Bathroom and book policies, diversity training, donations yanked, and more

Around the state: Lee County students are now being required to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex at birth, Valencia College in Orlando is canceling eight optional faculty development courses on diversity-related topics in order to comply with state law, social studies textbooks are being reviewed for confirmity to state law, Duval district officials are telling teachers to remove or cover their classroom libraries, a Brevard foundation is withdrawing its annual $200,000 donations to the school district over its recent moves against inclusivity programs, a Leon County School Board member said teachers and administrators who intentionally break state law will not be backed by the district, and six more school districts report lower high school graduation rates in 2022 than they did a year earlier. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A former Miami Palmetto Senior High School English teacher was convicted Friday of having a sexual relationship with a former student. The victim, now 24, testified that the relationship with Jason Meyers, now 47, began in 2015. He was arrested in 2016. Meyers faces up to 14 years in prison. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Duval: District officials have issued a training video encouraging teachers to remove or cover their classroom libraries so they can’t be found in violation of state law. “Books not on the district-approved list or not approved by certificated media specialists need to be covered or stored and paused for student use,” chief academic officer Paula Renfro said in the video. She also said the district wants to hire more employees to review books. WJCT.

Lee: District students will have to use bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their biological sex, according to a new policy approved last week by the school board. Students who violate the policy will be subject to discipline, but the policy does not say specify the discipline. Students and their parents can request single stalls and private restrooms, according to the policy. “We’re just following the law. I mean, that’s what we were sworn to do,” said board chair Armor Persons. “We make policies all the time, but they have to stay within the guardrails of the state laws.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: A local foundation that has donated $200,000 a year since 2017 to the district for a summer theater workshop and teacher grants said last week that it is cutting ties with the district. Carla Smith, administrator for the Phoenix Foundation, said that recent actions by the school board and its chair, Matt Susin, don’t align with the organization’s values of inclusivity. “We stress inclusivity over injustice, reason over racism and support LGBTQ+ equality,” Smith said. “It is beyond disappointing to watch this elected group continually attack not only the LGBTQ+ community but other marginalized groups as well.” Florida Today. The district’s new committee on student discipline met Friday for the first time, and presented a plan to enforce the cell phone policy. The next meeting is Feb. 8. WKMG. WFTV. Progressive activists gathered Saturday in Melbourne to protest against book bans by district schools. Florida Today.

Manatee: School board members discussed the district’s process for reviewing classroom and library books at a meeting Friday. Thirty books flagged by parents are awaiting a review. At the next meeting Feb. 14, school board members are expected to decide whether to approve those books, and to adopt a chain of command process to review books. WFTS. WWSB.

Treasure Coast: All three school districts reported declines in high school graduation rates in 2022, but all still were higher than the state average of 87.3 percent. Indian River’s rates dipped from 95 percent in 2021 to 94.6 in 2022. In St. Lucie, the rate declined from 94.5 to 90.8 percent, and Martin’s fell from 94.1 to 90.7 percent. TCPalm.

Northwest Florida: High school graduation rates in three of the four school districts dropped in 2022, according to state figures. Escambia’s fell from 87 percent in 2021 to 78.4 percent in 2022. Santa Rosa’s went from 90.3 to 89.9 percent, and Okaloosa’s declined from 92.2 to 87.5 percent. Walton’s graduation rate jumped from 91.4 to 96.7 percent. WUWF.

Leon: Teachers and administrators who are accused of violating the state’s laws on what can be taught, discussed and used in classrooms will not be defended by the school board, says board member Alva Smith (formerly Striplin). She was responding to an e-mail Superintendent Rocky Hanna sent to teachers urging them to “you be you” and pledging moral support and legal backing if they’re accused of breaking the law. Smith said she wanted to clear up “questions about the district’s liability policy,” and added, “Please be advised contrary to recent communication that if there is an intentional violation of statutes and information is taught which is prohibited by law, you will not be covered under our insurance policy, nor will our attorneys represent anyone in our district who has intentionally broken the law.” WFSU.

Citrus: The construction academy at Citrus High School has been renewed for a second year by the school board. The school board will provide the $308,000 needed for the program. Among the planned improvements is an outdoor pole barn for classes to work under. Citrus County Chronicle.

Nassau: Teachers and school board members have approved the contract agreement recently reached between the school district and the teachers union. The deal calls for 6 percent raises for all teachers. Florida Politics. Bryce Cubbal of Yulee Elementary School has been named the school district’s principal of the year; Meredith Lane of Fernandina Beach High is the assistant principal of the year; and Melita Hubbard, a paraprofessional at Fernandina Beach High, is the school-related employee of the year. Nassau County School District.

Putnam: In the five years the district has had a novice teacher retention program, the percentage of teachers with less than three years of experience being retained has gone from 65 percent to 90 percent. Only 2 percent of the district’s teaching jobs are currently unfilled. WUFT.

Monroe: School board members were urged by members of the community at a recent meeting to conduct a national search to replace Superintendent Theresa Axford, who is retiring in July 2024. Board members took no action. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Valencia College in Orlando is canceling eight optional faculty development courses on diversity-related topics because its officials are worried they will violate state law that prohibit the teaching of critical race theory. Orlando Sentinel. WPTV. Florida’s Board of Governors is asking the Legislature for $1 billion more in the next budget for campus expansion and for performance incentives. Politico Florida. Florida’s Supreme Court is taking the case of a student suing the University of Florida for not returning fees collected during the pandemic when classes were held remotely. News Service of Florida. Joe Glover, provost at the University of Florida for the past 15 years, is stepping down from that role at the end of July and will begin work as a senior advisor to Sasse for the university’s new West Palm Beach campus. Tampa Bay Times. WUFT.

Social studies text reviews: Social studies textbooks are now being considered by the state. They must meet guidelines to omit lessons on social justice, culturally responsive teaching, social-emotional learning and “any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” Among the things they must include are the “the philosophical underpinnings of the American Republic and the root cause of American exceptionalism.” Palm Beach Post.

Around the nation: A bill filed by Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson would create four-year grants for states to enact and enforce minimum school teacher salary requirements of $60,000 or more, starting in fiscal year fiscal 2024. Fifteen percent of the grants would go to state educational agencies, and 85 percent would go directly to state school districts. Florida Phoenix. There are about 36,000 open teacher jobs in the United States. Here’s what each state is trying to do about it. News Nation. About 25 percent of U.S. teachers are changing lessons plans because of anti-critical race theory laws, according to a survey by the Rand Corp. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Parents will be the winners with H.B. 1, the proposed school choice assistance legislation. William Mattox, Tallahassee Democrat. Providing good public K-12 education to all is still a hallmark of a democracy. It is the duty of the state and written into the Florida Constitution. We doubt that Florida can achieve that goal when it’s funding two systems with unequal sets of rules and expectations. Miami Herald. An assault against teacher unions. An “anti-woke” governor banning a black history course. And vouchers for all, even the wealthy. Welcome to public education in Florida in 2023. Sun-Sentinel. Diverting taxpayer dollars to private, and often religious, schools used to be a wacky, unconstitutional subversion of public education in Florida. Now it seems we’re racing toward the day when vouchers will be available for every student. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. I was president of New College, and while I surely agree that the college must continually pursue self-examination and improvement, I do not believe that its current challenges are the result of serious flaws in its mission. Gordon E. Michalson Jr., Tampa Bay Times. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ racist vision for Florida calls for the rebirth of a civil-rights movement in the state. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. What kind of message does a school bookshelf covered in construction paper – or worse still, empty – send to students? Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. From a political standpoint, the controversy about the AP course is working well for the governor. It generates outrage from some, support from others. Which leads to more support and more outrage. Which keeps the governor in headlines far beyond Florida. Marc Woods, Florida Sun-Times. Toni Morrison’s masterpiece, The Bluest Eye, is the latest victim of the state’s thought police. Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff