Moment of silence, academic diversity, civics literacy, COVID liability protection, loan refunds and more

In the Legislature: The full House overwhelmingly approved a bill on Thursday that would require public schools to have a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day. The Senate’s companion bill, S.B. 282, will next be considered by the Judiciary Committee. Florida Politics. Bills that would require colleges and universities to conduct annual surveys to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” were approved Thursday by the full House and the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. S.B. 264 and H.B. 233 would require universities to publish the results of the surveys. Associated Press. Florida Politics. High school students would have to complete a new civics literacy course under a bill approved in the Senate. The course would include a civic education activity and completion of a research paper. It now goes to the House for consideration. Florida Politics. Protection for schools, businesses and health-care companies against coronavirus-related lawsuits got the approval of the full Senate, and now goes to the House. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. A bill that would establish a preferred order of housing for foster children, with the first priority given to a nonoffending parent, was approved by the Senate. Florida Politics. Senators unanimously passed a bill that would require Florida children to sit in booster seats in vehicles until they’re 7. It will now be considered by the House. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Treasure Coast students reflect on the pandemic school year, while students at Tate High School in Escambia County are uncomfortable with their sudden notoriety after a scandal in a school vote for homecoming queen, a Putnam County couple wants to retain the name of a local hero on a new school, the Biden administration announces that students who were defrauded by colleges and received only partial refunds will have their debts fully canceled, and the governor holds a coronavirus roundtable with hand-picked health advisers who are critical of school lockdowns and face mask requirements. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: Juan Rondeau, a 6th-grader at Westminster Christian School, won the Miami-Dade County Spelling Bee, and Steven Dubin, an 8th-grader at Imagine Charter School, won the Broward bee. Both events were virtual, and began with competitors taking an integrity pledge: “I am honest to myself. I am fair to my classmates and teachers. On my honor, I will neither give nor receive any help during this virtual spelling bee.” The two winners qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will be held July 8 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando. There will be three levels of virtual competition before the final 10 to 12 spellers face off in person. Miami Herald.

Orange: After a teacher at the private Winners Primary School was arrested and accused of soliciting sexually explicit videos from a boy in his class, the state opened an investigation. State investigators told the principal the school could be in violation of state scholarship laws because “proper vetting during the hiring process is not occurring.” But two months later, the state closed the investigation without taking action, allowing the school to continue accepting Family Empowerment and Florida Tax Credit scholarships. Orlando Sentinel.

Brevard: Two married Viera High School teachers have been arrested and accused of child neglect and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Deputies said James Brand, 50, and Amy O’Reilly Brand, 45, supplied and smoked marijuana with students, and had a man living in their house who began a sexual relationship with a girl under the age of 18. Both teachers were placed on administrative leave. Florida Today. WKMG.

St. Johns: Officials at the Collage Day School in Ponte Vedra Beach have announced that Anthony Mortimer has been hired as the head of school. He has been the private middle school’s principal and associate head of school. Ponte Vedra Recorder.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Treasure Coast students said the past year has been one of technical glitches, missing friends and activities, and struggling to keep up with their schoolwork. But it’s also been a year of discovering unexpected joys, making positive memories and, for some, getting extra sleep. “This year was kind of weird, but it benefitted me,” said 16-year-old Abigail Jerida, a sophomore at Martin County High School. “My grades are better than last year and my focus is better at home. I’m able to do my work more efficiently.” TCPalm.

Escambia: Students at Tate High School say they’re still reeling over the voting scandal for homecoming queen that led to the arrest of the winner and her mother, an assistant principal at a local elementary school. Other girls on the homecoming court said they were shocked by the development, and don’t expect an end to the story anytime soon. “Tate’s always making some type of news somehow, some way, but for us to be national (news) is crazy,” said 17-year-old T’Kyia Nickerson, who was a candidate for the court. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: A group of students is beginning to plan the details to turn their idea of ending “period poverty” for teenage girls into a reality at middle and high schools. The group is lobbying the school district to make tampons and pads free in all girls restrooms. Among the obstacles so far are funding, finding a vendor to supply the dispensers and controlling access to the products. The girls will meet with school officials after spring break to decide how to keep the project moving. Tallahassee Democrat. About two-dozen children took advance of the “popup preschool” bus that stopped in their neighborhoods this week. The bus has areas for social-emotional learning, arts and crafts, reading and movement. It was started by community activists as a way to regain some of the learning lost during the pandemic. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: A group has formed to oppose the school district’s April 1-mill property tax referendum to boost school employee salaries and help pay for school security, mental health services and pre-K programs. Bay County Taxpayers LLC was started by a local dermatologist, who said the district could pay teachers more by cutting excess administrative positions. WMBB.

Flagler: A new app, called Here Comes the Bus, is being introduced by the school district so parents can follow their children’s school buses. It goes live on Monday, and will track the bus and send alerts when the bus is late or nearing a stop. Once all the children are delivered, the app goes offline. Flagler Live.

Nassau: About 400 school district employees are scheduled to be vaccinated against the coronavirus this Saturday at two county high schools. Winn-Dixie pharmacists will administer the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Putnam: The district’s school consolidation plan includes the closing of Robert H. Jenkins Jr. Middle School, but an Interlachen couple is working to have the name transferred to a new high school. Jenkins, who was born in Interlachen, died during the Vietnam War saving a fellow soldier. Leo and Shirley Grainger said Jenkins’ name deserves to live on because his sacrifice is a crucial part of the city’s black history. “I just believe it will come to fruition,” said Shirley Grainger. “And it just has, it just has to because he deserves to be remembered and especially in his hometown.” WJXT.

Sumter: Kristi Brown of Lake Panasoffkee Elementary School has been named the Sumter County School District’s school-related employee of the year. Villages-News.

Colleges and universities: Students who were defrauded by colleges and received only partial refunds will have their debts fully canceled, the Biden administration announced Thursday. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and former lieutenant governors Jeff Kottkamp and Frank Brogan are among the names being floated as possible replacements for Florida State University president John Thrasher, whose contract expires in November. Florida Phoenix. Florida State University will receive almost $80 million from the coronavirus relief package, while FAMU will get $36 million and $27 million will go to Tallahassee Community College. The state is receiving $7 billion for education. Tallahassee Democrat. A series of on-campus mini-festivals are scheduled at the University of West Florida, the first in-person events since the pandemic sent students into remote learning. Pensacola News Journal. The University of West Florida trustees have voted to drop the name of T.T. Wentworth Jr. Wentworth was a former KKK leader. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. A subcommittee of the Florida State University anti-racism task force has voted to reject a recommendation to keep the name of Doak Campbell on the football stadium. Campbell, who was FSU’s president from 1941 to 1957, kept the university segregated and banned FAMU students from on-campus activities. Tallahassee Democrat. The College of the Florida Keys will move classes from Coral Shores High School to its own building in Key Largo this fall. Key West Citizen.

Coronavirus roundtable: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ health advisers reflected the governor’s recent public remarks on the coronavirus pandemic response by criticizing mask mandates, contact tracing and lockdowns during a roundtable discussion Thursday in Tallahassee. DeSantis then declared that the national media are starting to admit that his pandemic decisions have been right all along, and later said on Fox News that some of the “top experts in the world” backed his approach over the lockdown option. Sun Sentinel. Associated Press. Capitol News Service. WPEC. WTSP. Florida Politics. Palm Beach Post.

Choice-college link: Indiana students who used education choice programs are more likely to enroll in college than their peers from public schools, according to a recent study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: There is a positive correlation between the Manhattan Institute’s Education Freedom Index rankings of the states and academic performance. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. The selection of a new superintendent in Seminole County was an administrative embarrassment that the school district needs to explain and remedy if it hopes to avoid such debacles in the future. Orlando Sentinel. College is not just training for a job. College is a place to explore your individual passions. Ronin Lupien, Tampa Bay Times. There used to be a legislative consensus in Florida about the value of higher education. That was before the Republican Party became the party of populist resentment. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. If S.B. 86 gets through the Legislature and becomes law, the Board of Governors should use the underemployment rate to determine which majors do not “lead directly to employment,” even though some of the most underemployed majors might make the leaders of the Florida Legislature profoundly uncomfortable. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. There’s no minimum age for children in Florida to be handcuffed and transported to a lockup. As the saying goes here: Not old enough to tell the time? Old enough to do the time. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.