DeSantis inspector general reviewing bid process at DOE, Miami-Dade selects Dotres, and more

Bidding process review: The Florida Department of Education’s handling of the bidding process for a contract to oversee the operations of the Jefferson County School District will be reviewed by the chief inspector general for Gov. Ron DeSantis. The decision is a reversal from an earlier decision from the governor’s office. Melinda Miguel, the governor’s inspector, will review how DOE and its inspector general handled the bid for the $2.5 million a year contract. DOE reportedly tried to steer the contract toward a company run by a former state representative with ties to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. The bidding process was halted after Melinda Ramsey, a member of Corcoran’s leadership team, and State Board of Education member Andy Tuck formed a company to make a bid for the contract. Both were later asked to resign. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.

Around the state: Miami-Dade County School Board members choose Jose Dotres as the district’s new superintendent, five Palm Beach County teachers are sent home from a Jupiter elementary school for refusing to wear face masks, Brevard County’s state attorney says there was no “criminal wrongdoing” in the case of the 7-year-old child with Down syndrome being sent home from school with a mask tied to her head, Lee County selects three finalists to interview with the superintendent’s job, teachers of the year are named in the Volusia and Putnam school districts and 10 finalists are chosen in Pinellas, the Florida House Ways & Means Committee approves a bill that would require school tax and other referenda to be held only on general election ballots, and about 48 percent of Florida’s K-12 students now attend schools of choice. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Jose Dotres, who worked in the school district more than 30 years as a teacher, a principal and in several administrative positions, including chief human capital officer from 2014-2021, has been chosen by the school board to succeed Alberto Carvalho as school superintendent. Dotres, 59, has most recently been an assistant superintendent for the Collier County School District. The school board vote was 6-3, and came after an eight-hour meeting that began with interviews of the three finalists. Jacob Oliva, the senior chancellor with the Florida Department of Education, received three votes and longtime New York City educator Rafaela Espinal none. Carvalho is leaving the job Feb. 3 to run the Los Angeles school district. Miami Herald. WLRN. WLPG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: Five teachers were sent home from Limestone Creek Elementary School in Jupiter last week after they violated district policy by refusing to wear face masks at school. The teachers were sent home Thursday with pay and stayed home Friday and Monday. They’re now subjects of a personnel investigation and could face disciplinary action. Palm Beach Post. Superintendent Michael Burke is asking LGBTQ students to attend a discussion Wednesday to share their school experiences so the district can consider ways to make schools more inclusive. WPTV.

Pinellas: Ten finalists have been chosen for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Catalina Andujar, a 5th-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School; Esvicloria Blasingane, a math teacher at the Pinellas Secondary School; Bonnie Capra, an online instructor of medical transcribing at Pinellas Technical College-St. Petersburg; Ivana Grant, a biology teacher at Richard O. Jacobson Technical High; Justin Howard, a 4th- and 5th-grader teacher at Campbell Park Elementary; Eileen Iacobucci, a visual arts teacher at East Lake High; Lorna Kelley, a math teacher at Tyrone Middle; Deanna Russo, the Center for Education and Leadership coordinator at Seminole High; Sarah Swoch, a science teacher at Pinellas Parl Middle; and Melissa Walls, a 3rd-grade teacher at Safety Harbor Elementary. The winner will be announced Wednesday. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School board members narrowed their list of five finalists for the superintendent’s job to three on Monday. They will be brought in next week for interviews and meet-the-public sessions. Finalists are Christopher Bernier, chief of staff for schools in Clark County, NV; Randy Mahlerwein, assistant superintendent in Mesa, AZ; and Michael Ramirez, who worked his way from school positions in Broward County to be deputy superintendent in the school district covering Denver. A board vote could be held as early as Feb. 1. Fort Myers News-Press. An agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was sentenced to 31 days in jail after pleading guilty to exposing himself to students in the parking lot at Riverdale High School in Fort Myers last December. Ruben Rosado-Milan will be under sex offender probation for 15 years with a GPS monitor and id designated as a sex offender. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX. WBBH.

Brevard: State Attorney Phil Archer announced Monday that his office found “no criminal wrongdoing” in the case of a 7-year-old child with Down syndrome being sent home from school with a face mask tied to her head. The girl’s parents asked for a criminal investigation, and have also filed a lawsuit against the school district. Archer, a Republican, called the case a “textbook example of what rushing to judgment prior to the conclusion of an investigation, can produce in today’s hypersensitive politically charged climate.” Florida Today. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Volusia: Madison Miller, a product of the county school district and a teacher on assignment at Chisholm Elementary School in New Smyrna Beach, has been named the district’s teacher of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: A student walking home from Umatilla High School last Thursday was sexually assaulted after she got into a black pickup when the driver asked if she needed a ride. The man drove her to a wooded area, assaulted her and then drove away. WKMG.

Sarasota: District and health department officials have decided to end contact tracing of students who test positive for COVID-19. The new policy will have elementary schools notifying families of a potential COVID positive case related to their child based on the class schedule of the student who tested positive. Middle and high school parents will be notified daily on the number of positive cases in the school. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The shortage of substitute teachers has prompted the district to make a plea to students’ parents. “As we begin the second semester, we are reaching out to recruit parents to work as substitutes in our schools. If you normally volunteer in our schools or if you have time available, please consider working as a substitute in our district,” human resources executive director Allison S. Foster wrote in an e-mail to parents Monday. WWSB.

Marion: A record 1,041 district students and employees tested positive for the coronavirus last week, school officials reported. The previous high was 870 for the week ending Jan. 14. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: A pilot program has been launched at Nims Middle School to help struggling and overage 5th-graders catch up to their peers with an accelerated 6th-grade year. Billy Epting, the district’s director of elementary schools, and Nims principal Benny Bolden developed the program. “You’ve told them you can’t read, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t, and we just gave them an opportunity to say you can,” Bolden said. “I see me in those kids. They are mad at themselves for the situations that they’re in, and they’re screaming for help.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Putnam: Asia Kellner, a teacher at Moseley Elementary School in Palatka, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Also honored were Scarlett Williams, an intervention paraprofessional at James A. Long Elementary, as school-based support-related employee of the year, and Marta Arthur, a district bus driver, as the department-based, support-related employee of the year. Palatka Daily News. Putnam County School District.

Colleges and universities: Mark Middendorf, executive vice president for mission expansion at the Augustine Institute in Colorado, has been named the fourth president of Ava Marie University, a private liberal arts Catholic university in Collier County. Fort Myers News-Press. A Stetson University student was arrested and accused of threatening on social media to set off a bomb at the White House. Brian Ghalili, 18, told Volusia County deputies that it was just a joke. WKMG. WOFL.

In the Legislature: The House Ways & Means Committee approved a bill Monday that would require school tax and other referenda to be held only on general election ballots. H.B. 777 was filed by state Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton. “I think it’s bad policy either way, whether or not you are trying to defeat something or you are trying to get something approved,” Robinson said. “It should be in front of the maximum number of voters.” Florida Politics.

Education choice: About 48 percent of the state’s K-12 students attend schools of choice, according to Florida Department of Education data from the 2020-2021 school year. Nearly 342,000 of the 1.6 million choice students are in charter schools, while 249,290 use open enrollment in 52 districts, 206,848 are in choice and magnet programs in district schools, 150,096 attend private schools and 135,055 are being educated at home. reimaginED.

Around the nation: High school graduation rates dropped last year in 20 states, according to data from 26 states. Florida was one of those states, and showed a slight 0.1 percentage point increase. Chalkbeat. Associated Press. Advocates of school choice see the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic creating a new opening for expansion. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Pods, both supplemental and full time, have joined the mix of options available to American families. While many decry the advent of pods citing equity concern, the issue is not that well-to-do families have access to them, but rather that low-income families have less access. Public policy changes will be needed to equalize access, but many American parents aren’t waiting on the glacial pace of state politics. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Governors and state policymakers should enact a student and parents “bill of rights” that secures their right to access, quality and transparency. Jeb Bush, Miami Herald. A series of unforced errors has left the University of Florida divided, embarrassed and needing changes. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.