State board criticizes delays in giving raises, Lee board rebuked by state, book challenges and more

Board rips pay delays: Florida Board of Education members on Wednesday criticized seven school districts and teachers unions for delaying raises for teachers despite an October deadline for distributing the money. Leon, Bradford, Brevard, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Johns and Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School school districts all have failed to meet the deadline granting the raises, according to the board. In some cases the money has been delayed because school boards or unions have yet to ratify negotiated agreements. “I’m kind of floored by the fact that the teachers unions would have no incentive to speed things up and get money into the pockets of teachers. We constantly hear they don’t make enough, and they can barely stay in the profession because they’re not getting paid enough,” said state board member Esther Byrd. “And yet we have dollars sitting there that should be in their bank accounts.” News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Lee County school board members are being rebuked by the state Department of Education for allegedly plotting ways to “circumvent” new state laws, the Lee school board censures one its members at this week’s meeting, the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty is challenging more books in Brevard County school libraries, Escambia schools will review the process for hiring and promoting after questions were raised during a recent search for a principal, Sarasota County’s school superintendent could be in line for a $12,000 raise, and no criminal charges will be filed against five St. Johns County high school students who hung a shark carcass from the rafters of their school. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Stephanie Loudis, an English teacher at Miami Palmetto Senior High School for 34 years and a freelance TV columnist for the Miami Herald, died April 24 while on vacation in Costa Rica. She was 77. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: County commissioners have approved plans for a 299-home development in the south part of the county with a plan that will accommodate the roads needed for three news schools. The district has warned that rapid growth is overcrowding schools in the area and could lead to double sessions. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: A teacher at Independence Middle School in Jupiter has been arrested and accused of having sex with a teenager in his classroom two years ago. Police said Daniel Heath Norment, 41, would take students into a closet in his classroom to “counsel” them, and as coach of the girls basketball team would let players change clothes in the classroom after school hours. Norment had been reprimanded by the district and removed from his coaching job, but wasn’t taken out of the classroom until March, when school police said they learned that two years earlier he had coerced a 16-year-old girl into having sex with him. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. Three students are in custody following a fight Wednesday at Watkins Middle School in Palm Beach Gardens. School police officers used pepper spray to break up the fight, sending three students to the hospital for treatment. WPTV. WPEC.

Lee: School board members have drawn a rebuke from the state Department of Education for allegedly plotting ways to “circumvent” new state laws during a recent workshop meeting. According to the DOE, “there were conversations about ways to circumvent the upcoming requirements” for bills that target school and corporate “wokeness” and race lessons in schools, the Parental Rights in Education law that bans discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in K-3 and restricts it for older grades, and the bill that gives parents more input into the selection of textbooks and classroom materials. “If you like the law, you don’t like the law, those are good debates to have,” said state Board of Education member Ben Gibson. “But at the end of the day, it’s important to implement the law and to follow the law.” Politico Florida. A whistleblower’s complaint against school board member Chris Patricca has led to her censure by the board this week in a 5-2 vote. The nature of the complaint was not disclosed. Patricca said she is being accused of things that are untrue. WINK. WFTX. A former private school teacher who was arrested in April and accused of having sex with a student was arrested again this week. Thomas Deane, 30, who was a history teacher at the Canterbury School in Fort Myers, has been charged with possession of child pornography. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX.

Brevard: More school library books are being challenged by the Brevard chapter of the conservative Moms for Liberty group. The latest list includes the classic Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse-Five and brings the total number of books flagged by the group to 41. The group claims Vonnegut’s book contains graphic violence, explicit sexual content and  “inflammatory religious commentary” because it mocks the New Testament in a satirical manner. Tuesday, the school board  approved a review process being conducted at the district level instead of school-by-school. Florida Today. WKMG.

St. Johns: No criminal charges will be filed against the five students responsible for hanging the carcass of a shark from the rafters at Ponte Vedra High School on May 5 as a prank, following an investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. FWC officials concluded that two of the boys paid a fisherman $100 for the dead shark, and kept it in ice overnight before hanging it. The boys face disciplinary action by the school district, which could include suspension, expulsion, transfer to an alternative school or referral to mental health services. Meanwhile, the district said it welcomes an offer from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to “to provide the district with a K-12 kindness-to-animals curriculum and ‘Empathy Now,’ a guide to preventing youth violence against animals.” St. Augustine Record. WKMG. WJAX. WJXT. WJCT. WTLV.

Sarasota: In a workshop meeting this week, school board members discussed giving Superintendent Brennan Asplen a raise of $12,000 a year, or 5.75 percent. If the raise is formally approved, Asplen’s salary would increase from $215,000 to $227,000. “We’re behind the ball, we should have given him a raise a year ago,” said board member Shirley Brown said. “We were supposed to look at a salary increase on July 1, 2021 … I say the raise should be retroactive beginning July 1, 2021.” A vote is expected by September. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: Counselors were at Ocala Vanguard High School on Wednesday to console students grieving the loss of a classmate. MacKenna Rector, a 15-year-old sophomore, died Tuesday in a two-vehicle crash in Ocala. Ocala Star-Banner. WCJB.

Escambia: Superintendent Tim Smith said the district is reviewing its process for hiring and promoting after questions were raised during the recent search for a principal at Lincoln Park Elementary School. Assistant principal Patrice Moody, a black woman, claims she was passed over by candidates with less experience and qualifications, and said she thought race also was an issue. She was one of 20 applicants to replace the retiring Cassandra Smith, but was not selected for even a second round of interviews. Ultimately none of the candidates was selected and another black woman, Jobenna Sellers, will be transferred from the principal’s job at the Escambia Westgate School to run Lincoln Park. “Our structured practice is designed to select the best candidate. We want to be fair with our hiring processes, which is why our procedure is so structured and standardized,” said Superintendent Smith. “For next school year, I will look at our process given the concerns that have been raised.” Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: Middleburg High School’s automotive maintenance and repair program will be expanded and become the Garber Academy of Automotive Services, school board members decided at this week’s meeting. The academy will offer instruction, certifications and experience. Clay Today.

Hernando: County commissioners have approved the school district’s request to ask voters for an extra half-cent in sales tax for capital improvements. But the request will go on the Nov. 5, 2024, ballot instead of this November, as the school district had requested. District officials pleaded with commissioners to approve the 2022 date, saying they needed to start collecting money soon to expand existing schools and perhaps build a new one to accommodate students growth from a recently approved 10,000-home development. Suncoast News.

Colleges and universities: A former University of South Florida professor is suing the school, alleging that he resigned because of discrimination and harassment he faced at the hands of a dean for USF Health. Andrew Bugajski, 29, said that dean, 56-year-old Usha Menon, was hostile to him because he’s a white man. He’s asking for more than $100,000 in damages. Florida Politics. Florida Gulf Coast University has opened its Water School, which has been in the works for three years and cost $57 million. Students in the program will study such issues as rising sea levels, freshwater pollution and algae blooms. WBBH.

Education podcasts: A mother in a military family talks about how Florida’s new law granting education choice scholarship eligibility to military families has benefitted her two daughters and changed her life. reimaginED.

Around the nation: School districts that spent more time in learning remotely during the pandemic had greater learning losses than districts in states such as Florida that reopened earlier and pushed for in-person learning, according to a recent Harvard study. “Interestingly, gaps in math achievement by race and school poverty did not widen in school districts in states such as Texas and Florida and elsewhere that remained largely in-person,” said Thomas Kane, one of the authors of the study. Florida Politics. The number of COVID-19 cases in schools is beginning to creep up across the United States, but only a few districts are bringing back face masks as a safety measure. Associated Press. The skyrocketing rate of absenteeism among U.S. students has prompted school districts to get creative in trying to convinced them to return to school. They’re offering students cookouts with DJs and even gas money, among other things. The 74.

Opinions on schools: As the nation strives to overcome the educational challenges of the past few years and break down barriers to lifelong success for students, policymakers and parents know that charter schools are a key part of the equation. As charter schools continue to rise, more and more students are reaping the benefits. Nina Rees, The 74. The Miami-Dade County School Board replacing comprehensive sexuality education with a single textbook means less sex education in general. That’s a disservice to students and will take a toll on their mental and physical health. Lauren Costantino, Miami Herald.

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