Review of political connections keeps Florida Education Department in spotlight

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
An algebra class at Somerset Academy Jefferson County's middle/high school building in January 2018. [JESSICA BAKEMAN | WLRN]
An algebra class at Somerset Academy Jefferson County's middle/high school building in January 2018. [JESSICA BAKEMAN | WLRN] [ Jessica Bakeman ]
Published Jan. 25, 2022

The big story: It was a big deal five years ago when the Florida Department of Education insisted that the tiny, struggling Jefferson County school district be taken over by a charter school operator. Nothing like that had been done before in the state, and the move captured the attention of education advocates and activists.

The experiment didn’t turn out all that well, with the district’s students still performing poorly on annual exams. So some state officials proposed changing the way things run in the school system. Their initiative, however, raised some new eyebrows as some officials tried to steer the work to a single consulting firm, while others aimed to win the contract for themselves.

Now the entire affair is under review by the Governor’s Office, at the insistence of some lawmakers. Read on for the latest chapter in this ongoing story.

Superintendent searches

The Pinellas School Board wants to take its time in selecting a replacement for retiring Mike Grego. It doesn’t plan to wait until after the fall elections to make a selection, as some residents have requested. The board holds a work session on the search at 1:30 p.m. today.

The Miami-Dade County School Board sped through its process to pick a new leader. It interviewed three candidates Monday and chose longtime insider José Dotres, the Miami Herald reports.

The Lee County School Board narrowed its finalist list to three candidates. It will conduct interviews with the three next week, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

More Tallahassee news

The story about lawmakers’ proposal to prevent elementary schools from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation has gone viral. Several organizations are calling it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, including The Guardian. More from the Orlando Sentinel. • On the local front, Palm Beach County’s superintendent has invited LGBTQ students to talk with him about how to improve their experiences in schools, WPTV reports.

The head of Florida’s teachers association is questioning Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statements that Florida is the most free state in the nation. “The question has to be, ‘Free-est state for who?’,” FEA president Andrew Spar told WFSU.

Several school districts use local tax referendums to boost their budgets. The Florida House advanced legislation to require such initiatives be placed on general election ballots only, Florida Politics reports.

An effort to oversee the books on school shelves moves to the state Senate. The Education Committee will consider legislation (SB 1300) similar to one that began advancing in the House last week. Unlike the House, the Senate version aims to cut school board member pay to that of a lawmaker, rather than eliminate it. Catch the meeting at 10 a.m.

Also today in Tallahassee: The House Early Learning and Elementary Education subcommittee meets at 9 a.m., when it will discuss legislation on school safety. • The House Post Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning subcommittee meets at 1 p.m., where it will review a bill on Bright Futures scholarship service requirements. • The House Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee meets at 3:30 p.m. to consider several local appropriations bills.

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Coronavirus concerns

Sarasota County schools became the latest to cease contact tracing. The district instead will advise families of daily case counts in schools, the Herald-Tribune reports.

Five Palm Beach County teachers were sent home for refusing to wear masks. They could face disciplinary action for violating district policy mandating face coverings for adults, the Palm Beach Post reports.

A family accused the Brevard County school district of mistreating their daughter with Down syndrome by forcing her to wear a mask. The State Attorney found no criminal wrongdoing in the case that Gov. Ron DeSantis and others often cite when attacking school mask policies, WKMG reports.

Other school news

The Pinellas County school district announced its Teacher of the Year finalists. The winner will be revealed Wednesday.

Teacher shortages extend into prekindergarten programs. Palm Beach County’s early learning coalition will offer financial support to help train new ones, WPTV reports.

University of Florida students have not received federal COVID-19 relief for the spring semester. Some worry it will affect their ability to afford classes, the Independent Alligator reports.

Don’t miss a story: Yesterday’s roundup is just a click away.

Before you go ... Is anyone else a sucker for a really good remake of an iconic song? No Doubt put out Don’t Speak a dozen years ago, and it seemed untouchable. But what about this (relatively) new take from Postmodern Jukebox?

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