Most test consequences waived: Statewide testing will go on as planned this year, but the Florida Department of Education announced Friday that students’ performance won’t be held against them. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran waived three key rules regarding the use of test scores: that 3rd-graders had to pass the state reading test to move to 4th grade, that seniors had to pass algebra 1 and 10th-grade language arts exams to graduate, and that test results in algebra, biology, civics, geometry and U.S. history had to account for 30 percent of final course grades. “Similar to last year, this emergency order protects our high school seniors and empowers local school districts and schools to make the important decisions on graduation, promotion and whether to opt in to school grades and improvement ratings,” Corcoran said. Parents, students and educators had been lobbying for the tests to be canceled or at least not counted against students after a chaotic year of remote learning, coronavirus infections and quarantines. One thing Corcoran’s order does not do is waive the use of test scores in evaluating teachers. “The educators who have served Florida’s students throughout the pandemic also deserve to be shown some grace,” said Florida Education Association president Andrew Spar. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. WMFE.
YouTube vs. DeSantis: YouTube has removed a video of a March 18 Gov. Ron DeSantis roundtable discussion because it contained information on mask-wearing that violated its policy related to “COVID-19 medical misinformation.” Specifically, panelist Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University said that “children should not wear face masks. No. They don’t need it for their own protection and they don’t need it for protecting other people, either,” and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford Medical School said he thought it was “developmentally inappropriate” for schoolchildren to wear face masks. DeSantis spokesman Cody McCloud criticized YouTube, saying, “Good public health policy should include a variety of scientific and technical expertise, and YouTube’s decision to remove this video suppresses productive dialogue of these complex issues.” Bhattacharya called YouTube’s decision “censorship” and “contrary to American democratic norms of free expression.” Tampa Bay Times. Washington Post. Yahoo.
In the Legislature: Two controversial education-related bills will be taken up by the Florida House on Tuesday: one that would ban transgender girls from competing in high school or college women’s sports, and another that would allow prayers over stadium loudspeakers before school sporting events . News Service of Florida. Federal aid is pouring into the state and sales tax revenues are outperforming expectations, but there will still be difficult discussions about the state’s general and education budgets before the scheduled April 30 adjournment. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.
Around the state: Several state school districts announce that they will no longer offer their own virtual learning programs in the fall, hundreds of teachers in Hillsborough County whose jobs have been eliminated are scrambling to find open jobs in the district’s hiring pool, in-person graduation ceremonies have been announced for the Miami-Dade County School District, infractions are down sharply in the Duval County School District but black students are still being disproportionately disciplined, the issue of mandatory face masks in schools will be discussed again this week by the Indian River County School Board, and growth in the east zone of the Lee County School District has led to a growing reliance on portable classrooms. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Miami-Dade: In-person graduations for district high schools will be held between June 1-9 at nine venues, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has announced. More than 25,000 students are scheduled to graduate from the 60-plus district schools. Safety protocols are still being discussed. Miami Herald. WPLG. WFOR.
Broward: A 12-year-old student has been arrested for threatening to blow up his school, the Renaissance Charter School at University in Tamarac, last week. Deputies said the boy admitted to emailing a threat that read, “Theres a bomb in your school ten minutes remain until you blow.” The school was evacuated about 1 p.m. Wednesday. Miami Herald. WTVJ.
Hillsborough: Hundreds of teachers whose jobs were cut last week are scrambling to apply for open positions in the district’s hiring pool. Some will have to take jobs that they aren’t certified for and earn the credentials while working, and others will find no job and will be forced to leave the district. More than 50 assistant principals whose jobs are being eliminated, meanwhile, can’t even apply for teaching jobs until the laid-off teachers have had their turn. The district is making the cuts to cut down a projected $100 million-plus deficit. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. A school bus driver has been arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a student on his bus last Thursday. Deputies said Ronale Divad Johnson, 45, has been charged with sexual battery and lewd and lascivious molestation. Johnson drove a bus transporting students from East Bay and Lennard high schools and Beth Shields Middle School. Superintendent Addison Davis said he “will be recommending an immediate termination.” Tampa Bay Times.
Palm Beach: School officials said that the “improving landscape of the pandemic” and the growing number of teachers being vaccinated led them to Friday’s announcement that they are discontinuing the district’s hybrid online learning option in the fall. “A full return to brick and mortar this fall is anticipated and I believe it is in the best interest of our students and staff,” Superintendent Donald Fennoy wrote in an email to parents. “I cannot overstate the academic, social, and emotional benefits of returning to in-person instruction. Students thrive while learning among friends and caring adults in their school setting.” The decision ends simultaneous teaching, in which teachers led both in-person and online students at the same time. Fennoy said that method “has been a very heavy lift for our teachers, and has left many distance learning students struggling academically.” Students who want to remain online only will have to enroll in the Palm Beach Virtual School. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC.
Duval: The number of infractions reported in the school district has declined by more than half in the first 100 days of school in the 2020-2021 academic year compared to the same period in the 2019-2020 year, according to school officials. There were 47,798 infractions reported last year, but only 19,428 this year. Black boys remain the most disciplined group of students, and boys continue to be disciplined about twice as often as girls. “Now that we have these things, we know these facts, we know these numbers, we know some are good, some are not so good,” said Jackie Simmons, the district’s executive director of discipline and student support. “So what are we going to do about it?” Florida Times-Union.
Polk: The district and the teachers union are in negotiations to extend the time that teachers are eligible for sick leave related to the coronavirus. The last agreement giving them 10 days of leave expired March 31, but the goal is to extend the eligibility deadline until June 4. About 300 public and private school teachers contracted COVID between Sept. 6 and April 3, according to health department records. Lakeland Ledger.
Lee: The student population in the school district’s east zone has grown 66 percent in the past 20 years, which has outstripped the district’s ability to build new schools and led to an increased reliance on portable classrooms. About 3 percent of all students are in portables, but 79 percent of those students attend schools in the east zone. Board member Gwyn Gittens pointed to those figures as the reason she has talked publicly about poor conditions in portables and why she’s asking administrators questions. “I’m not trying to be a pain in the butt, but I’m trying to do what’s right for children,” she said. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.
Brevard: Neighbors of school board member Jennifer Jenkins have drawn messages of love and encouragement in chalk on the sidewalk outside her Satellite Beach home. They were responding to anti-LGBTQ protests held outside Jenkins’ home last week in which the demonstrators shouted epithets and slurs and waved signs with such messages as “LGBTQ agenda is ungodly” and “Brevard School Board Approved DANGEROUS ANTI-CHRISTIAN Policies.” Florida Today. WKMG.
Manatee, Sarasota: The number of school employees testing positive for the coronavirus dropped last week, school officials said. Manatee County had no employees contract the virus, the first time that’s happened this school year, and Sarasota reported seven cases, the lowest total since October. The decline coincides with the increased availability of vaccinations. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Collier: School officials are giving students two learning option choices for the fall: in-person or the eCollier Virtual Academy. Being discontinued are the Classroom Connect and High School Flexible options. Students who choose the virtual academy have to commit to stay for a semester, and will be required to attend scheduled live virtual teaching lessons. The virtual academy is being expanded to grades K-12. WZVN. WINK.
St. Johns: Bryan Ott, who has been the deacon at St, Joseph Academy Catholic High School in St. Augustine, has been named the principal of Cathedral Parish School. He’ll replace Kathy Boice, who’s retiring in July. St. Augustine Record.
Alachua: Superintendent Carlee Simon’s call to redefine school boundaries to improve student diversity and enrollment balance has drawn pushback from some school board members who argue that certain schools with declining enrollments should simply be closed. Both arguments cite district statistics that show a higher per-student cost at schools that are underenrolled than at schools that are at capacity. But either path figures to be controversial. Gainesville Sun.
Martin: A series of ongoing vandalism incidents at Jensen Beach Elementary School has prompted the school district to buy more surveillance cameras. Trespassers have vandalized the school several times since November, and it has been moved up on the list for more cameras, lights and signs. “With the technology the way it is today, there are three-way cameras, there are all sorts of cameras that will help us and it’s so advanced we hopefully won’t miss anything on campus,” said Frank Frangella, director of safety and security for district. WPTV.
Indian River: The question of the school district’s requirement to wear face masks on campuses is back on the agenda for Tuesday’s school board meeting. But board members expect the discussion to simply focus on deciding the conditions under which face masks can be optional instead of mandatory. “What is it that we’re going to look at to say, ‘Now is a good time to remove masks?’ ” asked board member Teri Barenborg. “I’m asking for (the board) to come up with criteria the superintendent can consider to create a plan to eventually get rid of the mandate.” TCPalm.
Charlotte: School officials said they are discontinuing the district’s E-Learning Model, in which students followed their classes and teachers online in real time, and are encouraging students to return to classrooms in the fall. Charlotte Virtual School will continue to be an online option. It is a more independent program that the E-Learning Model, which, said district spokesman Mike Riley said, “was something we put together specifically for the pandemic.” He added, “We may see some students continue to learn from home, but my guess is the majority will return to brick-and-mortar.” Charlotte Sun.
Putnam: The school district is beginning to implement its revitalization plan, which calls for the closing of three schools this summer, the redistribution of their students, the repurposing of other schools and, official hope, the construction of several new schools. But no teachers will be laid off, which was a concern when the proposal was first made. “We’re doing this to take care of our people, not hurt anybody,” said associate superintendent Thomas Bolling. WUFT.
Gadsden: Joey Striplin, a longtime head football coach in the Tallahassee area and at West Gadsden and East Gadsden high schools since 2010, has died of cancer and pneumonia. He was 52. WTXL. Tallahassee Democrat.
Colleges and universities: More colleges and universities are announcing that they will require students to be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall. The list is expected to grow as more people receive vaccinations. NPR. Associated Press.
Around the nation: President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.5 trillion budget calls for a 41 percent increase for the U.S. Department of Education, including $20 billion more for Title I aid to disadvantaged students, $2.6 billion more for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants to states, and $1.2 billion more for the Head Start early education program. States Newsroom. Associated Press. Education Week. Chalkbeat. The number of U.S. students between the ages of 11 and 17 screened for anxiety and depression in 2020 was 9 percent higher than in 2019, Mental Health America is reporting. USA Today. About two-thirds of American high school students prefer learning in-person over remote instruction, according to a survey of participants in an Internet-based math modeling contest. T.H.E. Journal. Demand for virtual schools is soaring. New York Times.
Opinions on schools: Educators are under attack in the Legislature. Kim Cook, Gainesville Sun. Combining and expanding school choice programs is definitely the best step forward for public education in the state of Florida. Tim Benson, Heartland Institute. Under the guise of protecting unpopular free speech on college campuses, Republican state lawmakers are hoping to carve out an extraordinary exception in criminal law that allows Florida’s public college and university students to make secret recordings of their professors. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. The House is proposing a budget cut of $36.4 million in funding for the Effective Access to Student Education Program that, if approved, would deprive nearly 13,000 students of funding that is crucial to their academic success. We should not jeopardize the academic futures of thousands of students to balance the budget. Kent Ingle, Lakeland Ledger.