DeSantis focuses on 2024 board races and union dues, “intellectual freedom” trial set, and more

DeSantis’ school board focus: Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed Monday to flip more school board seats in the 2024 election by replicating the successful formula used in elections last month. “The school board races in 2024 I think give us an opportunity to flip some more of these boards throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at the “Freedom Blueprint” event in Orlando. “And I know there’s definitely been individual school board members who have been very obnoxious over these last few years, with how they handled COVID, masking and all these different things,” DeSantis said without offering examples. “They’re free to do that, but they’re representing constituencies that agree with us on all these issues, not agree with them on those issues.” Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.. DeSantis also said Monday that he wants to tie “the biggest increase” in teacher pay to a legislative proposal that would end automatic payroll deductions for union dues. Instead, teachers would have to send monthly checks to maintain their membership. DeSantis called it “a more accurate reflection of who wants to be a part of this or not. … It’s more of a guarantee that the money is actually going to go to teachers and not be frittered away by interest groups who get involved in the school system.” Business Insider.

Trial set for Stop WOKE case: A case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2021 law that requires state college and university campuses to conduct surveys about “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” goes to trial Jan. 9 in Tallahassee. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker will preside over the case, which was brought by the United Faculty of Florida and other plaintiffs. The law also says that schools may not “shield” students and faculty members from “ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive,” allows lawsuits based on violations of people’s “expressive rights” at colleges and universities, and permits students to record class lectures that can be used as evidence in complaints or legal proceedings. The plaintiffs contend the law violates First Amendment rights. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A federal judge has rejected the Jacksonville City Council’s proposed map for school board and council districts and instead chosen one submitted by civil rights groups, a bill has been introduced in the Senate to make school board elections partisan, Polk school board members give Superintendent Frederick Heid a “highly effective” rating, Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna blames an increase in suspensions so far this school year on the pandemic, Charlotte school board members hire the Florida School Boards Association to help them find a superintendent to replace Steve Dionisio, and students and staff from Hector Cafferata Elementary School spent Monday on the same campus for the first time since Hurricane Ian struck Lee County in late September. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Attorneys for Rod Velez, who won a school board seat Nov. 8 but hasn’t been sworn in because of questions about his eligibility, filed a motion Monday to dismiss the civil case against him. Velez is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Broward County State Attorney’s Office after the opponent he beat, Marie Murray Martin, filed a complaint that he falsely swore he was eligible. Velez was convicted in 1995 of aggravated battery, a felony. His voting rights were restored through a 2018 constitutional amendment, but that amendment doesn’t address other rights such as holding public office and serving on a jury. Meanwhile the seat remains open, leaving the board with eight members. Sun-Sentinel.

Duval: A federal judge has rejected the Jacksonville City Council’s proposed redistricting map for school board and council districts, and instead chose a map submitted by civil rights groups for elections scheduled in the spring of 2023. U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard had already rejected one council map, saying at the time she would give the city a second chance to “draw a constitutionally appropriate map.” Monday, she ruled that the “city’s effort to do so was hamstrung by its failure to address Jacksonville’s thirty-year history of racial gerrymandering, the effects of which remain firmly embedded” in the “remedial” map the council approved last month. The NAACP, the Northside Coalition and Florida Rising contended that the city packed black voters into districts 7, 8, 9 and 10, limiting their influence in surrounding districts located north and west of the St. Johns River. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV. WJAX.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid has received a highly effective rating from school board members, who also voted to extend his contract through June 2027. Three school board members gave Heid a perfect score of 24 on their evaluations, one gave him a 23.67, and two others scored him slightly higher than 21. All are highly effective ratings. Only board member Kay Fields rated him just effective, with a score of 17.75. Heid’s overall score was 22.23 out of 24. Lakeland Now.

Pinellas: Superintendent Kevin Hendrick was recently named one of 24 U.S. “superintendents to watch” by the National School Public Relations Association. The 24 were selected for their innovative use of technology to engage and inform the school community and to expand two-way communication and outreach efforts. St. Pete Catalyst. Pinellas County School District. Sail Future Academy, a nonprofit private school in St. Petersburg that teaches life skills to disadvantaged teens, is one of eight U.S. schools to be awarded $500,000 from the Yass Foundation for Education for offering education that is sustainable, transformational, outstanding and permissionless. St. Pete Catalyst.

Lee: For the first time since Hurricane Ian made landfall Sept. 28, the students and staff at Hector Cafferata Elementary School were on the same campus together on Monday. Classes were held in 46 portable classrooms on the property of Cape Coral Technical College, which is adjacent to Cafferata and is expected to be the students’ home for two years while the district decides what to do about the heavily damaged school. “We feel really happy because we get to start learning again and get together again,” said student Anniston Tomanen. WINK. WFTX.

Leon: Eighteen students were expelled from county schools this fall, according to data provided by the district. Rickards High School had the most with 7, while Leon High had 3 and Godby High had 2. Godby had the most suspensions with 203, while Nims Middle had 190 and Leon High 173. Forty-four percent of the students disciplined were black and 42 percent white. Superintendent Rocky Hanna blamed the increase in suspensions on the pandemic. “We are still seeing some inappropriate behaviors and aggressive behaviors from some of our students,” he said. “I think that it was caused by a lot of the isolation that they’ve had. They weren’t socially interacting, and some of them are struggling with that social interaction again.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Charlotte: School board members agreed Monday to spend $30,000 to hire the Florida School Boards Association to help them search for a new superintendent. Steve Dionisio, who has led the district for the past eight years, announced in November that he was retiring, though he agreed to stay on until a replacement is found. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: Five researchers at Florida Polytechnic University have been named to the top 2 percent of scientists globally on an annual list compiled by Stanford University: Ajeet Kaushik, assistant professor of environmental engineering; Muhammad Rashid, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Md Selim Habib, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Hisham Mahmood, assistant professor of cybersecurity and electrical engineering; and Patrick Zhang, director of research, mining and beneficiation. Lakeland Ledger. The College of Central Florida has been awarded a $6.7 million grant from the Florida Department of Education, matching a grant pledged by the Citrus County Hospital Board. The money will be used to expand the college’s health care and nursing programs at its Citrus County campus. Citrus County Chronicle.

In the Legislature: State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, has filed a proposal for the legislative session that begins March 6 to make school board elections partisan. S.J.R. 94 is identical to one filed earlier this month by Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers. If it’s approved by the Legislature, it will go before voters in 2024, where 60 percent would have to vote for it to take effect. News Service of Florida.

Around the nation: Access to professional instruction for struggling readers is much greater for white students than for minority students, according to an analysis of previously unreleased data. Schools with a majority white enrollment have an average of 3.5 reading specialists, compared to 2 specialists at schools with 15-50 percent white enrollment and 1 at schools with fewer than 15 percent white students. The Hechinger Report.

Opinions on schools: Six weeks after the election, much of south Broward has no voice on the school board. The people chose Rod Velez of Hollywood, but his eligibility to serve remains in dispute with a lawsuit pending in the Fort Lauderdale courthouse and an investigation in Tallahassee. If only the leaky roof at Northeast High School got so much attention. Steve Bousquet, Sun-Sentinel. Cozying up on the couch to watch Abbott Elementary has been the professional development I did not know I needed. The teachers at the fictional, but oh-so-real Abbott Elementary School always give me a reason to reflect on my own strengths and pitfalls as an educator. Patrick Harris II, Education Week.

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BY NextSteps staff