Superintendent searches, schools’ opioid lawsuit, case against state Rep. Fine dismissed, and more

Around the state: Sixteen people have applied to replace Alberto Carvalho as superintendent of the Miami-Dade County School District, the deadline for applying for the open Broward superintendent’s job was Jan. 3 but just one candidate is known, five out-of-state finalists are named for the Lee County superintendent’s job, a judge has dismissed a Brevard County School Board member’s request for a restraining order against state Rep. Randy Fine, a class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Florida school districts against a consulting company for opioid manufacturers, an NBA player donates $2 million to his Tampa high school to build a fieldhouse, and a teacher and employee of the year are announced for the Gulf County School District. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Sixteen candidates have submitted applications to succeed Alberto Carvalho as the district’s superintendent. The best-known is Jacob Oliva, the Florida Department of Education’s senior chancellor of the Division of Public Schools. The abbreviated application process has been criticized by many in the community who believe the school board already has a favored candidate. Board members meet Jan. 18 to discuss the candidates. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ. School board members have approved a calendar for the 2022-2023 school year that sets the first day at Aug. 17 and June 7 as the final day. Schools will be closed Thanksgiving week. Miami Herald.

Broward: The deadline for candidates for the superintendent’s position closed Jan. 3, but the firm hired by the school board to handle the search has yet to turn the names over to the board. Only one candidate is known: Vickie Cartwright, who was hired as the interim superintendent July 22. She replaced Robert Runcie, who resigned Aug. 21 after being indicted for perjury. “Once the independent search firm completes the process it was hired to do, it will provide the information to the district,” said district spokeswoman Kathy Koch. School board members have a meeting Jan. 24 to discuss the candidates, and has said it wants to hire the new superintendent next month. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: An NBA player has donated $2 million to Tampa Catholic High School to build a fieldhouse. Kevin Knox II, who graduated from the school in 2017 and now plays for the New York Knicks, said he “was inspired to give back to Tampa Catholic, as they helped me become the person and player I am today. Being a TC Crusader will always be a part of who I am on and off the court.” The fieldhouse will include a fitness center, Hall of Fame Pavilion, Champions Hall, coaching suites, a video scoreboard, men’s and women’s locker rooms, bleachers and concessions. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: The school district is disregarding basic coronavirus safety protocols, teachers union officials charged this week. The union contends the district isn’t providing enough masks and isn’t properly cleaning and disinfecting schools, and that teachers have been told the district doesn’t have to adhere to safety guidelines because the memo of understanding between the union and district on protocols has expired. The district denies the charges. The two sides have been locked in a contract impasse that will be broken by the board, though the Jan. 18 meeting to address the deadlock has been canceled and not yet reset. WKMG.

Duval: Schools will begin sending information about gun safety and storage laws to families of students every year. The school board adopted the policy this week in an effort to cut down on gun violence affecting students. “By passing this resolution, officials in Duval County have demonstrated their commitment to keeping our kids from unsecured firearms,” said Katie Hathaway, a volunteer with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action. WTLV. High school graduations have been scheduled from May 19 to 27 at various Duval County venues. District officials said details about guests and safety protocols would be available later this spring. WJXT.

Lee: Five finalists have been chosen for the school superintendent’s job that opened with the retirement of Greg Adkins. Ken Savage has been the interim superintendent since June. The finalists are: Christopher Bernier, chief of staff for the Clark County, Nev., school district since 2019; Michael Ramirez, deputy superintendent of the Denver school system since 2019; Randy Mahlerwein, assistant superintendent of the Mesa, Ariz., schools since 2019; Michael Gaal, sales director for Beable Education in Lakewood, N.J.; and Jeff Perry, superintendent for the Hamblen County School District in Morristown, Tenn., since 2017. Virtual interviews will be conducted Jan. 18 and Jan. 19 and posted to the district’s YouTube channel. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX. Two county residents are showing their appreciation for school bus drivers by raising money to present them with gift cards. “We want to do anything we can as a community to let them know they are supported, that there are people who are concerned, and we want to do anything we can to just make life a little bit better,” said Crystal Johnson, who started the drive with Marsha Ellis. WINK. The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools has chosen 30 finalists for the six annual Golden Apple awards. The winners will be honored April 29. WFTX.

Brevard: A judge has dismissed a school board member’s request for a restraining order against a state lawmaker. Jennifer Jenkins claimed state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, had cyberstalked her with a series of Facebook posts criticizing her support for face mask mandates in schools. Fine had argued that it was protected speech and failed to meet the legal definition of harassment or cyberstalking. Jenkins disagreed with the judge’s decision, saying, “I feel this ruling today just gives authority to someone with power (and) political position to incite harassment and threats against another individual, and excuses that behavior.” Fine said, “Jennifer Jenkins doesn’t seem to understand that elected officials are allowed to be criticized. She’s proven to have no understanding of the law, whether it’s breaking it on mask mandates …. or wasting the court’s time with this.” Florida Today.

Volusia: Seventeen percent of the district’s students were absent Jan. 4, the first day after the winter holiday, according to district officials, and that rate has held steady since then. The number of teachers calling in sick was 15 percent on Tuesday, sharply higher than the 9 percent who were absent Jan. 4. WESH.

Manatee: On Dec. 21, the day before winter break, the school district reported just one case of the coronavirus. Monday it had 92, and Tuesday it reported 101. District chief of staff Kenneth Chapman said if people who are sick stay home, schools can manage the current surge. “Together, we’ll get through this and keep everybody safe and as healthy as possible,” he said. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: An East Ridge High School student has died and four others were badly hurt in a two-car crash Tuesday night on South Highway 27 in Clermont. Names of the students have not been released. Grief counselors will be at the school today to help students cope. WKMG. WOFL. Orlando Sentinel.

St. Johns: The rising number of COVID-19 cases has led to cancellations or changes of several school-related events. Canceled was today’s St. Johns High School Showcase, in which 8th-graders gather information about specialty career academies at the district’s high schools. “Because we’re seeing a rise in the cases, we thought it made sense with the fact that there’s a lot of face-to-face interaction to put it off,” said Superintendent Tim Forson. Tuesday, the district reported 329 students and 100 employees tested positive. Monday, the numbers were 240 students and 90 employees. St. Augustine Record. The father of a 5-year-old student at Freedom Crossing Academy pleaded with school board members to help him protect the girl. On Oct. 13, she was placed in the wrong line at dismissal and wandered away. A woman found the girl about a block from the campus. District officials apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again, but last Friday the girl was locked out of her classroom after recess and again left the school, For a second time, she was found and returned by a stranger. WJXT.

Clay: School board members approved a contract agreement between the district and its teachers that will raise starting salaries to $47,500 and give bonuses to veteran teachers. School officials hope the raises will help fill some of the 86 teaching jobs that opened up between August and December. Clay Today.

Alachua: Anjanna Balachandar, a senior at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, is one of 300 high school seniors selected as semifinals in the Regeneron Science Talent Search. Both Balachandar and Buchholz received $2,000 for her 3D printing research that she hopes will lead to a cure for scoliosis. WCJB. WGFL.

Bay: The school district and Florida State University Panama City are partnering to offer district students training in technology and cybersecurity in the ASCENT program, which is an acronym for “advancing science and career education and technology.” Students will have the opportunity to earn industry certifications through the program. WJHG. Oscar Patterson Academy, which is reopening this fall after being closed since 2018 by Hurricane Michael, is holding a contest to create a logo for the school. Winners will be selected Feb. 2 and receive gift certificates. Panama City News Journal.

Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River: Martin County school officials are launching an online tutoring program that will available to middle and high school students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Help in more than 200 subjects will be offered by the service named Paper, which is also being used by the Palm Beach County School District and several others. Federal coronavirus funds will cover the  cost of the one-year contract. WPTV. At least 9,377 St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River school students were absent last week. Martin had the most with 2,588, while Indian River counted 2,380 and St. Lucie 2,210. St. Lucie and Martin students returned Jan. 4, and Indian River students a day later. TCPalm.

Citrus: The school district’s plan to spend $34.2 million in federal coronavirus relief aid includes $13.4 million for technology; $7.2 million for bus and kindergarten aides, reading intervention, summer school and after school enrichment; $5.3 million for staff salaries, benefits and eSchool curriculum and supplies; $3.12 million for mental health services; and $1 million for learning loss among low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, minorities, homeless students and those in foster care. Citrus County Chronicle. William Robinson, a longtime teacher and administrator who was the last principal of the all-black George Washington Carver School in Crystal River from 1964 to 1969 and the first black supervisor of secondary education for the school district, died Jan. 1 in Crystal River. He was 88. Citrus County Chronicle.

Gulf: Kim McFarland, a geometry teacher at Port St. Joe High School, has been selected as the school district’s teacher of the year. The other nominees were Chevonelle Johns, an English teacher at Wewahitchka High; Michelle Baker, a 2nd-grade teacher at Port St. Joe Elementary; and Kayla Bailey, a 3rd-grade teacher at Wewahitchka Elementary. Debbie Peak, a guidance secretary at the same school, has been chosen as the district’s school support staff employee of the year. Other finalists were Elizabeth Guemmaz, a paraprofessional at Port St. Joe Elementary; Ashley Forehand, a secretary at Wewahitchka High; Tiffany Brock, a secretary at Wewahitchka Elementary; and Julie Hedberg, a bus driver for the Wewahitchka schools. Port St. Joe Star.

Monroe: Key West attorney Darren Horan has announced his candidacy for the District 1 seat on the school board. The incumbent, Bobby Highsmith, is not running for re-election. So far Horan is the only candidate. In District 4, incumbent John Dick is running for re-election and has drawn no challengers yet. In District 5, incumbent Sue Woltanski is being challenged by Alexandria Suarez. Florida Keys Weekly. Leslie Holmes has been named the school district’s adult education director. She had been the assistant principal at the Sugarloaf School. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Face masks offer enough protection that the 6-foot social distance guideline can be shortened, according to a study by researchers at the University of Central Florida. They found that people standing 3 feet apart with masks are safer than those standing 6 feet apart without masks. WESH. The Jacksonville City Council has approved spending $500,000 to build a community fitness and wellness center on the campus of Edward Waters University. WJCT.

Florida’s opioid lawsuit: A class-action lawsuit was recently filed on behalf of Florida school districts against a consulting  company whose advice to opioid manufacturers allegedly harmed students and increased the amount of money school districts had to pay for special education and other support services. The Putnam County School Board is the lead plaintiff. News Service of Florida.

More on graduation rates: More reports about the 2021 high school graduation rates for Florida school districts. The state average was 90.1 percent, a tick higher than in 2020. Seniors in both classes benefited from the state waiving end-of-year tests previously required to pass to be eligible to graduate. Clay.

Around the nation: White House officials said Wednesday that 10 million COVID-19 tests will be made available to U.S. schools this month and in subsequent months to counter the current nationwide shortage. Associated Press. Politico. NPR.

Opinions on schools: To protect children from COVID-19, Florida must leverage the power of accurate, real-time data to combat pediatric COVID-19, improve how we communicate with parents about the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, counteract misinformation and increase vaccination rates, ensure that any child who needs COVID-19 testing can obtain it expeditiously, and offer better outreach to our most vulnerable populations. Glenn Flores, F. Daniel Armstrong, Patricia Emmanuel, Mark Hudak and Desmond Schatz, Gainesville Sun. In the Florida Legislature’s latest effort to target public school teachers, two House Republicans want to video-record and place microphones on teachers whenever they’re around students. I have a better idea: Let’s force legislators to strap on body-cams and mics on themselves every time they’re around lobbyists. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. For Gov. Ron DeSantis and some Republicans, public schools now serve the primary purpose of being a prop for their juvenile brand of performative faux-patriotism, and a way to present themselves as real Americans, when they are, instead, dedicated to destroying America’s greatest institution. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Teaching our children a version of history that avoids complicated, potentially uncomfortable parts and prioritizes making them feel good is what we accuse other countries of doing to indoctrinate their youth. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union.

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