UF’s president stepping down, Florida’s plan to spend federal aid approved, absenteeism, and more

UF president stepping aside: Kent Fuchs, president of the University of Florida since 2015, announced Wednesday in a video message that he was stepping down after a successor is chosen, perhaps later this year or early in 2023. Fuchs, 67, said he will take a sabbatical and then return to UF as a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering research. He said he notified UF board of trustees chair Mori Hosseini of his intention last August and they agreed to wait until January to make the announcement. Fuchs’ tenure was marked by the university’s rise last year to top 5 status in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings, but also a subsequent controversy over academic freedom. “When I was appointed in 2014, I was asked to make three commitments to the board of trustees and the board of governors,” Fuchs said. “First, that I would work to raise the stature of UF to be among the nation’s top 10 public universities. Second, that UF would launch and complete a $3 billion fundraising campaign. Third, that UF would not increase its tuition while I served as president. Those promises were made and those promises were kept.” News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Gainesville Sun. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Fresh Take Florida. WCJB. WGFL.

State’s aid plan approved: Florida’s plan on how it will spend more than $7 billion in federal aid under the America Rescue Plan was approved Dec. 30 by the U.S. Department of Education. Florida was among the last states to submit a plan, doing so Dec. 15, and among the final four states to have their plans approved. Districts and states have until Sept. 30, 2024, to spend or commit the funds. They’re expected to use the money on innovative learning programs to help students recover learning losses incurred during the pandemic, improve teacher compensation and address staff shortages. K-12 Dive.

Around the state: Florida school districts continue to report heavy absences among students and teachers, a 6-year-old kindergarten student in Polk County was struck and killed by a car Wednesday morning, Leon County schools reverse course and will require 10 days of quarantine for students and staff who test positive for COVID-19, Alberto Carvalho’s last day as Miami-Dade school superintendent is set at Feb. 3, the Orange County School Board will have to settle a contract dispute between the district and its teachers, and four finalists are chosen for the Lake County School District teacher of the year award. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s final day will be Feb. 3, school board chair Perla Tabares Hantman said Wednesday, though he has said he’ll stay until Feb. 14 if necessary. Carvalho, 57, who has led the district since 2008, announced Dec. 9 that he was leaving to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District in California, the second-largest school district in the country. At Wednesday’s meeting, school board members set some minimum qualifications they’ll be looking for in Carvalho’s replacement, and decided they would move quickly enough that hiring an interim superintendent is unnecessary. That timetable is upsetting some board members and community residents. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Broward: Handheld metal detectors could soon be used to randomly check district students for guns and other weapons. School board members are in agreement that they’re needed, and at least one will be in every school. The official school board vote is set Jan. 11. WSVN. WFOR.

Hillsborough, Pinellas: About 600 teachers called in sick Wednesday. Superintendent Addison Davis said that’s more than the district typically sees in a day, but is nowhere near the absentee rate the district had during the peak of the delta variant wave of the coronavirus. In Pinellas County, about 500 teachers were absent Wednesday. A typical day has 300 to 400 teachers off, according to district officials. WFTS. The principal of Davis Elementary School in Tampa was arrested Dec. 28 and accused of failing to report a child abuse incident at the school. Deputies said Patrick LaLone, 51, did not call the state’s abuse hotline, as required by law, when he saw a video in May that allegedly shows teacher Kayla Godwin, 28, pushing an 8-year-old student into a desk. Godwin was arrested Dec. 10. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS.

Orange, central Florida: A contract negotiation meeting between teachers and the district on Wednesday failed to lead to an agreement, leaving the school board to set the terms of the deal. Teachers want more than token raises, and district officials said they don’t have money. A contract impasse was declared in June. A special magistrate was called in to mediate, but the recommendations made were rejected. WESH. Tens of thousands of students have missed school this week in the central Florida districts of Orange and Osceola. Orange reported 44,000 students stayed home Tuesday. Osceola said 12,600 students were absent Monday, but that number was down to 3,700 by Wednesday. WESH.

Palm Beach: More than 1,000 of the district’s 12,000 teachers were absent for the first day of school Wednesday, leading to staffing problems throughout the county. Substitutes were able to cover only about half of the absences, leaving the district to scramble to cover other classrooms with other employees. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPBF.

Duval: A Fletcher High School student is in custody Wednesday after Neptune Beach police were called to investigate a report of a gun on campus. Officers said they found a plastic toy gun in his possession. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV.

Polk: A 6-year-old kindergartner at Auburndale Central Elementary School was killed at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday when she was hit by a pickup trick while trying to cross U.S. 92. Police said Ra’Nesha Jackson made it to the median of the road, but was hit when she tried to finish crossing. The driver told police he didn’t know he hit anything, and returned to the scene after another driver told him he had hit a pedestrian. Police said no charges are expected to be filed because it was too early for crossing guards to be on duty, it was dark and the driver was not speeding or impaired. Lakeland Ledger. WTVT. WFTS.

Lee: Getting children to school is increasingly a problem for the school district because of a shortage of school bus drivers. There are 90 openings for drivers, and the district reported that 126 drivers called in sick Tuesday, which is about twice the normal average. District spokesman Rob Spicker said the district is working hard to solve the problem. “As long as we are this short of drivers, the bus will be there,” he said. “It just may be really late.” WINK.

Collier: The shortage of substitute teachers has led the school district to issue a call for guest teachers to fill in. The district has 700 guest teachers now, but it’s not enough to fill all the holes created by teachers getting COVID and being quarantines. WINK.

Lake: Four finalists have been named for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Courtney Stokes, a science teacher at Tavares High School; Patrick Kelly, a science and math teacher at Leesburg High; Jessica Woods, a literacy coach at Windy Hill Middle; and Danielle Newton, a 3rd-grade teacher at Leesburg Elementary. The winner will be announced Feb. 3. Daily Commercial.

Leon: School officials have reversed course and are changing the number of days students and employees with the coronavirus must quarantine from 5 to 10. On Tuesday, Superintendent Rocky Hanna said that the quarantine time was being cut from 10 to 5 days. Later that night, he received guidance from the state and changed the quarantine time. “I’m frustrated, but I apologize that we sent out the guidance yesterday, but we had to do something given that our students were returning,” Hanna said. “We have to abide by state law, and we will abide by the rules set forth by the state of Florida as directed by the governor. Thank you for understanding.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Superintendent Carlee Simon wants to shift 160 students next fall from Idylwild Elementary, one of the most overcrowded schools in the district, to Metcalfe Elementary, which is one of the most underenrolled district schools. “Idylwild has twice as many children living in the zone that the school can accommodate,” Simon said. A final school board vote on the issue is scheduled March 1. Gainesville Sun.

Monroe: The school district is boosting pay and offering incentives to recruit and retain paraprofessionals to fill the district’s 20 openings. Starting pay has been raised to $20 an hour, and paraprofessionals can qualify for up to $5,000 in tuition assistance at the College of the Florida Keys for every year worked. “They’re very valuable to us because they’re our assistants in the classroom,” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “While they work with teachers they get a lot of training with students and supporting students when they’re doing classwork.” Key West Citizen.

Flagler: The school board’s attempt to draft a proclamation denouncing hate was derailed when two members objected to some of the language used. Jill Woolbright wanted to exclude the use of the phrase “hate groups” because she said “poor behavior” was “from all groups in our community,” and Janet McDonald contended that it’s not the place of the board to officially denounce anything. A previous attempt to write a proclamation stalled over the use of the word “equity.” Flagler Live.

Jackson: School board members agreed to adopt new board district boundaries. The board decided to deviate from the map drawn for the county commission, but it does meet the approval of the NAACP. “We wanted to make sure we met the federal decree,” said board chair Stacey Goodson. “We had the ACLU here and the NAACP, they were supportive of all three maps that were presented. We chose a map that we feel would best represent our districts as a whole and the county as a whole.” WJHG.

Suwannee: A school bus crash Wednesday morning sent a student to a Live Oak hospital for treatment. Troopers said a car pulled out of a gas station and struck the bus, which was carrying 12 students. WCTV. WTXL. WCJB. WGFL.

Colleges and universities: Florida State College at Jacksonville will offer students a course next fall in the history of the city. Scott Matthews, the history professor who will teach it, said the class would be available to anyone who is interested in the city’s 200-year history. Florida Times-Union. Valencia College in Orlando has been awarded a $3.7 million grant from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ governor’s Job Growth Fund to help train for students to work in the computer chip industry. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens was one of seven historically black U.S. colleges or universities that received bomb threats Tuesday night. Miami Herald.

More on graduations: The Lafayette County School District had the highest high school graduation rate in the state last spring at 97.5 percent, according to data released this week by the Florida Department of Education. Columbia was second at 95.6 percent, followed by Seminole and Wakulla at 95.5 percent, and Indian River and St. Johns at 95 percent. The overall state graduation rate was 90.1 percent, 0.1 percentage point ahead of last year’s. Here are reports from some school districts. Miami-Dade and Broward. Palm Beach. Pinellas. Pasco. Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion and Union.

In the Legislature: Top Florida university officials agreed Wednesday to ask the Legislature for $800 million so they can start working on a backlog of building repairs. “If it doesn’t work this time, it’s never going to work,” said board member Steven Scott. Politico Florida. State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, has filed a bill largely mirroring one just introduced in the Senate that would prevent union fees being deducted from the paychecks of public employees, such as teachers and other school employees. News Service of Florida.

Notable deaths: Stephan D. Sugarman, a pioneer of the education choice movement and a longtime professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, died Dec. 26 in California after a four-year battle against kidney cancer. He was 79. “Steve Sugarman, along with Jack Coons and Milton Friedman, are the founders of the modern education choice movement,” said Doug Tuthill, president of the nonprofit K-12 scholarship funding organization Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog. “Steve’s ideas about how choice programs should be structured and implemented are still guiding us today.” reimaginED.

SUFS audit released: An audit of Step Up For Students by the Florida Auditor General’s Office questioned staff access to sensitive personal information that SUFS collects to determine student eligibility. The report did not note any instances of unauthorized disclosure of this information, and the organization said it was updating the application database to limit the number of staff members who can review historical data. The audit covered the period between March 2020 and February 2021. reimaginED.

Around the nation: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising all teenagers to get the Pfizer coronavirus booster shot for protection against the spread of the omicron variant. Politico. A shortage of readily available COVID-19 test kits has left the country’s school districts scrambling. Politico. Educators are being cautious but are still finding ways to teach students about the riot at the U.S. Capitol a year ago. NPR. The 74.

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