State senator target of alleged extortion scheme, the $100M rescue plan, face masks and more

Around the state: A Broward County man has been arrested and charged with trying to extort money from a prominent state senator over explicit photos, Hillsborough schools’ chief financial officer is working on a plan that she said would save $100 million for the financially distressed district, face masks are now fully optional in Leon County schools, a 13-year-old Brevard student is in critical condition after being hit by a car as he tried to cross a road to get to his school bus, a Lee school district report shows that most of its overcrowded schools are in the eastern part of the county, and the University of Miami has agreed to pay $1.85 million to settle a proposed class action lawsuit brought by its current and past employees over the school’s retirement plan. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is being knighted by Spain for the district’s expansion of Spanish-language programs. He’ll be admitted Dec. 13 into the Order of Isabella the Catholic, joining others whose work contributes to Spain and its culture. Carvalho, who was born and raised in Portugal, said, “I am deeply humbled by this recognition for it acknowledges our ongoing commitment to expanding access to dual language programs across our community.” Associated Press. WTVJ. The school district is partnering with several health organizations to offer vaccination clinics for children 5-11 at various schools this month. WTVJ.

Broward: A 19-year-old Plantation man has been arrested and accused of trying to extort state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, a sexual abuser survivor, noted advocate for child victims of abuse and the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, over explicit photos. Jeremy Kamperveen allegedly made a deal with an undercover agent he thought was Book to turn over the photos in exchange for $4,000. Book said many of the photos were fake, but she recognized some showing her breasts as pictures “she had taken of herself and only shared with a close friend.” Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. A 17-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student has been arrested and accused of making social media threats against the school. The arrest comes two days after four people died in a school shooting in Michigan, and nearly four years after 17 students and employees died in a shooting at Stoneman Douglas. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR.

Hillsborough: The school district’s chief financial officer has outlined a financial plan that could add about $100 million to the district’s bottom line. Romaneir Johnson told a citizens financial advisory committee this week that $30 million can be saved by leaving some of the district’s 1,000 job vacancies open, $35 million by revising capital spending, that $28 million can be added from the state through higher enrollment, and that $10 million in federal grant money can be tapped. Johnson said she would continue revising the plan before taking it to the school board in February. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: A 39-year-old Miami man has been arrested and charged with murder in the Nov. 16 stabbing death of Ryan Rogers, a 14-year-old Dwyer High School student. Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Clint Shannon said suspect Semmie Lee Williams, 39, is a “homeless drifter.” Shannon called the death an “innocent child victim having a chance encounter with a very violent criminal.” Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC. Miami Herald.

Lee: Newly released school district data shows that dozens of schools are overcrowded, and a majority of them are on the east side of the county. Sixteen of the 28 schools at or above enrollment capacity are in the east zone, including seven of the 10 most crowded schools. School board member Gwynetta Gittens is pushing the district to use the data when making decisions about which schools to help and where to build schools. WINK.

Brevard: A 13-year-old Southwest Middle School student is in critical condition after being hit by a car as he was crossing a road in Palm Bay to get to his school bus on Thursday. Authorities said the bus was stopped with all warning signals activated, but the driver went around the bus and struck the boy. Florida Today. WESH.

Sarasota: Wilma Hamilton Delp, a longtime teacher and principal who was the school district’s superintendent from 2000-2003, died this week at the age of 71. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: Face masks are now fully optional in district schools, with no parental opt-out forms needed, school officials announced Thursday. “Beginning today, face masks or any other facial coverings will be optional for students and adults on Leon County school campuses,” said assistant superintendent Alan Cox. Only three coronavirus cases have been reported in schools in the past 14 days, and the county’s positivity rate has fallen to 2.73 percent. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okeechobee: A student at Seminole Elementary School brought a pellet gun to school this week, but school resource officers were tipped off and confiscated it. WPEC.

Colleges and universities: The University of Miami has agreed to pay $1.85 million to settle a proposed class action lawsuit brought by its current and past employees who contended the school’s retirement plan has exorbitant fees and poorly performing investment options. Miami Herald. The University of Central Florida faculty said the school is “sitting on” $112 million in federal coronavirus relief aid that could be used to help slow the loss of faculty members. News Service of Florida. WMFE. The St. Thomas University College of Law in Miami Gardens has created the Benjamin L. Crump Center for Social Justice, named for the prominent civil rights attorney who has represented victims of police brutality and vigilante violence. Associated Press. Miami Herald. A small satellite camera built by a team of 24 students and three faculty members at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will be on board and film the scheduled Intuitive Machines’ lunar landing next March. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In the Legislature: Bills have been introduced in 37 state legislatures, including Florida’s, to require schools to provide free feminine hygiene products to students. “Schools should realize that (menstruation) isn’t a choice,” argues Margaret Schedler, who is a junior at a private college prep school in Birmingham, Ala. “And if they want to support menstruating citizens, they should do the bare minimum and make sure that public- and state-funded places have period products that people can use.”  NPR. A group of east Tampa students traveled to Tallahassee this week to lobby legislators to invest in making their communities safer and providing their resources to help them and their schools. Florida Politics.

Carrie Meek, choice advocate: Much has been written about Carrie Meek, the former Florida lawmaker and one of the first black Floridians elected to Congress since Reconstruction, since her death last week. But what most news coverage overlooked was that Meek was an strong supporter of school choice. She started the Carrie Meek Foundation, which was among the state’s first school choice funding organizations to administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. It and two others later became part of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog. “Congresswoman Meek had a deep and sincere concern for the less fortunate, especially for those in her district who struggled to overcome poverty,” said SUFS chairman John F. Kirtley. “She was unconcerned with what any party or politician would say about her supporting an educational choice program.” reimaginED.

Around the nation: Staffing shortages are two to three times higher at schools with a high percentage of low-income students than at more affluent ones, suggests research from the University of Washington. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: For critics of school choice, the apocalypse has always been now. School choice supporters are still waiting. Today, Florida ranks No. 3 in the nation in K-12 achievement, improving as the number of private school choice students expanded from 57 in 1999 to more than 175,000 today. Hardly an indication that the end of public education as we know it is near. Patrick R. Gibbons, reimaginED. From mask mandates to the teaching of race, public schools have turned into a political battleground. Florida lawmakers now want to inject even more partisan antics into school board elections, a cynical proposal disguised as an attempt at transparency. Miami Herald. If University of Florida president Kent Fuchs wants to prevent UF’s reputation from being further tattered, he needs to go beyond the task force’s recommendations and take additional steps to shield faculty from political interference. Gainesville Sun. I did not have a Florida Prepaid Plan, but I sure wish I did. And I want the same for all of my current, future and former students. Florida teacher of the year Sarah Ann Painter, Tampa Bay Times.