New day for New College after DeSantis picks six trustees, district cancels school play, and more

DeSantis takes on New College: Six conservatives were appointed Friday to the New College of Florida board of trustees by Gov. Ron DeSantis in what his spokesman calls an attempt to “refocus” the liberal arts honors school in the image of Hillsdale College, a private conservative religious school in Michigan. “It is our hope that New College of Florida will become Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the south,” said Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. Among the new trustees on the board of 13 are Christopher Rufo, a Hillsdale dean who has said public universities have “been corrupted by woke nihilism” and has been an outspoken critic of critical race theory. “Gov. DeSantis is going to lay siege to university ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ programs,” Rufo recently wrote on Twitter. The governor’s communications director, Taryn Fenske, said New College has been “completely captured by a political ideology that puts trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning,” which has put the school under financial pressure. Its enrollment has dwindled from 838 students in 2017 to 633 in the fall of 2021. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Washington Post. Office of the Governor.

Around the state: A Duval County high school play has been canceled by district officials who said it was unsuitable for teenagers, Broward prosecutors are reviewing the use of confidential information from a ransomware attack by former district officials in a private business pitch, Orange County school officials are notifying parents about school bathroom use policies, the half-cent sales tax has been used to redo 132 schools and rebuild 64 more in Orange County since 2002, and the principal and assistant principal of the year are announced in Alachua County. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: County prosecutors, at the request of the school district, are reviewing whether former superintendent Robert Runcie and former administrators Brian Katz and Philip Dunn improperly used confidential details about a district ransomware attack in a private business pitch. At the time of the attack in March 2021, Runcie and other district officials released few details. But in September that year, Runcie, Katz and Dunn used information from a report on the attack to compile a case study for Safer School Solutions, a company owned by Katz and Dunn, which also included the district’s response. A few months later, an education group headed by Runcie awarded a $1 million contract to provide security services at six out-of-state school districts. Sun-Sentinel.

Orange: School officials have been sending letters to parents detailing which of their bathrooms are gender-neutral and which are biological sex-at-birth bathrooms. “Since 2018, we’ve been having coed bathrooms within any of our schools, I think at the direction of each principal, without parental knowledge,” said board member Alicia Farrant. The Parental Rights in Education law requires parents to be notified of each school’s bathroom and locker room policies. Farrant said the issue is likely to be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. “In my opinion, I think we need to look at the district as a whole and see what parents want. There are single-stall bathrooms throughout all of our schools where they can go. There are single-stall bathrooms throughout all of our schools where they can go.” WOFL. The school district has now redone 132 schools and rebuilt 64 with the $3.9 billion raised by the additional half-penny sales tax voters first approved in 2002 and renewed in 2014. Work is underway on four technical college campuses that are scheduled to be completed in 2023, 2024 and 2026. Board members have not yet discussed whether to ask voters to renew the tax again in 2024. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Members of the school board are asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the district of “implicitly advocating for homosexuality” by allowing two teachers to display LGBTQ flags in classrooms. Francisco Deliu of Wellington alleges the school violated his “Christian-Orthodox religious beliefs” and forced him to remove his son from the school. He’s also challenging the district’s LGBTQ+ Critical Support Guide, which advises school employees how to support gay students. WLRN.

Duval: A play scheduled to be performed in March by students from the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts has been canceled by district officials who said it was unsuitable for teenagers. The 2015 play Indecent, written by Paula Vogel, contains a kiss between same-sex actors and “adult sexual dialog that is inappropriate for student cast members and student audiences. It’s that simple,” said school spokesman Tracy Pierce. School principal Tina Wilson told parents in an e-mail that the school would instead perform Seagull, a play written in 1895 by Russian Anton Chekhov. Some members of the cast and community criticized the decision. “This is infuriating,” Sarah Locke, a Jacksonville pastor who offered to help find another location for the play, posted online. “I’d rather have them learn about (sexuality and gender expression) in an environment that is safe.” Florida Times-Union. WJCT. WTLV.

Escambia: A new pediatric medical clinic, operated by Community Health Northwest Florida, opens today at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola. The clinic is part of the community partnership the school has with several institutions to provide educational, medical and social services on campus. WEAR.

Alachua: Williams Elementary School in Gainesville is home to both the school district’s principal of the year, Anyana Stokes and the assistant principal of the year, Jennifer Roberson, the district has announced. Both now advance to the statewide competition. Gainesville Sun. School board members will consider a series of financial and management changes in the operation of the Camp Crystal Lake summer program owned by the district. The camp will be expected to cover its own expenses, and the number of scholarships has been trimmed from 45 to 8. Board members could also boost tuition for campers and pay for counselors. WUFT. A former Gainesville preschool teacher was sentenced to 10 life terms after pleading guilty to multiple counts of sexual battery of a child under the age of 12. Trevor Alec Hruby, 24, worked at A Child’s Dream Preschool in Gainesville, where he sexually victimized and produced sexually explicit images of numerous children in his care between December 2020 and September 2021. Gainesville Sun.

Citrus: School board members will consider Tuesday whether to lease seven poles to a company to expand cell phone service throughout the district. The first step will be to have SQF, a telecommunication consulting company, inspect the poles at Citrus High School, the school board offices, Citrus Springs Elementary and Middle, Homosassa Elementary, Rock Crusher Elementary, and the Instructional Resource Center in Lecanto. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Florida Atlantic University will begin searching for a new president this month, but the names of the candidates won’t be made public unless they become finalists as the school will follow a law passed last year by the Legislature. John Kelly, who had been president for eight years, stepped down Dec. 31. Chief operating officer Stacy Volnick is serving as interim president, and has agreed not to apply for the permanent job. Sun-Sentinel. A vice chancellor from the University of California, Davis, is the sole finalist for the provost job at the University of South Florida. Prasant Mohapatra will visit the USF campuses this week. Last fall, four finalists for the job were chosen by a search committee, but president Rhea Law scrapped the search and started over. Tampa Bay Times. Incoming University of Florida president Ben Sasse talks in an interview about how he’ll approach the advancement of a diverse range of ideas on campus when he begins work next month. WUFT. Associated Press.

Around the nation: The student-to-counselor ratio in U.S. schools fell to 408:1 during the 2021-2022 school year, according to a recent report. That’s the lowest it’s been in 30 years, even though it’s still higher than the 250:1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association. Florida’s ratio was 436:1. K-12 Dive. The Seattle public school system has filed a lawsuit against the social media companies TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat to hold them accountable for the mental health crisis among youth and for creating a public nuisance by targeting their products to children. Associated Press. A 6-year-old 1st-grader who shot and seriously wounded his teacher Friday in Newport News, Va., is one of the youngest school shooters in the history of the country. Police said “this was not an accidental shooting.” Yahoo.

Opinions on schools: Parents are more informed than ever and more invested in making sure their kids’ educational needs are met. This month, during National School Choice Week from Jan. 22-28, millions of them will celebrate a great school they’ve chosen or make the decision to select a new option. We can all see the value in that. Andrew R. Campanella, Corry Journal. Florida is not adequately supporting the basic skills education of nearly half its black children, a third of its Hispanic children, a fifth of its Asian children and more than a quarter of its white children. Michael Holzman, Florida Times-Union. The people in my district are not the Florida they put on postcards, but they are resourceful and hard-working, the kind who make rural communities the backbone of America. They value school choice, and rural lawmakers should too. State Rep. Kaylee Tuck, Fox News. Brevard schools have gotten national attention after a press conference on discipline in front of the county jail. Is this really the best approach? Susan Hammerling-Hodgers, Florida Today. I don’t know if what I’m doing in my classroom is considered woke, although of course every individual likely has a different definition of the word. What I am trying to do is treat all of my students with the dignity they are entitled to, simply because they are human beings. Heck, I even silently pray for my students before class most days. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff