Back-to-school sales tax holiday, text reviewers, tracking youth behavior, contract talks and more

Around the state: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the bill creating a sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchasing and more, some of the people chosen to review math textbooks for the state had no math credentials, a majority of the textbook reviewers found no prohibited content in the textbooks, Florida won’t take part in CDC surveys of youth behaviors but will continue to collect the information through surveys to use for their own programs, contract negotiations are becoming bitter in Brevard County over the issue of bonuses versus raises, Escambia schools will give every K-12 student the option of picking and keep four free books as part of a summer reading program, and swastikas discovered in two school districts cause concerns among parents, students and school officials. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: An image of a swastika was recently discovered in a bathroom at Westglades Middle School in Parkland. It was quickly removed, and district officials reported it to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. “Broward County Public Schools does not tolerate displays of bigotry and hate and is committed to educating students about the profound impact of bias,” read a statement from the district. A school investigation has also been launched, district officials said, and those found to be responsible will be disciplined. WSVN.

Hillsborough: Some parents are lobbying for an opt-in option instead of the current opt-out for their children when it comes to sex education in science classes. Jacalyn Muir, mother of a 7th-grader, said one lesson she read includes two friends, Leah and Malik. In it, Malik is watching porn, drinking, and being pressured by his friends to have sex with his girlfriend. “I don’t want my 7th-grader discussing being drunk, watching porn and having sex with her peers,” Muir said. She said the disturbing parts were buried deep in the presentation, which is why she’d like the option of opting in instead of opting out. District officials said they are working on the curriculum to make sure it conforms to recent changes by the state. Spectrum News 9.

Palm Beach: Officials at the Mountaineer’s School of Autism in West Palm Beach said the school is in danger of closing because the building it’s been housed in for the past eight years is being sold. School founder Mary Jo Walsh said she’s trying to buy the building, but needs to raise thousands of dollars to make a down payment. “Not only would 70 children not have an education, not have access to therapy services, the families wouldn’t have somewhere that their children could go where they’re safe,” Walsh said. WPTV.

Brevard: Contract negotiations between the district and the teachers union are growing increasingly acrimonious. District officials offered bonuses ranging from $3,200 to $4,400, but says it doesn’t have the money for raises. The offer also came with a jab at the union president from district spokesman Russell Bruhn. “We’re trying to give them more,” said Bruhn. “But Anthony Colucci thinks he’s Tony the Tiger. Acts like Tony the child. He’s a union leader. Doesn’t seem to understand that his teachers know what’s going on. They know the district trying to give them raises and he is getting in the way of it.” The union accused the district of ending negotiations and refusing to discuss other issues. Florida Today. School board members are expected to vote Tuesday on the district’s policies about removing books from libraries and changing the public speaking rules at board meetings. Florida Today.

Osceola: A class assignment for Harmony High School students to make their own versions of Nazi propaganda has created an uproar among parents who were upset to see drawings with swastikas posted in a school hallway. The drawings were quickly removed by school officials. “Nowhere in our curriculum unit plans that teachers follow are students asked to create such items as part of any approved lessons,” the district said in a statement. “It is not appropriate as a classroom assignment, and it is currently under investigation by the school’s administration.” Michael Igel, who is with the state Task Force on Holocaust Education, said he was shocked but not surprised. “This is not teaching it, I’m sad to say,” he said. “This (teacher) probably had the right intentions, just went about in a very wrong way.” WOFL. WFTV.

Volusia: Two more candidates have entered the race to replace outgoing District 3 school board member Linda Cuthbert. Emmanuel Swift, principal of Putnam Edge Charter High School, and health care professional Wendy Weisheimer join previously announced candidates Justin Kennedy, Kimberly Short and Jessie Thompson. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Marion: A student services manager at Lake Weir Middle School in Summerfield who also coaches high school track at Lake Weir High has been arrested and accused of sexual battery on a victim 12 years of age or older but younger than 18. Deputies said Henry Anderson, 40, touched the girl inappropriately after a workout at the middle school gym. Anderson has been placed on administrative leave. Ocala Star-Banner. WKMG. WOFL. WESH. WCJB. WGFL.

Escambia: Every K-12 student will get to choose up to four books by the end of this school year to keep as part of the district’s summer reading program. The district is using federal coronavirus relief aid to spend $650,000 on books, $23,800 for summer reading events and $70,000 for additional summer reading supplies. “(Federal relief ) dollars were really earmarked and generated for kids transitioning back into normalcy and providing supports and resources for that. So, this program is really a good, solid expenditure,” said Superintendent Tim Smith. “But it also has the potential to be the piloting of a really powerful idea and that is developing robust summer reading programs.” Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: Ground was broken Friday at the future site of the Spring Park Elementary School near Green Cove Springs. The K-6 school is expected to open to more than 850 students in the fall of 2023. It will be the 43rd school in the district. WJXT. WTLV.

Alachua: Proms are back for county high schools, and for the first time since 2019 there are no restrictions. No masks. No social distancing. Gainesville Sun. Navya Tripathi, a senior at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, has been selected as a semifinalist in the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. She’s one of 27 in Florida and 620 around the country. Finalists will be announced later this month. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. WGFL.

Martin: A former Stuart Middle School teacher was sentenced Friday to 17 years in prison for sexual battery on a child by familial or custodial authority in 2018. Jeffrey Tomasulo, 34, had been convicted by a jury in April of pressuring a 13-year-old girl into sexual acts. He’s also now designated as a sexual predator and will serve five years of sex offender probation after he’s out of prison. TCPalm.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The bill creating the back-to-school sales tax holiday, and several others, was signed into law Friday by Gov. DeSantis. Sales of clothing and diapers costing $100 or less, school supplies of $50 or less and computers costing $1,500 or less will be tax-exempt from July 25 through Aug. 7. State economists estimate an impact of $100 million to the state. Other sales tax-free holidays are for the purchase of children’s books, hurricane supplies, entertainment activities, tools, gasoline, and more. Estimated cost to the state in tax revenue is more than $1 billion. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Textbook reviews: Most of the state’s math textbook reviewers were Florida educators with certifications, degrees, teaching positions, or other expertise in math, according to an analysis. But there were also reading teachers and social science educators, even though the DOE said reviewers had to hold at least one credential in math. Another reviewer was a civic education specialist from Hillsdale College in Michigan, a conservative college that frequently hires Republican politicians, including former education commissioner Richard Corcoran, to speak. WFTS. More than 70 people reviewed proposed math textbooks for the state, and a majority of them found no evidence of “prohibited topics” such as critical race theory, according to an analysis of the reviews. About 40 percent of the books reviewed were rejected by the state for containing CRT and social emotional learning references, according to the Florida Department of Education. A parent who is affiliated with the conservative activist Moms for Liberty group said others may have glossed over evidence that she found “agenda-driven” and “biased.” Chris Allen said, “I wish they could’ve seen the information I saw.” Miami Herald. Florida Phoenix. Here’s the entire report of reviewers’ comments on math textbooks. Orlando Sentinel.

Tracking youth behavior: While Florida will no longer participate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey tracking youth behavior on such things as drug use and sexual activity, it will continue to collect the data for its own use. “There is value in asking a variety of questions,” said interim education commissioner Jacob Oliva. “We need to be collecting data to keep all of our students safe, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of what programs they are in.” Tampa Bay Times.

FLVS board appointments: Rafael Arza, an educational consultant for Mountain Moving Strategies, and Kelly Garcia, a committee chair and board member for Frameworks of Tampa Bay, have been named by Gov. DeSantis to the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees. Governor’s Office.

Around the nation: In many states, including Florida, some teachers cancel recess for a class as punishment for misbehavior even though considerable research has demonstrated the importance of the free time to child development. Some states are considering laws prohibiting schools from withholding play time. The Hechinger Report.

Opinions on schools: Our natural equality as an important part of any school curriculum. Of course, this foundational fact is not easy to disengage from the transcendental. Does that make it forbidden to the classroom as an establishment of religion? Or might our schools recognize this as the factual and intellectual justification for the intelligible design of our civil order? John E. Coons, reimaginED. As we saw in the Jan. 6 insurrection, making your case by force is dangerous and destructive. It benefits no one – least of all the students the Sarasota County School Board is meant to serve – for Sarasota to become an international paragon of bickering, belligerence and bad behavior. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff