New law requires daily moment of silence in public schools, interim superintendent chosen and more

Moment of silence: A moment of silence will be required at the beginning of every day in K-12 Florida public school classrooms this fall. Monday, at a Jewish Community Center in Miami-Dade County, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill, H.B. 529, which calls for one to two minutes of silent reflection before first period, and forbids teachers from making “suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence.” The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said it was “not a prayer in school bill,” but could be used by students to “get centered before the start of the day” or to think about homework. “We think it’s something that’s important to be able to provide each student the ability every day to be able to reflect and to be able to pray as they see fit,” said DeSantis. “The idea that you can just push God out of every institution and be successful — I’m sorry our founding fathers did not believe that.” The law takes effect July 1. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. WPTV. Capitol News Service. USA Today Network. WTXL.

Around the state: The Lee County School Board chooses the district’s chief operating officer as the interim superintendent, a proposal to end the naming of valedictorians and salutatorians in Escambia County high schools stalls, 93 percent of students who left a Palm Beach County elementary school during the pandemic turned to home-schooling, the Volusia school board makes face masks optional in schools beginning immediately, Duval Superintendent Diana Greene reviews the school year and looks ahead to next year, and a judge is expected to rule today on a lawsuit against an Alachua school board member who doesn’t live in the district she was elected to represent. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: The school district is offering free meals this summer at 66 schools to any student 18 and under. The meal distribution program is a federally funded initiative from the Food and Drug Administration. WKMG. The school district has begun replacing old school marquees with digital ones that give schools greater flexibility in messaging. All high schools and most middle schools now have the new signs, and the district’s 102 elementary schools should have them by the end of this year. Orange Observer.

Palm Beach: The decline in school enrollments caused by the pandemic was felt throughout the county, but especially at Jupiter Farms Elementary. Of the 76 students who didn’t return to the school, 71 turned to home-schooling. Countywide, just 38 percent of the 5,500 students who unenrolled opted to be home-taught. District officials believe most of the students who left schools last year will return in the fall, with in-person classes offered and masks optional. But that may not be the case at Jupiter Farms, which is in a district with a strong history of home-schooling and a growing distrust of government. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Superintendent Diana Greene said in her review of the school year that the district went from survival mode to thriving by the end, though she called it the most challenging year of her career. She said she expects most students to attend classes in schools next year, that five high schools will be opened this month for vaccinations, that the district is working on the timing of renaming six schools that honor Confederate leaders, that 20,000 students are expected to attend summer school, that the ban on critical race theory won’t affect the district because it isn’t taught now, that the district is looking to hire 300 teachers and 20 school safety officers, and that an app will be introduced next fall that includes a panic alarm. WJXT. WJAX. WTLV. WJCT. WJXT.

Polk: Preschool centers that survived the pandemic through grants say the latest threat to their businesses is a shortage of teachers. Early Learning Coalition CEO Marc Hutek said the high vacancy rates are creating a crisis for providers. “Our child-care centers are desperately looking to hire qualified child-care teachers and many centers have waiting lists of children,” he said. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: The chief operating officer of the school district has been chosen as the interim superintendent. Kenneth Savage takes over today from the retiring Greg Adkins, and will run the district while the school board conducts a national search for the permanent replacement. As part of his contract, which pays at an annual rate of $209,000, Savage agreed not to seek the permanent job. The other finalist for the temporary position was Vickie Cartwright, the superintendent of schools in Oshkosh, Wis. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WBBH. WFTX. New textbooks that drew complaints from some parents have been adopted by the school board. Critics said the books teach critical race theory, which contends that racism is embedded in American institutions. School officials deny that. WINK. Mariner High School officials said they have suspended several students for attacking a boy and calling him racial slurs. The victim also was suspended, and declined to press charges. His mother said if the school doesn’t increase the punishment for the attackers, she will press charges. WINK.

Volusia: Face masks are now optional in district schools. The school board voted on the change Monday, and it takes effect immediately. WKMG. WOFL. WESH.

Escambia: A proposal to end the practice of naming valedictorians and salutatorians for high school classes has been removed from the school board agenda by Superintendent Tim Smith. District staff were pushing to end the designations, citing the pressure they put on students. Instead, they wanted to use Latin honors: cum laude for students in the top 20 percent, magna cum laude for students in the top 10 percent and summa cum laude for students in the top 5 percent. Three of the five school board members said they were opposed after hearing from constituents who didn’t want to see an end to the tradition. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: School board member Alva Striplin is resigning her position on the appointed board of the new Children’s Services Council. She’s also leaving her job as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Big Bend to take a job at the Florida State University College of Law. She will remain on the school board. In April, Striplin said she was “very excited and honored” to be chosen to sit on the council. This week, she said her resignation from the council “is not a decision I take lightly.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: A circuit judge is expected to rule today in the case of Diyonne McGraw, who was elected to the District 2 school board seat but lives in District 4. A lawsuit was filed by her 2020 election opponent and others is asking Judge Donna Keim to allow McGraw to stay on the board but cast no votes until the issue of her eligibility is decided. McGraw’s attorney argued that she never gave a false address, and that in similar cases the challenged official was permitted to stay on and cast legal votes on issues. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: Nearly half the substitutes the school district has relied on quit over the course of the school year, and the district and its contractor are recruiting heavily to rebuild the pool. Staff EZ typically has 600 or more substitutes, but it lost 331 this year and has just 347 left. One of the stumbling blocks has been the pay: $10.97 per hour for those with a college degree and $9.22 an hour for those with an associate degree or some college credits.  Pensacola News Journal.

Hernando: The school board received more than $9 million in the state budget to create a new career and technical college. “This will be an opportunity for us to have a stand-alone technical college that can expand on the programs that we currently offer and bring new programs into our community,” said Sophia Watson, the district’s supervisor of adult and technical education. The district has some career programs at a high school, but the new school will allow it to offer 10 to 12 more programs and certification opportunities. Bay News 9.

Indian River: The site of the old Gifford School in Hosie Shumann Park is now part of the Florida Historical Marker Program for sites that played a significant part in the cultural history of the state. The Gifford School was the first in the area to educate black students from the early 1900s to 1953, when the school moved to a larger building. TCPalm.

Gadsden: The oldest private school in the county is moving its campus from the western part of the county to the east, near the border with Leon County. The Robert F. Munroe Day School was damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018, and school officials decided it would be more cost-efficient to build a new school than make repairs to the building that’s more than 100 years old. The new school opens this fall. WFSU.

Colleges and universities: Improving diversity in enrollment was a goal for the University of South Florida, and its efforts are showing encouraging results. Admission deposits are up 13 percent for black students and more than 3.5 percent for Hispanics. School officials give much of the credit for the upswing to a decision to make direct appeals to students through phone calls. Tampa Bay Times. Valencia College’s Horizon Scholars program, which offers scholarships to students from low-income families, will accept 100 new students in August. The program began in 2007. Orlando Sentinel. Eastern Florida State College has adopted a $77 million budget that includes no tuition increase and pay raises for employees. Eastern Florida State College. The state Board of Education’s adoption of a rule allowing college athletes to receiving payments for the use of their names, images and likenesses also requires those students to complete a financial literacy course. WUSF.

Assault on nonpartisanship: The nonpartisan nature of Florida school board politics is increasingly under attack from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Gov. DeSantis recently warned Republican school board members they would lose support if they didn’t agree with his agenda. And a Democratic legislator successfully lobbied the Palm Beach County Democratic Party to censure four school board members who voted to remove the phrase “white advantage” from the school district’s equity statement. WLRN. Teachers are also under pressure over the political battles being fought nationwide about curriculum, specifically the idea of critical race theory. Florida Phoenix. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The controversies over curriculum and COVID could make voters more interested in 2022 school board races. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: The number of suspected suicide attempts by girls 12-17 years old jumped 51 percent between Feb. 20 and March 21 compared with the same period in 2019, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among boys in the same age group the rate was 4 percent. ABC News. Sinclair Broadcast Group. Florida is not among the 28 states that have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education on how they intend to spend the federal coronavirus relief money from the American Rescue Plan. Funds will be held up to states until they’ve sent in their plans and had them approved. K-12 Dive. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Inclusive choice programs create open enrollment opportunities that ramp up educational options, and the main beneficiaries are disadvantaged students. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Shielding students from uncomfortable truths is what makes students cynical and begin to question their country. Tackling controversial topics like institutional racism will teach children how to prevent wrongs from our past from being repeated in their future. Sally Butzin, Tallahassee Democrat.

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