Marion High School, is one of 161 U.S. students to be chosen as a U.S. Presidential Scholar.  She will attend Yale University on scholarship. WCJB.

Escambia: A federal judge has ordered mediation in the case of a lawsuit over the removal of a children’s book from the school district’s bookshelves. Two authors of And Tango Makes Three, a tale of two male penguins raising a chick in a zoo, and a student sued the district on First Amendment grounds over the book’s removal. If mediation does not produce a settlement, the case could go to trial March 4, 2025. News Service of Florida.

Leon: One hundred and thirty-four high school seniors from schools across the county were honored Wednesday with Best & Brightest scholarships. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Christian Preparatory Schools, which has about a dozen schools in the state, said it will open another in Gainesville. The K-12 school will open with about 100 students, and work with students to develop individualized learning plans. Mainstreet Daily News.

Bay: Kayla Shepherd, who works at Hutchison Beach Elementary School in Panama City Beach, has been named the school district’s assistant principal of the year. She’s now eligible for the statewide award. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: Florida A&M University’s vice president for university advancement and executive director of the FAMU Foundation has resigned after questions arose about the viability of a $237 million donation. Shawnta Friday-Stroud will return to her previous job as dean of the business school. FAMU President Larry Robinson took responsibility for the debacle and apologized, saying, “I wanted it to be real and ignored the warning signs along the way.” At Wednesday’s emergency meeting, FAMU trustees approved a motion to hire an external firm to investigate. Tallahassee Democrat. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. WFSU. WCTV. Officials at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport are urging the Federal Aviation Administration to reverse a decision to deny the sale of a nearly 31-acre parcel of the airport to New College of Florida for expansion. Airport CEO Fredrick Piccolo rebutted the FAA’s reasons for denying the sale, saying, “These findings are without sound basis and materially incorrect on numerous facts, therefore the release should be approved by FAA and proceed.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Harold Mills has resigned from the University of Central Florida board of trustees. Mills was arrested May 9 in Seminole County and accused of soliciting prostitution. WFTV.

Battle for school boards: A Democratic Brevard County School Board member has started an organization to counter the conservative push by such groups as Moms For Liberty to control state school boards nationally. Jennifer Jenkins’ political action committee is called “Educated. We Stand,” and its goal is “protecting, recruiting and electing” school board members to help “limit the influence of far-right extremists.” She says, “With Educated. We Stand, we’re not just fighting back; we’re defending the very essence of learning, curiosity and inclusion in our schools.” Politico Florida.

Around the nation: A federal judge in Alabama will hear arguments July 1 from Florida and several other states that want to block a new Biden administration rule extending Title IX regulations to apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: The expansion of universal private education choice hasn’t led to the abandonment of charter schools. It’s opened up political space for the third-way solution to flourish, largely free of controversy. Travis Pillow, NextSteps. When it comes to U.S. News & World Report’s education rankings, you have to look at the fine print. Florida’s public colleges and universities posted the second-highest rates of timely graduations in the country and had the lowest average costs in the nation for in-state tuition. That’s what put Florida on top. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Many of the student protesters who have in recent weeks broken the law or violated campus rules will in the end pay a price, as they should: The willingness to pay that price is, after all, what lends civil disobedience its force. Those who are not breaking the law but making the laws that are undermining the commitment to free and open inquiry will, I fear, pay no price at all. Brian Rosenberg, Inside Higher Ed.

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BY NextSteps staff