AP exam problems force some to retest, principals honored, district budget concerns and more

AP exam problems: About 10,000 U.S. students have reported online technical problems while taking Advanced Placement exams that began May 11. When complaints began to pile up shortly after students started taking the tests from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, officials from the College Board said many of the problems were user errors or the product of students using computers with outdated browsers. By the end of the week, though, they issued a statement that said: “We share the deep disappointment of students who were unable to complete their exam – whether for technical issues or other reasons.” Testing is scheduled to end Friday, but those who had problems that kept them from completing or submitting their tests can retake them June 1-5. That’s not reassuring to some students. “Besides just being frustrating, its very discomforting since I expected the stress of the tests to be over by now. But now I will have to restudy my material and dedicate more time than necessary for this test, and at no fault of mine,” said Reuben Fuchs, a 17-year-old student at The American School in Japan. USA Today. CNN. New York Times. Washington Post.

Educators honored: Sarajean McDaniel, the principal at Moseley Elementary School in Putnam County, has been named Florida’s principal of the year by the Department of Education. Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement on Twitter, saying, “Her hard work and commitment have made a difference in the lives of the students and staff at Moseley Elementary School and the community.” Gov. Ron DeSantis. Palatka Daily News. WJAX. The Florida assistant principal of the year is Kate Fulginiti of Matthew Gilbert Middle School in Duval County. WJAX. Althea Council, the food services manager at Citrus Springs Middle School in Citrus County, has been named the state’s school-related employee of the year. Citrus County Chronicle.

District budget problems: An early assessment of the Volusia County School District’s proposed 2020-2021 budget shows a deficit of at least $16 million because of the coronavirus outbreak and several other factors. “It’s not a bright picture,” said Deb Muller, the district’s chief financial officer. She cited higher health insurance and retirement contributions costs, employee raises, only slight increases in discretionary spending, and no legislative change to the funding formula that the district has complained about for years. Last year the district dipped into its reserves for $8 million to balance the budget. “It’s getting harder and harder to keep the doors open.” said Superintendent Scott Fritz. “I don’t know of a school district in the state that’s not feeling the same pinch we are. Volusia is not in this alone.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student feeding can continue: Florida schools, nonprofits and other organizations have gotten waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue serving free meals to students under the age of 18 through Aug. 31. The waivers allow the distribution of meals outside of school cafeterias, permit parents to pick up a meal or meals to take them home to children, and make meals available throughout the day. Floridians can call 211, text FLKIDSMEALS to 211-211 or visit the website https://summerbreakspot.freshfromflorida.com to find meals. WTXL. Daily Commercial. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Federal aid for schools: The U.S. House narrowly approved a $3 trillion-plus coronavirus relief package that includes about $58 billion for K-12 schools. The money would go through the states to local school districts, and would have to be used within two years or be returned. It also couldn’t go to “provide financial assistance to students to attend private elementary or secondary schools” except as required for students in special education and with disabilities. Republican senators have widely criticized the package as bloated and have said they’re in no rush to consider the bill, and President Trump said if it does get to him he’ll veto it. Associated Press. Florida Phoenix.

Reopening Florida, schools: Gyms can reopen in the state today and other restrictions on economic activity are being loosened as “Full Phase 1” goes into effect, Gov. DeSantis said Friday. Miami-Dade and Broward counties also can finally move into Phase 1 of restarting the state’s economy, restaurants and retail shops are permitted to allow 50 percent of capacity, up from 25 percent, and museums and libraries are opening. Schools, bars and movie theaters remain closed for now. DeSantis said he’s looking for ways to expand activities for children, such as summer camps. WFSU. Associated Press. WJXT. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach Post. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. WFLA. President Trump continues to push for states to reopen schools soon, but U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said some may have to remain online in the fall in many states. Politico Florida. There are many challenges facing school districts in reopening. Florida Phoenix. WOFL. WFOR. The 74. School districts around the world may have lessons for the United States on how to reopen safely. Edutopia. The 74.

More on the coronavirus: Traditional graduation ceremonies will be held for St. Lucie County high school seniors June 30-July 2 at  Lawnwood Stadium in Ft. Pierce. The district is also holding virtual commencements next week. TCPalm. Palm Beach County School District officials said occasionally a school’s valedictorian will  not be the top-ranked student in the class because not all students had access to high school level courses in their middle schools. Palm Beach Post. A recent poll by Real Clear Politics suggests that as many as 40 percent of American parents are more likely to home-school their children because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sixty-four percent of the parents polled said they support school choice. Center Square. St. Lucie County school officials said summer school will be offered online. It begins June 15. TCPalm. The program the Duval County School District uses for online learning will be reworked to display the names chosen by transgender students instead of their birth names. Florida Times-Union. A south Florida psychologist is offering stress virtual reduction classes such as yoga as well as counseling for students at the Ben Gamla Charter School in Palm Beach County. WPTV.

Tech purchases investigation: A statewide prosecutor has begun an investigation into the Broward County School District’s purchase of $17 million worth of televisions. At issue is whether the district’s technology chief, Tony Hunter, improperly benefited from the deal. The owner of the company selected to provide the TVs also sold Hunter a lakefront home in Georgia for $117,000 under the assessed value, and another of that owner’s companies now employs Hunter. Sun Sentinel.

Administrators cleared: Two former administrators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County have been cleared of any wrongdoing for the 2018 school shooting that killed 17 students and staff. An investigation by an outside law firm concluded that there were no “factual or legal” reasons to discipline principal Ty Thompson and assistant principal Denise Reed. Another former assistant principal, Winfred Porter, was cleared last fall. Former assistant principal Jeff Morford received a letter of reprimand for mishandling a threat assessment of the accused shooter, former student Nikolas Cruz, and retired in 2019. Sun Sentinel.

Anti-fraternization policy: A new policy declaring that Polk County school “administrators shall refrain from dating or engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with employees whose work they direct” has been approved by the school board. The impetus for the policy change was the recent case of chief academic officer Michael Akes, who was fired in February for making a profane, threatening call to the teachers union president. Akes, who is married, was at the home of Deborah Badertscher, district senior coordinator of student services, having drinks and dinner when he made the call. Lakeland Ledger. WUSF. WTVT.

Superintendent’s evaluation: Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins has received a rating of “effective” from the school board even though three of the seven members said he needed to show improvement. Three board members rated Adkins highly effective and a fourth rated him effective, giving him an overall score of 2.977 on a 4.0 scale. Adkins was widely praised for his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, but criticized by some members for the district’s hiring practices and for not making sure all staff are treated equitably. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher hiring: While some Florida school districts have frozen hiring, the Escambia County School District is moving ahead with plans to hire about 250 teachers for the next school year. The district is doing so with virtual interviews, which director of personnel services Elizabeth Oaks said gives them clues on the prospective teachers’ technology skills in case distance learning has to continue. WEAR.

Education podcasts: Former Gov. Jeb Bush talks with Education Next about adjusting to distance learning during the pandemic, and dealing with crisis. “Just as in every disaster or every disruptive time in world history, incredible things happen when you’re forced to do things,” Bush said. “Because you have no other option, generally, you do them.” redefinED.

School board elections: Scott Jackson has announced his candidacy for the District 4 seat on the Lafayette County School Board. He’s challenging incumbent Amanda Hickman, who was first elected in 2012. Suwannee Democrat.

Board approves construction: Monroe County School Board members gave the go-ahead for an affordable housing project to be built at the Sugarloaf School, and to spend more than $900,000 for lighting, security and bleachers at ballfields behind Key West High School. Key West Citizen.

School purchase questioned: Some Alachua County residents are pushing the school board to cancel a $3.68 million land purchase it approved last week. They question spending the money, which would come from an extra half-cent in the sales tax that voters approved in 2018, during the pandemic when district budgets are expected to be cut. “There’s too many unknowns to spend that amount of money,” said Carlee Simon of Gainesville. “We don’t know what education is going to look like soon.” Brian Scarsborough, vice chair of the sales tax committee, acknowledged that the timing “sucks,” but believes that the land will be a good investment for the district. Gainesville Sun.

Petition supports educator: An online petition has been launched to support a Lee County assistant principal who was suspended and demoted for not following school district procedures before disarming a 12-year-old student who had a pellet gun at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres in December. Haylie Gutierrez posted the petition over the weekend to support her mother, Vivian Gutierrez. The district said an internal investigation concluded that the administrator failed to respond in a timely and adequate manner to a significant student and staff safety issue, a gun on campus. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

School shed burns: Thousands of dollars worth of football equipment was destroyed by a fire last weekend in an athletics storage shed at Blake High School in Tampa. The cause is under investigation. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS. WTVT.

Opinions on schools: Painful spending cuts are on the horizon for Florida’s schools and every other part of the state budget, and the sooner there is a clear direction and a frank public debate about recalculated priorities, the better. Tampa Bay Times. Florida scores a knockout in the U.S. News & World Report rankings – but is underrated. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. What if we used the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to not just “bail out” the child-care industry, but to truly transform the way we approach our nation’s system of early learning? Loranne Ausley, Tallahassee Democrat.

Student enrichment: Oriana Jackson, a 17-year-old junior at North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City, has been chosen to participate in the virtual Congress of Future Medical Leaders Conference in June. WMBB. Seventeen high school seniors in both Broward and Palm Beach counties and nine from Miami-Dade have been awarded National Merit Scholarship awards. Sun Sentinel.