District revises equity statement, coronavirus cases in schools, $1,000 bonuses for educators and more

The COVID school year: The Florida school year will end with more than 115,000 cases of COVID-19 reported in K-12 public and private schools, according to Florida Department of Health data. From Sept. 6 through May 15, 115,148 cases were reported. Students represented 91,047 of those, teachers 8,291, employees 5,521, and others 10,289. the DOH reported 77,694 cases were symptomatic, 24,269 cases asymptomatic and the other 13,185 could not be determined. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: The Palm Beach County School Board removes a reference to “white advantage” from its equity statement after hearing hours of objections, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’ll soon sign the budget that will give $1,000 raises to teachers and principals, Volusia school officials said they’re receiving nearly $11 million less in state funding for the next fiscal year because enrollment is down, the Marion County School Board votes to close the persistently struggling Evergreen Elementary School, and the Florida Department of Education has posted a database that shows the percentage of children considered ready for kindergarten in each county and school. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: A student who has been in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy for his whole life walked across the stage to receive his diploma from Steinbrenner High School. “I’ve been working on this goal ever since – as long as I can remember,” said Christoffer Camacho. WTSP. WFTS. The school district is handing out meal boxes today to help students in need and their families have food for the Memorial Day weekend. Each box contains three breakfasts and three lunches. Students will need to have their district ID number to receive the meals. WFLA.

Palm Beach: After being called Nazis, socialists and communists for the district’s pledge to root out “white advantage” in schools, school board members voted 4-3 to change the language in the equity statement. Originally, it read that the district “is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage and transforming our system by hearing and elevating underrepresented voices, sharing power, recognizing and eliminating bias and redistributing resources to provide equitable outcomes.” It was changed to say the district “is committed to transforming our system by hearing and elevating underrepresented voices, sharing power, recognizing and eliminating bias and distributing resources to provide equitable outcomes.” Board chair Frank Barbieri said, “We have to make sure we have community buy-in. Let’s not focus on keeping the words at the expense of losing community support.” Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC. WLRN.

Duval: Opponents of Superintendent Diana Greene’s recommendation to change the names of six district schools named for Confederate figures placed Confederate flags on the property of the district’s administrative offices as part of a demonstration Wednesday night. WJXT. WJAX.

Polk: An attendance counselor at Lakeland Christian School has been arrested and accused of driving while under the influence of alcohol. Deputies said the vehicle driven by Brittney Medina, 35, went off the road, through a fence and came to a stop in a backyard in Lakeland. A child was in the car with Medina, but no one was injured. WTVT.

Pasco: Limits on the numbers of tickets to outdoors high school graduations have been eased. Students will now be able to have two guests sit with them on the field, with others watching from the bleachers. Attendance will be limited by the capacity at each school’s stadium. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Stephanie Soliven, the district’s assistant superintendent of secondary leading and learning and one of three finalists for the superintendent’s job for the Denver Public School, lost out to Alex Marrero, the interim superintendent for the City School District of New Rochelle, N.Y. Chalkbeat. Denver Post.

Volusia: School officials said this week that the district will receive about $458 million from the state’s Florida Education Finance Program funding. While that’s nearly $11 million less than the district received for this fiscal year, it is an improvement over the $17.9 million decline the district estimated in October. Lower enrollment was cited for the decline. Ormond Beach Observer. Beachside Elementary School will be the name for the consolidated Ortona and Ormond elementary schools, school board members decided this week. It “really rolls off the tongue,” said Osceola principal Lynn Bruner. The school’s mascot will be the sea turtle. The name and mascot were the favored choices in a survey of students, parents and employees. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Philanthropists Nancy and Lowell Lohman will donate $340,000 over the next three years to cover the costs for 30,000 Volusia students to spend a field study day at the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota: Curt Schwartz, who has been an assistant principal at Woodland Middle School in North Port, has been appointed as principal at Englewood Elementary School. He replaces Mark Grossenbacher, who will become the principal at Woodland Middle. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: School board members voted 3-2 this week to close the persistently struggling Evergreen Elementary School. The board cited declining enrollment, the belief that learning losses caused by the pandemic would prevent Evergreen from earning the C grade it needs from the state to avoid hiring an outside operator for another year or being closed, and staffing issues with only four teachers being willing to remain at the school if it were to stay open. A board majority said a decision was needed so the district would have time to reassign the school’s 200 students and let their parents consider their options. The district has discussed moving Oakcrest Elementary into Evergreen, or turning one of the campuses into a preschool. Ocala Star-Banner. Ocala Post. WKMG.

Clay: Superintendent David Broskie has recommended to the school board that face masks be made optional for the school year that begins in August. Board members are expected to vote on the recommendation at a meeting in July. Clay Today.

Walton: The school district saw an increase of 700 students this school year, which ended Wednesday, and Superintendent Russell Hughes said he expect more next year. WJHG.

Suwannee: A 17-year-old Suwannee High School student has been arrested and accused of threatening to commit a mass shooting at the school. Deputies said the boy wrote the threat on a bathroom wall. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: The University of Tampa is offering tuition breaks of $3,500 to incoming freshmen who defer starting school for a year. Some of those students were recently informed that no on-campus housing was available for them because the school accepted more students than it had spaces available. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. WFLA. University of Miami president Julio Frenk has created an uproar among students, professors and alumni by firing law school dean Anthony Varona. No reason was given, though Frenk alluded to problems in fund-raising. Miami Herald. Florida State University has settled a lawsuit filed by the former Student Senate president for failing to protect his freedom of speech. FSU admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to pay Jack Denton $84,000 in attorney’s fees, $10,000 in in compensatory damages and $1,050 in lost wages. The suit alleged that FSU administrators and Student Senate members repeatedly shared Denton’s personal religious beliefs expressed in private text conversations with other students. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has singled out a University of Central Florida graduate program on social justice as “neo-Marxist” and said it is “teaching our young students how to hate America.” Florida Politics.

Kindergarten readiness: The Florida Department of Education has posted a database on its website that lists the percentage of students considered ready for kindergarten by county and school. Children must score at least 500 on a state test to be considered ready. Statewide, about 57 percent of children reached that level. WFLA.

Bonuses and the budget: Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that he expects to sign the $101.5 billion budget in the next couple of weeks, which will release $1,000 bonuses for 174,000 teachers and principals this summer. About $216 million in federal stimulus funds are being used to provide the bonuses. The budget also includes $550 million in raises for teachers, as the state works toward pushing the starting teacher pay to $47,500, and boosts per-student funding by $39, to $7,795. DeSantis touted the state’s decision to reopen schools, saying “Florida did it the right way,” and said masks in schools should be voluntary. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. Florida Times-UnionWPLG. Florida Politics. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Merit scholarship winners: The National Merit Scholarship Corp. has released a statewide list of students who have won $2,500 scholarships because of their accomplishments, skills and potential for success in rigorous college studies. Patch.

Around the nation: Two leaders of the Texas-based IDEA Public Schools charter company have been fired after an investigation showed that some administrators used school funds for their “personal benefit.” IDEA has announced plans to open schools in Jacksonville and Tampa. Dallas Morning News.

Education podcasts: Nebraska state Sen. Lou Ann Linehan talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about becoming a choice advocate based on her struggle, and her son’s, to read as a child, the effort to start a tax credit scholarship in her state, Nebraska’s overreliance on property taxes to fund education, and more. redefinED.

Opinion on schools: Citizens should not have to fight their own state government for basic information about COVID cases. Parents should not have to beg the bureaucracy to find out how many infections are in their children’s schools. Why does the state make it harder? Miami Herald. Adults should stop messing with kids’ photographs. Stop trying to suggest their appearances are flawed. Stop trying to give them any more insecurities than they already have. And stop teaching kids it’s OK to lie in pictures anymore than it would be with words. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Sen. Marco Rubio might want to take a course on leadership from the University of Central Florida. Because true leadership doesn’t mean trying to silence anything with which you might disagree. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

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BY NextSteps staff