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A ‘more normal’ first day of school, teacher quits over photo removals, bad tax translation and more

Back to school: Most of the state’s school districts opened their doors to students Wednesday. When describing how it went, the word normal was used a lot. As in, not like the last two years during the pandemic. “Things are just really looking like — I hate to use the phrase ‘back to normal,’ but they’re really looking good for us,” said Leon County School District spokesman Chris Petley. Russell Bruhn, who represents the Brevard district, said, “Compared to last year, there’s a little bit more ease, it feels. So I think this year, it feels more normal so far.” Chris Bosse, principal of Central Ridge Elementary School in Citrus County, said, “We’re off to a great start. It feels good to return to what we know is normal, a normal school year, so we’re excited about that.” Here are reports on the first day from districts around the state. Florida Phoenix. Tampa Bay area. Hillsborough. Palm Beach. Polk. Pinellas. Martin. St. Lucie. Indian River. Collier. Citrus. Manatee. Monroe. St. Johns. Clay. Alachua. Brevard. LeeSarasota. Marion. LeonFlagler. Okaloosa. Lake. Charlotte. Escambia, Santa Rosa. Bay. Osceola. Seminole.

Around the state: An Escambia teacher quit his job after school officials took down photos of prominent black historical figures he had placed in his classroom to inspire his students, the Spanish translation for Broward’s special school tax on the Aug. 23 ballot has several errors that could confuse voters about the intent of the measure, the Polk County School District is adopting a policy of allowing parents to opt-out of any books they don’t want their children to read, Clay County’s school board approves a tentative budget of $593.5 million, 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: District 2 school board incumbent Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall is being challenged for the seat she’s held since 2010 by La-Shanda West, a teacher at Cutler Bay Senior High. Bendross-Mindingall, 79, pointed to increased parental involvement and the addition of several K-8 centers in the district as achievements during her tenure. West, 50, said board accountability in updating parents and measuring the effectiveness of programs needs to be improved. Miami Herald.

Broward: The Spanish version of the proposed school board tax on the ballot Aug. 23 has an inaccurate translation that some experts say could be confusing to voters and possibly affect the outcome. Voters are being asked to double the special school tax from $50 per $100,000 in taxable property value to $100 per $100,000. But the Spanish version of the ballot question mistakenly translates 1 mill into 1 million, indicates some of the money would go for an administrative person who oversees resources instead of the intended school resource officers, and also said money would be used for “essential expenditures” instead of “essential instruction.” School officials blamed the supervisor of elections office for the bad translation, but the elections office said the school district signed off on it before it was printed. About 64,000 ballots have already been cast. Sun-Sentinel.

Orange: Renewal of a 1-mill property tax for schools is on the primary ballot Aug. 23. The tax was first approved by voters in 2010, and last year it generated $161 million that was used for staffing, career and college readiness programs, teachers, counselors and social workers, arts programs, athletics, field trips and after-school tutoring and more. If it isn’t approved, district officials said the budget will have to be cut by $177 million. WKMG. Orlando’s Access Charter School for children with cognitive and social disorders is being sued by a family who said their autistic son was repeatedly abused and restrained at the school in 2021. Family members want a jury trial, compensation for the boy’s medical and psychological treatment, and for the emotional and physical toll of the alleged abuse. Orlando Sentinel. WESH.

Palm Beach: Susan Whelchel, a former school board member and member of the board of the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University who was also the mayor of Boca Raton from 2008-2014, has died at the of 77 of complications from Alzheimer’s. Sun-Sentinel.

Duval: District 2 school board candidate April Carney is denying a report that she was at the U.S. Capitol demonstrations-turned-riot on Jan. 6, 2021. The Duval Democratic Party pointed to Facebook posts supposedly made by Carney that would seem to indicate she was there. Carney claims the posts are fake, and her spokesman Shaun Frost suggested legal action may be pending. Carney is running against incumbent Elizabeth Andersen. Florida Politics.

Polk: Parental opt-out is now the policy of the school district when it comes to all library books, Superintendent Frederick Heid said this week. Under the system, parents can choose the books they don’t want their children to see. The policy was initiated after parents targeted 16 books that they wanted removed from libraries because they deemed the books as pornographic or age inappropriate. “The system we’ve implemented for this year allows parents to opt out of any books they choose,” said district spokesman Kyle Kennedy. “The 16 books that were challenged last (school) year are highlighted in the new system, making it easy for families to opt out if they wish.” Lakeland Now.

Manatee: Incumbent District 4 school board member Chad Choate is being challenged by Sean Conley in the Aug. 23 primary. Choate was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in August 2021 to complete the term of Scott Hopes, who resigned to be the county administrator. He’s a former teacher and current financial advisor who said he wants to protect parental rights, and enhance school safety and vocational and technical opportunities for students. Conley is a substitute teacher and is retired from the Navy. He also wants to improve school security, and is an advocate for proper compensation for teachers and other employees while following fiscally sound poilicies. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: A special education teacher at O.J. Semmes Elementary School resigned this week after a school district employee removed photos of black historical figures from his classroom walls. Michael James, who is white, said he put up photos of Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Colin Powell and George Washington Carver because most of his students are black, and he wanted to give them inspirational leaders to emulate. He said he was “floored” that they were removed. A district spokesperson said an investigation has begun into the removal of the photos, and “if these allegations are deemed factual, we will certainly take corrective action, as it is our aim that all of our teachers feel valued and supported.” Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Clay: School board members recently approved a tentative budget of $593.5 million, which includes a $385 million general fund, $119 million for capital projects, $81 million in special revenue, and $7 million for debt service. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled Sept. 8. Clay Today.

Okaloosa: District 1 school board incumbent Lamar White is being challenged by Jerry Buckman in the primary Aug. 23. White, a former teacher, principal and professor, and Buckman, a substitute teacher and retired Air Force veteran, answered questions about the need for new schools, whether greater transparency is needed from the board, and whether changes made during the district’s 2017 abuse allegations are enough. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Hernando: Three candidates are running to unseat District 5 school board member Susan Duval in the Aug. 23 primary. Duval, a longtime teacher and administrator in the district, touts her experience of helping guide the district through the pandemic. Lara Dedmon, who owns a speech therapy company, said she’s worried about critical race theory instruction and sex education for young children. She wants to focus on the basics of “reading, writing, arithmetic, science, history, government and economics.” Pam Everett wants the district to pay more attention to bullying and be more fiscally responsible, to have students spend less time on computers and to improve job training for trades. Monty Floyd is working toward a graduate degree in crisis counseling and home-schools his three children. If elected, he said he wants to “fix our budget, restore accountability, defend parental rights and take a sledgehammer to CRT and sexualized grooming in all of its forms.” Suncoast News.

Citrus: School board members have approved spending $360,000 for tutors to help K-3 students with their reading. They money is coming from a state grant. “We have chosen a high-dosage tutoring program because then we can have 40 certified teachers specialized in reading instruction provide tutoring to our most at-risk students who are in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade,” said Trish Kahler, director of elementary education. Citrus County Chronicle.

Columbia: Three teenagers were arrested Tuesday and accused of having a gun on the campus of Columbia High School in Lake City. The three, 18, 17 and 16, are also accused of breaking into several vehicles. The 18-year-old was charged with burglary, larceny and petty theft. The younger boys were taken to a Gainesville juvenile detention facility. WCJB.

Levy: Additional charges have been filed against Bronson Middle and High School JV basketball coach Billy McCall after more people have accused him of sexual impropriety. Deputies said McCall has been charged with lewd and lascivious molestation for crimes that happened in Levy County. He was arrested in July and accused of sexually assaulting two teenagers in Alachua County. WGFL.

Colleges and universities: Tallahassee Community College has received a $1.6 million state grant to buy additional equipment so the school can double the enrollment in its dental health-care and surgical technology programs from 30 to 60 students. WTXL. Eight university professors talk about the impact new state laws are having on academia. Miami Herald.

Education podcasts: Brian Ray, a co-founder and president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a national nonprofit that conducts and collects research about home-based education, talks with Step Up For Students senior writer Lisa Buie about the diversity among home-schooled students, the need for more research on home education, and more. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: There is no teacher shortage. TThere’s a teacher recruitment and retention problem. There’s a “making the job attractive enough to draw in the people we want” problem. There is a problem that requires a careful, thoughtful diagnosis. And it won’t be solved by listening to policy and political leaders who see the current situation as an opportunity to be exploited rather than a problem to be solved. Peter Greene, Forbes. Let’s start off the school year in the spirit of learning and discovery. This is the closest to normal it’s been in a long time. Make it a special year. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff