‘Safe space’ stickers ban in Pasco, computers for all in Polk, absenteeism, election lesson, and more

Around the state: Pasco is the latest state school district to ban the use of rainbow-decorated “safe stickers” in schools in order to comply with the new Parental Rights in Education law, all 116,000 Polk County students will get an electronic device thanks to a $28 million federal grant, Polk and Lee school officials say student absenteeism is soaring, four new schools are being built in Duval County with funds from the extra half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2020, a 10-day enrollment count shows Marion County schools topping 44,000 for the first time, and Manatee school officials are investigating a homework assignment that referred to claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.” Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A 13-year-old student was arrested Thursday and charged with making a false threat against Keys Gate Charter School in Homestead. The school and two other charter schools were placed on lockdown for about three hours as officers investigated. WTVJ. WFOR. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN.

Broward: An 8th-grade teacher of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz testified Thursday that she was so troubled by Cruz’s schoolwork that she kept copies in case she ever needed them. John Vesey, the principal at the same school, Westglades Middle, testified that Cruz should not have been allowed to return to a mainstream school, but he didn’t convey that to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School administrators. “I feel very guilty about it,” he said. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. WTVJ. Summarizing what happened Thursday at the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. The principal of a charter school who had two guns and ammunition in a box that was carried into her school three months ago has been reassigned to an undisclosed administrative role. Authorities haven’t said if criminal charges will be filed against Geyler Castro, who was the principal at Somerset Parkland Academy. Parkland Talk.

Central Florida: Endorsements from the conservative group Moms for Liberty and Gov. Ron DeSantis helped school board candidates around the state in the primary election Aug. 23, but not so much in central Florida. Only one Moms for Liberty candidate advanced to the Nov. 8 runoff, in Orange County. Candidates and campaign observers said central Florida voters were focused on quality public schools much more so than the cultural issues DeSantis stressed. Orlando Sentinel.

Duval: With funding from the extra half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2020, district officials are moving forward on the construction of four new schools. Rutledge Pearson Elementary in northwest Jacksonville has been demolished, and the new school is projected to open in the fall of 2023. Construction on Chaffee Trail Middle School and Highlands Elementary is underway and both are expected to be finished by the fall of 2024. And construcvtion is scheduled to begin next summer on a new Ribault High School, with completion anticipated by August 2025. WJXT. WTLV.

Polk: A $28 million federal grant will be used to provide all 116,000 district students with iPads or laptops, Superintendent Frederick Heid announced Thursday. Students will be able to use them at school and at home, and keep them over the summer. All students should have their device by the middle of October. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland Now. WTVT. WTSP. WFTS. Heid also said this week that he wants to hire seven “community outreach facilitators” to deal with truant students. About half of the district’s students missed 10 or more days of school during the 2021-2022 school year, he said, and district social workers and guidance counselors are already overwhelmed with work. Heid said the new positions will “be the boots on the ground doing the home visits and following up. But school-based staff are still going to have to track and monitor to report back.” Lakeland Now.

Pasco: Superintendent Kurt Browning has ordered school employees to remove all “safe space” stickers from schools to comply with the state’s Parental Rights in Education Law. The stickers are typically adorned with rainbow colors and indicate support for LGBTQ students. Other districts have also called for the removal of the stickers, in part because parents can now sue if they believe districts are breaking the law governing interaction with gay students. “Due to the litigious encouragement in the statutes, districts are being as proactive as they can be to avoid any liability,” said Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. “They don’t want to falsely advertise expectations … that they may not be able to follow through on.” Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. Charges are pending against a River Ridge Middle School student who is accused of calling in a bomb threat to the school. Deputies said the call was rtraced back to the student, who “admitted to making the call as a joke.” WTSP. WFLA.

Lee: An average of about 8,000 students have missed school every day with unexcused absences so far this school year, according to district officials, nearly double the total recorded before the start of the pandemic. The numbers concern school officials, who point out that missing even two days a month means a student loses 120 hours of instructional time in a school year. WBBH. WFTX.

Brevard: Like Palm Beach, Volusia and some other districts, Brevard is requiring parents to opt-in to allow schools to provide even minimal health care such as bandages, ice packs, lice checks, checking temperatures and more. The form is being used to comply with the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law, which says that parents “should have the sole right to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their minor child.” Students needing emergency care will get it even if parents don’t fill out a form. Florida Today.

Osceola: A teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in St. Cloud has been removed from the classroom after school officials saw a video shot by a parent that appears to show the educator striking a student in the head. The teacher, who was not named because there have been no charges, will be out of the classroom while the district investigates. WOFL.

Volusia: School board chair Ruben Colon said the district expects a “very active” year of requests to remove books from school libraries. Each school has a media advisory committee made up of at least five people, including staff and at least one parent, and sometimes a student. It meets four times a year to review purchase requests and any time a challenge is made to materials. Parents also have the option to opt-out by deciding whether to grant their children unlimited access to library materials, limited access or no access. “Parents get more upset about a parent dictating to what their child can’t read than objecting to what’s on the shelf,” said board member Carl Persis. “So as long as we have this open process, which we obviously have, and parents have a right to weigh in on the selections and they have a right to object to something they don’t want their child to read, we seem to cater to all of them.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A substitute teacher at Nolan Middle School near Bradenton gave 6th-graders a homework lesson that referred to claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.” An example of bias was presented this way: “The media is often biased and will add words that persuade you to think one way over another. Read these two statements made by reporters after the 2020 election. President Trump made claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and President Trump made false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The first sentence is just giving you information, while the second sentence leads you to believe he is wrong before you have all of the facts.” District spokesman Mike Barber said the assignment “does not meet” district expectations, and is being investigated. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

Collier: Immokalee High School officially dedicated its new Innovation Center building on Thursday. It has 26 classrooms for up to 500 students, and includes technology such as smart boards for the school’s engineering, aviation, and technology classes. WFTX.

St. Johns: District 1 school board incumbent Beverly Slough faces Racheal Hand in the Nov. 8 runoff election. Both call themselves conservatives, but they diverge on whether district students are being indoctrinated. Hand said they can be, through instructional materials teacher introduce outside the curriculum such as discussions about gender identity. Slough said she’s also against indoctrination, but disputes it’s happening in the district. WJXT.

Sarasota: Superintendent Brennan Asplen, at a Rotary Club luncheon on Wednesday, talked about the district’s decision to freeze purchases and donations of school library books, the ongoing effort to hire three media specialists, changes in the way the district deals with sexual orientation and gender issues, and how the district maintained its A grade from the state. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. An intersection in Osprey where a 13-year-old Pine View School student was struck by a hit-and-run driver is being evaluated by county workers, and safety improvements could begin as soon as next week that will include new sidewalks. The girl was in the crosswalk after school when she was hit. She died 13 days later. WWSB.

Marion: Enrollment in schools has topped 44,000 for the first time, according to a 10-day count reported by district officials. As of Aug. 23, enrollment was 44,025, which is 631 more than expected and 1,656 over the number of students reported in the 10-day count a year ago. A 40-day count taken in early October is used by the state to determine funding for the first half of the school year. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: A new outdoor classroom is now available for use at Bond Elementary School in Tallahassee. It includes a power supply, landscaping, picnic tables, a whiteboard, a portable podium and storage, and will be used by different classes. The project was made possible with a $20,000 donation from the Sunrise Rotary Club. WTXL. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: Settlements have been reached with three families who sued the school board after their developmentally disabled children were abused in schools between March 2018 and October 2019. Terms were not disclosed. One of the teachers involved, Marlynn Stillions, is serving a seven-year prison term for abusing children at Kenwood Elementary School. The settlements leave just one case unresolved. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: Some classrooms at Arnold High School in Panama City Beach have been without air condirioning since the school year started, and little relief is in sight. The AC unit is 22 years old, has faltering parts that are hard to find, and is not scheduled to be replaced until the 2023-2024 school year. WMBB.

Sumter: Students at the Villages Charter School are among the first in the state to take the new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking exams. The exams replaced the Florida Standards Assessments with testing three times a year to periodically measure student progress. “It provides data and allows us to tailor education to make our students successful,” said Rob Grant, Villages High School principal. Villages Daily Sun.

DeSoto: A student has been arrested after allegedly making a shooting threat against DeSoto High School on the social media platform Snapchat. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Washington: Soaring costs and supply-chain issues are forcing a re-evaluation of a school district project to build voluntary pre-K buildings in Chipley and Vernon. The original budget called for spending about $2 million for each building. But the latest cost estimates are $5 million for one building. Superintendent Joe Taylor said he would consult with the school board next week to consider their options. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: University of South Florida officials released their plans Thursday for an on-campus football stadium. The plan has few specific details about the stadium, beyond its location on the east side of the Tampa campus in an area known as Sycamore Fields and its projected opening in 2026. Long-range plans include adding and upgrading more sports facilities, starting a women’s lacrosse team, establishing a physical therapy presence, increasing mental health resources for student-athletes and expanding recruiting budgets. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: The latest NAEP results show that disadvantaged students suffered the most during the COVID-19 shutdown. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. While there are tax credits, deductions and exemptions that should get additional scrutiny as to whether they are unfair or fail to provide public benefits, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is not one of them. Patrick R. Gibbons, reimaginED. What’s most offensive about the student loan forgiveness proposal isn’t the bad policy. It’s the partisan cynicism married to glib sanctimony that this is a morally heroic policy. Jonah Goldberg, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff