Replacing Carvalho, student loan payments paused, Hall explains CRT flip, and more

Student loan payments paused: A pause in student loan payments that was scheduled to end Jan. 31 has been extended for three months by the Biden administration because of the surge in coronavirus cases driven by the omicron variant. Payments have been suspended through May 1, with interest accumulation and debt collection efforts also being put on hold. “We know that millions of student loan borrowers are still coping with the impacts of the pandemic and need some more time before resuming payments,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. More than 36 million Americans hold a collective debt value of $1.37 trillion, and about a third are already in delinquency or default. Associated Press. Politico. States Newsroom. NPR.

Hall on CRT flip: The state’s secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice said Wednesday that his support of critical race theory in his doctoral dissertation at the University of South Florida in 2014 has given way to the realization that CRT is a “divisive” means of indoctrination. Eric Hall, a former official in the Florida Department of Education who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to head the DOJJ in November, wrote seven years ago that “CRT provides a grounded set of beliefs that seek to uncover and expose racism and its related impact on those who are often without power, in the case of this study, minority students.” This week he said he has undergone a long renaissance on the subject. “The more that I’ve learned over this past decade about CRT and the divisive nature that it brings… (the) governor’s absolutely correct, it has absolutely no place in our K-12 system,” he said. Florida Politics. WPEC.

DOE resignations: Two Florida Department of Education employees have resigned after an inspector general’s investigation labeled their attempt to bid on a state project for a company they managed a potential conflict of interest. Melissa Ramsey, the vice chancellor of strategic improvement, and Andy Tuck, a member of the state Board of Education, submitted a proposal to the DOE in November to take over the operations of the Jefferson County School District. DOE spokesman Jared Ochs said the department was “appalled that any employee at the department would have the audacity to use his or her position to create an advantage in a bid.” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran called Ramsey and Tuck “great people” who have “great hearts and they have done wonderful things in education for the state of Florida. … What they did was not malicious, it was just gross negligence. As soon as they were shown the error they both did the right thing and resigned. I wish them both nothing but the best.” Florida Politics.

In the Legislature: A bill has been filed that would remove the limits on the number of Florida students who can receive state scholarships and automatically increase the income eligibility thresholds every year. S.B. 1348, filed by state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, would also eliminate a requirement that the Florida Department of Education cross-check the list of scholarship students with a list of public school students to cut down on delays in payments. The 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 11. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer scholarship programs for the state. reimaginED. Officials with the state’s university system say they need $1.68 billion for facility maintenance projects, but will ask the Legislature for about $800 million. If approved, each school would receive about 48 percent of its request. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Miami-Dade County School Board members will start the new year with a discussion of how they’ll replace outgoing Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, a video that was shown to some Volusia middle school students has been pulled and is under review after some parents claim it teaches critical race theory, the number of coronavirus cases reported in Palm Beach County schools has gone up significantly this week, St. Johns County high school graduations are scheduled to return to traditional venues, a Flagler County 5th-grade teacher has been reprimanded for telling her students an “inappropriate” story about a black child in Chicago, and a shortage of preschool teachers in Pinellas County has led to waiting lists at many schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board members will begin discussing how to replace outgoing Superintendent Alberto Carvalho when they meet in January. Who is in the running is unknown, but Carvalho, who is taking the superintendent’s job in Los Angeles, has said that there are people in his administration and others who have moved to other districts who are capable. “There are plenty of opportunities (and) a lot of talent,” Carvalho said. “Now, the mystery and the magic is marrying the talent that exists to the reality needs of the position.” Miami Herald. When Carvalho became the superintendent in 2008, there were nine schools included on the state’s shutdown list and the district’s graduation rate was below 60 percent. Today, 98 percent of schools have earned an A, B or C rating, the district has earned an A-rating for the last two years and the graduation rate in traditional public schools is more than 93 percent. Miami Herald. Here’s a timeline of Carvalho’s career. Miami Herald.

Palm Beach: More than 400 new cases of the coronavirus were reported in the school district Monday and Tuesday. On Friday, the district 68 cases in schools. That jumped to 202 on Monday and 207 on Tuesday. “I was a little shocked how quickly it went up,” said Keith Oswald, the district’s chief of equity and wellness. “Fortunately we have mitigation strategies in place.” Winter break starts today. Boca News Now. WPTV. WPEC.

Pinellas: The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County is reporting that a shortage of preschool teachers has led to waiting lists for half of the providers it surveyed. For example, Lealman YMCA Preschool Academy had to close two classrooms recently because it can’t find teachers, said director Christine Loder. “We could potentially have 20 students in both of those classrooms but due to the shortage, we can’t do that right now,” she said. Bay News 9.

Volusia: School officials have stopped showing a video to students after some parents complained that an 11-second statement in it violated state law that bans the teaching of critical race theory. The video, which is now under review by the district, was shown recently to juniors at Deltona and Pine Ridge high schools. Elizabeth Albert of the teachers union said, “This video is not teaching anything other than to be kind to each other and treat others the way you want to be treated.” Rebecca Sarwi, a member of the local Moms for Liberty group, disagreed. “I think we are all in agreement we are against racism, but they are trying to put people into groups and further divide people,” she said. WFTV.

St. Johns: District officials have announced a schedule that will return graduation ceremonies to the venues that hosted them for years before the coronavirus pandemic. The graduations are scheduled between May 24 and July 8. Four ceremonies will be held at the University of North Florida, two at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, two in the St. Augustine High School auditorium, and one at First Coast Technical College. St. Augustine Record.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Parents in the three Treasure Coast school districts say they can’t determine their children’s risk from the coronavirus because the districts don’t keep track of how many students have been vaccinated. Each district has publicly disclosed the number of coronavirus cases in schools, but officials said they don’t track vaccinations because the shots aren’t required. “We have taken the stance and feel like if a family wants their child to be vaccinated, that’s their decision, their right,” said Scott Bass, the Indian River district’s deputy superintendent. “We are honoring that and don’t feel like it’s information that we need to have.” TCPalm.

Flagler: A 5th-grade teacher at Wadsworth Elementary School in Palm Coast has been reprimanded and ordered to under diversity and sensitivity training for telling an “inappropriate” story to her students. Robert Ouellette, the coordinator of professional standards for the district’s Office of Professional Standards, investigated and determined Stacey Smith “acted inappropriately and/or unprofessionally” in telling the story of “an African American child living in Chicago under distressed circumstances. This story was not appropriate for the students. and not relevant to the grade level curriculum.” Smith has filed a grievance. Flagler Live.

Citrus: Seven Rivers Christian School in Lecanto used $800,000 it received in coronavirus relief aid to buy 49 Newline interactive displays for every pre-k through 12th-grade class and administrative office. The displays can be used as a whiteboard, are compatible with all devices and have touch-screen capabilities. “It’s just like a giant smartphone,” said director of advancement Wendy Cash. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Fourteen Florida community colleges are among 150 nationally to be nominated for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Broward, Chipola College, College of Central Florida, Daytona, Eastern Florida State, Florida Gateway, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Gulf Coast, North Florida, Palm Beach State, St. Johns River, Seminole, South Florida and Tallahassee are competing for the prize, which will be announced in the spring of 2023. Jackson County Floridan.

Around the nation: A new study of German schools suggests that requiring teachers and other adults to wear masks in schools helps slow the transmission of the coronavirus. Miami Herald. U.S. News & World Report. Some U.S. school librarians who are fed up with book challenges by parents and political organizations have decided to fight back. They’ve started an organization called #FReadom to provide support to each other in resisting calls to remove books about race, equality and sexuality. CNN.

Opinions on schools: Preparedness is just as critical as prevention, a sentiment shared by the U.S. Department of Education in their guidance for developing school emergency operations plans. Our research shows that drills can be an empowering experience. Events like the Oxford school shooting in Michigan show why lockdown drills are necessary to save lives. Jaclyn Schildkraut, Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff