State investigating Leon’s Hanna for his ‘personal views,’ scholarship bill gets hearing, and more

Around the state: Florida Department of Education officials have told Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna that he’s under “under a preliminary investigation” for allegedly infusing “personal views” into his work, the bill that would make every Florida K-12 student eligible for state scholarships gets its first committee hearing today, Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright refutes the state’s allegation that she ignored requests for information about school safety, Hillsborough school officials have delayed a final vote on a school rezoning proposal that could send up to 24,000 students to different schools, a sports medicine advisory committee for the Florida High School Athletic Association is standing by its recommendation to require female student-athletes to answer questions about their menstrual history on registration forms, and Santa Rosa school officials have announced the district’s teacher of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Superintendent Vickie Cartwright is disputing a state letter accusing her of “ignoring” requests from the Department of Education since last September to provide school safety information. In a letter Wednesday to Scott Strauss, the DOE’s vice chancellor of the Office of Safe Schools, Cartwright called the state’s letter inaccurate because it said the district was missing seven documents, when it was really only four. She also pointed out that the state waited more than four months to ask for missing documents, which related to the district’s discipline diversion program, the reporting of crimes and incidents on campus, a survey of 41,000 parents related to school safety and safety-related initiatives in the $800 million bond referendum. On Tuesday, Cartwright and the school board agreed to begin negotiations on a separation settlement. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: School officials are putting off a final vote on a controversial school rezoning plan that could shift up to 24,000 students to different schools and close a dozen schools. A school board workshop scheduled for next week has been moved to Feb. 13, and subsequent special board meetings to discuss the plan have been shifted to Feb. 28 and March 9. No reason for the delay was given. Parents and some board members have criticized the plan, which district officials said is necessary to save money and relieve overenrollment at some schools and underenrollment at others. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WFTS.

Orange: A woman who was banned from volunteering at her child’s elementary school after it was discovered that she created and posted adult content on the OnlyFans website is now suing the school district. Victoria Triece was told in October 2021 that she was no longer welcome to volunteer for a Sand Lake Elementary School program she had been involved with for five years. One of her attorneys, Mark NeJame, said, “What she does in her off time is not illegal, yet we have a morality police with the Orange County School Board and whatever administrators made this horrific decision.” Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL.

Duval: Some district teachers are removing books from their classrooms to avoid the possibility of being charged with a felony for violating the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, which restricts access to books with themes of discrimination, sexual orientation or gender identity. “Our principal was a former reading specialist and it saddens her just as much of the rest of us, but protecting oneself has become a necessity in our profession,” said Jodi Sands, an English language arts teacher at Mandarin Middle School. WTLV. WJXT.

Polk: School board members agreed this week to buy 37,000 books for the school district, including more than a dozen that a conservative group, the County Citizens Defending Freedom, said contain “Marxist critical race theory” and “pornographic” content. The 6-1 board vote marks the start of a 30-day period in which specific books can be challenged by members of the community. Lakeland Now. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A complaint from a Palm Harbor University High School parent prompted the school district to remove the Toni Morrison novel The Bluest Eye from all libraries and classrooms. “We are erring on the side of caution, per the language of (new state) training,” chief academic officer Dan Evans told the school board this week. Tampa Bay Times. An under-construction middle school in St. Petersburg will be called Mangrove Bay Middle School when it opens in the fall of 2024 for up to 600 students. It will have a magnet program for wellness and health leadership, and will share a media center, a dining hall, a gymnasium and a sports field with a community YMCA. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School board members are considering a proposal to tear down Hector A. Cafferata Jr. Elementary School in Cape Coral because of the damage caused by Hurricane Ian in late September. It would be replaced by a new K-8 school built about 3.5 miles away at an estimated cost of $103.5 million. District officials have been directed to refine the proposal and report back to the board. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: An independent auditing firm will review student behavior and the district’s response to it, the school board agreed this week at the urging of interim superintendent Robert Schiller. He said the audit would provide a clear “baseline” of school discipline amid anecdotal and second-hand evidence. Schiller laid some of the blame in the confusion over discipline on board members. There’s a lack of robust guidelines, he said, forcing principals to interpret policy and the law and leading to inconsistent application of disciplinary measures. “We can’t expect staff to administer consistently, if indeed there is a dichotomy between what this board is expecting and what’s happening at the schools,” Schiller said. Florida Today.

Manatee: School board members are meeting again Friday to review 30 school books that have been challenged by members of the community. At Tuesday’s meeting, teachers and board meetings said there was confusion about what the district needs to do to comply with state laws governing content of classroom and library materials. Teachers said they are erring on the side of caution to avoid violating the law by removing or covering their classroom books, while at least one board member suggested the teachers were overreacting. WTVT. Bradenton Herald. Parents of students at Palma Sola Elementary School in Bradenton have begun a petition drive to keep the school open after employees said they were told it would close this summer. Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said the concern is premature. WWSB. WTSP. WFTS.

St. Johns: Some teachers in all 48 district schools protested Wednesday over a contract dispute by limiting their work to the 7.5 hours a day called for under the current contract. Negotiations broke down in November after teachers said the raises they were being offered weren’t enough. A hearing is scheduled next month with a mediator, who will listen to both sides and make a recommendation to the school board. WJXT.

Leon: School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is “under a preliminary investigation” by the Florida Department of Education for allegedly infusing “personal views” into his work. He was alerted about the inquiry Dec. 22 in a letter from Randy Kosec, the DOE’s chief of professional practices, which said Hanna failed to take “reasonable precautions to distinguish your personal views and those of your educational institution” and closed with the statement, “Please govern yourself accordingly.” Hanna has been critical of the DeSantis administration, but there is no indication what specific views prompted the investigation. “I have always tried my best to be a champion for our children and to do things the right way in accordance with the law,” he said, adding the investigation “has no merit whatsoever.” Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

Okaloosa: A school bus aide has been arrested and accused of child abuse for using inappropriate force against a student. Deputies said John Paul Martinez, 22, restrained the child by forcefully grabbing him, telling him to bite himself, and pulling on him while he was still secured in his seat. WJHG.

Santa Rosa: Karen Cody, an algebra teacher at Navarre High School, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible for the statewide award. WEAR. A school resource officer has been arrested and accused of lewd or lascivious behavior with a child. Deputy David Daniels was placed on administrative leave and subsequently fired. He worked at the High Road School in Pace, a K-12 school for students with academic, behavioral and social-emotional issues, but the January 2016 incident did not occur on campus or while he was duty, deputies said. Pensacola News Journal.

Hernando: Parent of students at the Winding Waters K-8 school lobbied the school board at this week’s meeting to not send their children to other schools as part of a district rezoning. District officials said the rezoning is needed to reduce the overcrowding at the school. Other public meetings are scheduled tonight, and Feb. 16 and 28. Board members are expected to vote on the rezoning March 28. Suncoast News.

Colleges and universities: Two of the recently appointed trustees at New College of Florida answered questions from faculty members Wednesday at a contentious meeting that was nearly canceled because one of them, Eddie Speir, received a death threat. Another trustee also was appointed to the board, this time by the Board of Governors. He’s Ryan Anderson, author and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics & Public Policy Center, who has written such books as When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, and Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. The Board of Governors also approved the reappointments of Florida A&M University president Larry Robinson, Florida Polytechnic University president Randy Avent, and a contract extension for Florida Gulf Coast University president Mike Martin until a successor can be found. News Service of Florida. Rebecca Brown has been named the chief financial officer for Florida A&M University. The appointment comes just seven months after Gloria Walker was hired for the job. Tallahassee Democrat.

Scholarship bill hearing: A bill that would make every K-12 student in Florida eligible for state scholarships gets its first hearing before a legislative committee today. It would make hundreds of thousands of students eligible for the nearly $8,000 vouchers, but the bill does not have a pricetag attached, calling the financial impact “indeterminate.” House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said it was too early in the process to tell how much the bill would cost, but some estimates suggest it will run into the billions. The 60-day legislative session begins March 1. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.

Period questions revisited: The sports medicine advisory committee for the Florida High School Athletic Association is standing by its recommendation to require female student-athletes to answer questions about their menstrual history on registration forms. The recommendation now goes to the FHSAA board of directors for a vote during the Feb. 26-27 meeting in Gainesville. Palm Beach Post.

AP course lawsuit: Three high school juniors will be the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state if it “does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African American Studies to be taught in the classrooms across the state of Florida,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump announced Wednesday. State officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the course, saying the material was “historically inaccurate” and violated state law. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Fox News. NPR.

Opinions on schools: Navigating parents’ concerns about education savings accounts can be challenging, but getting scholarship support to help eligible students remains a high priority. States can find a separate legal space for families to home-school while also providing eager parents with funding to embrace flexible education options. Ben DeGrow, ExcelinEd. I teach in Florida schools and in this gray world, I better be “woke,” which is defined as being “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” It’s my job to help students learn how to think critically. Chris Fulton, Tampa Bay Times. Next spring promises to be another key year for school choice legislation across America, and there is no doubt myths about school choice in rural areas will resurface. When they do, I hope lawmakers will see that choice can be a plus for rural America. Ron Matus, The 74. New ideas aren’t nearly as scary as the people who try to silence them, whitewash history and paint distorted pictures of what this state’s respected colleges have been doing for years, just to stir up more division. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff