Professors win injunction against UF, state budget boost, vote today for Miami-Dade leader, and more

UF professors win: A U.S. district judge has ruled, with scathing language, that the University of Florida is temporarily prohibited from placing restrictions on professors testifying in court in cases that conflict with the position of the state. District Judge Mark Walker granted a request for an injunction from professors who objected to being required to get approval from the university before testifying. Walker’s ruling called the policy “pernicious” and a violation of the professors’ First Amendment right. He also compared what UF did with the “demise of academic freedom” in Hong Kong. “Some might say, ‘that’s China, it could never happen here.’ But plaintiffs contend it already has,” he wrote. “If those in UF’s administration find this comparison upsetting, the solution is simple. Stop acting like your contemporaries in Hong Kong.” A trial date has been set for Nov. 7. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Washington Post.

State tax revenues up: State economists estimated Friday that Florida will collect almost $4 billion more than expected in general revenue taxes over the next two years. General revenue is made up of such things as sales taxes, corporate-income taxes and documentary-stamp taxes, and plays a crucial role in funding education. “With additional revenues coming in and a substantial amount of reserves, our state remains in a lot better shape than we ever thought possible,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. “We still have some challenges ahead … (and) raising the minimum wage for both state workers and those who contract to perform critical services is going to put a lot of recurring pressure on nearly every area of our budget, particularly in the health care and education silos.” News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Miami-Dade County School Board members will interview three finalists today for the superintendent’s job and are expected to choose one, teachers of the year are named in Duval, St. Johns, Bay, Charlotte and Flagler counties, the president of Florida International University said he is resigning because he “caused discomfort for a valued colleague,” Broward school board members approve raises of up to 1.33 percent and $2,000 bonuses for teachers, and education issues, particularly surrounding parental involvement, are expected to play a prominent role in the 2022 campaign for Florida governor. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Today, beginning at 2 p.m., school board members will start interviewing the three finalists for the school superintendent’s job, and they are expected to vote before the meeting ends. Being considered are Florida Department of Education senior chancellor Jacob Oliva; Jose Dotres, deputy superintendent for the Collier County School District and a former Miami-Dade schools’ chief of staff and chief human capital officer; and Rafaela Espinal, the assistant superintendent in the Office of Talent Management and Innovation for the New York City Department of Education. If a successor to Alberto Carvalho is chosen, the entire process will have taken just three weeks, leaving many in the community complaining about the short timeline and contending it shows that the board has always had a favored candidate. Miami Herald. The appointment of a school superintendent took a partisan turn last week when an ad appeared on local Spanish-language television station promoted the hiring of Oliva. At least one school board member called the ad “unprecedented.” WLRN. An 18-year-old man was arrested last week at Miami Palmetto Senior High School and accused of impersonating an officer, trespassing on school property with a firearm, unlawfully possessing a stolen credit or debit card, burglary, and unlawful use of a police badge. Erick Anthony Moore Jr. was in the school talking to staff when he was arrested by school police officers. WPLG.

Broward: School board members have approved raises of up to 1.33 percent and $2,000 bonuses for teachers. Only about 75 percent of union members, instead of the usual 95 percent, grudgingly ratified the deal. “The truth is that we were advised to vote for it, because if we voted down, the board would not come back and offer us anything,” said Debby Miller, a teacher at Walter C. Young Middle in Pembroke Pines. “It’s a hell of a position to be in.” Classroom and teacher assistants are receiving an extra $2 an hour, improving their pay to $15 an hour, and $1,500 bonuses. WPLG. Sun Sentinel. County high school students said they are reconsidering a call for a walkout today to protest coronavirus safety protocols. They said they were “likely canceling” the walkout after administrators called their parents to warn that protesting during school hours or leaving campuses would have disciplinary repercussions. The students want free access to high-quality face masks like the N95, weekly PCR and antigen testing for employees, on-demand testing for students, and a two-week “transitional period” of virtual learning. WLRN. WPLG.

Tampa Bay area: More than 6,100 cases of the coronavirus were reported last week in the Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando school districts. That’s almost 1,000 less than the previous week, but the school year-to-date totals are nearly triple the total reported during the entire 2020-2021 school year. Hillsborough reported 3,093 cases last week, Pinellas 1,088, Pasco 1,681 and Hernando 310. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange, central Florida: Student and employee absences caused by the coronavirus, plus the continuing shortage of staff that is putting principals and aides into classrooms and many teachers taking on missing colleagues’ students, has created concerns about learning loss. “It’s definitely a struggle, no question,” said Wendy Honeycutt, principal of Sunrise Elementary School in Osceola County, who tested positive for COVID last week and had to work from home. “Everyone is having to be incredibly flexible, just trying to cover wherever. People are doing it because they know it’s needed, and it’s what best for kids.” Orlando Sentinel. A professor’s scheduled seminar for Osceola County teachers about the civil rights movement was canceled last week because the district decided it wanted to convene a committee to review Flagler College history professor J. Michael Butler’s materials. Butler said his presentation doesn’t mention critical race theory, structural racism or anti-racism. NBC News.

Duval: Charles Darwin Magdaluyo, who teaches human anatomy and physiology at Ribault High School in Jacksonville, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. The other finalists were Amanda Hildenbrand, a 1st-grade teacher at Crown Point Elementary; Shakeya Lee, a 3rd-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Biscayne Elementary Leadership Academy; Candice Lilly, a kindergarten teacher at Mandarin Oaks Elementary; and Nick Nelson, a 2nd-grade teacher at Sabal Palm Elementary. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Polk: A school bus driver has been arrested and accused of damaging the hard drive of the surveillance system on his bus. Deputies said Vernorris Rambow, 47, damaged the hard drive four times after the district received complaints about his behavior and tried to remove the hard drive to see what it had recorded. WFLA. WFTV. WOFL.

Brevard: Members of the school board have denied that a summer training program for employees contains racist material and said the district will continue to use it. Last week, the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty charged that the training was racist because it contained a 2020 blog post titled, “Raising Antiracist Kids: 9 Steps from Ibram X. Kendi,” who is an anti-racism activist, author and the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. “This is $79,500 that is going to CRT training for teachers,” Moms for Liberty member Katie Delaney said. “This is continued racist training.” Florida Today.

Osceola: School board attorney Frank Kruppenbacher is drafting a resolution to ban the teaching of critical race theory in the district. It is based on the state ban against CRT, which teaches that racism is embedded in society’s institutions. The board meets Feb. 1 to consider the resolution. Osceola News Gazette.

Manatee: The school district is planning to test three to five electric buses during the next school year. The buses, which cost about $300,000 each, will be partly paid for with a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Electric Bus Project. Florida Power & Light will provide free charging stations. “I do hope that it’s successful and we can expand it,” said district director of transportation Jamie Warrington. “As the technology improves and the range of the vehicles improves, then counties like ours will be hugely benefited.” Your Observer.

Collier: A former elementary school teacher who was arrested in 2019 on charges of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child under 12 pleaded no contest Friday and was adjudicated guilty. Hector Manley was sentenced to 25 years in prison, minus the 1,052 days he’s already spent spent in county jail, and fined about $24,000 for court fees. Naples Daily News.

St. Johns: Andrew Burk, a music teacher and band director at Valley Ridge Academy in Ponte Vedra Beach, was named the school district’s teacher of the year. The other finalists were Robie Hagan, an instructional literacy coach for Wards Creek Elementary; Patricia McElhone, an academic interventionist at St. Johns Virtual High; Sharon Warwell-Murden, a 5th-grade teacher at R.B. Hunt Elementary; and Veronica Fuata, a 2nd-grade teacher at Cunningham Creek Elementary. The rookie teacher of the year is Kaitlyn Holle, a middle school science teacher at Mill Creek Academy. St. Augustine Record. Ponte Vedra Recorder.

Sarasota: School board members are moving ahead with a new policy that puts restrictions on public comments during board meetings. The policy limits speaking time to two minutes, public discussion on agenda items is capped at an hour, and the board chair can interrupt a speaker if his or her comments are considered “personally directed, abusive, threatening, defamatory, obscene, or irrelevant.” A final vote will be held in about a month. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Dawnyelle Singleton, a Sarasota High graduate who worked in communications before launching the Visible Men Academy K-5 charter school for boys, has filed to run for the District 1 seat on the school board. She’s challenging incumbent Bridget Ziegler. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bay: Gale Cassady, a 1st-grade teacher at Tommy Smith Elementary School in Panama City, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Emily Partington, who teaches Spanish to AICE students at Bay High, was named rookie teacher of the year, and Greg Lyon, a paraprofessional at Hiland Park Elementary, was named support employee of the year. WJHG. WMBB. Panama City News Herald.

Charlotte: Lisa Branno-Penwell, who teaches advanced English courses at Port Charlotte High School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year, and Keturah Webb, the head custodian at Port Charlotte Middle, was selected as the top support employee. Charlotte Sun.

Flagler: Jim Gambone, a math teacher at Flagler-Palm Coast High School, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. Other awards went to Cara Cronk of Buddy Taylor Middle as principal of the year, Amy Neuenfeldt of Indian Trails Middle as assistant principal of the year, and Judy Gallo, the area manager for the district’s Food and Nutritional Services, as employee of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Mark Rosenberg, president of Florida International University for the past 12 years, stunned the school Friday by announcing his retirement, effective immediately. The 72-year-old said he was leaving because he had “caused discomfort for a valued colleague” and “unintentionally created emotional [not physical] entanglement” for that unnamed employee. He also said he took “full responsibility and regret my actions.” Kenneth Jessell, 66, the school’s chief financial officer and senior vice president of finance and administration since 2009, has been named the interim president. FIU now joins UF, and the universities of South Florida and North Florida in searching for a new leader. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. WPLG. WFOR. The University of Florida’s decision to have students with COVID quarantine off-campus without providing the housing or online classes for them is being slammed by students and their parents. Gainesville Sun. A U.S. Education Department policy requiring federal student loan borrowers to sign an online acknowledgment about their total student debt each year before getting new loans is being ended by the Biden administration. Politico.

The education issue: Education issues are expected to play a prominent role in the 2022 campaign for Florida governor. Gov. Ron DeSantis has focused on parental rights and other Republican issues such as face masks, vaccinations and critical race theory. Now Democrats are also trying to tap into the increasing interest of parents in their children’s education. One, Democratic candidate Charlie Crist, has now started a “Parents for Crist” push to mobilize parents who oppose DeSantis’ education policies. Politico. Florida Phoenix.

Public school enrollment: Public school enrollment in the state has partially recovered from the loss of students during the pandemic, according to figures recently released by the Florida Department of Education. Enrollment in the fall of 2021 was 41,492 students higher than in the fall of 2020, even though it still lags the fall 2019 enrollment by 25,773. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Opinions on schools: The University of Florida needs to hire its next president in an open and transparent process based on the candidate’s qualifications and not political connections. Gainesville Sun. A recent audit’s recommendation that the Citrus County School District consider a sales surtax referendum to address pressing current and future capital outlay needs should be a call for action by both the district’s leadership and county residents. Citrus County Chronicle. Mark Rosenberg’s explanation for his abrupt resignation on Friday as president of Florida International University — he said he “‘caused discomfort for a valued colleague” and an “emotional (not physical) entanglement” — is disturbing and vague. It requires more explanation from him and from the FIU board. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff