COVID-19, equity, police decisions lie ahead for school boards

Tampa Bay Times | Jeffrey S. Solochek | June 15, 2020

The major issues are piling up for school district leaders to consider as they move into the 2020-21 academic year. What will classes look like upon reopening from COVID-19 campus closures? How will the subject of racial justice and equity be handled? Will the role of campus police change? And so much more. In August, many of the people making such decisions could change as elections take place. Welcome to summer, where things are certainly heating up. Read on for that and more Florida education news.

The slates of candidates for the Aug. 18 primary came into focus at noon Friday. Around Tampa Bay, 19 candidates filed to seek four Hillsborough County School Board seats. The District 7 race in Pinellas County drew a diverse field hoping to represent the district’s largest minority population. The battle to lead Pasco County’s schools as elected superintendent took an unexpected turn.

In other parts of the state, a majority of seats on the Miami-Dade School Board is up for grabs, the Miami Herald reports. Nine races throughout central Florida are contested, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Two political newcomers take on controversial Sarasota County board member Eric Robinson, the Herald-Tribune reports. Those are just some of the many campaigns to watch.

The winners will face some critical issues upon taking office. Let’s consider a few of them.

There’s a lively debate about whether armed law enforcement belong in schools. Systems around the nation have begun removing resource officers from campuses, USA Today reports. They want the money to go to other services. • Some incidents in Florida have given proponents of this move some fuel, the NY Times reports. But the Sunshine State requires armed security in its schools after the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting rampage that left 17 dead. • That’s not stopping the conversation, though. The Gainesville City Commission, for example, has begun talking about ending its support for officers in schools, WCJB reports. “I don’t think it helps us accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish,” Mayor Lauren Poe said.

Hernando County Sheriff’s deputy Cory Zarcone talks to students during breakfast time in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. Amid protests over police treatment of people of color, a national debate is occurring over whether to keep law enforcement in schools. Times (2018)

The subject of policing ties into the whole matter of whether schools treat people of color in fair and equitable ways. That’s been a key question for communities to ponder as they protest in the streets across Florida and the nation after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. And black students increasingly are speaking out about their experiences, which many teens told TC Palm were not easy. • Younger children also have joined the group demanding justice, with plans to pressure their schools for change, the Gainesville Sun reports.

If that’s not enough, there’s always the issue of COVID-19. District leaders still must work out the details of how to provide classes in the fall, the Citrus County Chronicle reports. • A growing number of families are turning to online school, as worries about the safety of being on campus continue, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • State Sen. Audrey Gibson frets that schools could become more segregated as families look at other options, WFSU reports. • And don’t forget the money woes, as revenue declines. Sometimes that makes for hard choices. Just ask the Palm Beach County School Board, which is cutting supplies at the same time it gives its lawyer a six-figure severance, the Palm Beach Post reports. Or the Nassau County school district, which has called off a tax referendum intended to boost teacher pay and campus safety, the Fernandina Beach News-Leader reports.

And of course there’s the more routine items that never fail to emerge. Such as the Santa Rosa County board’s legal battle over its new impact fees, as the Pensacola News-Journal reports. • The Palm Beach County board is feuding with its superintendent over his reorganization plan, the Palm Beach Post reports. • Don’t forget education, too. Florida is among several states trying to change its civics lessons amid everything else going on, Education Dive reports.

So there you have it. The coming months and year promise some contentious moments in the world of school boards. And yet the candidates keep on coming. Remember to vote on Aug. 18, and again Nov. 3 (if necessary), to have your say on who’s sitting at the table.

Now for some other education news.

The University of Florida revoked its acceptance of a student over social media comments. Some experts question whether the student’s free speech rights were violated, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Speaking of getting into college … A growing number of schools is deciding not to require SAT or ACT test scores for admission. But the results are still being used, such as for Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship, so getting away from the exams isn’t so easy, NPR reports.

Universities are preparing for a return to campus, too. The plans were due from Florida’s schools on Friday. Here’s what they said.

Before you go … As Florida officials press toward a “full capacity” reopening in August, several have made much about attacking the “achievement gap” they expect to have grown among subgroups during spring distance learning and the ensuing summer months. USC researcher David Quinn suggests in a new paper that use of the term “achievement gap” worsens the racial bias against black students because it sets white student achievement as the norm and then exacerbates stereotypes. Education Week has an interesting story on the topic, as well. It makes for some very timely reading as we look into the next steps for Florida schools.

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