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Legal fight begins over parental rights law, esports academy opening in fall, bus changes and more

H.B. 1557 draws lawsuit: LGBTQ advocacy groups Equality Florida and Family Equality filed a federal lawsuit against the state Thursday to try to block H.B. 1557 from going into effect. The bill, officially titled Parental Rights in Education, was signed into law this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis. It bans any discussion of “sexual orientation or gender identity” in grades K-3 or in a manner that is not “age-appropriate” for older students, and allows parents to sue schools for violations. The complaint contends the bill violates the 1st and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and federal Title IX rules, and is an example of “extraordinary government intrusion on the free speech and equal protection rights” in public schools. “We are going to defend this vigorously,” DeSantis said. “We’ll be successful on that.” His communications director, Taryn Fenske, called the suit a “Hail Mary to undermine parental rights in Florida.” Politico Florida. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics.

Around the state: A private school in Lake County is creating a gaming academy where up to 20 students can take classes on game design and join a school esports team, Pasco County school officials will end “courtesy” busing for about 3,000 students next fall, Pinellas teachers approve a contract agreement with the district, more than 100,000 Florida students are now registered in the state’s initiative that mails nine free books every year to struggling K-5 readers, a Broward County high school principal has been reassigned after a video surfaces showing her repeatedly pushing a student, the number of homeless students in Polk County has increased 12.5 percent in the past year, and Florida Board of Education members have approved rules that establish standards schools must meet to earn the designation of “Purple Star campuses.” Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The principal of Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines has been reassigned after being video-recorded repeatedly pushing a student who was walking out of school March 16 to protest the state’s parental rights bill. Paula Peters, who has been principal at Flanagan for three years and employed by the district for nearly 15 years, was reassigned away from the school and students during the investigation, said a district spokesperson. WPLG.

Palm Beach: For the second time in the past month, school district police officers have appealed to Gov. DeSantis to turn over the job of guarding schools to the sheriff’s office. The letter, signed by the “Rank and file” of the Palm Beach County School District Police, blames the school board for ignoring their safety concerns. The district’s police force has about 70 open jobs, and last week the school board approved a contract with the sheriff to provide 20 deputies to help patrol schools. WPBF.

Polk: The number of county students considered homeless has increased by 12.5 percent in the past year, from 3,200 to 3,600, according to school district officials. “Having that struggle has become a way of life,” said Ben Ruch, the district’s homeless liaison. “We are seeing more and more families that it has not been a way of life for them. This is something completely new.” Ruch was among the panelists at a community forum Thursday night discussing the growing problem. WFLA.

Pinellas: A proposed contract agreement reached last week between the teachers union and the school district has been ratified by teachers. The deal calls for average raises of 3.25 percent, and the district will continue covering health insurance and pension contributions. About 78 percent of the 7,250 teachers voting supported the deal, which is well below the 90 percent who backed the contract in 2020. Union president Nancy Velardi attributed the lower approval vote to dissatisfaction with raises given to veteran teachers. The contract still must be approved by the school board. Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: School district officials said they plan to discontinue courtesy busing next fall for middle and high school students who live within 2 miles of their schools and have safe walking paths. The change was prompted by an ongoing shortage of drivers, and would affect about 3,000 students. “It’s not something we would like to do,” said school board chair Cynthia Armstrong. “But it’s something we really need to do, to provide the bus runs in an effective manner.” Tampa Bay Times. School board members and county commissioners have begun to discuss how to sell a campaign to voters to renew the Penny for Pasco sales tax in 2024 for another 15 years. The tax is projected to bring in another $1.9 billion between 2025 and 2039, with 45 percent going to the school district, 45 percent to the county and 10 percent to Pasco cities. Proceeds would be used to build new schools and repair existing ones. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: A former Viera High School teacher who pleaded guilty in November to parading and demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, has been sentenced to 60 days of home detention, three years probation, 60 hours of community service and $500 in restitution. Kenneth Reda, 55, a former physical education teacher and football coach at Viera High, entered the U.S. Capitol about an hour after rioters stormed and breached the building while members of Congress were meeting to certify the election of Joe Biden as president. He resigned from the school district shortly after he was arrested last July. Florida Today.

Osceola: A high school runner who was punched and knocked down in the middle of a race during the Tohopekaliga Tiger Invitational in Kissimmee last weekend is not pressing charges, sheriff’s officials said. The runner, who was not identified, had bumped another competitor who was standing on the track in the middle of the race but was not participating in the race. On the runner’s next lap, the competitor who was pushed punched him in the head, knocking him down. The runner then got up and finished the race. School district officials and the Florida High School Athletic Association are investigating. TMZ. Bleacher Report.

Lake: The Montverde Academy private school is entering into a partnership with game-maker Electronic Arts to create a gaming academy where up to 20 students can take classes covering game design theory, gaming ethics, marketing and economics. A special video gaming team will also be created to compete in  “esports.” David Rath, the associate head of school, said students “will take core academic classes, but then they will also have specialized classes geared towards the gaming industry. They may have an hour of game playing in the afternoon and then two hours of course work that’s specific to the gaming industry.” Orlando Sentinel.

Colleges and universities: A University of Florida faculty committee report concludes that the school violated its own hiring procedures when it appointed Dr. Joseph Ladapo to a tenured position. The hiring didn’t adequately involve the input of faculty members who usually review a candidate’s application for tenure, and it accelerated the hiring process to coincide with the announcement by Gov. DeSantis that he was naming Ladapo the state’s surgeon general. Tampa Bay Times. Four tenured professors at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens charge that they are being laid off because of their age, race, gender or origin. School officials said the four are among 10 losing their jobs, but it’s because of financial problems. Miami Herald.

‘Stop WOKE Act’ concern: Some legal experts say the state’s “Stop WOKE Act,” which bans instruction implying that someone is responsible for actions “committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin” and allows residents to sue schools or workplaces that they believe violate the law, is “flatly unconstitutional” and violates “academic freedom” for university instructors. Tyler Coward, a senior legislative counsel at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the bill may even violate a state law passed last year that bans the state from shielding speech protected by the First Amendment. The 74.

Purple Star campuses: Florida Board of Education members unanimously approved rules this week that establish standards schools must meet to earn the designation of “Purple Star campuses.” Schools meeting the standards intended to help the children of military families who move often will be permitted to advertise themselves as military friendly. Public, charter and private schools are eligible to earn the designation. reimaginED.

Free book program: More than 100,000 Florida students are now registered in the state’s New World Reading Initiative that mails nine free books every year to K-5 students who are below grade level in reading. The $200 million program was created by the 2021 Legislature to boost reading skills. Since December, almost 336,000 books have been mailed out, and program officials said they believe more than 500,000 students are eligible for the free books. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the nation: U.S. high school students struggled with mental health issues during the pandemic, according to a report announced Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 37 percent reported “poor mental health” during the pandemic, according to a CDC survey of nearly 8,000 high school students from public and private schools. Florida Phoenix. One year after being appointed U.S. education secretary, Miguel Cardona has kept a relatively low profile and tried to avoid controversies in an attempt to ease tensions between partisans. That approach has not been welcomed by either his critics or those who expected to be his supporters. Politico. Growth of school choice was expected to slow when Joe Biden became president 15 months ago, but a report by the Pioneer Institute shows tax-credit scholarship programs have continued to grow around the country. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: H.B. 1557 does not literally prohibit Floridians from saying the word “gay,” as some critics contend, but it does prohibit classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity.” The preamble of the bill goes further, saying it is meant to bar “classroom discussion” on those topics. PolitiFact. The problem with the Parental Rights in Education law isn’t only what it does, but how much it leaves up in the air. Miami Herald. Florida is the 11th state to guarantee a personal finance course to every high school student. I can’t think of a better graduation present. Antonio Paz, Tampa Bay Times. Education choice advocate Michael Petrilli, who is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said proposed rules on the federal start-up grant program for charter schools could “leave hundreds of millions of federal dollars wasted and will make a huge dent in charter school growth.” reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff