Three colleges get huge gifts, graduation speech called anti-semitic, feds look at dress code and more

Around the state: Three Florida colleges have received donations of $110 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott for their commitment to educating students from underserved communities, a Palm Beach County salutatorian is being heavily criticized for her graduation speech that some Israel supporters are calling anti-semitic, a federal investigation has been launched into the St. Johns County School District’s student dress code, the Hendry County principal who paddled a 6-year-old girl in front of her mother was reappointed on the same day the state threatened her with sanctions, an Alachua County School Board member can continue to vote while the issue of her residency is being considered, the only Florida student still alive in the Scripps National Spelling Bee is a 13-year-old from Clay County, and Gov. Ron DeSantis went on Fox News to continue his attack on critical race theory. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Ruth Karp, a preschool teacher, artist and businesswoman who helped revive the University of Miami’s women’s basketball team in the mid-1980s after a 14-year absence, has died at the age of 96. Her son Martin Karp is a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board. Miami Herald.

Broward: Some supporters of Israel are protesting the June 8 graduation speech by Western High School salutatorian Rachel Cheng, calling it anti-semitic and urging followers to protest to school board members. Cheng cited discrimination against Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and her “Middle Eastern peers, who have been facing struggle after struggle and are in constant fear of their families and friends being struck down by a militant government, who have had their land stolen and abused. I applaud you.” This week, Cheng went on Instagram to thank supporters and said, “I still stand by every single thing I said in my salutatorian speech.” Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Eight schools are getting new principals, effective July 1. The school board approved the appointments at Tuesday’s meeting. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: A complaint filed against school board member Alexandria Ayala has been dismissed by the Florida Ethics Commission. The complaint was filed after Ayala bought a house with her partner outside the district she represents. In her financial disclosure form, Ayala claimed assets of $3,424. But she and the partner put down $51,000. Ayala said the money came from her partner’s savings, and the commission said that the suspicion posed in the complaint was not enough to warrant further investigation. Two other complaints are still active. Allegations of mortgage fraud were filed with the FBI, and the Florida Department of State is still reviewing a complaint that Ayala committed election fraud by listing a different address. Sun Sentinel. Construction is beginning today on an elementary school in Boca Raton. The O5C Elementary School, which is what it’s being called until it’s named, is next to Don Estridge High Tech Middle School. It’s scheduled to open in August 2022. WPTV.

Brevard: District teachers won’t be affected by the state’s ban on teaching critical race theory because it’s never been taught, according to district officials. Spokesman Russell Bruhn said the district has always followed the state’s history curriculum. Union president Anthony Colucci agreed. “This is politicians trying to start culture wars over issues that really don’t exist in our schools,” Colucci said. “There are already policies set by districts that prevent teachers from attempting to indoctrinate students. laid out by the state and has never taught critical race theory or the 1619 Project.” Florida Today.

Collier: Districts officials said every middle and high school student in the county will have access to a theater program by the next school year. Details are being worked out this week with representatives from local theaters. “We are lucky to have great theater programs in some of our schools, but not all,” said Skip Pardee, the district’s coordinator of fine arts. “So this effort with our theater teachers over the next two days is to help bring more equitable opportunities to our students across the district.” WFTX.

St. Johns: A federal investigation has been launched into the school district’s dress code. The district received notice of a complaint from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that said it was looking into the code because of allegations that it unfairly targets and humiliates girls, and because only the photos of girls were edited in the yearbook for Bartram Trail High School for possible code violations. District officials said they were complying with the request to submit data, and had no further comment. St. Augustine Record. WJXT. WJAX. A teacher frustrated by the bureaucracy in school districts opened a learning and tutoring center that focuses on self-directed learning. Jo Lawson and her husband Justin started Sapna Academy, which is affiliated with Agile Learning Centers, a global network of secular alternative schools where students design their own education. redefinED.

Sarasota: District officials told the school board that they are expecting 43,229 students when schools open in the fall. That’s 254 more than the district had when this past school year ended, but is still 919 below previous projections. That translates into a drop of $1.5 million in state and local funding. In another development at Tuesday’s meeting, three board members chastened colleague Bridget Ziegler for her comments on Fox News about critical race theory, and Superintendent Brennan Asplen said the comments caused confusion because they suggested the district is teaching CRT, which it is not. Ziegler said she’ll continue to speak out against CRT, which she said is a political agenda that third party groups are trying to push into schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: About 7,000 students have registered for summer school, three times the typical number, according to the district. Officials said the program is just the first step the district has planned to help students catch up after a year in which many of them fell behind while trying to learn remotely. “We’re looking at several years of planning. Collecting data to see where the deficits are, where we missed the mark and how we can grow our students,” said reading coach Stephanie Hall. WKMG.

Escambia: School officials are initiating a multi-year project to replace two schools, improve existing buildings and replace portables with permanent classroom additions. The district is also pushing to build a K-8 school to help alleviate expected growth in the Beulah area. “It’s really important for us to get out in front of growth for the future and so this is an opportunity that we want to position ourselves for the future,” said Superintendent Tim Smith. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: Diyonne McGraw can continue to cast votes on issues as a school board member, at least for now. On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Donna Keim denied a request for an injunction to bar McGraw from voting, saying there was no sufficient evidence that those bringing the suit would be harmed if McGraw continued to vote. Keim did say that there was “a substantial likelihood of success on the merits as the statutory authority presented by the plaintiffs supports their argument that if McGraw does not live in the school district which she represents, District 2, she is not entitled to hold the seat for that district.” McGraw lives in District 4. Gainesville Sun. School officials said more than a third of the district’s students fell behind during the academic year just concluded, and they hope their expanded summer program can help make up some of that gap. WUFT.

Charlotte: Face masks are now optional at all district schools after the school board approved Superintendent Steve Dionisio’s recommendation on Tuesday. The change takes effect immediately. WINK.

Citrus: School board members unanimously changed the mandatory face masks policy to make them optional. The change begins immediately. Citrus County Chronicle. The district’s chief academic officer said the state’s new rules on teaching history won’t affect Citrus teachers because they already follow the code of professional ethics and do not lecture outside of state-approved textbooks. “It’s very clear what a teacher can and can’t do in a classroom,” said Scott Hebert. “If something were to happen, the administration at the school would get involved and go through whatever steps are necessary to rectify that situation.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Hendry: Tuesday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to Melissa Carter, the Clewiston elementary school principal who paddled a 6-year-old child in front of her mother in April, saying he found probable cause to impose sanctions on her with penalties ranging from a reprimand to a loss of her educator certificate. Hours later, school board members reappointed Carter as principal at Central Elementary School. The case is also being investigated by the Department of Children and Families. WINK. WFTX.

Monroe: A local company has issued an intent-to-protest notice to the school board after it awarded a $15 million contract to build Key West High School’s stadium to a Tallahassee-based company, Ajax Building Co., that has now been given seven consecutive district construction jobs. Gulf-Keystar contends that state law requires government agencies to spread out contracts to qualified companies in order to avoid the appearance of favoritism. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $40 million to both the University of Central Florida in Orlando and Florida International University in Miami, and $30 million to Broward College. The schools were chosen, Scott explained, because they are “successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved.” The schools may use the money any way they wish. The gifts to the Florida schools were among 286 totaling $2.7 billion announced Tuesday by Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Associated Press. WSVN. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFOR. Florida State University researchers have received a $1.5 million grant to widen the diversity of students trained to research social justice in education. Florida State University. Four St. Petersburg colleges are among 78 U.S. institutions invited to participate in the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Summer Institute being held June 22-25. The University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, Eckerd College, Stetson University College of Law and St. Petersburg College will each have three representatives virtually attending the summit. WJCT. Miami Dade College has enrolled 130 students into its new Rising Black Scholars Program, which provides financial and emotional support to students. Miami Herald.

National Spelling Bee: Erik Williams, a 13-year-old 8th-grader at the St. Johns Country Day School in Clay County, has survived six rounds of competition at the Scripps National Spelling Bee to advance to the semifinals. He got there by correctly spelling the word thoracodynia, which is another word for chest pain. Only 30 spellers are still in the running for the championship, and Williams is the only one from Florida. The other two Floridians who made it through the first day, Isabel Liu, 14, of Lee County, and Steven Dubin, 14, of Miami-Dade County, both were eliminated in the fifth round on Tuesday when they incorrectly defined words. Five other Florida students misspelled words during the first three rounds Saturday. The semifinals are June 27. Scripps National Spelling Bee.

DeSantis on CRT: Gov. Ron DeSantis continued his assault on critical race theory Tuesday on Fox News, this time alleging that CRT teaches students to attack police officers. “If you look at how some of this stuff manifests itself in classrooms, that we have seen examples of, it’s not a conspiracy theory,” DeSantis said on Sean Hannity’s show. “Dividing kids on race, attacking law enforcement and saying law enforcement attacks people on race. Those things are poison, and that’s not what we should be doing.” Florida Politics.

Around the nation: The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution to make June 19 a national holiday commemorating Juneteeth, which marks the end of slavery. It still has to be approved by the House and signed by President Biden to take effect. NPR. CNN. The Biden administration has announced it will reinstitute or expand guidance from the Obama administration that will impose sanctions on school districts that disproportionately discipline minority students. The guidance was rescinded during the Trump administration. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: The rule banning the teaching of critical race theory in schools can just as easily be employed against teachers who push right-wing theory, or use their taxpayer-funded classrooms as platforms for religious proselytizing. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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