46 districts resume classes, parental rights law challenge tossed, principal charged, and more

Returning to school: Forty-six of the 59 school districts that had been closed because of Hurricane Ian resumed classes Monday, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., said at a news conference. Students in six districts — Polk, Osceola, Orange, Manatee, Highlands and Hendry — return to classes today, while Volusia is back in session Wednesday and Collier on Thursday. Schools in Charlotte, DeSoto, Lee, Hardee and Sarasota counties are closed indefinitely. Diaz said the state’s goal is to get schools open as soon as possible, though he acknowledged those five districts will struggle to resume classes. “It is imperative that we get kids back in school to return to normalcy so that we can get back to teaching and learning and get the community back in their regular routine,” he said. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Florida Department of Education. The death toll from Hurricane Ian now stands at about 100, with 54 of them in Lee County. Miami Herald. Associated Press.

Judge rejects challenge to law: A federal judge has dismissed a challenge to the state’s new law that restricts instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor said LGBTQ-advocacy groups Equality Florida and Family Equality, students, parents and teachers did not show they had legal standing to bring the suit because violations of the Parental Rights in Education law would be enforced against districts, not teachers, and they also couldn’t show a link between  a “defendant’s action and the resulting harm.” He did rule that they could revise the suit and refile within 14 days. The plaintiffs contend the law violates First Amendment and due-process rights. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A Broward charter school principal has been charged with bringing a box with guns on campus this summer and leaving it in a room accessible to children, three Lee County schools are reported to have been heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian, students at a flooded elementary school in Orange County will attend classes temporarily at a nearby high school, Leon school Superintendent Rocky Hanna said “all options are on the table” to address the growing number of students bringing weapons to schools, Santa Rosa school board members will consider joining a class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturers, and Florida Gulf Coast University will make up 10 hurricane days on weekends. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A student at the Eugenia B. Thomas K-8 Center in Doral has been arrested and accused of having a weapon on campus. Officers said they found the weapon after receiving an anonymous tip through the “see something, say something” program. WFOR. WSVN.

Broward: A charter school principal has been charged with bringing a box of guns on campus this summer and leaving it in a room accessible to children. Geyler Castro, the principal at the Somerset Parkland Academy K-8 charter school in Parkland, has pleaded not guilty to charges of having a firearm on school property and culpable negligence. She has been moved into a role working on administrative projects for the Florida Charter School Alliance, which runs the charter school. Sun-Sentinel. Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz told a psychiatrist he was in middle school when he began thinking about committing a mass shooting, according to testimony Monday at his sentencing trial. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. WTVJ. WPLG. Summarizing what happened Monday in Cruz’s trial. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. A 5-year-old boy who was dropped off at the wrong school Monday was reunited with his parents five hours later. The boy speaks Creole, and wouldn’t provide his name or the names of his parents. WSVN. WTVJ. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Orange: Students from Riverdale Elementary School in Orlando, which was under a foot of water during Tropical Storm Ian, will start classes Thursday in space set up inside East River High School. “We recognize this is not an ideal situation but it is our only feasible option to keep educational continuity and get our students back in school as soon as possible,” said principal Bill Charlton. An open house will be held for Riverdale parents Wednesday night at East River High to answer their questions about “academic instruction, supervision, transportation and food service.” Other district schools are open today. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. A letter from the Florida Department of Education is accusing the school district of failing to “submit timely and accurate school safety and discipline data” to the department, as state law requires. The letter orders district officials to give “immediate attention” to manage student behavior and report discipline incidents. District officials had no comment. Orlando Sentinel.

Lee: Hurricane Ian heavily damaged Fort Myers Beach Elementary School, the Sanibel School and Hector A. Cafferatta Jr. Elementary School in Cape Coral, district officials announced Monday after an initial damage assessment. A professional assessment began Monday, according to Superintendent Christopher Bernier. “Those are the people who have the expertise to make determinations as to whether school buildings can be opened and re-inhabited by our young people,” he said. “We’re focused on ensuring the safety of our students but being sensitive to the community’s needs and determining what an effective reopening process would look like.” Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX.

Sarasota: School board members will hold a meeting this morning to discuss damages to schools caused by Hurricane Ian and grant Superintendent Brennan Asplen emergency authorization to “act on its behalf to do any and all things necessary … without the need of a formal school board action or quorum.” In reporting on the damage, Asplen said, “Besides power, water and internet and wifi, all those, we’ve had roof damage. Water intrusion damage has been one of the main problems. Ceilings that have fallen in inside the school, so the rugs are wet, everything’s wet.” He also said half of the district’s schools do not have power, two schools are still being used as shelters, and many teachers aren’t in position to work now because they’re dealing with damage at their homes. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. WFTS. WTSP.

Clay: County voters will be asked on the Nov. 8 ballot to renew a 1-mill property tax to “fund safety and security for district public school students and staff, and to provide operating expenses of the district, beginning July 1, 2023, and ending on June 30, 2027.” WJXT.

Leon: Superintendent Rocky Hanna said “all options are on the table” to confront the increasing number of guns being confiscated on school campuses. He said he and Jimmy Williams, the district’s chief of safety and security, have looked at other districts that are using dogs for detecting weapons. “We’ve discussed metal detectors, we’ve discussed no backpacks, we’ve discussed clear backpacks, we’ve discussed lots of things,” Hanna added. “It’s an issue that will continue to weigh heavily on my mind and the minds of our principals until we find a way to stress to our students the importance of not bringing weapons on our campuses.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Santa Rosa: After the release of a survey showing that 36 percent of the district’s high school students have tried vaping products, school board members are considering joining a class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturers. “I think we would it be wise to investigate it and then make a decision after we hear the presentation,” said board member Linda Sanborn. The next school board meeting is Oct. 13. Pensacola News Journal.

Nassau: School district officials are asking voters to approve an additional 1 mill in property taxes in the general election Nov. 8. If approved, the tax would raise an estimated $13.7 million a year that the district would use to recruit and retain teachers and enhance art, athletics, safety and security for students. WJXT.

Washington: A 37-year-old man has been arrested and is accused of stealing a golf cart from Chipley High School on Sept. 14 and chainsaws from Roulhac Middle School in Chpley a week later. Deputies said they found the stolen items in the possession of Marvin Dewayne Baker, who has been charged with felony theft, burglary of an unoccupied structure and dealing in stolen property. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: Florida Gulf Coast University has scheduled 10 hurricane makeup days on weekends. Fort Myers News-Press. Gulf Coast State College in Panama City has been chosen as a top “military friendly” school for the 2022-2023 school year. It’s the eighth year the school has received the designation. Panama City News Herald.

Around the nation: The U.S. Education Department has announced two grants programs that will make $300 million available for school-based and pediatric mental health-care. McClatchy.

Opinions on schools: The day is coming when our K-12 policies will respect the dignity of families to exercise autonomy in schooling. When that day comes, we will set the education default at families exercising their rights as free people. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff