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Teacher’s firing for refusing mask upheld, rest of the school districts open or about to, and more

Around the state: An administrative law judge has upheld the firing of a Broward teacher for refusing to wear a face mask in school last year, Monday was the first day of classes in Duval and Volusia and for 230,000 fultime Florida Virtual School students, Broward schools open today and Miami-Dade schools Wednesday, continuing growth is being seen in Florida home-schooling and Jewish day schools, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit a former Alachua school board member filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis for removing her from office because she didn’t live in the district she was elected to represent, the percentage of black students attending historically black colleges and universities is on the rise, and school board elections in several districts are previewed. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: An administrative law judge has upheld the firing of a Broward teacher who refused to follow district policy in 2021 requiring a face mask, even after being warned repeatedly, issued a written reprimand and given a five-day suspension. The judge found that Piper High School science teacher John Alvarez “engaged in gross insubordination by continued, intentional failure to obey numerous direct orders, reasonable in nature and given by and with proper authority.” Her recommendation now goes to the school board for a final decision. News Service of Florida. Everything parents need to know about today, the first day of school in Broward, and Wednesday, when Miami-Dade schools open, including safety issues, teaching vacancies in Miami-Dade but hiring gains in Broward, school meals, immunizations, and more. Miami Herald. Axios. WPLG. WTVJ. Monday’s scheduled hearing over the admissibility of brain scans of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was canceled and rescheduled for today. His attorneys contend that the scans show Cruz’s lifelong mental and emotional problems were caused by fetal alcohol syndrome, but prosecutors argue that interpretation is unproven. WPLG. A Broward teacher has been arrested and accused of animal cruelty for allegedly killing a dog. Daniel Lamont Gray Jr., a teacher at Pine Ridge Educational Center, has been reassigned while the investigation continues. WPLG.

Hillsborough: The growth of Jewish day schools in Florida is continuing with the opening this fall of the Tampa Torah Academy, a private Orthodox school in the northeastern part of the county. A group from Queens, N.Y., is moving down to start the school, the third in the county. It’s being led by rabbis Ariel Wohlfarth and Yirmiyahu Rubenstein, who will serve as deans. State enrollment in Jewish day schools has grown from 10,623 in 50 schools in 2018 to 12,482 students in 64 schools in 2020. reimaginED.

Duval: Traffic problems beset the district Monday on the first day of the new school year, leading Supermintendent Diana Greene to issue an apology. “If you are one of the families whose first day of school was soured by transportation, I apologize and ask for your patience,” she said. “Our team and our contractors are working hard to improve our bus services as quickly as possible.” Contributing factors include a shortage of drivers and new drivers learning their routes. But there were things to celebrate too, Greene pointed out. About 110,000 of the 133,000 enrolled students showed up for Day 1, and about 95 percent of the requests for substitute teachers were filled. “We had a great first day,” said Greene. “It was so exciting to … see parents at elementary not only come to the school, but to be able, for the first time in two years, walk their children to class.” WTLV. WJXT. WJAX. Florida Times-Union. The LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida was critical of the school district for removing rainbow Safe Space stickers and posters from classroom windows, walls and doors before schools opened Monday. The group called the move “censorship,” but the district called it a rebrand of its “All In For Safe Schools” campaign and said it better complies with the new Parental Rights in Education Act. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics.

Seminole: The school district is expanding services to the growing number of homeless students. There were 1,957 students who were classified as homeless during the 2021-2022 school year, which was about 500 more than the previous year. The Families in Need program will provide services to students who are without a permanent home. WFTV. A cafeteria worker at Geneva Elementary School was found unresponsive on nthe kitchen floor Monday and later died, according to school officials. The worker was an employee of Red Apple Dining, which provides food services in the school district. WKMG.

Volusia: After a generally successful first day of school Monday, with nearly all classes covered by teachers and a driver for every school bus route, new Superintendent Carmen Balgobin said the district can now start focusing on providing students with a safe and healthy environment and getting them learning at a high level. “Compared with the past 2 and a half years, this has to be a more normal year, so students can focus on learning and teachers can focus on teaching… (and) everyone can focus really on what it’s all about,” she said. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WESH. WKMG. Spectrum News 13.

Manatee: School board chair James Golden has drawn two opponents in his bid for a second term representing District 5. Golden, a pastor, was elected as the board’s first black chair in 2021. Challenger Rich Tatem is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and former French professor who retired here from Ohio four years ago and has been substitute teaching in Sarasota County. Golden’s other opponent, Chantal Wilford, is a freelance translator and the mother of four children, the youngest of whom is in the public school system. All three candidates answered questions about their positions on critical race theory and the Parental Rights in Education Act. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Collier: Here are the 115 books in school libraries that district officials decided needed advisory labels. The labels say, “This book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.” They also say it’s the parents’ decision if the books are suitable for their children. Naples Daily News.

Lake: A fund-raising drive has begun to restore the old Rosenwald School that was built in the early 20th century to educate black students before integration. The Okahumpka Community Club is spearheading the drive. Its goal is to use the school as a historical site, and add a community center. “The school is going to be completely restored so it looks like it did when it was built,” said Chip D’Amico, who’s leading the fund-raising. “We want to make it as historically significant as we can because it’s going to be used to explain the history of Okahumpka.” Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: Beachside High School opened Monday, three days later than other district schools because of construction problems. Traffic was a major concern, with tie-ups all day along County Road 210 in the Twin Creeks area, which county officials attributed to the new school and construction on other developments in the area. The school has about 2,000 students. It opens at 9:20 a.m. and dismissal is at 3:20 p.m. WJAX. WJXT.

Sarasota: School officials have announced that only clear bags will be permitted into school sporting events. Clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bags will be accepted and they cannot exceed 12 inches by 12 inches by 6 inches, according to the district. WTSP.

Alachua: A federal judge has dismissed former school board member Diyonne McGraw’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis for removing her from office for not living in the district she was elected to represent in 2020. The judge ruled that McGraw did not prove that DeSantis violated her due process. The governor appointed Mildred Russell to the District 2 seat, and she and McGraw are competing for the position in next Tuesday’s primary. WCJB. The Gainesville High School math team recently finished eighth in the nation in the Mu Alpha Theta Convention, which was won for the 14th time by another county school, Buchholz. Gainesville finished sixth last year. Mainstreet Daily News.

Santa Rosa: A fire Sunday destroyed the historic Berryhill Elementary School in Milton. The school was built in 1926, and was converted into administrative offices in 2019. It’s been empty since then, though a developer bought the property in 2020 and was in the process of converting it into studip apartments for NAS Whiting Field personnel. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Monroe: District 1 school board member Bobby Highsmith decided not to run for re-election, leaving attorney Darren Horan and foster mother Gabrielle Brown to compete for the job. Both answered questions about having four high schools in Key West and the Lower Keys, school security, the potential effects of the new Parental Rights in Education law, and their ideas on recruiting and retaining teachers. Florida Keys Weekly.

Levy: Home-schooling is growing quickly in Florida, with 152,109 students in the 2021-2022 school year, but not all those students are learning only at home. Many join education co-ops and other programs, such as the Levy County’s Williston Christian Homeschool Group, which has 90 students, and the Kirby Homeschool Co-Op, which has 50 in elementary and middle schools. Such programs offer a variety of educational and extracurricular opportunities, and enrolled students can still participate in social activities such as proms and graduation ceremonies. Levy Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Attorneys for the state are asking a judge to throw out a challenge to the so-called Stop WOKE Act that restricts how racial topics can be taught in classtooms. The state contends that the University of Central Florida professor who brought the lawsuit doesn’t have the standing to sue and that his request for a preliminary injunction should be denied. News Service of Florida. Just days before the start of the fall semester, the University of North Florida in Jacksonville is putting students on a waiting list for on-campus housing. School officials said demand has been strong, in part because of the escalating costs of renting an apartment off-campus. WTLV. Jack Fernandez, a charter chemistry professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa and an author, died July 31. He was 92. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: The percentage of black students attending historically black colleges and universities is starting to increase after years of decline, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 1976, the percentage was 18 percent. That fell to 8 percent by 2014, but was up to 9 percent in 2020. NPR.

Opinions on schools: Proponents of the “whole language” reading instruction and the duplicitous rebrand of “balanced Literacy” have proved themselves entirely unconcerned with research or evidence. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff