Move to limit bathroom use turned back in Orange, UF’s $300K swimming pool for president, and more

Around the state: An Orange school board member’s attempt to end the district’s policy of allowing transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity was rejected by her colleagues, construction is nearly complete on a $300,000 swimming pool being built behind the home where the University of Florida president lives, several Hillsborough school board members echo parents’ concerns about a proposed rezoning plan, the state is being accused of violating a federal court order blocking part of a law that restricts how race-related concepts can be taught in higher education, Volusia school officials are considering hiring teachers from other countries to address the district’s shortage, and a Broward teacher has been removed from contact with students after being arrested because her 1-year-old son died of a drug overdose. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: School Police Chief Edwin Lopez was hired Wednesday at a city council meeting as chief for the city of Doral. He begins the job Jan. 18. Lopez has been chief of the school district’s police force since 2018, and hired more than 350 officers in a three-year period to get it to its current level of 468 officers. Miami Herald. WFOR. Some south Florida school districts are considering banning access to ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence bot that can complete students’ work such as writing essays, solving math equations and completing coding assignments. New York City schools recently banned the use of the bot. WPLG.

Broward: A language arts teacher at Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes has been removed from the classroom after she was arrested because her 1-year-old son died of a drug overdose. Shaneka Dean, 30, had been at the school since February. Police said she and her husband, Wendy Previl, “failed to provide the care, supervision and services necessary” for son Zaire Cenatus, who died in September. “As a result of this culpable negligence, the child died from a lethal intoxication of drugs, including fentanyl,” said sheriff’s spokesman Carey Codd. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: A majority of school board members share some of the concerns of parents about a proposed school rezoning plan that could send up to 24,000 students to new schools and close a dozen schools. Board member Karen Perez has already said she will vote against the plan, and four of the other six members said they have doubts. “We got a long ways to go,” said board member Henry Washington. “And a hard road, because quite a few people don’t understand. If we don’t have good communication, then it’s not going to be successful.” Community meetings have been held this week, and Superintendent Addison Davis said he will make a recommendation to the board by the end of the month. A board workshop will be held Jan. 31, followed by meetings during the second week of February and a final vote Feb. 21. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFLA.

Orange, central Florida: An attempt by new school board member Alicia Farrant to end the district’s policy of allowing transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity was rejected this week when none of her colleagues supported the move. Board member Karen Castor Dentel said she backed “our policy of inclusion and fairness and recognizing the humanity of all of our students,” and colleague Melissa Byrd said “this has been our practice for four years” and that the district has not had problems with transgender students in its bathrooms. In November, the state adopted new rules requiring districts that allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity to also provide students an option for bathrooms and locker rooms “separated by biological sex at birth,” and for those districts to notify parents about their policies. Orlando Sentinel. Some librarians at central Florida schools say the new state training videos detailing how they should select materials under the provisions of a new law should be revised because they advocate procedures that are not considered best practices in the field and create a climate of fear of facing charges. WFTV.

Lee: Doors in portable classrooms on the temporary campus at Franklin Park Elementary School in Fort Myers don’t lock, silent alarms don’t work and the quality of air inside the classrooms is poor, according to parents and staff members. The school is being rebuilt, and portables are being used until it’s done. School officials said they are reviewing the complaints. WINK.

Volusia: School officials are giving consideration to hiring international teachers to help with the teacher shortage. The district has 141 teaching job openings, with 43 in special education and 36 in core subjects. “We have aggressively been trying to recruit teachers in every manner possible, and then after you do all of those things that most school districts do and are facing the same challenges, you start to look at, well, what else is there?” board member Carl Persis said. “Where else may there be a pool of qualified, certified teachers that we haven’t tapped?” The idea, discussed at a board meeting this week, comes just days after school officials in the neighboring county of Flagler discussed the possibility of looking to foreign countries for help. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: County commissioners declined to authorize a third-party investigation into sexual harassment allegations made against Mitchell Teitelbaum, who accepted and then declined a job as deputy county administrator on Dec. 13 and returned to his job as an assistant school superintendent. Commissioners did agree to rescind a previous decision confirming Teitelbaum’s employment. Teitelbaum called the allegations a “pure fabrication that was made in a direct attempt to prevent me from joining the county,” and asked for an independent investigation into the charges. Commissioners voted against that. “Someone that’s not at the time employed by Manatee County, I don’t know that we do have that duty to get to the bottom of that for them even though I may empathize with that situation,” said commissioner James Satcher. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Lucie: The district is expanding a program giving struggling students an alternative path to a high school diploma. Acceleration Academies now has a program in Port St. Lucie as well as the one in Fort Pierce that has been open since 2016. They give students the chance to earn a diploma by attending school in person or online, and to work at their own pace. “All of these students had left our public schools at one time or another and this was an opportunity for us (to), I hate to use the word recapture, but re-interest students in education and getting them here and letting them finish,” said Superintendent Jon Prince. “It’s life altering for these kids.” WPEC.

Leon: District officials are extending the armed guardian program into after-school activities, starting next month, Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced this week. One guardian will be appointed to every school to be on-site to monitor such after-school events as tutoring, clubs, sports and dances. WTXL. A Leon High School junior was arrested Wednesday and accused of having a weapon on campus. Deputies said they received a tip, located the student and confiscated the weapon. School officials said the student will also be disciplined under the student code of conduct, which calls for students with a weapon on campus to be expelled. Weapons have been confiscated on school properties at least four times since August. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Citrus: A proposal to inspect seven school district monopoles to see if they’re suitable for use as cell service towers was approved this week by the school board. If the inspection shows the poles are suitable, the district will move ahead to consider contracts for leasing. The goal is to improve cell phone service at Citrus High School, the school board offices, Citrus Springs Elementary and Middle, Homosassa and Rock Crusher elementaries, and the Instructional Resource Center in Lecanto. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida officials are spending $300,000 to add a swimming pool to the mansion where incoming president Ben Sasse and his family will live. Construction began in November and is expected to be finished ahead of Sasse’s first day of work Feb. 6. University spokesman Steve Orlando said the decision to add the pool was made last year after Kent Fuchs said he was retiring as president, and that Sasse did not ask for the pool and provided no input on its design. The average in-ground residential pool in Florida costs about $60,000. Fresh Take Florida. Florida International University has announced that former president Mark Rosenberg, who stepped down last year after allegations of sexual misconduct, will work on a research project this semester instead of returning to the classroom. Two faculty groups had condemned the school’s plans to restore Rosenberg as a professor. He’ll still be paid $376, 933 a year. Miami Herald. A Florida Gulf Coast University committee meets Friday to set a timeline in the search for a new president. A search last year was scrapped after it produced a single finalist. News Service of Florida.

State accused of violating court order: State officials are in violation of a federal judge’s order blocking part of a law that restricts how race-related concepts can be taught in higher education from being enforced, plaintiffs in the case contended in a motion filed Wednesday. They say the state’s request last month that colleges and universities “provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory” violates that order, and should be negated. “The purpose behind the (state’s) executive memorandum’s direction to collect information about instructors’ activities is clearly to enforce the unconstitutional provisions of the Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.

Survey suit testimony: Results from “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” surveys distributed on college and university campuses as required by a new law could be used by state officials to punish institutions or professors who are perceived to be liberal, the president of Florida’s statewide university faculty union testifed Wednesday in the third day of a trial challenging the law. Andrew Gothard, who teaches at Florida Atlantic University, is a plaintiff in the case. Florida Phoenix.

Prayer case arguments set: A federal appeals court in Montgomery, Ala., set the week of May 1 to hear arguments in the case in which the Florida High School Athletic Association rejected a Christian school’s request to use a loudspeaker to broadcast a prayer before a 2015 high school state championship football game. A district court has ruled that the denial did not violate the First Amendment rights of Cambridge Christian School, but the school appealed that decision. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: With education and information, we can grow a better community for all, and it starts with ensuring that our children are prepared and ready to enter kindergarten. Frederick Hicks, Tampa Bay Times. We are not being overly dramatic when we say Gov. Ron DeSantis’ actions put the integrity of Florida’s higher-ed system in jeopardy. Accreditation is on the line, as well as the academic reputation of Florida’s universities. Lawmakers must awaken to DeSantis’ agenda, and finally, firmly, say “enough.” Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff