Appeals court backs district transgender bathroom ban, DOE’s chancellor heads to Arkansas, and more

Transgender bathroom ban backed: The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 7-4 last week that a St. Johns County School Board policy prohibiting a transgender male student from using boys bathrooms at Nease High School does not violate the student’s constitutional rights. Drew Adams filed the lawsuit in 2017 after being told he had to use a gender-neutral, single-stall bathroom or girls bathrooms at Nease. Writing for the majority, Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote that the policy “does not depend in any way on how students act or identify. The bathroom policy separates bathrooms based on biological sex, which is not a stereotype.” In 2018, a district judge ruled in Adams’ favor, a decision that was upheld in 2020 by a three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit. But the full appeals court decided to take up the case, leading to last week’s ruling. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Bloomberg Law. Reuters. U.S. News & World Report.

Oliva off to Arkansas: Incoming Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is nominating Florida K-12 senior chancellor Jacob Oliva to become that state’s new education secretary. “He is a leader who has proven himself in the fight to empower parents and implement bold education reforms under Governor @RonDeSantisFL and we are ready to transform Arkansas education,” Sanders said in making the announcement. Oliva is a former superintendent in Flagler County who began working at the Florida Department of Education in 2017 and now leads the Division of Public Schools. Earlier in 2022 he was a finalist for the superintendent’s position in Miami-Dade County. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Arkansas Times.

Around the state: A new state law that puts restrictions on public officials from working as lobbyists has prompted the Miami-Dade school board vice chair to resign, Broward’s school board is asking to join the countywide Office of the Inspector General to help find corruption and waste in the district, a report shows that 22 Florida school districts spent an average of $47,284 each this past school year for cybersecurity insurance, 47 books have been sent back to publishers after a 10-month review by Duval school officials, and five Volusia teachers, five from Escambia and 11 from Flagler have been named as finalists for those school districts’ teacher of the year awards. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: A new state law that went into effect Sunday has prompted the resignation of Miami-Dade County School Board vice chair Lubby Navarro. The law prohibits public officials from working as lobbyists during their term in office and for six years after they leave office. Navarro, who had been on the board since 2015, is a lobbyist for the South Broward Hospital District. Navarro’s replacement will be appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. WPLG. Culture wars invaded south Florida classrooms in 2022. WTVJ.

Broward: School board members are asking the county commission if they can join the countywide Office of the Inspector General to help find corruption and waste in the district. That office investigates allegations of wrongdoing in the county government and 31 municipalities. The request requires voters to approve a change in the county charter, which couldn’t get on a ballot before November 2024. Until then, the board is considering hiring its own inspector general or an outside firm. Sun-Sentinel. A high school teacher has been fired for having inappropriate discussions with students, including showing them a phallic-shaped gum wrapper, and for multiple other allegations during the 2021-2022 school year. Joanna Herring, 56, was a language arts teacher at McArthur High in Hollywood until she was fired in December. She’s appealing the decision to the Division of Administrative Hearings. Sun-Sentinel. Free online tutoring help is readily available for students in south Florida. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: A shortage of teachers continues to cause problems for several west-central Florida school districts. Hillsborough has 534 unfilled positions, Polk about 200 and Pinellas more than 130. “There’s way more teacher vacancies than we’ve ever seen before,” said Cheryl Courier of Kelly Education, which helps provide substitute teachers for the districts. Statewide, according to the Florida Education Association, there are more than 10,000 vacancies for teachers and support staff. WFTS. Construction crews were busy over the winter break at several schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Tampa Bay Times. An impromptu dance-off between 51-year-old teacher Yolanda Turner and students during an exam break at a middle school academy at Sumner High School in Hillsborough County has gone viral, with millions of views on TikTok. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: The school district’s rezoning plan to fill the new Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School in Lake Worth Beach next fall and ease overcrowding at other schools is under fire from parents throughout the county. Up to 2,000 students from nine schools would be affected by the new school boundaries. Some students would be moved from their current school to another school, but not Garcia High, as the district tries to balance out enrollment. Another community meeting is scheduled Jan. 12, where the boundary committee will hear more from residents and recommend one of the six rezoning options to Superintendent Michael Burke for a decision that would then go to the school board. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A 10-month review of almost 200 school district books has resulted in 47 being sent back to distributors and 26 remaining in storage until the district receives further guidance from the state. Among the rejected books are one about Martin Luther King Jr. intended for 4th-graders, a biography of Rosa Parks for 2nd-graders, a Berenstain Bears book about God for 1st-graders, and several that included LGBTQ+ characters and families. The rest were judged to have met “statutory guidelines and are useful toward our reading goals” and were distributed to classrooms, according to district officials. Jacksonville Today.

Polk: A former physics teacher who was fired in 2017 and sued the district for allegedly violating his civil rights will be paid $300,000 in a settlement with the school board, but will not get his job back. Richard Arzillo, 41, abandoned his job by not showing up for work for three days and not calling his immediate supervisor, according to district officials. That’s considered a resignation under the teacher contract. But early last year, Arzillo discovered a memo from the district’s attorney to the human resources director that said the termination for abandonment had “shortcomings” that could be “fatal” to the district’s case. Lakeland Ledger. School board members have approved a 30-day delay in purchasing 34,000 books for two schools that open in the fall in order to give a conservative group more time to review them for content. The delay means the books won’t be ordered before February because state law gives groups 30 days to challenge books after they’ve been approved by school boards. Board members rejected a suggestion from Superintendent Frederick Heid to go ahead with the order now, and pull ordered books later if they’re deemed objectionable. Lakeland Ledger. District officials have hired a tutoring company to provide online help for students who fell behind during the pandemic. Superintendent Heid said the $4.75 million cost will be covered by federal coronavirus relief aid, and could help 40,000 students. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A Hollins High School resource officer has been fired by the sheriff’s office after being found passed out behind the wheel of his marked cruiser in Brandon on Dec. 18. Christopher Greene, 33, was off-duty at the time. He told Hillsborough deputies that he had diabetes and needed to go to the hospital, then left before he was discharged or tested for impairment. Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: Conservative activists are already planning how to gain greater influence in the school district through the 2024 election. Two supporters of Gov. DeSantis’ education agenda have announced their candidacies for the school board and the superintendent’s position. Firefighter Shawn Hayston, who has two sons in the district, has filed paperwork of his intention to run for the District 4 seat on the school board currently held by Alison Crumbley. And Michelle Mandarin, whose daughter is a student in the district, plans to run for the Republican nomination for the superintendent’s seat that is being vacated by Kurt Browning. “We plan to have a bigger footprint this election cycle,” said Cathy Julian, an organizer with a conservative coalition called Pasco Watch. “We want to get an earlier start this time around.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Sheriff Wayne Ivey’s announcement in late November that it was a “brand new day” for student discipline in the school district was just the latest in his attempts to influence public education policy. He’s also weighed in on masking in schools and endorsed school board candidates. “Perhaps we should review our contract with the sheriff’s office,” said school board member Jennifer Jenkins at a December board meeting to address the discipline issue. “Because as far as I remember, we don’t work for him.” Florida Today.

Volusia, Flagler: Five finalists have been named for the Volusia school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Dodi Gaines, a Cambridge AICE facilitator at Seabreeze High School; Tamika Harvard, a math coach at Westside Elementary; Valerie Marcus, a 5th-grade teacher at DeBary Elementary; Vonda Morris, a probability and statistics/AP statistics teacher at Spruce Creek High; and Cassandra Stewart, a media specialist at R.J. Longstreet Elementary. The winner will be announced Jan. 20. Flagler schools have also chosen 11 teacher of the year finalists, as well as nine candidates for the rookie teacher of the year award, 11 candidates for school employee of the year, and six finalists for the top district employee. Winners will be named Jan. 18. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The past year was marked by the firing of a superintendent and the hiring of another in Volusia County, and heated school board races in both Volusia and Flagler. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Escambia: Five finalists have been selected for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Melanie Johnson of Kingsfield Elementary School, Anna Harageones of A.K.Suter Elementary, Gary Horne of Washington High, Angela McFarland of West Florida High, and Allison Roberts of the Success Academy. The winner will be announced this month.

Alachua: It was a year of upheaval for the school district, with superintendent Carlee Simon being fired in March after just a few months on the job, voters electing an all-woment school board in August, and investigations launched into a district land purchase and the operation of a summer camp. The University of Florida also hired a new president, Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska. Gainesville Sun.

Colleges and universities: Florida State University is moving ahead with a plan to develop the Arena District with a hotel and residence halls. The project would connect the main campus to the Tucker Center, which is a multipurpose arena that is home to the school’s basketball teams, concerts and other events. School officials said $1 billion will be spent on campus construction in the next three years. Tallahassee Democrat. A state appeals court has ruled that a wrongful death lawsuit against Stetson University may proceed. The decision overturns a 2021 ruling by a Volusia circuit judge that Stetson was protected against the suit by liability releases signed by football player Nick Blakely. Blakely collapsed after a practice in 2017 and later died at a hospital. News Service of Florida.

New laws take effect: Among the new state laws that went into effect Sunday is one that includes a requirement of training for school librarians, media specialists and others who select school library materials. The intent of the program is provide access to “age-appropriate materials and library resources.” News Service of Florida.

Education lawsuits: Professors and other plaintiffs challenging the state policy restricting how race-related concepts can be taught in universities are urging the 11th District Court of Appeals to reject the state’s request to allow the rules to go into effect while the case moves through the courts. News Service of Florida. Professors suing the University of Florida over a policy that gave the school control over their testinony in lawsuits are now asking a court to dismiss the suit because the school revised the policy. The revision addressed their concerns, the professors told the court. News Service of Florida. Among the key lawsuits involving education in Florida that are expected to be decided this year are ones that restrict instruction on race, sexual orientation and gender identity issues. News Service of Florida.

Costs of cybersecurity: Insurance against cybersecurity attacks cost 22 of 38 Florida school districts surveyed an average of $47,284 this past school year, according to a report from the state’s auditor general. Twelve of those districts bought specific ransomware insurance at an average cost of $17,751. “That’s a big allocation of budgets that are not going to students — that are having to go toward, basically, a catastrophic failure in cyber security, and/or in due diligence, or in having the best practices in place, which, in a lot of cases can be prevented up-front,” said Matt Aubin, a cyber intelligence specialist at Southern Recon Agency. WTSP.

Around the nation: Thirty-nine people were killed and 101 injured in school shootings in 2022, according to information compiled by the nonprofit news organization Education Week. There were 51 shootings last year, up from 35 in 2021 and the most since the organization began keeping records in 2018. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: When we consider what is happening today to people of color, we cannot afford to let what is being proposed to be taught in our Florida’s public schools for the future. We must work diligently to repel this effort to turn back the hands of time beginning with confronting the highest levers of power of state government. Randolph Bracy Jr., Orlando Sentinel. Fresh off his blowout re-election victory, Gov. DeSantis needs a new fight against an evil enemy, one he can use to fire up his base. The obvious target is the Broward County School Board. Even better: Throw in a backup bogeyman, the Broward Teachers Union. Steve Bousquet, Sun-Sentinel. Florida legislators should embrace the micro-education movement. William Mattox, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff