Transgender ban revived by House and approved by Senate, vaccine passports, a subs crisis and more

Transgender ban revisited: The controversial ban against transgender females competing in women’s sports in high schools and colleges was revived Wednesday by House Republicans, approved by the Senate and is now set to become part of Florida law. Earlier this month, the House passed H.B. 1475 but its companion bill in the Senate got sidetracked a few days after the NCAA announced that states passing anti-transgender bills risked losing championship college sporting events. Senators said then that the NCAA threat had nothing to do with their decision, but that they were simply running out of time to consider it, and it was presumed dead for this session. But Wednesday, House Republicans tacked the ban as an amendment onto an omnibus education bill that was originally intended to set up more ways for charter schools to be approved, after removing language that would have allowed to check an athlete’s genitals to verify birth gender. It also excludes elementary school students. Senators had the option of passing the bill or stripping the transgender provision and sending it back to the House, which could kill the entire bill. They approved it on a 23-16 vote, sending the bill on to Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose office said he supports the proposal. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. USA Today Network. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: A bill that would ban so-called vaccine passports has been approved by the House and is headed back to the Senate because representatives made changes to the version senators had already passed. Some businesses, notably cruise lines, have embraced the idea of making people show proof that they’ve been vaccinated in order to attract customers who might be hesitant to be in close proximity with people who haven’t had their shots. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. A bill regulating the sale of e-cigarettes and raising the state’s legal age to use tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 was approved by the House on Wednesday, and is now headed for the governor’s desk. News Service of Florida. Senate Democrats decided Wednesday to change leaders in a rare late session move. Sen. Gary Farmer, a lawyer from Lighthouse Point, has been replaced as Senate minority leader by Sen. Lauren Book, a children’s advocate from Plantation. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Manatee County School Board members reject a district request for an extra $810,000 for substitute teachers, Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie enters a written plea of not guilty to a charge of perjury, some Hillsborough school board members are tracing the beginning of the district’s financial crisis to their deal with the Gates Foundation, an Orange County charter school is accused of overcharging the district for services to students with disabilities, and more school districts are keeping their face mask mandates for the rest of this school year but say they’ll reconsider for next year. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: An Aventura-based charter school developer has sold eight schools in the state to the nonprofit Educational Growth Fund of Fort Lauderdale for $242 million. The MG3 Group sold charter schools in Homestead, Hollywood, Jacksonville, Orlando and four in Hillsborough County. The Real Deal.

Broward: Superintendent Robert Runcie has entered a written plea of not guilty to a charge of perjury, and has asked a judge to dismiss the charge. He was arrested last week after being indicted by a statewide grand jury. His plea comes a day after he announced he would resign. The school board meets today to begin negotiating termination agreements with Runcie and general counsel Barbara Myrick, who was also arrested and is accused of leaking information from a grand jury proceeding. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. School board chair Rosalind Osgood has opened a campaign account to run for the District 33 seat in the Florida Senate. Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston holds the seat now, but has announced his candidacy for the U.S. House District 20 seat that opened when Alcee Hastings died April 6. News Service of Florida.

Hillsborough: Some school board members are tracing the start of the district’s financial problems to 2009, when the district entered into an agreement with the Gates Foundation. Gates offered the district up to $100 million in matching funds over seven years. By the time the agreement ended in 2017, Gates had put in $80 million and the district $124 million, and the district had far more teachers and other employees than others of a comparable size. WFLA.

Orange: A school district investigation is accusing the charter school UCP Downtown of overcharging the district more than $60,000 in services provided to disabled students. Investigators believe the school’s principal changed the personalized educational plans of six students to show they needed  more intensive services than they really required. Shawn Arnold, the school’s attorney, denied the charges. “The district arrived at inaccurate conclusions because it did not conduct a thorough investigation or give UCP an opportunity to respond to the allegations about specific students,” he said in a letter to the school district. Orlando Sentinel. The are some red faces in Orange County today. Someone spelled the word school as SCOHOL in a school zone marker painted on Golfway Boulevard in the east county subdivision of Eastwood. WKMG.

Duval: The district’s six-week summer school program, called Summer Rise, will focus on closing pandemic-induced learning gaps in math, reading, writing and science for students in grades 1-9. “Due to COVID, last school year, our students were out of school from March all the way to the end of the year, just learning online, and we have spent this entire year trying to fill those gaps that occurred during that time,” said regional superintendent Marianne Simon. “And in the meantime, we’ve incurred more gaps due to continued online learning and quarantine periods that have happened.” As many as 7,400 seats are available for the summer session. WJCT.

Polk: Hundreds of people protested the school district’s face mask mandate at this week’s school board meeting. But district officials said the mandate will remain in place for the rest of the school year, and be reconsidered at a future meeting. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A 14-year-old girl was hit by a van and seriously injured while crossing U.S. 19 early Wednesday to catch a county bus to get to school. The Florida Highway Patrol said the girl stepped out in front of the van. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School board members this week declined to end the requirement that face masks be worn in schools despite passionate arguments from the public to do so, but agreed to reconsider making them optional for the 2021-2022 school year. Florida Today.

Osceola: Superintendent Debra Pace met with law enforcement officials last week to discuss the possibility of replacing school resource officers with armed guardians on charter school campuses because of a shortage of SROs and the cost to the district. The news angered members of the task force that have been considering changes in policies for SROs after a video surfaced recently showing a white SRO slam a black student into the ground at Liberty High School. “We had multiple meetings and at no time was it hinted that they were considering even using guardians at all,” said school board member Julius Meléndez, who created the committee. “It made me feel like the decision to have a guardian program was already predetermined.” Orlando Sentinel. WFTV.

Volusia: School board members said this week that they anticipate making face masks optional in schools after this academic year ends. Policy changes are in the works, and the mask mandate could be lifted as soon as July 1. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG.

Manatee: School board members rejected the district’s request for an extra $810,360 for substitute teachers for the rest of this school year, and are questioning the apparent lack of foresight by the district in making the request. A company named ESS is paid $2.5 million a year to hire subs, but demand has exploded during the pandemic and administrators said they need the extra money to cover through the end of the school year. The board approved $210,360 and decided to meet again Friday to discuss the problem. Bradenton Herald. School board members have scheduled a meeting Friday to discuss a timeline for changing the district’s face mask mandate into an option. They expect to vote May 25 on the policy for the next school year. Bradenton Herald. School board members narrowly approved an application from the Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy. The K-12 academy is a collaboration between the nonprofit Southwest Charter Foundation, which runs eight charter schools in Florida, and Charter Schools USA. Its curriculum will focus on wellness, innovation, science and health.

Leon: School board members have rejected the recommendation of the district staff and turned down a charter school application for the Red Hills Academy. Board member Rosanne Wood said she didn’t see what need the school might fill, and pointed out that the district’s five charter schools are operating well under enrollment capacity. Two of her colleagues agreed. Laura Joanos, chair of the charter’s board, said the school would offer Spanish 30 minutes a day and that its diverse board would attract a diverse student enrollment. School board members now have to submit an explanation for the denial to the state Department of Education. Red Hills officials said they are considering appealing the denial to the state. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Tallahassee Classical, a 500-student charter school that opened last August, announced this week that it will have a 9th-grade class starting in the fall. The school’s board is also considering requiring uniforms, and administrators will offer a final proposal at the next board meeting. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: School board chair Steve Moss said he will begin donating half his annual $37,000 salary to teachers and support staff during the 2021-2022 school year. Moss made the pledge after voters overwhelmingly rejected a property tax increase that would have been used to improve salaries for school employees. He said his donations will probably be made through gift cards. “I understand, is it going to be life-changing for our support staff and teachers? No,” Moss said. “I’m not naive enough to think it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars or a million bucks, but I think it’s one example of what one person can do.” Panama City News Herald. The Rosenwald Academy for students with severe behavioral problems will be located at Rosenwald High School for the 2021-2022 school year, according to district officials. Rosenwald High will take students in grades 6-12 who need to make up credits. WMBB.

Flagler: James Tager, who was the district superintendent from 2017 to 2020, has been hired as the superintendent for the Bangor School District in Maine. He has been working as superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union in Vermont. WABI.

Jackson: The school board has approved a $1.4 million contract with the sheriff’s office to provide security for all the county’s schools. Deputies will replace the district’s police department on July 1. WCTV. WMBB. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: A Florida State University task force is recommending that the name of Doak Campbell should not be removed from the football stadium. Campbell was FSU’s president from 1941 to 1957, when the campus was segregated. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Jewish school growing: Enrollment at Jewish schools in the state has grown 17.5 percent in the past two years, from 10,623 in 2018-2019 to 12,482 in 2020-2021, according to the Florida Department of Education. “Enrollment is certainly up, and many schools have waitlists,” said Daniel Aqua, executive director for Teach Florida, an advocacy group for Jewish schools. He attributes the growth, in part, to Jewish families moving into the state and the presence of the state scholarships, which 40 percent of students use. redefinED.

Around the nation: In a joint address to Congress on Wednesday, President Joe Biden proposed a $1.8 trillion economic agenda funded through higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans that includes free preschool, free community college and $225 billion to help families pay for child care. New York Times. Associated Press. NPR. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Superintendent Robert Runcie’s swift downfall is a deeply disappointing development, and his departure is the only logical result. He became an enormous distraction to the nation’s sixth-largest school district the moment his expressionless face, on a police booking mug shot, flashed across social media channels a week ago. Sun Sentinel. Over the last five years, 78 percent of Florida’s K-12 scholarship students chose to renew the scholarship each year, and the average student uses a scholarship for 3.1 years. Some students return to the program in later years, and some do not. School choice, after all, is about giving parents and students options, not holding them hostage to a preferred educational option. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED. There is so much potential mischief and so little protection for academic freedom in the so-called “intellectual freedom” bill,  H.B. 233, that it certainly will not be long before state government and university communities regret yet another legislative mistake. Howard L. Simon, Palm Beach Post. The indictment and arrest of Broward Superintendent Runcie remain suspicious, despite new revelations about the felony perjury charge. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. Right now, Florida is experiencing a backlash to the larger cultural shifts across the United States. In Tallahassee this legislative session, there is an agenda-driven and revisionist view of U.S. history and civics taking hold. Jocelyn Williamson, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff