Slavery’s ‘benefits’ remain in final standards, choice ‘tradeoff,’ one state student left in bee, and more

Around the state: Florida’s Board of Education approves social studies standards that include a passage about the “benefits” of slavery to the enslaved, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. says public schools closing is the “tradeoff” for school choice, the BOE changes FHSAA bylaws to align with the state’s objections to a proposed federal Title IX rule, a Hillsborough 12-year-old is the last Floridian standing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and about 1,300 tickets have been issued in the five weeks since the Lake County city of Eustis began enforcing speeding through school zones with cameras. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Superintendent Howard Hepburn presented a plan to the school board Wednesday that calls for shuttering an undisclosed number of schools, either by the fall of 2025 or the following year. “Our footprint in Broward County is way too large. We have too many open seats (about 43,000),” said Hepburn, who was sworn in at the meeting. No schools were named, but parents who attended called for the district to include them in the decision-making process and move ahead slowly. Board members are expected to vote June 18 on whether to make changes next year or in 2026. If the decision is 2025, a final vote on the details is expected in November. WFOR. WSVN. WTVJ. Miami Herald.

Duval: District officials are attacking the rise in chronic absenteeism by creating a team to reach out and engage at-risk students, including making visits to truants’ homes. Rhonda Motley, the district’s director of the Graduation Rate Initiatives Team, said “we’ve increased our school support in order to reach this goal. Increasing our data chats, locating disengaged students more than ever before, and we are locating those students before they enter the 9th grade so we can help support them as they enter high school.” Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10 percent of the school, was 27.3 percent in the school year that just ended, nearly double the pre-pandemic rate. Jacksonville Today.

Seminole: A sweetgum tree that was grown from seeds that orbited the Earth in 2022 has been planted in the garden at Lawton Elementary School in Oviedo. Lawton was one of two Florida schools, and 50 in the country, to receive seedlings that flew aboard that Artemis 1. Students have named the “moon tree” Luna. WKMG.

Volusia: The other tree, a loblolly pine sapling, has been planted at St. Peter Catholic School in DeLand. “A new era of moon trees will one day stand tall in communities across America,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. Orlando Sentinel.

Lake: In the five weeks since speed detection cameras were placed in Eustis school zones, the police department mailed out about 1,300 tickets to speeders. Police Chief Craig Capri said the total stunned him. “I didn’t think it would be that high honestly. I figured the warning would have sent the message. … Evidently, the warning didn’t do the job. I think once we hit the wallet, the pocketbook, you’ll realize $100 is a lot of money.” WKMG.

Marion: North Marion High School’s Esperance Han is one of six Florida students named as a Presidential Scholar by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars. She will attend Yale University. Two Vanguard High School students have been awarded National Merit Scholarships: Gabriel Ribay, 17, who will attend the University of Florida; and Rishit Shaquib, also 17, who also will attend Yale. Ocala Star Banner.

St. Lucie: Former county Fire Chief Nate Spera, who retired in 2023, has announced that he’s challenging District 4 school board incumbent Jennifer Richardson in her bid for a second term. Candidates in the District 2 race are educator James Monds and longtime St. Lucie Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Terissa Aronson. The election is Aug. 20. TCPalm.

Alachua: Even as the school district and the group that pushed to convert  Newberry public schools into charters remain at odds over the results of the election, the pro-conversion Education First for Newberry has put forth a list of candidates for the governing board for Newberry Elementary. City staffers are also reviewing the charter application to the state, developing language for an ordinance establishing the charter school, and outlining the city’s responsibilities and limitations in the process. Mainstreet Daily News.

Monroe: The union representing teachers and other school staff has ratified a contract agreement with the district for the 2024-2025 school year. It calls for annual starting teacher pay to increase from $61,500 to $62,100, and gives raises of $1,800 for teachers evaluated as highly effective and $1,500 for teachers considered effective. Aides, school bus drivers, machanics and cafeteria workers will receive a raise of $1.50 an hour, while plumbers and carpenters will receive raises of $2 to $4 an hour. The deal goes before the school board for a vote June 11. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Florida’s Board of Governors will supervise the investigation into the announced $237 million donation from Batterson Farms Corp. CEO Gregory Gerami and the Isaac Batterson Family 7th Trust to Florida A&M University that has been declared “ceased” by FAMU President Larry Robinson. The board’s inspector general, Julie Leftheris, sent a letter to Robinson last week announcing that her office was directed to “provide guidance, oversight and monitoring for the investigation into the circumstances surrounding a major donation.” Tallahassee Democrat.

National spelling bee: One of Florida’s students in the Scripps National Spelling Bee advanced to today’s final round. Bruhat Soma, a 12-year-old from Hillsborough County, is one of just eight students still in the running for the championship. Eliminated on Wednesday in Round 4 were Nicasio David of Lee County for misspelling arcosoleum (spelling it arcosolium), Sree Vidya Siliveri of St. Johns on regidor (spelling it rejidor), Elvis Avetis of Orange on ditokous (spelling it ditticus), Amara Chepuri of Manatee on ephectic (spelling it effectic), and Jordin Oremosu of Hillsborough on galliphagous (spelling it gallifigous). Claire Smith of Volusia was eliminated in Round 7 when she defined the word usury as a voluntary violation of an oath or vow instead of an illegally high interest rate charged to a borrower, and Velvizhi Sethirayar of Orange incorrectly spelled chewet as chuette in Round 8. Scripps National Spelling Bee. Associated Press. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFLA.

‘Benefits’ of slavery: Florida’s Board of Education decided Wednesday to stick with new social studies standards that declare slaves “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” despite a severe backlash from opponents that include Republicans, teachers unions and free speech advocates. Required instruction added to the standards includes the terrorist attacks of Sept, 11, 2001, and the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Politico Florida.

FHSAA word change: Board of Education members also voted to replace the word “gender” with the word “sex” in bylaws of the Florida High School Athletic Association. The state has vowed to ignore the federal government’s expanded proposal to add Title IX protection for sexual orientation and gender identity. “By broadening the definition of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity, the Biden administration is taking sports and educational opportunities away from girls,” Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said at Wednesday’s meeting. News Service of Florida. WTVJ.

Effects of choice: Potential public school closings are a “tradeoff” for the proliferation of school choice, Education Commissioner Diaz also said Wednesday at the state BOE meeting. “You’ve seen these reports of some districts having to close schools — that’s how this works,” Diaz said. “Districts have to make decisions. And sometimes these districts in the past have made decisions that have kicked the can down the road and now have to make harder decisions. But what they need to do is continue to innovate and provide programming that is attractive to parents so, on that open competition, they have the best option for those parents to choose.” Politico Florida.

Civics training: Teachers’ civics training provided by the Florida Department of Education includes a section on the “dangers and evils of communism” that makes links between “cancel culture” and mass murder, according to a review of the materials. One slide compares Vaclav Havel, a Czech statesman, author, poet, playwright and dissident who was jailed for his activism but later was elected president of the Czech Republic, with Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist whose controversial tweets about a transgender actress and more led the Ontario College of Psychologists to order him to receive coaching on “professionalism in public statements.” Critics say the training is confusing, and are calling for changes. Popular Information. Florida Phoenix.

About Amendment 1: As partisanship has creeped into previously nonpartisan school board elections, a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot would make the transition official if it’s approved. Amendment 1 would “require members of a district school board to be elected in a partisan election rather than a nonpartisan election and to specify that the amendment only applies to elections held on or after the November 2026 general election. However, partisan primary elections may occur before the 2026 general election for purposes of nominating political party candidates to that office for placement on the 2026 general election ballot.” Sixty percent of voters would have to approve the amendment for it to be added to the state constitution. Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: Five Florida school districts will receive nearly $27 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program to replace diesel school buses with electric ones. Miami-Dade and Broward school districts will each buy 25 buses with their share of the funds, while Hillsborough will buy 20, Duval 10 and Jefferson 5. Florida Phoenix. Twenty states, including Florida, now have laws penalizing the dissemination of nonconsensual AI-generated pornographic materials. But the penalties for offenders varies from state to state. Politico.

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BY NextSteps staff

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