State warns against protests at college graduations, joins NIL suit, book ban questions, and more

Around the state: The State University System chancellor tells college officials to take any steps necessary to ensure that protests do not interfere with graduations, a federal judge wrote last week that he isn’t convinced school book removals are protected government speech as the state and some districts have argued, the state has joined a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA over name, image and likeness restrictions, one Alachua elementary school won’t participate in the state’s year-round school test but another still will, all Lee County schools now have weapon detection systems, and up to 17 percent of Leon County’s high school seniors may not graduate because they haven’t completed all the requirements. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange, central Florida: Teachers in central Florida are still trying to find answers to getting their students caught up on math skills that lagged during the pandemic. For example, an algebra 1 teacher says his 8th-graders often use calculators to do simple multiplication, and a 6th-grade teacher has to help a students use her fingers to answer 5 minus 2. “The pandemic has caused a huge slide,” said Jacqueline Russell, who teaches 6th-grade math at Meadowbrook Middle in Orange County. “They were home so much, and they lost a lot of direct instruction.” But with federal pandemic funding ending, the district won’t have extra money for intervention teachers. Orlando Sentinel. The city of Orlando’s mentoring program for young men of color, My Brother’s Keeper, is being expanded into Edgewater and Jones high schools for the next three years after the city received $750,000 from the Florida Department of Children and Families. It has operated in five middle schools. Spectrum News 13.

Palm Beach: A former Grove Park Elementary School employee and middle school basketball coach faces charges of sexual battery against a minor he met while coaching. Torrey Evans, 36, is accused of convincing the 16-year-old to send nude photos, then using them to blackmail him into submitting the sex. The battery went on for about two years before Evans was arrested in October 2022, said police. He’s pleaded not guilty. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Graduations for the 27 district high schools begin May 17 and continue through June 3. Most will be held at the University of North Florida Arena, the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts. Florida Times-Union.

Lee: All district schools now have weapon detection systems, officials said this week. Sales tax revenues and and a state grant covered the system’s $6 million pricetag. No weapons have been discovered so far this year, though alarms have been triggered by things like umbrellas and eyeglass cases that students forgot to take out of their backpacks. WBBH.

Brevard: Law enforcement officials have a warning for students who are playing a game called “senior assassins” as part of end-of-the-year pranks. The game involves shooting students with water guns, but police say some people could mistake the guns as real firearms and intervene. Viera High School principal Heather LeGate has told students and parents the game can only be played off-campus, and any students spraying classmates during school functions will be suspended. Florida Today.

Lake: A monkey was recorded on video around South Lake High School in Groveland in the past few days. It’s not known where the monkey came from. Based on the “coloration, body shape, face shape, and nearness to an established population,” a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission official said the monkey appears to be a rhesus macaque. WSVN. Daily Commercial. WKMG. WESH. WOFL.

St. Johns: Graduations at the district’s 10 high schools begin May 17 and continue through May 22. Most of them will be held at the St. Augustine Amphitheater and the University of North Florida. St. Johns County School District.

Leon: Almost 17 percent of the district’s 2,062 high school seniors are at risk of not graduating because they did not reach the required score on the 10th-grade state reading exam and the algebra 1 end-of-course exam, or don’t have the number of credits needed or a 2.0 unweighted cumulative grade point average. Last year, 86.1 percent of students graduated. The state average was 88 percent, and the district’s pre-pandemic rate was about 94 percent. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Metcalfe Elementary School will remain on the traditional 10-month school calendar instead of participating in the state’s year-round schooling pilot program. Florida Department of Educational officials approved the request made by the school district. Rawlings Elementary will still take part in the year-round pilot. Mainstreet Daily News.

Bay: Kristi Denery Page of Mosley High School has been named the school district’s assistant principal of the year. WJHG.

Flagler: The sentencing of a student who pleaded no contest to beating a Matanzas High School teacher’s aide Feb. 21, 2023, was continued Wednesday after a day of testimony. It is expected to resume later this month. Brendan Depa, 18, committed aggravated battery on aide Joan Naydich, and faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Flagler Live. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Gulf: Equillar Gainer, a school district worker and vice president of the union representing non-instructional staff, has announced her candidacy for the District 4 school board seat. Other opponents are incumbent Marvin Davis and Charles Gathers. Port St. Joe Star.

Colleges and universities: Protests can’t be allowed to interfere with graduation ceremonies at state colleges and universities, State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, told school presidents in a memo on Tuesday. “You are authorized to take any steps necessary to ensure the safety of all attendees during the ceremony,” he wrote. Florida Phoenix. USA Today Florida Network. Central Florida Public Media. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters marched from nearby Temple Terrace to the University of South Florida campus on Wednesday. No violence or arrests were reported. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WFTS. Florida’s Board of Governors will consider a proposal next week to add a history course called Introductory Survey to 1877 to a list of general education core courses that are options to fulfill social-science course requirements. News Service of Florida. A University of Florida graduate student has filed a brief urging the state Supreme Court to back a lawsuit contending the school should repay fees it collected from students when the campus was closed during the pandemic. The court hears arguments June 5. News Service of Florida. UF reached an agreement with the city of Gainesville to extend its contract providing bus rides for students through Jan. 1. Gainesville Sun.

Protected government speech? U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor wrote in an opinion last week that he isn’t convinced school book removals are protected government speech. That’s an argument Florida and some of its counties have used to defend their removal of books with LGBTQ themes. One of those books, And Tango Makes Three, is the subject of a lawsuit brought against the Escambia County School Board for removing the story about a two male penguins raising a chick together in a zoo. USA Today Florida Network.

State joins NIL suit: Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has joined a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA over name, image and likeness restrictions. “It appears no one could ever comply with these ever-changing and unfair regulations that limit the ability of student athletes to negotiate in good faith,” Moody said. “I am taking legal action to reverse the unlawful restrictions the NCAA has placed on Florida universities and our collegiate athletes.” Tampa Bay Times.

Choice scholarships: More than 230,000 Florida students have been awarded scholarships allowing them to direct public education funding to providers of their choice next school year. In just over a month, Step Up For Students, which helps administer the scholarship programs and hosts this blog, has received more than 231,000 applications. About 380,000 students received scholarships for the 2023-2024 school year. NextSteps.

Around the nation: Experts are predicting “catastrophic” declines in college enrollments because of the botched federal rollout of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. Applications for the student aid are down 29 percent, and hundreds of thousands of students who typically choose a school by May 1 still can’t decide because they don’t know how much aid to expect. Associated Press. About $6 billion in student loan debt has been forgiven by the Biden administration for more than 317,000 people who attended the Art Institutes colleges in Florida and other states between 2004 and 2017. Federal officials say the for-profit schools lured students with “pervasive” lies. The system closed in 2023 after being accused of fraud. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: To be superintendent of a Florida school district today is to manage decline and to do so while standing mute — because outspokenness is off limits in the Free State of Florida. Vindictive state officials, vindictive school board members, vindictive right-wing activists who want to ban books and micromanage the curriculum: they are ghouls that a superintendent must wrestle with. The turmoil in Duval County is a harbinger of Florida’s dark future. Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union. Colleges should also not be allowed to make anyone decide whether to attend without knowing what it will actually cost, and they should not be allowed to offer better odds to those who forgo that information. They should not offer admissions pathways tilted to favor the rich, any more than they should offer pathways favoring people who are white. Daniel Currell, New York Times.

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BY NextSteps staff

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