State graduation rate hits record 90% but with an asterisk, DeVos resigns in protest and more

Graduation rates: The graduation rate for Florida’s high school seniors reached a record 90 percent in 2020, the Florida Department of Education announced Thursday. That’s 3.1 percentage points higher than the 2019 rate, but DOE officials cautioned that comparing the rates isn’t apples to apples. The coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the requirement that the 2020 seniors pass the state’s algebra and language arts exams in order to graduate, which the class of 2019 was required to do. The DOE said 7.1 percent of the class of 2020 earned their diplomas without passing the exams. The graduation numbers “will provide some helpful context for informational purposes,” said Jacob Oliva, the department’s chancellor for K-12 education, but shouldn’t lead to “significant conclusions.” The state’s rate has steadily moved up from 80.7 percent in 2016 to 86.9 percent in 2019. Lafayette had the highest graduation rate in 2020 among county districts with 97.7 percent, and Columbia was second with 95.4 percent. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Tampa Bay Times. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Gainesville Sun. TCPalm. Patch. WPEC. WFTX.

DeVos resigns: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos joined a growing list of administration officials who blamed President Trump’s rhetoric for the riot by Trump supporters Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol and are leaving office before his term ends. “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me,” DeVos wrote to Trump on Thursday. “Impressionable children are watching all of this, and they are learning from us. I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgment and model the behavior we hope they would emulate. They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday.” Her resignation is effective today. New York Times. Washington Post. Wall Street Journal. The Hill. Politico. Associated Press. NPR. The 74. Education Week. Chalkbeat.

Around the state: Broward teachers who had been working remotely but ordered to return to classrooms Monday are suing to stop the reassignment, Miami-Dade County School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is proposing an organizational realignment after several top officials announce their departures, Pinellas teachers are negotiating for specific social distancing guidelines for the second semester, the Citrus County School District names its teacher and school-related employees of the year, three teacher-of-the-year finalists are chosen in St. Johns County, and Marion County gets its first community partnership school. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Several senior school district administrators have recently resigned to take new jobs or retire, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he will ask the school board Jan. 20 to approve an “organizational realignment.” Leaving are deputy superintendent Valtena Brown, associate superintendent Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, district spokeswoman Natalia Zea and treasurer Phong T. Vu. Carvalho said the turnover was “not new for us. Our family members, our team members are heavily recruited,” he said. “That’s what happens with successful organizations.” Miami Herald.

Broward: Some of the 1,700 teachers with underlying medical conditions who have been working remotely but were ordered to return to schools next Monday have filed a lawsuit asking a judge for an emergency injunction against the reassignment. They said the order was issued without consulting teachers, and was a violation of an agreement with the district. “Broward Schools is putting these most vulnerable educators and their families in immediate danger of possible severe illness and death,” said union president Anna Fusco. “These highest-risk educators should continue doing their full-time jobs online.” The district had no comment. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: A circuit judge has ruled that Henry Washington met the residency requirements to run for the District 5 seat on the school board. Washington defeated the incumbent, Tamara Shamburger, in November, but she filed a lawsuit that claimed he didn’t live in the district. Washington lived with his family outside the district, in Mango, but moved in with his mother-in-law within the district, changed his address and gave up the homestead exemption on the Mango home. Shamburger is expected to appeal. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: Superintendent Donald Fennoy has sent a message to parents encouraging them to talk with their children about the events this week in Washington, D.C., and said psychologists would be on hand in schools for anyone who needs support. “As a parent of young children, I realize your children may be traumatized by the events they are seeing unfold on national TV,” Fennoy said. “It is important to remind your children that they are safe, and that the images they are seeing on TV are occurring thousands of miles away. The district has trained professionals on each of our campuses to protect children.”  WPTV.

Polk: A school bus attendant and a student were arrested after getting into a fight on the bus Wednesday that was caught on video. Deputies said special needs substitute bus attendant Algarene Richards, 68, had a confrontation with a 15-year-old boy when he grabbed her phone. Richards punched the boy, who grabbed Richards and knocked her to the ground, according to deputies. Richards was charged with child abuse, and was fired by the district. The student was charged with battery on a school official. Lakeland Ledger. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFLA. WTVT. A 16-year-old Winter Haven High School student was hospitalized after she was hit by a car Thursday while walking to her school bus. She’s expected to recover. The 18-year-old driver said he didn’t see her because his windshield was fogged up. The investigation is continuing. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG. WFTS.

Pinellas: Leaders for the teachers union are asking the district to require 8 feet of separation between teachers and students, and at least 4 feet between students when the second semester begins. Members of the district’s negotiating team said such an edict probably is impossible in every classroom, and suggested that the phrase “to the maximum extent possible” be used instead. School officials did agree to make some classroom measurements to see what is possible, and the sides will meet in a week to compare notes. Tampa Bay Times. The dean of a charter school in Clearwater has been arrested and accused of child neglect for allegedly supplying his teenage babysitter and her friends with alcohol and marijuana for the past two years. Adam Thayer, 38, is the dean of students at Pinellas Academy for Math and Science. His 37-year-old wife is also expected to be arrested on the same charge. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. A Largo High School teacher has been arrested after she allegedly sprayed disinfectant on a child who wasn’t wearing a face mask properly. The incident was caught on a surveillance video. Christine Reszetar, 51, a special education teacher, faces a child abuse charge. WTSP. WFLA.

Manatee: School officials are working with MCR Health on a plan to get coronavirus vaccinations for students and employees when the shots become available. Vaccinations will not be mandatory, said district spokesman Mike Barber. Part of the plan will include new guidelines on dealing with those infected or exposed to the virus, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Students who show symptoms at school will be sent home and won’t be allowed to return until they have proof of a negative COVID-19 test, or at least 10 days have passed since the symptoms appeared with the student fever-free for 24 hours without the benefit of medication. Those who have been directly exposed will have to quarantine for 7 or 14 days, depending on the circumstances. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: The school board has voted to uphold the firing of a teacher who made TikTok videos with sexually explicit comments. Todd Erdman, who taught at Umatilla Middle School, was fired in 2019 but appealed the decision. An administrative law judge recently ruled that the termination was justified because Erdman violated a series of district rules in posting the “lewd and offensive material.” Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

St. Johns: Three finalists have been chosen for the St. Johns County School District’s teacher-of-the-year award. They are: Allison Birbal, a 6th-grade science teacher at R.J. Murray Middle School; Alicia Pressel, a biology and agricultural science teacher at Creekside High; and Andrea O’Brien, a library media specialist at Durbin Creek Elementary School. The winner will be announced Jan. 27. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: School officials have begun working with Florida Department of Education monitors to provide oversight to the district’s operation of special education. A state investigation recently concluded that the district had wrongly placed some students into a special education program for children with severe cognitive disabilities. “This is going to be a process, I will tell you that,” Superintendent Brennan Asplen told school board members. “… I don’t want you to think that everybody thinks they didn’t do anything wrong.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: College Park Elementary School in Ocala has become the district’s first community partnership school, where educational, medical and social services are available to students and their families. The partners are the school district, United Way, the Public Education Foundation of Marion County, Ocala Health and the College of Central Florida. “The goal is to remove barriers to learning and provide built-in support so students can achieve academic success and lifelong prosperity,” according to a statement from United Way. Ocala Star-Banner.

Citrus: Judie Banfield, a 3rd-grade teacher at Hernando Elementary School, has been named the Citrus County School District’s teacher of the year. Rick Godfrey, a special education paraprofessional at Crystal River Primary School, was chosen as the school-related employee of the year. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: University of Central Florida students will have to show a negative COVID-19 test before they can move into campus housing for the second semester, according to school officials. About 7,000 students will get free rapid-results tests. WKMG.

Spring education plans: Fifty-three school districts have now gotten their spring semester education plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. Getting sign-off from the state Thursday were the plans for the Florida A&M University Development Research School, and the Florida State University School, Okeechobee and Orange districts. Florida Department of Education.

Opinions on schools: As educators, it is imperative that we prepare our students for the unique demands that the 21st century world will place upon them. It is vital in this age to teach students how to find the knowledge they need – knowledge as varied as the changing times themselves. Students must be able to think outside of the box and be creative learners and problem solvers. Judy Dempsey, redefinED. I have some advice for newly nominated U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona: Keep diverse voices front and center, ensure that all parents have options, make space for innovation, keep states in the driver’s seat, and watch your back. Gwen Samuel, redefinED. Florida should resolve to make bold and effective moves to improve education this year. Karla Hernandez-Mats, Miami Herald.