FAMU’s $237M donation put ‘on hold,’ state gives Duval five days to respond to safety issues, and more

FAMU gift ‘on hold’: The increasing number of questions about a $237.75 million gift to Florida A&M University from Batterson Farms Corp. CEO Gregory Gerami and the Isaac Batterson Family 7th Trust prompted university president to put the donation “on hold” Thursday. Larry Robinson announced the decision at an emergency meeting of FAMU’s fund-raising foundation, saying the school could not move forward until the value of the stock, which has already been transferred, can be determined. The shares could be worth “$500 million or it could be zero,” Laurence Humphries, a member of the foundation’s board, said at the meeting. Other questions raised include how a small company based in Texas selling hydroponic hemp farm products could be worth so much, the company’s $95 million donation in 2020 to Coastal Carolina University that fell through, and a woman listed as the co-CEO of Batterson Farms, Kay Abbott, saying this week that she has never worked for the company. FAMU trustees called an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss the donation. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WTXL. WCTV.

Around the state: Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. has given Duval school officials five days to respond to the state’s concerns about student safety issues, a survey of Florida teachers reveals that more than half fear violence at their schools, Duval school officials are calling for a two-day embargo on details from interviews with the two finalists for the superintendent’s job, Clay County’s school board adopts a new policy governing book challenges, six Florida students are among 161 U.S. high school seniors chosen this week by the U.S. Department of Education as U.S. Presidential Scholars, and school openings in several northwest Florida districts are delayed today because of the threat of severe weather. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Duval: District officials have been given five days to respond to the Florida Department of Education about what the state calls their failure to act on student safety issues. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. called the district’s inaction in dealing with teacher misconduct at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts “unacceptable,” and said it was “clear more work needs to be done in your district.” Interim superintendent Dana Kriznar said the district has made changes to address the concerns. WJXT. WJAX. WTLV. District officials are asking that details from Monday’s school board interviews with superintendent finalists Daniel Smith and Christopher Bernier not be released until Wednesday. “No livestreaming of the interviews. Also please do not publish any of the interview questions or responses until Wednesday, May 15,” said district spokeswoman Laureen Ricks. “We are asking this so the candidates do not have an advantage or insight into how the other candidate responded.” Florida Politics.

Polk: Graduations begin Saturday at three special education centers and continue through May 22. Most of the ceremonies are being held at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland and will be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel. Lakeland Now.

Lee: The district’s 15 high school graduations begin May 16 and continue through May 21. Seven of the ceremonies are being held at the Suncoast Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College, and seven at Alico Arena on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. Ida Baker High School in Cape Coral will hold its commencement May 21 in the South Fort Myers High School Auditorium. Fort Myers News-Press.

Collier: Graduations from the district’s 10 high schools will be held May 23 and 24. Nine are on school campuses, and Immokalee High’s commencement is at the Suncoast Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College. Naples Daily News.

Manatee: Bradenton city officials are moving ahead with a plan to place speed detection cameras in school zones. If approved, the cameras would be installed within the next year and $100 tickets would be mailed to drivers who exceed the speed limit by at least 10 mph. A final vote by the city council is scheduled May 22. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Sarasota: An early learning center for students in pre-K through kindergarten is opening early next year in Wellen Park. Primrose School will have 12 classrooms that can seat up to 204 children. Primrose is a franchise with 31 of its 500 locations in Florida. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: Graduation ceremonies were Thursday for St. John Lutheran School. Ocala Star Banner.

Escambia, northwest Florida: School openings are delayed an hour today in Escambia County, two hours in Santa Rosa County and three hours in Okaloosa and Walton counties because of the threat of severe weather in the area. Morning bus routes are also being delayed, but schools will dismiss at their usual times in all four counties. WEAR. WKRG. Pensacola News Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News. WJHG.

Clay: A new policy detailing the process for book challenges has been adopted by the school board. It establishes a guideline of community standards for flagging books as containing “mature” content, and parents will be asked to designate whether their children should have unlimited access, general access, limited access, no access or daily email alerts. How the policy will be implemented is still being refined, but Superintendent David Broskie said the policy and procedure are consistent with Florida law. Clay Today. Varonique Corlato, a cafeteria worker at Orange Park Elementary School, has been named one of the state’s five 2024 school lunch heroes by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. WJAX.

Alachua: P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School will open a pilot pre-K program this fall. Yonge, which is a publicly funded K-12 school governed by the University of Florida, will start the preschool with 20 students. Gainesville Sun. Mainstreet Daily News.

Bay: Graduations for the district’s 10 high schools begin May 16 and continue through May 28, according to school officials. Four will be held in Tommy Oliver Stadium at Bay High School. Others will be held at churches and schools. Panama City News Herald.

Charlotte: School board members agreed this week to have sensors installed in bathrooms at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda and at Port Charlotte and L.A. Ainger middle schools to catch students vaping or smoking. The board also was told there have been 185 cases of drug possession in schools this year, 400 reports of simple battery, 29 cases of possession of weapons, 54 bullying cases and three instances of sexual battery. Charlotte Sun.

Flagler: The sentencing hearing for a Matanzas High School student who pleaded no contest to beating a teacher’s aide in school in 2023 will continue Aug. 6. Sentencing for Brendan Depa began May 1, but was continued after the prosecution presented its arguments. Depa, 18, could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

Columbia: Florida Gateway College trustees are considering opening a career and technical education high school in Lake City. Discussions are in the early stages, so no definite curriculum or timeline for opening has been set, but trustees said they want to help students graduate with a high school diploma, an associate’s degree and industry certifications in high-demand career fields. WCJB.

DeSoto: A volunteer basketball coach at DeSoto County High School in Arcadia has been arrested and accused of striking a minor. Police said Keshawn Devante Smith, 26, hit the student after losing a game. Smith has been charged with misdemeanor battery. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: Lawyers for six Florida A&M University students have asked a federal appeals court to overturn a judge’s ruling dismissing a potential class-action lawsuit about discrimination in funding and programs at the historically black school. News Service of Florida. Delays in the new college federal aid application form, inability to get into the system, errors on the forms and rejections due to missing or conflicting information have left students scrambling to get a take on how much financial aid they can expect and meet impending enrollment deadlines. Tampa Bay Times. State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues is considering challenging a pending federal requirement for U.S. colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition rates to students from certain Pacific islands. News Service of Florida. Graduation ceremonies were held this week at Eastern Florida State College, Lake-Sumter State College, Florida State College at Jacksonville, and Florida State University Panama City. Twelve-year-old Cameron Robinson of Jacksonville was awarded an associate’s degree Thursday from Florida State College at Jacksonville. WTLV.

Teachers fear violence: A survey of nearly 2,600 Florida teachers reveals that 53 percent have been afraid to go to school because of violence they see where they work, and 58 percent said they’ve considered quitting the profession because of violence. Sixty-five percent said they’ve been subjected to physical violence at least once, 47 percent said it’s happened more than once, and 90 percent said they’ve been verbally abused. WJAX. WFTV.

U.S. Presidential Scholars: Six Florida students are among 161 U.S. high school seniors chosen this week by the U.S. Department of Education as U.S. Presidential Scholars for their academic success, excellence in the arts and in technical education, community service and leadership. They are: Paola Beatrice Alvarez Ramirez of the New World School of the Arts in Miami; Sharanya Chatterjee of Freedome High School in Orlando; Ale Fonseca of Miami Arts Studio 6-12 @ Zelda Glazer; Niveah Desirea Glover of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts  in Jacksonville; Esperance J. Han of North Marion High in Ocala; and Joshua C. Martoma of the Pine Crest School in Boca Raton. U.S. Department of Education.

Opinions on schools: “Redefining” the nation’s sixth-largest school district requires real communication and real solutions. As the debacle over the proposed closing of popular elementary school with a popular Montessori preschool program has shown, Broward has a long way to go. Sun-Sentinel. Politicians sticking their noses in places they don’t belong is the root of all evil contaminating Florida’s K-12 educational system; still, there’s plenty of blame to go around. School boards acquiesce to counterproductive state regulations and agenda-driven parents, and their spinelessness drifts down to servile administrators and, ultimately, to wary teachers who are too often left regretting their career choice. Chris Fulton, Tampa Bay Times. Kids today, I swear. Instead of shopping, getting wasted at parties and engaging in meaningless sex, they’re going around acting like citizens, engaging in civil disobedience, exercising their right to free speech, telling university administrations to get rid of all investments in Israel and demanding humanitarian aid for Palestinians. Don’t they know protests are unnecessary, pointless and annoying? Diane Roberts, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff

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