Home-schooling growth in south Florida, fight over accreditation, Leon adopts LGBTQ guide, and more

Around the state: Home-schooling is growing rapidly in south Florida, the state’s Board of Governors is considering suing the state’s accreditation agency for conducting an academic freedom review of the University of Florida that it said damaged the school’s reputation, Leon County School Board members have adopted a controversial LGBTQ guide for the district that offers advice for teachers and administrators to help students, a full jury has been seated in the sentencing trial for the Parkland school shooter after 10 alternate jurors were chosen, starting teachers in Monroe County will now be paid $51,800 a year, and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office is asking a district judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state’s Parental Rights in Education law. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

South Florida: The number of south Florida students being home-schooled has grown by about 8,000 during the pandemic, according to an analysis of school records. That follows the national pattern, which has seen grown of nearly 50 percent in the past three years, from 2.5 million students in 2019 to 3.7 million today. In Broward and Palm Beach counties, about 3 to 4 percent of the total student population is now being home-schooled. It’s grown from 1 percent of students to nearly 2 percent in Miami-Dade, and 6 percent of Monroe students now attend school at home. “Homeschooling, to steal the term of a friend of mine, is a freedom space that a lot of people never knew about,” said Brian Ray, president of the Oregon nonprofit National Home Education Research Institute. “After tasting some of the benefits of home-based education, many parents — not all of them — have said, ‘We like this. This is good for our children. This is good for our family,’ ” he said. WLRN.

Broward: Ten alternate jurors have been selected in the sentencing trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. They will be available to step in if any of the 12 chosen jurors is unable to finish the trial, which begins July 18 with opening statements and is expected to continue at least through October. The jurors will decide whether to recommend death or life in prison for Cruz. The final judgment is up to Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. WPLG. WFORAssociated Press. Summarizing Day 24 in the sentencing trial of Cruz, who has admitted killing 17 students and employees and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Sun-Sentinel. School board member Lori Alhadeff said she’s open to some of her colleagues being removed from office or suspended if the statewide grand jury that investigated the Parkland school shooting recommends it. “I support holding people accountable,” said Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the attack. WLRN. School officials are offering $500 signing bonuses for new school bus drivers. The jobs pay $16.50 an hour. WPLG.

Orange: Incoming school Superintendent Maria Vazquez said her early priorities will be addressing learning lost during the pandemic, school safety, providing mental health services for students, offering staff guidance to comply with the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law, and increasing teacher pay. WKMG. WESH.

Palm Beach: Marcia Andrews, the incumbent school board member representing District 6, has four challengers in the Aug. 23 primary election: Jeff Browning, V. Deanne Ewers, Jennifer Showalter and Amanda Silvestri. Here are backgrounds, qualifications and other facts about all five, plus summaries of their campaign platforms. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Haines City High School principal Adam Lane has been named the state’s principal of the year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The award is given to leaders “who have succeeded in providing high-quality learning opportunities for students as well as demonstrating exemplary contributions to the profession.” Lane is now eligible for the group’s national principal of the year award, which will be announced in October. Polk County School District.

Brevard: The county’s Charter Review Commission has declined to pursue adding two more members to the school board, making the superintendent’s job an elected one, or removing a charter provision requiring school board elections to be divided by districts. The only change approved for schools is an amendment that allows for the recall of school board members, but only for specific reasons such as drunkenness to malfeasance instead of a proposal that would have allowed recalls for policy positions. Florida Today.

Marion: An outside law firm’s investigation that concluded board member Don Browning violated the district’s anti-bullying policy will be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for a review, the board decided this week. Browning joined the other four board members in voting to send the report to the governor, saying the report exonerates him because it decided that he had not created a hostile work environment. He’s also accusing other board members of harassing and belittling him. Browning, 79, who was appointed by DeSantis in August, recently announced he would not run for the District 2 seat. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: School board members approved the district’s LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide after three hours of emotional debate at this week’s meeting. The guide, which was put together by a district advisory committee, offers guidelines for teachers and administrators to help students and reviews new state laws for employees. Most of the 60 speakers at the meeting criticized the guide. “Normally when we have something on the agenda, we have a group that’s for, and a group that’s against,” board member Alva Striplin said. “Well, tonight we had everyone against.” Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee Reports. WFSU. Teacher Laurie Cox and insurance company employee Susan Hodges talk about why they’re running to replace outgoing District 4 school board member DeeDee Rasmussen and what they anticipate their role would be as a board member. Tallahassee Democrat.

Monroe: The school district is now offering new teachers a starting salary of $51,800, the highest rate in the state. Even so, the district is still looking for 50 new teachers for the next school year, and has another 50-plus openings for paraprofessionals, food service and other district workers. Harry Russell, executive director of personnel support and instructional leadership, said the area’s high cost of living continues to be a factor in shortages. Key West Citizen.

Washington: A district school bus driver has been arrested and accused of six counts of lewd and lascivious behavior on minors under 16 years old. Deputies said an investigation into the actions of  John Robert White began earlier this year when a student accused him of inappropriate sex acts. White has driven a bus for the district fulltime since 2017. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: The Board of Governors said it is considering taking legal action against the state’s accreditation board for conducting an academic freedom review of the University of Florida, which it said damaged the school’s reputation. “This was all a reputational attack,” board member Richard Corcoran, the former education commissioner whose candidacy for the presidency of Florida State University was flagged by the accreditor, said at Wednesday’s meeting. “This has been an absolute pattern of behavior that needs to stop.” Politico Florida. Florida’s Board of Governors also said it will review the 1 percent decline in college enrollment from the fall of 2020 to the fall of 2021. Christy England, the system’s vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, told members of the board that the dip is part of a national decline, and said one of the factors was a 5 percent drop in the number of students who received an associate’s degree but didn’t transfer to a state university. News Service of Florida. Florida Atlantic University has received a $1.6 million donation from Charna Larkin to fund scholarships and create an American presidential study in the school library. WPEC.

State wants suit tossed: Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office is asking a district judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, which is scheduled to go into effect Friday. The case was filed by LGBTQ-advocacy groups Equality Florida and Family Equality, students, parents and teachers against the law that bars instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for K-3 students and requires it to be age-appropriate for older students. News Service of Florida.

Funding for cybersecurity training: The state is issuing $15.6 million in grants for 24 programs to expand expand cybersecurity and IT training for as many as 27,000 students in the coming school year. “This funding will not only advance the educational opportunities for Florida students seeking employment in this critical field, but will also create a safer and more stable cyberspace for our future generations,” said Gov. DeSantis. WCJB. Office of the Governor.

FSA test results: More reports from school districts on how their students in grades 3-10 did on the Florida Standards Assessments math and language arts exams in the spring. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. WTVJ. WPTV. WFSU. WJXT. WJAX. WFLA. WESH. Lakeland Ledger. Ocala Star-Banner. Mainstreet Daily News. Florida Politics. Florida Department of Education.

Education podcasts: Former U.S. education secretary Betsy DeVos talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about education freedom, education savings accounts, her time in Washington and more. reimaginED.

Around the nation: Many U.S. school districts are spending millions on intensive virtual tutoring to recover learning losses sustained by students during the pandemic. But the academic impact is still largely unknown. Chalkbeat.

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BY NextSteps staff