Session successes, failures: Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans were the big winners in the 60-day legislative session, most observers of the session said after it adjourned Friday. Republican legislators delivered nearly everything DeSantis wanted or supported: expanded school choice, a ban on businesses and schools requiring so-called “vaccine passports,” COVID liability protection for schools and businesses, $550 million in raises for teachers, $1,000 bonuses for teachers, principals and first responders, a ban on transgender females from competing in women’s high school and college sports, an anti-riot bill and much, much more. “We have a very long list of policy successes,” DeSantis said. “They’re things that I think have been transformational that no one’s really even talking about.” Miami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. WPTV. WTSP. USA Today Network. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Two high-profile issues that didn’t make it through – or didn’t even get to – the Legislature were the bill that would have changed the way Bright Futures scholarships were funded, and a call from DeSantis for a bill of rights for college students so they wouldn’t be penalized by universities for violating mask and social distancing rules while partying. Florida Today. Fresh Take Florida.
Headed to governor’s desk: The $101.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins in July was approved Friday by the Legislature and has been forwarded to Gov. DeSantis. When the legislative session began in March, projections showed a $3 billion difference between revenues and expenses. But the approval of a federal coronavirus relief bill put an extra $10 billion into the state to be used for nonrecurring expenses. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Capitol News Service. USA Today Florida Network. Legislators flipped a couple of times before deciding that college athletes should get paid for use of their names, images and likenesses this year. The original bill specified a start date of July 1, 2021. It was changed to 2022 late last week, prompting college athletes and coaches to protest, then changed back to 2021 and approved. The bill that began as a means to widen the organization that could authorize charter bills also included a ban on transgender females from competition in women’s high school and college sports. DeSantis has said he will sign the bill. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Legislators also approved a $196.3 million tax cut bill on Friday that includes three tax holidays. The largest is a 10-day back-to-school tax break on clothing, school supplies and technology that starts July 31. News Service of Florida.
Around the state: The Centner Academy of Miami has long followed unusual practices even before it told teachers that if they got vaccinated they wouldn’t be able to be around students, are supporters of Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie correct when they point to the district’s academic progress as a reason to keep him, 18 years of an extra half-cent sales tax for Polk schools has raised $900 million to replace and repair schools, Pasco school board meetings will get increased security after a number of “alarming” emails, and the Manatee school district’s proposal to make face masks optional June 1 may get pushed to June 5 to accommodate the rules of the center where most of its graduations are being held. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Miami-Dade: Even before the private Centner Academy of Miami made national news by telling its teachers they couldn’t be with students if they got coronavirus vaccinations, it had a pattern of unusual practices. At its first open house, visitors were asked to cover their shoes with Saran Wrap. Windows of the school were covered to repel potential radiation from 5G cell phone towers. Non-disclosure agreements were required for employees who quit and parents who withdrew their children. And students and employees were encouraged not to wear masks. Miami Herald. New York Times. More than 100 students at Coral Gables High School have written essays that reflect in the impact COVID-19 had on their school year and lives. The work of the three winners, Leah Ullman, Kayleigh Guin and Samantha Correa, will be placed in the State Archives of Florida. Miami Herald. Michael Hernandez, who stabbed a classmate to death in a bathroom at Southwood Middle School in 2004, has died in prison at the age of 31. No cause of death was announced, and an autopsy will be performed. Hernandez stabbed his friend, Jaime Gough, 40 times when both were 14 years old. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WFOR.
Broward: Supporters of Superintendent Robert Runcie, who has been indicted for perjury, point to the district’s graduation rate, academic achievements and more in making the case that he ought to remain on the job. But not all the numbers they cite support their contention of progress the district has made under his leadership. Runcie announced last week that he would resign, and the school board is expected to begin negotiating a termination agreement this week. Sun Sentinel. The school district’s general counsel, Barbara Myrick, is asking a court to dismiss an indictment charging her with illegally disclosing information from a grand jury proceeding. She also chose not to enter a plea. “It’s standard to stand mute and demand discovery from the state and then request time to file any motions,” said legal expert Craig Trocino, director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Miami’s School of Law. Miami Herald. Vaccinations will be offered at six schools between Tuesday and May 13. All students 16 or older are eligible to receive shots, though students under 18 must be accompanied by a parent. Sun Sentinel. Rabbi Yaakov Sadigh has been named the head of school for the Katz Hilel Day School of Boca Raton. Sadigh is currently the head of school at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County’s West Hempstead Campuses in New York. Sun Sentinel.
Orange: More than 1,500 students, family members and other community residents received coronavirus vaccinations at Colonial, Evans and Jones high schools last Wednesday and Saturday. Second doses will be administered May 19 and 22 at the same locations. WKMG.
Duval: Community voting on name changes for five schools has ended, but begins this week for four others. Voters have the option of choosing the name of the school or selecting another name from a list. Local activists said they’d like to see more students participating. School board members will use the voting to help them make final decisions on the names of the nine schools that are named after Confederate officials or people who killed or removed native populations. WTLV.
Polk: Since voters renewed the extra half-cent sales tax for schools in 2018, the district has launched 36 projects for building or modernizing schools. The tax brings in about $50 million a year. It first passed in 2003 and the $900 million it’s raised has been used for 555 projects, including nine new schools, 11 modernizations, 45 classroom additions and 50 new playgrounds. Lakeland Ledger.
Lee: A Fort Myers woman who ran a training school offering business software application courses has pleaded guilty to defrauding the U.S. Department of Education of $90,000. Authorities said Elaine M. Levidow, 60, knowingly enrolled students who were ineligible for the aid but applied for it anyway, falsified records and then used the money for personal expenses. She faces 20 years in prison on each of four wire fraud charges, and five years on a financial aid fraud charge. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.
Pasco: School officials are increasing security at school board meetings. Deputies will check visitors’ bags and then use a metal-detecting wand to check the visitors for weapons. “We’re going to make it as convenient as possible, to not slow people down,” said district spokesman Steve Hegarty. “But we also have a right to make sure people don’t come in with weapons.” Board chair Allen Altman said board members and the administration have recently received some “disturbing” emails. “We need to be cautious,” he said. Tampa Bay Times.
Volusia: Eighty-eight-year-old Lawrence Willwerth is retiring after 20 years of substitute teaching in New Smyrna Beach middle and high schools. The retired chemist began to sub in 2000 to fill his time. “I thought, I’d give that a try. Then I just kept going,” he said. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Manatee: A proposal to end the mandatory face mask policy June 1 could be pushed to June 5 so the rules are consistent until graduations have concluded. Graduations are scheduled June 1 through 5, with most at LECOM Park, which is requiring masks at the ceremonies. School board members are expected to vote May 25 on the new policy. Bradenton Herald. WTVT.
Lake: Ashley Ellixson has become the first student to complete the four-year teacher preparatory program at the Tavares High School Teaching Academy. The program is a partnership between the district and the University of Central Florida. Students who complete the program and graduate from UCF are guaranteed internships at Lake County schools and a job in the district after graduation. Daily Commercial.
Escambia: Deputies are investigating a report that several students were given candy laced with THC at Bellview Middle School in Pensacola last week. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana. The candy is called Stony Patch, and resembles Sour Patch Kids soft candy. WEAR.
Santa Rosa: School board members meet today to discuss the superintendent’s recommendation to make it optional to wear face masks at school. “We’ve always followed the Department of Health in Tallahassee’s guidance, and their interpretation of CDC guidance,” said district safety director Daniel Hahn. “This is new guidance from them, and we’re going to follow it.” WEAR.
Indian River: An 18-year-old senior at the St. Edward’s School in Vero Beach died Friday when he drowned in the Indian River Lagoon after jumping off a dock at the private school, a senior class tradition. Deputies said Bidensky “BT” Termidor was in the water four to six minutes before being pulled out by a classmate. Middle and upper classes are canceled today. TCPalm. WPTV.
Citrus: The school board is considering entering into a contract with a company to provide an emergency mobile alert system. The Centegix CrisisAlert system is an emergency button on a badge that each employee would wear. It isn’t reliant on the Internet or on activating a cellphone app. A school board vote is expected May 11. Citrus County Chronicle.
Monroe: The reduction in social distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet is creating problems for the school district, said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “(It) has become a problem when there is a positive case and contact tracing goes on,” she told school board members last week. “There are 126 students who are out at Key West High School right now, not because they are positive for COVID but because of contact tracing.” Florida Keys Weekly.
Colleges and universities: More than 100 U.S. colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to classes in the fall. CNN. Inside Higher Ed. Among the 3,000 Tallahassee Community College graduates last week was Kenneth Frisbie Jr., 90. He earned the associate of science degree in paralegal/legal studies. It’s his second degree from TCC. His first came in 2011, when he received a general associate of arts transfer degree at the age of 80. Tallahassee Democrat.
Honoring educators: Three finalists have been named to the Florida assistant principal of the year award. They are: Sheila Ward of Annie Lucy Elementary School in Manatee County, Zemenaye Belda Harris of Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Hillsborough, and Sean David Curran of Fort Lauderdale High School in Broward. Florida Department of Education.
Opinions on schools: Rather than planting a flag on the latest hill of the culture wars, the Republican-led Legislature should have acknowledged that birth certificates aren’t destiny, honored the reality of transgender Floridians and worked on a fair way for them to compete as what they are. Tampa Bay Times. Now that Florida lawmakers have reacted with bigotry-fueled urgency to address the nonexistent problem of transgender girls ruining high school sports, they might want to address the issue of girls playing boys sports. High school girls playing boys sports is really happening here in Florida – and you’d think these self-appointed guardians of gender mixing would be alarmed. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. The ban on transgender females and the expansion of school vouchers are among the 10 worst decisions made by the Legislature this year. Sun Sentinel.