Who’s challenging books in schools, scholarships expanded by 30%, school safety bill and more

Around the state: About 300 library books have been challenged in the past year in Florida, many by retirees and members of conservative groups who don’t even have school-age children, a bill that increases the enrollment cap in the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program by more than 30 percent was signed into law last week by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Palm Beach County School Board member apologizes to a police union after labeling a shooting by an officer at a county school May 12 as “murder,” what’s in the state’s updated school safety bills, several schools in Bay County are going to be expanded, and a box carrying two guns owned by a Broward charter school principal was mistakenly carried into the school last week. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The longtime head of the Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove abruptly announced last week that she was resigning immediately and would take a year’s sabbatical. Neither Penny Townsend nor the schools would say why she left. She will return after the sabbatical to become a special advisor to the chair of the board of trustees. Miami Herald.

Broward: A closed box with two guns was mistakenly taken out of a charter school principal’s car and brought inside the school Thursday. Deputies said the box was among several others filled with school materials that were removed from Geyler Castro’s car at Somerset Parkland Academy. Having weapons on school property is a felony, but it’s unknown if charges will be filed. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. WSVN. District students are barred from bringing backpacks and book bags to school for the last three days of the academic year Tuesday through Thursday. A district spokeswoman called it a “proactive” move that’s been done at many schools for years. Sun-Sentinel. WTVJ. Brothers 16 and 18 years old were arrested last week with backpacks full of guns and ammunition across the street from an Oakland Park charter school, according to deputies. The older brother said he had the guns for protection after being the victim of an assault recently at SunFire High School. WPLG.

Palm Beach: School board member Debra Robinson has apologized to the president of the local police union for describing the shooting death of a 33-year-old man at Dreyfoos School of the Arts on May 12 as “murder.” Romen Phelps, who was unarmed, was shot to death by an off-duty police officer after he crashed his vehicle into the school and started roaming the campus. He was fighting with two officers when he was shot. “Please allow this email to serve as an apology for the misuse of the word murder,” Robinson wrote in an e-mail to union president Adam Myers. “I actually had to look it up to understand clearly that the word includes criminality and intentionality. It was not my purpose to convey either. I have no reason to believe that the officer walked in with any such intent.” Palm Beach Post.

Pasco: Former state legislator John Legg became the first county candidate for the 2024 election when he announced last week he would run for the school superintendent’s job after Kurt Browning announced he would leave when his term ends. Legg, who cofounded and operates the county’s oldest charter school, said if elected, he would work to expand choice for poorer areas of the county, improve teacher pay, make sure all schools offer content-rich curriculum, and give principals the flexibility to meet the needs of their schools’ communities. reimaginED. Florida Politics.

Collier: School Superintendent Kamela Patton was one of three U.S. school leaders recently cited by an industry publication for boosting student achievement and graduation rates while increasing the capacity of school leaders, expanding course choices and promoting positive atmospheres at schools. She credits the process called “Data Dialogues” for the success. It’s a conversation among school leaders analyzing data about student performance to guide decisions on instructional materials and professional development. “It is a venue to share areas that need improvement and celebrate successes,” said Patton. “This school-centric approach is a way to empower school leaders to engage with student data and target gaps.” District Administration.

Sarasota: Four candidates for school board seats in the Aug. 23 primary participated in a community forum last week. District 1 incumbent Bridget Ziegler said that the board should refocus on academics instead of politics in order to improve educational outcomes, and her opponent Dawnyelle Singleton said she wants to district to make up for learning loss during the pandemic with summer programs. District 4 candidates Lauren Kurnov and Robyn Marinelli agree that teachers should be better paid. Marinelli also echoed Ziegler in call for an emphasis on academics instead of politics. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: School board member Don Browning says he’s deliberately being kept out of the loop by district staff about events and training his colleagues are attending. He made the comment last week at a meeting in which four other board members were given reservations for the annual state school board conference in Tampa. Other school board members told Browning that they had received e-mails directly from the state school board. Browning, 79, said district staff should have reminded him, and said his computer doesn’t work right and he has to use his phone to check e-mails. Ocala Star-Banner.

Okaloosa: Fifty-eight percent of the school district’s 3rd-graders passed the Florida Standards Assessments reading test this spring. That’s down from 60 percent last year, but the district is still ranked 12th in the state. In 2019 it was 15th and in 2021 it was eighth. Superintendent Marcus Chambers said the assessments results for grades 4-10, which will be released soon, will provide a more complete picture of the district’s overall performance. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: Northside, Hiland Park, Southport and Tommy Smith elementary schools are being expanded, district officials said. Southport will add 12-16 classrooms, and six to eight classrooms will be added at each of the other three schools by the fall of 2023. The district also said it is looking for land in Springfield, Callaway and Parker to build another school. Officials said they are about four years away from needing the school to accommodate growth in the county. WMBB.

Jackson: School board members are considering buying a device that has a panic alert button and can be affixed to the back side of an employee’s identification badge. The device is made by Centegix, and would cost the district $500,000. Sheriff Donnie Edenfield said he wants to tour a school that uses the system before deciding it’s safe for district schools. WMBB.

Gilchrist: A student at Trenton High School was arrested last week after deputies said they found a gun, along with ammunition and multiple knives, in his vehicle in the school parking lot. Deputies said there was “no imminent danger to the students or faculty discovered, nor any apparent intent to utilize the firearm or weapons on campus by the student.” Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. WGFL.

Jefferson: Only 19 percent of the school district’s 3rd-graders passed the statewide reading tests this spring, a drop of 9 percentage points from last year. It places Jefferson at the bottom of the state’s 67 county school districts. In 2019, 45 percent passed by scoring at a Level 3 or above. The school board is regaining control of the district after five years of being operated by the Somerset Academy charter school company. WFSU.

Choice expansion: A bill that increases the enrollment cap in the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program by more than 30 percent was signed into law last week by Gov. DeSantis. The new cap is 26,500, compared to the 20,000 last year. Starting in the 2023-2024 school year, the cap will rise by 1 percent of the state’s total number of full-time exceptional education students, excluding students classified as gifted. reimaginED.

School safety bills: Among the changes in the state’s new school safety laws, H.B. 1421 and H.B. 899, are: an extension of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission until July 1, 2026, so it can set up a database of incidents; the creation of criminal penalties for students who make false threats through the app FortifyFL; a requirement that school districts create plans to reunify students and their parents after a school emergency; a mandate that districts conduct annual emergency drills; and a requirement that districts appoint a mental health coordinator who will maintain records and work with the Office of Safe Schools. Both bills take effect July 1. Sun-Sentinel.

Book challenges: In the past school year, about 300 library books have been challenged in Florida. Some of the complaints have been made by parents who don’t want their children exposed to material with sexual themes, but many are being lodged by retirees and members of conservative groups who don’t even have school-age children. In St. Lucie County, for example, 69-year-old retiree Dale Galiano has made all 17 challenges the district has received. “I’m a widow,” said Galiano, who acknowledged she hasn’t read every page of all the books. “Why I care is because these kids are my future and it’s the future of this country.” WFTS.

Around the nation: The push to place more police officers in schools across the country after the Texas school shooting is being challenged by students of color. Studies have shown that black students and other students of color are disproportionately likely to have negative interactions with police in schools, according to Katherine Dunn, director of the Opportunity to Learn program at the Advancement Project. Associated Press. A Taser company said it wants to build drones that would carry the weapon into schools to shock and disable active shooters. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: The state of Florida should reverse course and rejoin a wide-ranging national survey on the behavior risks of young people. Drug use, sexual activity and eating habits among teenagers are just a few choices that can have life-changing impacts. It doesn’t make sense for Florida to reinvent the wheel on a barometer that’s worked well for 30 years.. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Republicans’ witch hunt against school districts that imposed mask mandates last year is finally over — thanks to the governor who started it. It looks like even Gov. DeSantis understands the optics of punishing students struggling with COVID-19 pandemic-related learning losses in an election year. Miami Herald. It’s clear that in Seminole County and across Florida, school officials are listening to the voices of students who say they’re tired of being humiliated, treated like objects of distraction and pulled away from their studies by discriminatory dress codes. It’s the right direction, and we hope it continues to spread. Orlando Sentinel. To provide all our students with the education they deserve and need, schools must both keep experienced educators and attract new talent. Andrew Spar, Miami Herald. Do too much and you’re to blame. Do too little and you’re to blame. That’s the police officers’ lot, and the lessons from shootings in the Dreyfoos School of the Arts and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Thousands of Florida high school students continue to choose to get a head start on lower level college courses using the state’s dual-enrollment program. But the college courses that dual-enrollment students most often select do not provide much of a head start for programs in core STEM disciplines like engineering, the physical sciences, life sciences, computing and the health professions. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff