Hillsborough approves sex ed curriculum, Palm Beach considers adding school guardians, and more

Around the state: Hillsborough school board members approve a sex curriculum for students in grades 7, 8 and 9 despite complains from parents and a conservative organization, Palm Beach school officials say they are considering joining the state’s school guardian program after four-plus years of resisting it, University of Florida officials are “strongly discouraging” students from using the TikTok app because of security risks, an expansion of the state’s Parental Rights in Education law is under consideration by state leaders, the state Board of Education meets Wednesday to consider a rule that would require school librarians be trained to comply with state standards in selecting library books and materials, and a task force will be assembled to recommend solutions to disciplinary problems in Orange County schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Complaints have been filed with the school district against a teacher at the Agenoria S. Paschal/Olinda Elementary School in Miami who allegedly slapped a 10-year-old 5th-grader multiple times on Dec. 20. Parents of the boy said the teacher called them and said the slap was accidental, but they later heard from other teachers and students that he was slapped multiple times. They filed a report with the Miami-Dade school police, but the district has not commented. WVSN.

Hillsborough: School board members voted 5-2 Thursday to implement a sex education curriculum for 7th-, 8th- and 9th-graders despite complaints from parents and a petition drive started against it by a conservative organization. The critics contend the material is pornographic, a charge that was dismissed by a retired judge who reviewed it for the district, and that it violated the Parental Rights in Education law. Board members Stacy Hahn and Patti Rendon agreed. But the majority supported the curriculum. Lynn Gray said students needed facts, “not from their peers, not from their cell phones” so “they will make more reliable decisions.” Colleague Karen Perez agreed, adding, “Just because a young person is taught how to stay safe and what sex and sexuality is, they’re not encouraged to become sexually active.” Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT.

Orange: Superintendent Maria Vazquez said a task force will be appointed to recommend solutions to student disciplinary issues throughout the district. Among the topics it’s likely to address are cell phone use, attendance, mental health and truancy. Vazquez said she was prompted to form the group after discussions with members of the community, and expects it to include parents, students, law enforcement, mental health organization officials and principals. “I’ve asked board members to share with me their priorities surrounding discipline. When you start to peel that onion back, I mean, that’s a monstrosity, and so we really want the task force to delve into our top priorities,” Vazquez said. WKMG. A child and a school crossing guard were hit by a vehicle Thursday near the Academic Center for Excellence in Orlando. Both were taken to a hospital and are expected to survive, but no details were released about their injuries. The driver was at fault, according to Orlando police. WKMG.

Palm Beach: School officials who have declined participating in the state’s school guardian program since it began in 2018 may be reconsidering. Superintendent Michael Burke told the county’s legislative delegation Thursday that the district is now considering the program, which allows select school employees to carry guns on campuses after being screened and trained. “This not about handing out guns to teachers,” Burke said. “This is about finding a few, a handful of people who are credentialed enough. … And would it make sense to supplement our school police officers — not replace — but to have a few more people potentially on our larger campuses that would be able to help out in the event of an emergency?” WPTV. Burke also told the delegation he was concerned about declining enrollment and the state’s continued expansion of scholarships for students to attend private schools. Florida Politics. Extra mental health counselors and police officers were at Palm Beach Central High School on Thursday after two students were shot and killed off-campus in a Palm Springs neighborhood on Wednesday. In a letter to parents, principal Darren Edgecomb did not identify the students, give their ages, or provide any other details about the shooting except to say police considered it an “isolated” incident. WPTV. WPEC. Palm Beach Post.

Volusia: School board members voted to donate $2 million to help Spectrum expand broadband infrastructure into underserved areas of the county. The county commission will contribute almost $4.6 million toward the $17.6 million project, with Spectrum responsible for the rest. “As more and more we become dependent on broadband access for educational purposes, the more necessary it becomes to ensure that all of our students, regardless of where they live, have equal access to fast broadband availability,” said school board member Carl Persis. “And not only access but be able to afford it.” The project started last July and is expected to be complete by July 2025. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: The first two of six community meetings to discuss the search for a new school superintendent were held Thursday. Kamela Patton, who had been superintendent for 11 years, left last month, and deputy superintendent Leslie Ricciardelli was chosen as the interim until a permanent replacement can be hired. Those in attendance said they wanted transparency in the hiring process and a consistent approach to all schools. Other in-person meetings are scheduled Jan. 18 and 19, and virtual meetings are set for Jan. 19 and 23. WFTX.

Bay: The school district has received a five-year, $8.5 million federal grant to expand the mental health services it’s offering to students. In the past five years, district students have dealt with the destruction from Hurricane Michael, the isolation of the pandemic, and economic pressures. “We’re trying to be prepared for what we know what’s going to happen,” said Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “We’ve had more students in crisis. We track that very regularly. Our elementary numbers are just off the chart with students in crisis and their families and situations they’re dealing with.” District officials will use the money to work with colleges to get more people certified as professional guidance counselors, and to expand training. WMBB. District middle and high school students who are falling behind in their classwork now have access to free online tutoring. The district is partnering with the company FEV Tutor to provide the service. “Students may be involved in extracurriculars, and it may not permit them to come on campus at the specific time that the face-to-face tutoring services are offered,” said Alana Simmons, director of secondary and adult instruction. “So we just wanted to kind of make in this additional layer, so students have all the supports that they need.” WMBB.

Jackson: School board members will vote Tuesday whether to close Sneads Elementary School and move its students to the new Grand Ridge Middle to create a K-8 school. Many parents, teachers and community leaders spoke out against the proposal at Thursday night’s school board meeting. “I’m afraid when you combine the two groups from Sneads and Grand Ridge, the (learning) environment might not be the same,” said Jessica Nebors, whose child is scheduled to attend Sneads. Superintendent Steve Benton said closing Sneads would save the district $18 million and give students a new, state-of-the-art school at Grand Ridge. Construction on the new school begins this summer and is expected to take two years. WJHG. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida officials are “strongly discouraging” students to stop using the TikTok app because of security risks, and said it’s likely the app will be removed from school devices and networks. WUFT. WCJB. Tampa Bay Times. One of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ choices for the New College of Florida board of trustees is predicting less dramatic changes at the small liberal arts college than widely expected. “I do believe what we see will be a lot less controversial than we’re hearing now,” said Mark Bauerlein, a former professor at Emory University in Atlanta. Much of the concern centers on comments from another of the appointees, Hillsdale College dean Christopher Rufo, who told the New York Times that the school’s academic offerings “are going to look very different in the next 120 days.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A four-year osteopathic medical school will open in the summer of 2024 on the Florida Institute of Technology campus in Melbourne with 100 students in the inaugural class. The school is partnering on the project with the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, a private medical school based in Las Cruces, N.M. Florida Today. WFTV. The University of Central Florida has received a $1.25 million federal grant to develop ways to address the shortage of special education teachers and school psychologists. University of Central Florida.

In the Legislature: Gov. DeSantis and legislative leaders are considering expanding the Parental Rights in Education law in the 60-day legislative session that begins March 7. The law currently bans classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation for children in kindergarten through the 3rd grade. A DeSantis spokesman said extending the ban for 4th-, 5th- and 6th-graders is under discussion. Meanwhile, the Florida chapter of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty is pushing for the ban to be extended through the 8th grade. Florida Phoenix. Daily Mail. Tuesday, the House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Subcommittee is expected to consider a change in the law that allows student-athletes to be compensated for commercial use of their names, images and likenesses. H.B. 99  would give colleges, universities and employees the ability to direct compensation to athletes, something the current law forbids. News Service of Florida.

Library training rule: A proposed rule requiring school library employees to complete training sessions that includes criteria for selecting instructional materials, library books and reading lists will be considered Wednesday by the state Board of Education. The rule would include guidance to avoid “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination” and that library books be free of pornography. Board members will also consider removing COVID harassment as a reason students can apply for Hope Scholarships. That program was designed to give bullied students vouchers to attend private schools or to transfer to other public schools. News Service of Florida.

Survey suit testimony: An associate lecturer at the University of Central Florida testified Thursday in federal court that the law allowing students to record lectures without the permission of the instructor makes him “extra cautious” of what he says in class and makes him feel like he’s a “criminal under suspicion” of the state. Barry Edwards also said the law’s provision requiring colleges and universities to distribute surveys to measure intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity was “obvious bias selection” and the questions were “kind of garbage.” Edwards is one of the plaintiffs in the case challenging the law. Florida Phoenix.

State’s FAST testing: The second of three rounds of the state’s new standardized testing in math and reading is underway in many school districts for students in preschool through the 10th grade. Called Florida Assessment of Student Thinking, or FAST, the tests are a progress-monitoring assessment tracking a student’s progress in learning the required reading and math materials. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Around the nation: More than 90 percent of public school campuses now have surveillance cameras, lockdown drills and secure entryways, according to a federal survey. A majority of schools also have sworn, armed law enforcement officers at schools, nearly 80 percent of school classrooms have lockable doors,and  about 43 percent use silent alarms or panic buttons to alert police. Politico. Education Week. More than half of U.S. school districts have reported teacher shortages, according to researchers who spoke Thursday at a U.S. Department of Education event. Medill News Service. Vaccination rates among U.S. kindergarten students dropped again during the 2021-2022 school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. About 93 percent of those students were vaccinated, compared with just under 94 percent a year ago. Associated Press.  Ninety-six percent of 1,230 U.S. school districts surveyed are reporting an increase in unpaid meal debt charges since the end of federal pandemic waivers. Total debt reported by 847 districts was $19.2 million. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: To keep legally elected Rod Velez off the Broward County School Board over a confusing technicality about his eligibility subverts the will of the voters. Sun-Sentinel. The Florida State Board of Governors is proposing a new rule that would effectively end tenure for professors in the state’s higher education system because they content there’s a problem of “underperforming” faculty in the system. But Florida’s State University System has been ranked No. 1 in the country for the past five years by U.S. News and World Report, in part because it attracts outstanding professors who research, teach, and serve their communities. Barry Mauer, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff