State issues guidance for transgender children and drops CDC survey, federal aid changes, and more

Transgender children treatment: Transgender children under the age of 18 should receive no treatment other than counseling, the Florida Department of Health declared in guidance issued Wednesday. That guidance advises against surgery, prescriptions for hormone therapy or puberty blockers, and social transitions such as name and pronoun changes or clothing choices. The statement contradicts recommendations from the U.S. government and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said that the federal guidance was “about injecting political ideology into the health of our children.” News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

State drops CDC survey: Florida will no longer participate in the annual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of students that asks about their mental well-being, suicidal thoughts, sexual orientation and gender identity. Mental health advocates called the move shocking. “It’s an incredibly dangerous precedent to have set,” said Marni Stahlman, president and CEO of the Mental Health Association of Central Florida. “It’s the only way that we can look at what’s happening in real time, and for the state to have made this decision without input seems almost capricious.” Florida Department of Education and Department of Health officials have not responded to requests for comments. Orlando Sentinel.

State wants funding back: Florida school districts have been directed by the state to return any unspent money they received in the second round of federal coronavirus aid. The aid was given to help districts find students who were unaccounted for and to address learning loss. Florida Department of Officials now say districts will have to reapply for the funds after they’re returned to the state and, if the money is reissued, will have to use the funds for summer camps, after-school programs and tutoring services. “It was a bombshell. It was shocking. No one was expecting it,” said Tim Bargeron, assistant superintendent of finance for the Manatee County School District. Bargeron said while the funds have not yet been spent, his district and others have already earmarked how they planned to spend the money. WFTS. Florida school districts have spent about half of the relief aid they received in the second round of federal coronavirus aid, and very little from the third round. One reason is that Florida was the last state to apply for the third round of aid, and only started granting access to the funds a month ago. WFTS.

Around the state: While the state has rejected 54 math textbooks, state law gives the authority of choosing instructional materials to local school boards, Pinellas’ school board selects three finalists for the superintendent’s job, Palm Beach’s school board approves a contract between the district and its teachers, a new school district police chief has been hired by the Palm Beach County board, the number of school-aged children in Brevard County who cite religious reasons for not getting school vaccines has skyrocketed this school year, and a Duval County high school will offer students a gender-neutral option to elect a prom sovereign this spring in addition to a prom queen and king. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: At least one employee was hospitalized with head trauma after trying to break up one of several fights Wednesday afternoon on the Plantation High School campus. Sun Sentinel. A man with a handgun was arrested Tuesday afternoon after allegedly harassing two children at Renaissance Charter School in Tamarac. Police said the man shouted at the children and showed them a gun, then tried to flee the scene in his car but was blocked by a parent. WSVN.

Hillsborough: The school district has received a $1.7 million federal grant to expand its world language programs. The money, from the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, will be used to start Spanish language immersion programs in multiple subjects at Dawson, Lanier, Summerfield Crossings and West Shore elementary schools. WTSP.

Palm Beach: School board members have approved a contract agreement between the school district and its teachers. All district teachers, including permanent substitutes, will get 3.5 percent raises and fulltime teachers will also receive $1,500 bonuses, retroactive to July 1, 2021. The deal, which will cost the district $49.7 million, still has to be approved by union members. WPTV. The board also approved the hiring of Sarah Mooney, former West Palm Beach police chief, to run the district’s police department. She begins May 4. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: In addition to crowning a prom queen and prom king this spring, Atlantic Coast High School in Jacksonville will elect a “prom sovereign.” It could be the first time a Florida school has offered a gender-neutral option to the traditional honors. “The sovereign title has been a year-long work of advocacy by Atlantic Coast High students to make prom more inclusive,” said Joseph Rawlins, who took over as the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance sponsor this school year. Florida Times-Union. WTLV.

Pinellas: School board members have chosen three finalists with Florida experience to interview for the superintendent’s job that opens up this summer when Michael Grego retires. The finalists are: Kevin Hendrick, the district’s chief academic officer; Ann Hembrook, an area superintendent for the Marion County School District; and Michael Ramirez, a deputy superintendent for the Denver school district and a former administrator in Broward County. They will be interviewed May 11 and 12, and the school board plans to make its decision May 17. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WUSF. WCJB.

Lee, Collier: Lee and Collier school district officials are waiting to get an updated list from the state of approved math textbooks so they can begin ordering for the 2022-2023 school year. Collier’s school board had approved a list of books on March 29, but it included some of the texts rejected by the state. Lee officials are going through the state’s short list of approved textbooks. Fifty-four math textbooks were rejected by the state last week for not meeting state standards or for incorporating prohibited topics, including critical race theory. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: The number of county school-aged children who used religious reasons to opt out of state-required vaccines has skyrocketed this school year, according to district officials. The number of children using the exemption is up by 453 this school years, from 2,318 in 2020-2021 to 2,771 in 2021-2022. The previous two years the increases were 69 and 85. School board member Misty Belford thinks the increase is due to misinformation and fear of the COVID-19 vaccine. Florida Today.

Lake: A district school bus on the way to Leesburg High School on Wednesday morning turned into the path of a car, killing its driver, according to Florida Highway Patrol troopers. Seventeen students were on the bus at the time, but none of them was injured. Troopers are continuing the investigation. Daily Commercial. WOFL. Orlando Sentinel.

Sarasota: The math books the school district intended to use for kindergarten students next year were among those rejected by the state last week. Board member Shirley Brown said the district had already trained teachers to prepare for the books. She said district leaders still don’t know why the books were rejected. Colleague Bridget Ziegler said district leaders get new directives from the state every year and will adapt. “They are well equipped and familiar with how to pivot and they will do so accordingly,” she said. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: District officials said they have no choice but to wait for information from the state before ordering math textbooks for next year. “They (school districts) count on three to four publishers divvying up and being selected across the state. So I would imagine the one publisher scrambling (and] thinking, I don’t know if we have enough product in stock, and what would be the turnaround to print enough for every district in the state of Florida?” said Billy Epting, the district’s assistant superintendent for academic services. WFSU.

Alachua: At least seven math textbooks the school district planned to use next year were on the list rejected by the state last week. Some courses now don’t have approved textbooks, said Jennie Wise, the district’s chief of learning and teaching. “I’m hopeful that soon, the list will become more inclusive so that we can order materials that our teachers feel will meet the needs of our students so they can be ready for a new school year,” she said. Gainesville Sun.

Flagler: School board members have asked Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt to draft an updated policy on student boycotts and walkouts to preserve students’ rights to free expression and also protect school functions from disruption. The current policy reads: “Any student who participates in a boycott, walkout, sit-in, strike, or any similar disruptive action which interferes with an orderly operation of the school shall be deemed guilty of serious misconduct and shall be subject to suspension or dismissal from school.” A majority of the board said they like the conclusion of the Alachua County policy, which reads: “students shall not be disturbed during the exercise of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to assemble peaceably and to express ideas and opinions privately provided that such exercise does not infringe on the rights of others and does not interfere with the operation of the school.” Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Accreditors visited the Florida Memorial University campus in Miami Gardens last week, and university officials said they expect their status to be upgraded from probation to good standing this summer. FMU was placed on probation last year, but has since boosted enrollment and improved its financial standing. Miami Herald. WFTS. Saint Leo University’s plan to merge with Marymount California University has been called off over complications with accreditation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges disapproved of the initial merger plans because it concluded the Pasco County Catholic school didn’t show it could handle the financial responsibility, and the schools decided to call off the merger instead of reworking the plans. Tampa Bay Times.

Text choice, by law: Even though Florida officials have rejected 54 math textbooks for supposedly having “indoctrinating concepts,” state law gives individual school boards the authority to choose their instructional materials. The law also says local districts can spend up to 50 percent of their state funds for books that aren’t on the Department of Education’s list of approved titles. Miami Herald. Education Week.

Text price-gouging? A whistleblower is alleging that textbook publishers are violating state law by offering discounts on texts to larger districts and overcharging rural systems. A law firm representing the whistleblower has advised the state attorney general and DOE about the accusations in letters that include some examples. In 2021, it’s alleged, Madison County schools paid $219 apiece for 324 print/digital subscriptions to materials for 1st-graders, while Polk County got 1,429 of the same subscriptions for a penny each after purchasing 420 subscriptions at the $219 price. Florida law states that publishers are required to offer instructional materials at the same price as the lowest price offered to any state or school district in the United States. Florida Politics.

Education podcasts: Karen Prewitt talks with Step Up For Students senior reporter Lisa Buie about how the change in Florida law that merged the McKay Scholarship program into the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities helps her and husband David make educational choices to benefit their 15-year-old son Caleb, who has Down syndrome. reimaginED.

Around the nation: A recent report by the Network for Public Education gives Florida an F for its commitment to democratically governed public schools. Only Arizona was graded lower than Florida. States were ranked by their expansion of privatization, educational quality, student rights and protections, accountability and transparency, and safeguards for taxpayer dollars. Forbes. Network for Public Education. Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to help rally support for a petition drive in Michigan to create a scholarship program like Florida’s that would help  students attend private schools. Detroit News. Record-keeping problems prevented thousands of low-income borrowers from having their student loans canceled, according to a study of U.S. Education Department records by the Government Accountability Office. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: A review of the CDC’s recommendations to schools during the pandemic suggests that the agency fell short in communicating clearly and accurately with schools about its guidance and research. Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat. A governor hijacking public education for political gain and keeping children from the opportunity to learn and thrive is an exemplar of unfairness. Anindya Kundu, Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff