‘Cancel culture,’ ESAs explained, a school’s eight years on state underperforming list, and more

In the Legislature: University leaders say the bills (S.B. 264 and H.B. 233) that are intended to address a presumed “cancel culture” will have an unintended, chilling effect on free speech on campuses. The bills also allow recordings in classrooms of people without their consent. The Advisory Council of Faculty Senates, which is made up of leaders at the 12 state universities, recently passed a resolution stating that the bills would “undermine learning, ideological diversity, faculty recruitment and university rankings, and have the unintended effect of shielding students from viewpoints that make them uncomfortable.” Tampa Bay Times. The introduction of S.B. 48 has introduced many people, for the first time, to education savings accounts. Here’s how they work, and how parents use them. redefinED.

Around the state: An Escambia County middle school has been on the state’s list of underperforming schools for eight years, the Broward school district’s purchases of computers is being investigated by a statewide grand jury, an assistant principal in Bay County is suspended after his indictment on federal corruption charges during his time as a city commissioner, three companies have applied to start charter schools in Manatee County in 2022, the state’s changing academic standards start getting phased in this August in some grades, a judge is expected to decide today if the Seminole County School Board can go ahead with the proposed hiring of a superintendent, and two administrators are suspended for their roles in a school hosting a “twerking” workshop for adults as a fund-raiser. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The former principal of Miami Beach Senior High School and the activities director have been suspended for allowing the basketball coach to hire a “celebrity twerker” last spring to hold a workshop for adults at the school so the basketball team could raise money for a trip to Las Vegas. Maria T. Rodriguez, who was the principal being being reassigned in December to become a “principal on special assignment,” was suspended for seven days. Maylee Ann Costa was suspended for three days. The coach, Jacob Shaw, was initially blamed for holding the event and was reassigned, but has been cleared and returned to the school to coach and work as a paraprofessional. Miami Herald. A Coral Reef Senior High School teacher has been arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with an underage student. Social studies teacher Rafael Birriel, 39, has been fired, district officials said. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Broward: The school district’s purchase of $200 million worth of Lenovo computers for students is being investigated by the statewide grand jury appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to look into school safety and corruption. Former district technology chief Tony Hunter, who was arrested in January on bribery and bid-rigging charges on another matter, was an advocate for the computer purchases. The district has had so many problems with the computers that teachers, students and school board began calling them “Le-No-No’s.” Sun Sentinel.

Orange: Four Winter Park High School students won prizes in C-SPAN’s 17th annual StudentCam competition for their short documentary films. Tammy Premchan and Katie Smith finished second among 1,200 entries with their film on youth involvement in politics. Soleil Lopez was third with a look at systemic racism, and Maggie Jones won an honorable mention for her film on coronavirus misinformation. Orlando Sentinel.

Polk: District teachers with more than seven years of experience will get raises of $650 instead of the $1,500 the teachers union wanted, the school board has decided. The fight over raises led to an impasse in contract negotiations, which sent the dispute to the board to be settled. The board also rejected the union’s request to increase the starting pay for para-educators to $10 an hour. Months ago, the union and district agreed starting teacher salaries from $40,972 to $45,172. Lakeland Ledger. An 16-year-old 8th-grader at the McKeel Academy of Technology in Lakeland has been arrested and accused of extorting money from a classmate. Deputies said the boy solicited images of the girl on Snapchat, then threatened to share them if she didn’t pay him $100. WPEC.

Brevard: The co-founder of a conservative group called Moms for Liberty received a bag of excrement in the mail about two weeks after the group protested the school district’s policies toward LGBTQ students. Tina Descovich, a former school board member, said, “I worry about the message that they are trying to send. But it won’t work with me. We’re speaking up for children and we won’t be intimidated or harassed.” She said she’s considering whether to report the incident to police. Florida Today.

Seminole: A judge is expected to rule today whether to issue an injunction to stop the school board from hiring its attorney, Serita Beamon, as superintendent. A lawyer for a district parent filed the suit, claiming the board broke its own bylaws when it offered Chad Farnsworth the job on Feb. 23, then rescinded the offer and voted March 1 to offer Beamon the job. WKMG.

Volusia: Changing academic standards, after a year of dealing with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, worries some teachers in the district and around the state. Starting in August, 1st- and 2nd-graders will be the first to use the new Florida B.E.S.T. Standards, starting with new textbooks for language arts. “I don’t know of any other state whose changes in ELA (English language arts) have been as major,” said David Steiner, the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. “I do worry a little bit that when the new standards hit next year that some folks may be caught a little off guard so there may be some catch-up,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. “We’ve been doing so much this year to deal with COVID. … It could be very overwhelming for folks.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Three companies have filed applications to open charter schools by August 2022. Visions Charter Academy in Palmetto would open to K-8 school for students who “fall between the cracks” at traditional schools, and expand a grade a year to become K-12. Manatee County Acceleration Academy would open in Bradenton for students ages 18-21 who dropped out before or during high school, or recently failed. Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy would be a K-12 school focusing on wellness and health sciences. The district is reviewing the applications. Bradenton Herald.

Escambia: Warrington Middle School in Pensacola is on the state’s list of underperforming schools for the eighth year in a row, with annual grades of D and F, and the state is giving the district one year to improve before it takes over its operation. The extra year was granted only after the district agreed to the state’s demands of installing new leadership at the school, hiring an external operator and putting more experienced teachers in classrooms. If Warrington’s grade doesn’t improve in a year, the state will turn it over to a charter company or close it. WEAR.

Bay: The assistant principal at Arnold High School has been placed on leave pending the results of a federal investigation. Antonius Barnes, a former Lynn Haven commissioner, was indicted and arrested last week on federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud, and substantive counts of wire fraud and honest services fraud. The indictment alleges that Barnes helped “ensure contracts for numerous multi-million-dollar infrastructure and construction projects and post-Hurricane Michael debris clean-up activities were awarded” to a developer, who was also indicted along with the former Lynn Haven mayor and city attorney. “Obviously this situation has nothing to do with the school board, but we hold all educators to the highest of standards and so it’s disturbing to hear of an employee being charged with any crime,” said school Superintendent Bill Husfelt. WMBB.

Citrus: School officials said the past year of dealing with the pandemic taught them several lessons they can carry forward: That remote learning can continue to be useful in keeping students connected when they’re out of school, that virtual options help parents communicate with schools, that new procedures for changing classes and scheduling lunches has helped manage student conduct, that it’s okay to think differently to solve problems, and more. Citrus County Chronicle. Members of the Academy of Environmental Science board decided not to hire either of the finalists for the vacant principal’s job, and will repost the position. Former principal Zachary Leonard resigned in January while he was being investigated for misconduct. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida has been chosen for the southeast regional headquarters of the Global Virus Network, a coalition of the “world’s foremost experts in every class of virus causing disease in humans and some animals.” Tampa Bay Times. The University of Florida has announced plans for the summer and fall semesters that call for “largely normal” operations. WUFT. About 8,000 blue and white ceramic calla lilies have been sculpted by Florida Gulf Coast University students, faculty and others for the project called “Field of Remembrance, Cathedral of Sky” to memorialize the lives lost in southwest Florida during the pandemic. Fort Myers News-Press. Palm Beach Atlantic University students are tracking down ocean litterers with biodegradable drift cards that, when found and reported, can help determine where trash was dumped. Palm Beach Post. The University of West Florida said it will offer an online bachelor’s degree in public health. Pensacola News Journal. Four Jacksonville area colleges will receive $111.7 million in federal coronavirus relief aid. Florida State College will get $56.4 million, the University of North Florida $35.1 million, Edward Waters College $13.6 million and Jacksonville University $6.6 million. Florida Times-Union. Michael Carrere, the former CEO of Lykes Brothers Inc., has been reappointed by Gov. DeSantis to the University of South Florida Board of Trustees. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Students can safely sit within 3 feet of each other in classrooms as long as they’re wearing masks, but the previous standard of 6 feet should be continued at lunch, assembles and school activities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday. Associated Press. Politico. Florida Phoenix. NPR. The 74. Education Week. In poorer U.S. school districts, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are overwhelming school counselors. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: The civic effects at stake in our wars over educational parental choice count more than any puff or decline in test scores. The corruption of the civic souls of child and parent is the poisoning of society. John E. Coons, redefinED. S.B. 86 would put a dimmer on Bright Futures for any student of the humanities. Fred Grimm, Sun Sentinel. The Manatee County School District’s School Based Health Center initiative is a demonstration of the district’s strategic thinking. Sharon Hillstrom, Bradenton Herald. Education benefits everyone, whether it is college or trade school, and people who are looking to expand their horizons should be encouraged to follow their dreams. The government should not be in the dream business. John Hakkio, Ocala Star-Banner. For-profit charter schools are illegal in almost all states, but school profiteers have found many loopholes that allow them to run charter schools for a profit. How they do it is outlined in a new report. It begs the question: If for-profit charters are a bad idea, how are charters run for profit any better? Peter Greene, Forbes.

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