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Feds-state face mask fight officially ends, Clay bans LGBTQ book, secret file, threats, and more

Around the state: The federal government officially drops a complaint against the state over the withholding of federal funds to districts that were judged to be violating the state’s ban against requiring students to wear face masks in schools, Clay County school officials remove an LGBTQ memoir from school libraries, Hillsborough consultants who were reviewing a previous investigation say that a high-ranking administrator kept a secret file containing allegations that a principal had created a hostile workplace, more school districts are warning parents about threats against schools, Broward teachers and the school district reach a tentative contract agreement that calls for $2,000 bonuses and raises of up to 1.33 percent, students at three Martin County high schools will be affected by rezoning, and Cape Coral’s Oasis charter schools get a new lease from the city. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A 13-year-old Miami-Dade student was arrested Thursday and accused of making threats against 10 south Florida schools on the social media platform Instagram. District officials said the girl mentioned Miami-Dade’s Brownsville Middle School, Carol City Middle, Horace Mann Middle, Madison Middle, Miami Carol City Senior High, Miami Central Senior High, Norland Middle, North Dade Middle, North Miami Senior High, and Miramar High in Broward County. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WPLG. WFOR.

Broward: The district and its teachers union have reached a tentative agreement on a contract that would give every teacher a $2,000 bonus and raise salaries between 1 and 1.33 percent. Union members will vote on the deal after the winter break. If it’s approved, it will go to the school board for a vote. Sun Sentinel. A judge has questioned the validity of the criminal case against former school board attorney Barbara Myrick, who is charged with  illegally disclosing information from a grand jury. Circuit Judge Martin Fein suggested in court Thursday that he may not allow prosecutors to use Jeremy Kroll, the lawyer of former superintendent Robert Runcie. Runcie has been charged with perjury for allegedly lying under oath about being prepped by Myrick and others before testifying to a special grand jury. Myrick is accused of sharing grand jury information in preparing Runcie. Kroll’s lawyer said Thursday there’s a conflict because if Kroll testifies, he’ll reveal information that could hurt his defense of Runcie. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Consultants who were reviewing a previous investigation by the district’s Office of Professional Standards said this week that a high-ranking administrator kept a secret file containing allegations that the principal of Farnell Middle School in Westchase had created a hostile workplace. That administrator, regional superintendent Marcos Murillo, could be reprimanded or suspended, the consultants concluded. The principal, Tim Binder, denied the allegations but has stepped down and into a teaching role. Tampa Bay Times. School board members approved a redistricting map for board members in a 5-2 vote that followed party lines and favors Democrats. The most significant change takes the largely conservative Sun City Center area out of District 2, which is represented by Republican Stacy Hahn. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: Starting Jan. 4, all public, charter and private middle and high school students in Jacksonville will be able to ride free on Jacksonville Transportation Authority buses. The My Ride 2 School pilot program developed by the school district and JTA ends May 27. WTLV.

Lee: An agreement to lease city buildings to Oasis charter schools for the next five years was approved this week by the Cape Coral City Council. The schools had been struggling financially, and the new deal cuts their lease payments from $3.2 million a year to $1.5 million. The Oasis charter schools were created in 2005 and include two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: A school threat hoax is circulating in the school district and across the nation on TikTok and other social media, prompting Brevard school officials to issue a statement Thursday to parents. “The school district, each BPS school and law enforcement are aware of warnings trending on social media regarding threats of violence on Friday, December 17th. There is no evidence that there is any credibility to the social media posts,” the statement said. “We expect Friday to be a normal school day and students should be in attendance.” Similar messages were sent to parents in Citrus County, Pasco County, St. Johns, Lee, Bay, Marion and Levy, and Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Florida Today.

Volusia: School officials acknowledged at a community meeting this week in DeBary that because of the pandemic, they’ve seen a spike in behavior issues in schools. “Have the incidents increased since we’ve been back in school? They definitely have,” said assistant superintendent of student services Rose Roland. Plans to address the problem include adding a second counselor in elementary schools with 600 or more students, removing lockers and creating teacher teams in middle schools. “It’s team of four that will have a group of students,” said Superintendent Scott Fritz. “They will have a common planning period (and) be right next to each other so transition times in the hallway will be less. There will be less stimulus to get in trouble.” WKMG. WFTV.

Marion: A continuing decline in enrollment at the Marion Technical Institute could lead to the school district revamping the curriculum. The number of students attending the high school has fallen from 400 in 2005, when it first opened, to 172 today. One idea being considered is turning MTI into a school for the trades, with training and internships offered in plumbing, electrical, HVAC, carpentry, and other sectors. “We really need to go back to what made MTI successful in the first place,” said MTI principal Mike Kelly. “You know, 15 or so years ago, we got together with the community. We talked about what is needed, what’s not being offered in our schools. what jobs are available.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Clay: School officials have decided to remove All Boys Aren’t Blue, a memoir of a black LGBTQ author, George M. Johnson, from school libraries. The book explicitly discusses sex and gender identity and other issues teens face, and was taken out of Flagler school libraries earlier this month. Clay district spokeswoman Laura Christmas said the book was removed Dec. 8 “based on board policy and state statute” after a review process. WJCT.

Leon: School officials are partnering with law enforcement and community leaders to address the rising violence among young people in the community. Schools are holding anti-gun violence assemblies to remind them of the consequences of their actions, and are urging parents to lock cars and homes to cut the number of stolen guns that end up in the hands of students and other young people. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: A 14-year-old Ruckel Middle School student has been arrested and is being charged with lewd and lascivious molestation for allegedly groping several girls at a recent school dance without their consent. The girls said the boy inappropriately touched their breasts and buttocks. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR.

Alachua: A lawsuit filed by former school board member Diyonne McGraw over her removal by Gov. Ron DeSantis came to a halt Thursday when both sides said they needed more information. McGraw lost her seat in June when it was discovered she lived in a district outside the one she was elected to represent. McGraw’s suit contends DeSantis misused his executive powers, and the state is asking that the case be dismissed. Circuit Judge Monica Brasington said she would review the evidence and decide if more testimony or information is needed. Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Bay: New technology is beginning to be installed in district classrooms. The improvements, which will cost $2.8 million, will be rolled out in three phases between now and 2025. Upgrades include interactive white boards with PC modules, wireless keyboards, and mouse, document cameras, rolling podiums, webcams, teacher desktops and monitors. The equipment will replace 10-year-old technology. Panama City News Journal.

Martin: About 450 high school students will be affected next year by new school boundaries for Martin County, Jensen Beach and South Fork high schools. Martin County High is at 135 percent capacity, South Fork is at 106 percent and Jensen Beach at 92 percent, and the rezoning is intended to even out enrollment by sending students from Martin County High to the other two schools. Current high school students can choose to stay where they’re at now, but incoming students will follow the new boundaries. TCPalm.

Citrus: The Citrus County Education Fund has received a $90,000 check from an anonymous donor that it will use to fund student scholarships and distribute to district teachers so they can buy classroom supplies. Bay News 9.

Colleges and universities: Florida State College at Jacksonville has received a $3.18 million from the state’s Job Growth Grant Fund to expand its facility to train truck drivers and establish the Nassau County Transportation Education Institute. News Service of Florida. WJXT. Florida Politics.

Mask fight officially ends: The federal government has officially dropped a cease-and-desist complaint against the state over the withholding of federal funds to school districts that were judged to be violating the state’s ban on requiring students to wear face masks in schools. The complaint was dropped after all the state’s districts ended their face mask mandates and withheld money was returned to the affected districts. News Service of Florida.

Purple Star school rules: The rules required to become a Purple Star school have been released by the Florida Department of Education. To qualify, schools must have a designated contact for military families, a webpage with information on resources available, a student-led transition program for students from military families, reserve at least 5 percent of open enrollment seats for military students, and more. District, charter and private schools are all eligible to qualify for the designation. reimaginED.

In the Legislature: The Florida Senate has set its schedule for the first week of the 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 11. The week starts with Gov. DeSantis’ state of the state address at 11 a.m. the first day, followed by scheduled committee and subcommittee meetings the rest of the week. News Service of Florida.

Grady cleared: Tom Grady, the chair of the state Board of Education, has been found not guilty on federal misdemeanor charges that he obstructed navigable water near his former Islamorada property in 2017 without obtaining the proper permits. Grady’s attorneys had argued that he did get the required permits, and the U.S. Southern District Court agreed in its ruling issued Thursday. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: The act of educating young people is a symbiosis between families and school — a delicate and sometimes complicated dance. At the end of the day, schools are tasked with providing a service for students and families, which makes their satisfaction the ultimate charge. No school leader wants to deal with criticism, obviously, but this arrangement means that dissent should be fair game whenever it does arise. In other words, if education is a public service, then the public should get a say. Garris Landon Stroud, Education Post. Now, more than ever, schools need comprehensive health education programs and full-service health clinics with medical professionals, onsite, who can address the physical and emotional health issues of students. Risa Berrin, Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff