Race lessons restrictions bill signed, textbook troubles, classroom items banned, and more

Race instruction bill signed: The bill that places restrictions on how race-related issues are taught in schools and used in workforce training was signed into law Friday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. It also prohibits instruction that would cause students to “feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” because of past actions by members of the same race or sex “in which the person played no part.” The governor calls H.B. 7 “freedom from indoctrination” against the “pernicious ideology” known as critical race theory, which is based on the idea that racism is embedded in U.S. institutions and society. Shortly after the signing, five plaintiffs filed a challenge in federal court, claiming the law violates the First Amendment. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. WTLV. WPTV. WKMG. WTSP. CNN.

The textbook fallout: Reviews of school textbooks occur every year in Florida, rotating among the subjects. Before this year, those reviews rarely drew attention or were contentious. Tampa Bay Times. A review of 21 of the math textbooks rejected by the state of Florida showed few containing anything that could be construed as references to critical race theory, but many with social-emotional learning content. New York Times. Q&A about the textbook controversy in Florida. Education Week. One of the 58 books Walton County Superintendent Russell Hughes ordered removed from school libraries last week was Everywhere Babies, an ode to infancy and a common recommendation among parent groups. Hughes didn’t give any specifics on why the book was banned, saying only that it was “necessary in this moment for me to make that decision and I did it for just a welfare of all involved, including our constituents, our teachers, and our students.” Washington Post.

Around the state: Several teachers at Sarasota Booker High School have been told to remove items from their classrooms that could be considered “political,” school hours at 12 Pinellas County schools could change next year to help with school bus driver shortages, Escambia’s school board will consider a policy that would ban students under 21 from having guns in their vehicles on campuses, the state Board of Education meets Friday to consider the nomination of state Sen. Manny Diaz to the job of education commissioner, growth could soon strain Marion County schools, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against a University of Central Florida policy targeting “discriminatory harassment,” plans are moving forward on a $39 million renovation at a Manatee high school, and a state representative’s feud with a Brevard school board member spills into funding for the Special Olympics. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: A student-led drive to collect shoes for more than 12,000 homeless people was joined this year by more than 40 schools and cities in Miami and Broward counties. Loving Soles is a charity founded in 2011 by students Eric and Alec Gutierrez. Shoes are donated to the Camillus House, where they will be distributed. WSVN. A 16-year-old student at Coconut Creek High School in Broward County was arrested Friday and accused of having a gun at school. Police said the boy was seen with the gun, and the school was placed on lockdown until they found the weapon hidden inside tires near the school’s baseball field. Students weren’t released until after 4 p.m., about two and a half hours after the normal dismissal time of 1:35 p.m. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: Superintendent Michael Burke said several math textbooks that had been approved by the district were subsequently rejected by the state over content issues. “I believe we can hit the brakes and take a pause there without suffering any financial damage, but I think a timely resolution remains very important because we’re trying to buy these books and get ready for the upcoming school year,” Burke said at last week’s school board meeting. “Our team, we’re scrambling. We’re going to do what we need to do to support our schools. But I want to point out that, often, we could use some guidance from the Florida Department of Education and we don’t always get that in a timely manner.” Palm Beach Post.

Polk: District officials are at a standstill after at least 10 of the 14 math textbooks that were about to be approved by the school board for next year were rejected by the state for not meeting state standards or containing “prohibited” topics. “Polk County Public Schools will not proceed with ordering or purchasing of new materials until this is resolved,” said spokesman Jason Geary. “For the remainder of this current school year, we will utilize existing materials while this issue plays out.” The district began the process of textbook selection June 29, 2021. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA. A state audit from 2019 has disclosed 72 issues of noncompliance with state standards at 15 schools, including having teachers without the proper certifications. The district could be fined $586,000. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School hours will change at 12 county schools next fall if the school board approves a district proposal. Schedules will change by a half-hour or more at five of the schools and 15 minutes at the rest. District officials are proposing the new schedules because of new bus routing software that helped create new routes to maximize the use of the district’s buses. Pinellas, like other districts, has a shortage of school bus drivers and is looking to make adjustments so all students get to school on schedule. Tampa Bay Times. An 18-year-old student at Hollins High School in Kenneth City has been arrested and accused of having a loaded gun at school at school last week. Authorities said the gun was found in his backpack. WFLA. WFTS.

Lee: Two students were arrested Friday at Lexington Middle School for allegedly making threats against the school. Deputies said the students left written threats that included hate symbols in a hallway stairwell that were discovered and reported by other students. Both face charges of written threats to commit acts of terrorism. WINK.

Brevard: State Rep. Randy Fine’s feud with school board member Jennifer Jenkins has spilled into funding for the Special Olympics and the city of West Melbourne, according to text messages. In the texts, the Palm Bay Republican threatened the funding for the Special Olympics and for the city after police officials invited Jenkins to their Special Olympics fund-raising event but not Fine. “Jenkins just put your project and special Olympics funding on the veto list,” Fine wrote. Fine then tried to block the release of the text messages, and wanted the city attorney overseeing the requests fired, according to a member of the city council. Fine denies threatening to ask the governor to veto the $1 million in the state budget for the Special Olympics, or trying to have the city attorney fired. Florida Today.

Manatee: Plans for a $39 million renovation of Palmetto High School moved ahead last week. Four classroom buildings and the cafeteria will be replaced, and the administration building will get a new lobby, reception area and conference room. Student pick-up and drop-off areas will be relocated, and a new bus loop will be built. Also being considered is an upgrade to the baseball field, including a new building, a press box, restrooms, a concession stand and an athletic restroom upgrade. The work will be done in phases to minimize disruptions for students. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: A teacher at Pinecrest Elementary School in Immokalee has been charged with video voyeurism after allegedly placing a video camera in a school bathroom. Deputies said students told them Diego Alberto Rojas-Pulido, 37, placed the camera in a bathroom near his classroom, then removed it after it was reported by students. Thursday, deputies were called to Rojas-Pulido’s house after he reportedly tried to commit suicide. District officials said Rojas-Pulido has been fired. WINK. WFTX.

Sarasota: Several teachers at Sarasota Booker High School have been told to remove items from their classrooms that could be considered “political.” Among the items ordered removed by school and district officials were a flag with “COEXIST” symbols, a Whiskey Rebellion flag, and rainbow and lesbian Pride flags. Special education teacher James Baldwin said he was told by principal Rachel Shelley that the district is worried about violating state guidelines. District spokeswoman Kelsey Whealy said that Baldwin’s COEXIST flag was a violation of school board policy governing political activity on school board grounds. Four of the six teachers asked to remove items are members of the LGBTQ community. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: A surge in development, especially in the southwest part of the county, is bring more students into the school district. And that means headaches for school officials who have to figure out how to accommodate them. In the past year, enrollment is up by 1,622, and about 10,000 new homes and 4,000 apartments have been approved for construction. School board vice chair Allison Campbell said planning for new and expanded schools, and how to balance enrollments among schools, needs to begin now. “We need to be sitting down and having these conversations and ensuring that we are planning for the future,” she said. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: School board members are considering banning students 18 or older without a concealed carry permit from having guns in their cars on district campuses. Florida law allows citizens 18 or older to store “securely encased” guns in their vehicles on school campuses. But the law also has a provision allowing school districts to exempt students, and the board will vote this summer to bar all students under 21 from having guns in vehicles on campus. Pensacola News Journal. A district teacher who was wanted on child abuse charges turned himself in Friday. Richard Jay Harris, 41, a teacher at Oakcrest Elementary School, allegedly was struck by a student in class on Feb. 24 and retaliated by lifting the chair she was on and tilting it forward until the student fell out and hit her head on the floor. WEAR.

Leon: A former teacher at Trinity Catholic School in Tallahassee pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges of receiving and distributing child pornography. Marc Clow, 54, was arrested last September. He faces 5 to 20 years in prison, and will be sentenced July 8. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Santa Rosa: When many students at Navarre High School couldn’t get tickets to the prom because they were sold out, parents decided to offer an alternative. They’ve booked the WaterVue venue in Fort Walton Beach for the same night as the school prom, which had a capacity of 500 students at the University of West Florida. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: A teacher at West Bay Elementary School in Panama City Beach has been fired after repeated accusations that she bullied and harassed students. One student recently accused Theresa Testa of grabbing her by her hoodie, slinging her into her chair and choking her. In a Facebook post, district officials apologized to the student and offered counseling support. WMBB.

Charlotte: District 4 school board member Ian Vincent has announced he will not run for a fourth term. Retired Port Charlotte Middle School principal John Leclair and James Barber are declared candidates in the race. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a University of Central Florida policy targeting “discriminatory harassment” likely violates the First Amendment. One of the judges wrote that the policy “objectively chills speech because its operation would cause a reasonable student to fear expressing potentially unpopular beliefs.” News Service of Florida. The University of Miami is planning to hire a chief executive officer. President Julio Frenk is pushing for trustees to name Joe Echevarria, the CEO of UM’s medical arm UHealth, starting June 1. Echevarria made $1.75 million for the academic year ending May 31, 2019. Miami Herald. Bethune-Cookman University trustees have begun the search for the eighth president in the school’s 118-year history. Hiram Powell has been the interim president for the past year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Tallahassee Community College now offers students the chance to earn an associate of arts degree in one year instead of two. Tallahassee Democrat. University of Tampa officials have announced plans to build a 10-story residential building on campus to house more than 600 students. The projected completion date is 2024. Tampa Bay Times.

Diaz appointment: The Florida Board of Education meets Friday to consider the nomination of state Sen. Manny Diaz to become the Florida Department of Education’s commissioner. Diaz was nominated Thursday by Gov. DeSantis to replace Richard Corcoran, who announced last month that he was stepping down at the end of April. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: Gov. DeSantis’ bad math is designed to promote his brand, no matter how much harm it does to Florida. Sun Sentinel. In an increasingly complex and diverse world, Florida’s schoolchildren deserve the best educational material possible, not one filtered through a particular political dogma. Unfortunately, in trying to “own the libs,” state leaders are shortchanging students. Palm Beach Post. While the state has been busy taking action to squelch education and speech in the “free state of Florida,” I’ve been busy figuring out what equation that leaves us with: (Banning books) + {curbing speech} x (parental overreach) – (social/emotional learning)  = [educational disaster]10. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gov. DeSantis knows that what X really equals is a sneaky plot to indoctrinate Florida school children with critical race theory. Fred Grimm, Sun Sentinel. The Alachua County School Board needs to show that taxpayer money is being well spent and it can be trusted by voters the next time they’re asked to continue approving that funding. Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff