School district rezonings, $2.3M water damage at school, book about penguins banned, and more

Around the state: Parents opposing school boundary rezonings in Hillsborough County voice their concerns to the school board at a meeting Tuesday, water intrusion damage at a Volusia elementary school will cost $2.3 million to fix, a professor testifies that a law requiring ideological surveys at Florida colleges and universities fosters an “adversarial” relationship, a Citrus County charter school asks the county commission for money, St. Johns County school officials said they’ll investigate a mother’s contention that bullying by administrators drove her high school daughter to commit suicide in August, Miami-Dade schools are hoping expanded magnet programs will stem declining enrollment, and a book about a real life same-sex penguin couple raising a family has been banned from Lake County classrooms and school libraries. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Magnet programs, which were started as a way to help desegregate the county’s public schools, are now part of the district’s pitch to attract students and reverse the gradual decline in enrollment. Between the 2016-2017 and 2020-2021 school years, the district’s enrollment dropped from more than 357,000 to fewer than 335,000. One school that’s benefitting from a new magnet program is the Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy, which added a science, technology and arts program in the 2021-2022 school year. Principal Chandrell Larkin said the school gained 100 students to take enrollment to 650 in the school built to accommodate more than 900. WLRN.

Hillsborough: Parents took their opposition to proposed school boundary rezonings to the school board meeting on Tuesday. Up to 24,000 students could be affected, depending on which of three options is approved. The parents said they’re worried about their children being moved to schools with lower ratings, the social impact on students who would be separated from friends, and property values. Superintendent Addison Davis said he’d make a recommendation by the end of the month, and if approved the changes would begin for the 2023-2024 school year. Community meetings about the proposal continue the rest of this week. School board members also approved the appointment of two new principals: Akeim Young takes over at Giunta Middle School and Angela Brown will lead Sligh Middle, starting Jan. 23. Spectrum News 9. WFLA. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

Pinellas: The roof of a combined middle school and YMCA in St. Petersburg caught fire Tuesday during construction. No one was injured and the damage was minor enough that no delays in the projected fall of 2024 opening are expected. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP.

Volusia: School board members have approved spending $2.3 million to fix water-damaged walls at Port Orange Elementary School. Hurricanes and other recent storms have pushed moisture through the exterior walls of the school. Repairing them requires scraping out and replacing the mortar and steel lintels installed in the window gaps of all walls in the building. Work begins this summer, and is expected to take four to six months to complete. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. Eight students with disabilities are interning at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach as part of the national Project SEARCH program, a one-year internship to give students between the ages of 18 and 22 practical work experience as they move out of high school. Students are placed in the hospital’s business and financial services department, café, health information management, supply and distribution, intensive surgical unit, nutrition and laundry. “The skills they’re obtaining are not just so that they can get a job. They have the skills so that they can maintain the job,” said Catherine Galotti, coordinator of Volusia’s Exceptional Students in Education department. “That’s amazing, and it’s not just a job, though. They’re getting careers.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: An award-winning book about a real-life same-sex penguin couple who create a family together has been removed from school classrooms and libraries in order to comply with a new state law, said district officials. “We removed access to And Tango Makes Three for our kindergarten through 3rd-grade students in alignment with Florida H.B. 1557, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for those grade levels,” said district spokeswoman Sherri Owens. Also removed were two other books with LGBTQ themes. WTVT.

St. Johns: The mother of a Nease High School student who committed suicide last August told the school board on Tuesday that her daughter had been bullied by administrators. Kimber Kegley played an eight-minute video message her daughter Ashlee left before taking her own life. “It is not because of the students. It is the staff,” Ashlee said in the video. “You made my life a living hell. You disrespected and degraded me.” Kegley said school leaders called her daughter derogatory names and degraded her appearance, and that the district has done nothing to address her concerns. The district is investigating the allegations, a spokesperson said. WTLV.

Escambia: School board members approved the appointment of Ashley Kemp as principal at Bellview Elementary School despite a petition from teachers who wanted Superintendent Tim Smith to promote assistant principal Christine Jenkins. Smith acknowledged the negative reaction is something he hasn’t seen before, but stood by his selection. Bellview is on the state’s list of schools needing improvement. WEAR.

Martin: The school district still has 60 openings for teachers, and officials are hoping a job fair today can cut that number down. Indiantown Middle School, for example, has nine teaching vacancies at a time of year when there usually are none. Principal Jeff Raimann said teachers get a $2,000 a year stipend here, but it’s just not enough. “This is unprecedented, and part of it is a ripple effect of inflation,” he said. “So it costs more for eggs, milk, and you name it. Gas went up and, oh, Indiantown is far.” WPTV.

Citrus: Academy of Environmental Science officials and parents are asking the Crystal River City Council for a loan to help it make infrastructure repairs so it can stay open next year. Unexpected repair bills have drained the charter school’s reserves. Principal Ernest Hopper said the school needs about $350,000 to meet a Feb. 1 deadline set by the Florida Board of Education to ensure the repairs will be done in time to open next fall. “We’re facing a time clock,” school board member Tom Gotterup said. “We’ve been given the ultimatum. … My greatest fear is if those (school) doors close, they won’t open again. We need your help, folks.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: One of New College’s new trustees has called climate change a hoax, said the CDC and the media repeatedly lied about COVID-19 and the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and masks, and also implied that the collapse of an NFL player during a game Jan. 2 was linked to a COVID vaccination. Eddie Speir, the founder, board chair and superintendent of Inspiration Academy, a private Christian school in Bradenton, was one of six conservative trustees appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis this week. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gov. DeSantis’ interest in turning New College into a conservative Hillsdale College of the South is not going over well with students at the small liberal arts college in Sarasota. Daily Beast. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WUSF. A new program at the University of Miami will help college seniors who never considered teaching to graduate as a teacher with a guaranteed job. The teacher accelerator program is a one-semester class for non-education majors, who will also enroll in a six-week summer internship paying $5,000 and then be assigned to a Miami-Dade school once they get their certificate. It was developed by the UM School of Education and Human Development and two nonprofits, Achieve Miami and Teach for America Miami-Dade. Miami Herald. WFOR.

Survey suit testimony: A provision in the law that requires “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” surveys to be distributed on college and university campuses “fosters and promotes and assumes an adversarial relationship,” said an English professor from Penn State University during the second day of testimony in the case challenging the law. Allowing students to record a professor’s lesson without his or her consent threatens academic freedom in higher education, Michael Bérubé said Tuesday during the trial in a Tallahassee courtroom. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: U.S. Department of Education officials are proposing to overhaul an income-based student loan repayment plan that would lower monthly payments, provide borrowers an easier path to forgiveness, promise that unpaid interest will not be added to a loan balance, and make it easier to get debt erased after making several years of payments. Typical university graduates would save about $2,000 a year compared with today’s plans, the Biden administration says, and 85 percent of community college borrowers would be debt-free within 10 years. NPR. Associated Press. States Newsroom.

Opinions on schools: “One size fits all” schools actually fit few in rural America and elsewhere. Academic stagnation and population decline can successfully be combatted by allowing voluntary associations and exchange to flourish in rural American education. Rural families have nothing to lose and a world to gain by rediscovering the promise of the one-room schoolhouse. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Hillsborough County students deserve comprehensive sexual health education, because too many young people lack the tools and the language to make healthy choices. Dr. Amy Weiss, Tampa Bay Times. Gov. DeSantis’ hostile takeover of New College of Florida is the most brazen and arrogant action yet to make higher education a captive of his narrow right-wing ideology. All Floridians should take notice. So should the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits Florida schools. Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff