Moms for Liberty making a mark nationally, conflict questions for board member, and more

The moms movement: The conservative activist group Moms for Liberty came to prominence by protesting against face mask mandates in schools. Its message of fighting for parental rights has struck a chord, and the group now claims to have 60,000 members in 152 chapters in 33 states. With the face mask battle beginning to fade as all Florida districts are now in compliance with state law, the group is turning its attention to removing what they consider “pornographic” books from school libraries and getting supporters elected to school boards. Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler, one of the founders of the movement, said members are tired of not being listened to by school officials. “This is their children,” she said. “There is nothing people get more passionate about than their children and rightfully so.” Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: Students in the Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school districts will no longer be required to have a parent sign a form to opt-out of wearing a face mask at school, a Broward school board member is drawing scrutiny over her relationship with a vendor accused of marking up prices for graduation supplies, an LGBTQ-themed book has been removed from two Pinellas high school libraries, some Lee County students have been informed that they must get vaccinated or drop out of a certified nursing assistant program at Mariner High School, a circuit judge has sided with parents who sued the Alachua County School Board over its policy requiring students to wear face masks unless they had a medical exemption, Flagler County’s sheriff said no crime was committed when the book All Boys Aren’t Blue was placed on school library shelves, and finalists are chosen for the Volusia and Brevard school district teacher of the year awards. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Opt-out forms from parents are no longer required for students to attend schools without wearing a face mask. District officials announced last week that they would be following the new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that gives parents the authority to decide whether their children wear face masks to school, but “will continue to encourage the use of facial coverings while indoors.” Asymptomatic students also will no longer be required to quarantine after being exposed to someone with the coronavirus. WFOR.

Broward: A school board member is under scrutiny for supporting a vendor who is a personal friend and supplies graduation caps and gowns against allegations of high price markups. Board member Donna Korn came to the defense of Chuck Puleri, the Broward distributor of Herff Jones graduation products, without disclosing that she and her children stayed at Puleri’s beach home near Naples at least twice. Korn said she’s repaid Puleri for the value of the trips, and contends that the appearance of impropriety “doesn’t mean something’s been done inappropriately. Appearance doesn’t mean there’s a justification for first making the accusation or there being any reality to there being any impropriety. There is not.” Sun Sentinel. A former Renaissance Charter School student has been arrested and accused of making threats against the school. Police said the 13-year-old girl made threatening social media posts against students and teachers at the Pembroke Pines school Thursday, and was arrested Friday. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WSVN. WPLG.

Hillsborough: The district has received a $1.7 million federal grant to expand world language programs. The money, coming from the U.S. Department of Defense Education, will be used for a Spanish language immersion program at Dawson, Lanier, Summerfield Crossings and West Shore elementary schools. Students will be taught math, science, social studies and language arts in both Spanish and English. WTSP.

Palm Beach: Students no longer need to have a form from their parents to attend school without a mask. Friday, district officials announced they were lifting the final face mask mandate. For most of the school years, students could go maskless only with a note from a medical professional. On Nov. 8, school officials began allowing parents to opt-out of the mask mandate for their children. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. Palm Beach Gardens police are now ruling the death of Ryan Rogers, the 14-year-old freshman at William T. Dwyer High School who went missing last Monday and whose body was found Tuesday, a homicide, though no cause of death has been announced. Last Wednesday the boy’s mother, Cindy Rogers, said her son apparently died in a biking accident. Palm Beach Post. WTVJ. WPTV. WPEC. Michelle Fleming, who has worked at the district’s headquarters as director of administration and compliance in the Office of School Transformation since 2020, has been named the principal at Royal Palm Beach High School. Town-Crier.

Duval: Jacksonville City Council members are expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to tear down the shuttered Lake Forest Elementary School and build affordable housing in its place. Residents of the neighborhood said they are unhappy because they weren’t properly consulted before the plan took shape and they had hoped for it to become the home for some educational place. This process is likely to be repeated again, since the school district has approved a plan to demolish 44 schools and build 28 new ones. WJCT. An administrative judge has recommended that the five-day unpaid suspension of a teacher for making transphobic and anti-LGBT posts on his public Facebook account should be shortened to three days. Thomas Caggiano, a math teacher at Sandalwood, was disciplined almost a year ago. Caggiano’s attorney said the recommendation would be appealed. WJCT.

Pinellas: The LGBTQ coming-of-age graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir has been removed from libraries at Lakewood and Dunedin high schools. The district received no official complaints, but ordered a review after a parent raised concerns and decided that, “due to the graphic illustrated sexual nature of some of the content, the book was deemed to not be age-appropriate for all high school students.” Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Lee: Some students in the certified nursing assistant program at Mariner High School in Cape Coral have been told they have to get vaccinated by Dec. 6 or leave the program that is run by Lee Health. Seniors in the program have to participate in clinicals at Lee Health facilities, where the vaccine is required. “As an enrolled Medicare and Medicaid provider, Lee Health must follow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rules as a condition of participation,” according to a statement issued by Lee Health. “CMS recently established new rules that all health care workers get vaccinated or get an exemption from vaccination by Dec. 6. This includes students in our training programs.” WFTX.

Brevard: Finalists for the school district’s teacher of the year and employee of the year have been announced. Teacher of the year candidates are Alexandria Wicker of Jackson Middle School, Anita Jordan of Oak Park Elementary, Ruby Riviera of Discovery Elementary, Meghan Robert of Suntree Elementary, Sara Murano of Palm Beach Magnet High, and Lisa Rickett of Delaura Middle. Candidates for employee of the year are Lannie Bravo of McNair Manet Middle, officer Jennifer Imperato of Ocean Breeze Elementary, Devin Smith of Freedom 7 Elementary, Jessica Diana Waugh of Westside Elementary, Pete Baxley of Central Middle, and Christian Wright of Hoover Middle. Winners will be announced in January. Space Coast Daily.

Seminole: Some parents said they are withdrawing their children from Markham Woods Middle School because of an increase in fighting this year. Last year 31 fights were reported. This year, 25 have already been reported, and parents said they believe the count is much higher. Eighteen students have withdrawn in the past 30 days. District officials said they’ll be hiring an intervention specialist for behavioral support, and the sheriff’s office will add intervention services and extra school resource officers. WKMG. WOFL.

Volusia: Five finalists have been named for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Eli Freidus, a science teacher at Seabreeze High; Kristie Long, a science teacher at Mainland High; Madison Miller, academic coach at Chisholm Elementary; Keisha Wallace, a math coach at Campbell Middle; and John Wheeler, a pre-K teacher at Pathway Elementary. The winner will be announced in January. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Escambia: A Pensacola mother said the school district needs to install firewalls in district-issued Chromebooks so students can’t access pornography. Kelly Parks said she was outraged to discover that her sons were able to browse the Internet for pornographic images during classes at Bellview Middle School this year. Superintendent Timothy Smith told Parks the district’s information technology department was investigating. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: A circuit court judge has sided with parents who sued the school board over its policy requiring students to wear face masks unless they had a medical exemption. District officials contended that the suit was moot because the mask mandate was recently relaxed to allow parents to opt-out, but Eighth Circuit Senior Judge Peter Sieg ruled that there was an expectation that the board could revert to the policy requiring masks in the future, and ordered it to “immediately adopt a written policy in compliance with Florida law.” WCJB. Gainesville Sun.

Flagler: No criminal offense was committed when the LGBTQ-themed book All Boys Aren’t Blue was placed on school library shelves, Sheriff Rick Staly announced Friday. An investigation was conducted after school board member Jill Woolbright filed a criminal complaint. “Our review concluded the allegations did not meet the threshold of a criminal offense and therefore are not a matter to be investigated by the sheriff’s office,” according to a statement from Staly. He added, “This matter should have been addressed by the school board and its district leadership before being submitted to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office as a criminal complaint.” Flagler Live. WFTV. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WESH. Cara Cronk, principal at Buddy Taylor Middle School since last year, has been named the school district’s principal of the year. Amy Neuenfeldt, who has been at Indian Trails Middle School since 2017, has been chosen as the district’s assistant principal of the year. Flagler Live.

Calhoun: A Blountstown High School teacher’s aide has been arrested and accused of having sex with multiple students. Deputies said they began an investigation of Tessa Garnett, 45, about a month ago after receiving allegations of misconduct. WMBB. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: The University of West Florida has said it will no longer employ a professor who was fired from Florida State University after being accused and later found guilty of sexual misconduct with students. Ross May, 38, has been teaching two online classes. UWF officials also said they would review the school’s hiring practices. Fresh Take Florida. Jennifer Kessinger, the associate dean for admissions at the Florida State University College of Law, died last week of COVID 19-related complications. She was 48, and had worked at FSU since 2008. WCTV.

In the Legislature: The Florida Department of Education would be required to collaborate with the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation to develop a framework to evaluate charter school sponsors at Miami Dade College under a bill filed by state Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater. Florida Senate.

Opinions on schools: This legislative session, lawmakers should focus on increasing teacher pay overall, not just focusing it on new hires, though that is important, too. Allocations for teacher pay in 2020 and 2021 went primarily to raising the minimum pay rather than more equitably including veteran teachers as well. Norin Dollard, Florida Policy Institute. The leaders of today’s Republican Party favor the imposition of strict mandates to eliminate potential existing mandates. Jacob V. Stuart, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff