A superintendent’s downfall, mental health services, charter school showdown, dress code spat and more

Around the state: Newly released documents show that legal troubles for Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie began after he asked the district purchasing officer for help without knowing she was working with the FDLE, the Miami-Dade district is spending an additional $13 million for mental health services for students, Palm Beach School Board members will discuss whether to search nationally for a new superintendent, Hillsborough’s school board meets Tuesday to decide how to respond to the state Board of Education’s order to reverse the decision to not renew the contracts of four charter schools, Okeechobee school officials are focusing mental health help for employees after three committed suicide in the past 10 months, the Bay County School Board chair blames parents for the need to implement a strict dress code, students are left scrambling in Lake County after a private school closes, and the achievement gap between white and black students in Brevard renews calls to hire an equity director. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The school district is hiring 20 more mental health professionals to help students readjust to school after a calamitous year that’s included the pandemic, the collapse of a Surfside condominium that killed at least 95 people, the assassination of the Haitian president and the protests against the Cuban government over conditions in the country. The school board approved spending $13 million for 20 mental health coordinators, 100 part-time mental health professionals, four administrators and four program specialists. “We recognize that trauma can emanate from a variety of sources. It can be from the community, from the home. Sometimes, it’s the school itself,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “And, we recognize right now there are many children, and families, in trauma in Cuba and Haiti. And, for those that are here and have relatives in Cuba and Haiti, these children and families can absolutely benefit from resources we have here.” Miami Herald. Mobile clinics offering students vaccinations against the coronavirus are being held at county schools throughout July. The goal is to boost the vaccination rates for students over 12 before schools reopen Aug. 23. WSVN.

Broward: Newly released documents indicate that the legal problems for Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie and general counsel Barbara Myrick began when they reached out to purchasing director Mary Coker for help with a statewide grand jury investigation. Neither knew that Coker had been in regular contract with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Runcie was indicted for perjury and Myrick for illegally disclosing information from a grand jury. Both pleaded not guilty but have resigned. Documents also showed that district spokeswoman Kathy Koch secretly organized a pro-Runcie rally just hours after he was indicted. Sun Sentinel. Jim Notter, a former county school superintendent who had applied to become the interim superintendent, has withdrawn his name from consideration. Notter’s decision leaves two candidates: Vickie Cartwright, who served three years as superintendent in Oshkosh, Wis., and Robert Schiller, who has led six school districts as superintendent or interim superintendent. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: School board members will hold an emergency meeting at 8 a.m. Tuesday to discuss whether to reconsider their decision to not renew contracts for four charter schools. After that decision, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wrote the board a letter saying it had “ignored the law, its duty and the interests of at least 2,000 students.” Last week the state Board of Education sided with Corcoran and ordered board members to reverse their decision within 10 days or face sanctions that could include a loss of funding for the financially strapped district. WUSF. Academy of the Holy Names alumni are fighting back after two school parents sued the school last month, alleging it had “become woke” by putting too much emphasis on diversity and equity and had strayed from Catholic teaching. The alumni have filed an open letter saying that the school’s actions aren’t lapses, but examples of Catholic faith in action. More than 430 alumni have co-signed the letter, which states, in part, “We stand behind teachings of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We believe such teachings are not antithetical to the Catholic faith. On the contrary, we argue that these teachings are essential to development in the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith compels us to seek out practices that support and uplift all of our brothers and sisters.” Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: School board members will meet next week to consider whether to look nationally for a new superintendent who might change the direction of the district, as they did in 2015 when they hired national rising star and change agent Robert Avossa, or choose stability, as they did in 2018 when they considered only internal candidates and chose Donald Fennoy to replace Avossa. Fennoy announced his resignation last week. Four of the seven board members said they’re leaning toward searching nationally for Fennoy’s replacement. Palm Beach Post. The Diocese of Palm Beach is recommending that all unvaccinated students wear face masks in school this fall. Its latest guidelines call for in-person learning but face masks for all students under the age of 12 and those who have not received shots. WPTV. The preK-8 Greene School in West Palm Beach has bought an adjacent art and restaurant building and is planning to expand into a preK-12 school. The school will add 9th grade in 2022, and a grade each year. It emphasizes a science, technology, engineering, the arts and math curriculum. Palm Beach Post.

Southwest Florida: With less than a month before schools open, southwest Florida school districts still need hundreds of teachers, bus drivers and other school employees. Teachers and other workers are needed in the Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades school districts. Glades Superintendent Alice Barfield said it’s especially hard for smaller counties to hire teachers. Glades needs 10 high school teachers. “That’s a large number, because we are really having to pull from a non-existent workforce that’s not here,” said Barfield. WFTX.

Brevard: The most recent data on the achievement gap between white and black district students has renewed calls for the district to hire an equity director to focus on why the gap persists and ways to close it. Superintendent Mark Mullins told the school board last week that 68 percent of the district’s white students scored at grade level or above on the state’s English and language arts tests, while only 26 percent of black students did. Board member Jennifer Jenkins said the numbers “nauseated” her and were evidence of the need for an equity director. Florida Today.

Seminole: Moitri Santra, a 12-year-old entering the 8th grade at Jackson Heights Middle School, has been selected as one of 10 finalists for the national 3M Young Scientist Challenge for developing a gel that can clump and sink harmful algae. The winner will be announced in October. Orlando Sentinel.

Manatee: The effect of the pandemic on district students over the past year can be measured by a 15 percent increase in admissions to the children’s crisis stabilization unit at Centerstone between 2020 and 2021. Admissions in the same two quarters went from 291 in 2019 to 330 in 2020 and 380 in 2021. Suncoast Behavioral Health Center in Bradenton, an acute psychiatric facility, reported similar increases in treating children. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: About 185 students are looking for a new school after the private Adventure Christian Academy in Tavares abruptly closed last week. School officials said a decline in enrollment due to the pandemic led to financial issues that were too great for the school to continue. Spectrum News 13.

Sarasota: In his first evaluation as superintendent, Brennan Asplen has unanimously been given a rating of “highly effective” by the school board. “You’ve reacted like a true leader and done 100 percent of what anyone could do,” said board member Tom Edwards. Teachers union president Pat Gardner agreed. “My concern is that he’ll quit and go away because he can’t take all the in-your-face nastiness,” she said. “Look at him last night (Tuesday), he was just as nice as he could be, explaining the same thing he has explained 1,000 times with the patience of a saint. Truthfully, nobody is perfect, but he is highly effective.” Asplen was hired in March 2020. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Okaloosa: Keith McCullough, a school resource officer at the Silver Sands School in Fort Walton Beach, has won the exceptional service award from the National Association of School Resource Officers for the region that includes Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. He won the award for “going above and beyond” his duties to help students and other children. Silver Sands is a K-12 school for students with special needs. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: The school district’s adoption of a new, strict dressing code has upset some students and parents, but board chair Steve Moss is blaming the parents for the new code. “If we had parents that did a better job of parenting and holding their kids accountable for what they wear before they left the house I don’t think we’d have the issues we have right now with our dress code,” Moss said. “Since the parents are not monitoring what their students are wearing when they leave the house each morning, the school board then looks like the bad guy when we have to tell many of them that what they are wearing is inappropriate and then make them change or send them home.” Today. Panama City News Herald.

Hernando: Funding issues are jeopardizing the continued operations of the last charter middle school in the county. The principal at the Best Academy in Brooksville recently resigned after having medical issues. The school is preparing to open in August and operate as usual, but the school board has agreed to revisit the school’s financial situation at a future meeting. Bay News 9. Mary Ann Hogan, a former member and chair of the school board who also served on the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, died last month at the age of 90. Hernando Sun.

Wakulla: Back-to-school supplies giveaways have begun for district students. Parents can pick up free backpacks loaded with supplies through Aug. 7. Students can also get free haircuts and free physicals. WTXL.

Okeechobee: In less than 10 months the school district has lost three employees to suicide, prompting school officials to start focusing more attention on providing mental health services for their workers. “We felt like we had a good system in identifying students in need, it’s a requirement now. But there wasn’t a requirement for adults. So we needed to be able to provide that avenue,” said assistant superintendent Dylan Tedders. The outreach includes remote access to a psychologist, a monthly health and wellness menu, a book club, yoga, divorce counseling and even skateboarding lessons. WPTV.

Colleges and universities: A student is suing Polk State College, alleging he paid hundreds of dollars in fees that were unavailable during the pandemic. More than a dozen similar lawsuits have been filed against other state schools, including the University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida. WTVT. WFLA.

FLVS registration: The deadline for K-8 students to enroll in the Florida Virtual School has been extended to Aug. 13. Registration for high school students ended Friday. School officials said they are getting more applications now than they were getting before the pandemic began. News Service of Florida. WKMG.

Around the nation: The U.S. Department of Education has pulled back on an earlier position by announcing Friday that it will not give a priority for federal grants to applicants who want to teach about systemic racism. “Like invitational priorities in any grant competition, applicants are not required to address these priorities, and earn no additional points and gain no competitive advantage in the grant competition for addressing these priorities,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Politico.

Opinions on schools: Being Palm Beach County school superintendent is a rough job. It’s why we’ve gone through five of them in the past 10 years. And it’s a job that’s not getting any easier in a political environment that too often denigrates and marginalizes public schools, which used to be seen as something noble and uplifting during more reasonable times. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.