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House speaker enters Hillsborough book challenge, special session, new libraries, FSU ripped and more

Around the state: House Speaker Paul Renner, who represents a district that includes St. Johns and Flagler counties, has intervened in a school book challenge case in Hillsborough County, legislators will considering revising the rule that allows student-athletes to be paid at a special session that begins today, Pasco County schools will spend federal coronavirus relief funds to replace elementary classroom libraries with approved books, Broward school board members will fire its superintendent and hire an interim at Tuesday’s meeting, a recently appointed New College trustee is now saying Florida State University is being led by a “sprawling bureaucracy dedicated to promoting left-wing narratives,” and teachers of the year are named in the Broward, Pasco and Marion school districts. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A student has been arrested and accused of beating a 9-year-old girl on a school bus last Wednesday, after a video of the assault went public and collected more than 5 million views on social media. Other students seen fighting also face discipline. The girl and her 10-year-old brother both were attacked, their mother said. She said she had been complaining to officials of the Coconut Palm K-8 Academy in Homestead about them being bullied, but was told nothing could be done. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WSVN. WFOR.

Broward: Three candidates are under consideration to be appointed as interim superintendent by the school board at its meeting Tuesday. They are Ernie Lozano, an executive director who oversees behavioral threat assessments but has recently filled in as Superintendent Vicki Cartwright’s chief of staff; Jermaine Fleming, a regional superintendent; and Earlean Smiley, a retired district administrator and former superintendent for a small school district in South Carolina. The board is expected to make a choice after approving a $365,000 severance package for Cartwright that will end her 18-month tenure almost two years before her contract expires. Sun-Sentinel. Haley Shurack, who teaches who teaches deaf and hard-of-hearing pre-schoolers at Tropical Elementary School in Plantation, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. Also honored were Marie Hautigan of Piper High School as principal of the year, Timothy Winburn of South Broward High as assistant principal of the year, and Nicole Willis of Atlantic Technical College and High as school-related employee of the year. WSVN. WPLG. WTVJ. Broward County School District.

Hillsborough: Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, a Republican who represents St. Johns and Flagler counties, has intervened on behalf of two parents who challenged a book in the Pierce Middle School library but were overruled by a review committee. Renner requested records from the district about its reading materials after the nonfiction This Book Is Gay, a story by Juno Dawson about what it’s like to grow up LGBTQ, was cleared to remain available for students. “The request seeks to understand the decision-making processes for allowing such materials to be made available to young children and how school officials address parental objections,” said Renner. “While the vast majority of reading and educational materials in our school libraries are age-appropriate, some books are so clearly obscene and directed to children that they would be rejected by adult bookstores.” Superintendent Addison Davis said, “This is a public records request for us. We will entertain it. We will make sure we gather all the right documentation.” Tampa Bay Times. WFTS.

Orange: A Wekiva High School student was arrested Friday after having a gun at the school, according to deputies. A district spokesperson issued a statement identifying that student as “an unauthorized student on a bus that was rumored to have a weapon. … At no time was the weapon displayed in a threatening manner while on campus and the individual has been taken into custody.” WKMG.

Palm Beach: A Wellington Landings Middle School staff member has been placed on administrative leave and faces disciplinary action after using “highly offensive and obscene language” around students on Thursday, principal Lindsay Ingersoll said in a letter to parents and guardians. School officials provided no other details. WPTV.

Polk: A 13-year-old McLaughlin Middle-High School student was struck and killed by a pickup truck Friday morning as he was waiting for his school bus. Lake Wales police said Jadin Galindo, who is autistic, was sitting near the center of a paved alleyway waiting for the bus when he was hit. It was dark and foggy and there are no street lights in the area, police said. The driver was not impaired or speeding, police said, and the investigation is continuing. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS. WTVT.

Pinellas: About 100 juniors and seniors in the Palm Harbor University High School International Baccalaureate program protested Friday against the district’s decision to remove Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, from all county high school libraries. “The majority of our class feels it was a very important book in our education,” said senior Hannah Hipólito, who read the book last year for an assignment. “We don’t want to see it go.” The book, written from the vantage point of a black girl who wishes she had blue eyes like some white girls, includes topics of racism, incest and rape. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: A K-8 school on Sanibel Island that was damaged by Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28 will reopen to its 210 students Wednesday, school officials announced. Sanibel School students have been attending San Carlos Park Elementary for more than four months. The school suffered no structural damage, but has been closed so workers can clean up and restore power, Internet access and drinkable water. WFTX. WBBH

Pasco: District officials are using $2.9 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to replace classroom libraries for all elementary schools by next fall so they will comply with the state’s Parental Rights in Education law. Approved books have been listed by the district and sent to all K-5 teachers. Until then, books already in the rooms may remain. The move was met with dismay by some teachers. “Books are incredibly powerful and empowering. They are a safe space to learn about uncomfortable things and provide a safe escape for people of all ages,” said Deer Park Elementary 3rd-grade teacher Magen Wilson. “I feel like children are now being robbed of those needed experiences.” Tampa Bay Times. Kim Theurer, a government, law and sociology teacher at Gulf High School in New Port Richey, has been selected as the school district’s teacher of the year. Also honored for being the best in their field were principal David Salerno of Charles S. Rushe Middle School, assistant principal Cheryl Macri-Grim of Gulf High, multi-tiered system of support specialist administrator Iravonia Abiola, Thomas E. Weightman Middle instructional assistant Anita Dienes in the school-related personnel category, and leave specialist Kimberlie Glogowski in the non-instructional, non-bargaining category. Tampa Bay Times. Pasco County School District.

Brevard: A former science and math teacher at Melbourne High School has been named chief of the NASA Astronaut Office. In the role, Joe Acabá, 55, will decide which astronauts will fly where. Before his appointment, Acabá was one of the 18 astronauts announced as potential crew members for Artemis moon missions. He was chosen as an astronaut candidate in 2004. Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: A New Smyrna Beach Middle School teacher has been reassigned and is under investigation after an “unsafe interaction” with a student, according to a district spokesperson. The nature of the incident and identity of the teacher were not disclosed. The incident was captured on video, and in an automated messaged to parents the school principal said the “type of conduct observed in the video is unacceptable.” WESH.

Collier: A 17-year-old Palmetto Ridge High School student was arrested Friday and accused of having knives at school. Deputies said they found a fixed-blade hunting knife and a dagger in the girl’s car, which was parked at the school. WFTX. WBBH.

Lake: The old Adventure Cove Miniature Golf course has been transformed into an art-integration school focusing on individualized learning in a non-traditional setting. CREATE Conservatory, a K-6 school, which opened in 2020, just relocated to its new home. It has 28 students, but already has a waiting list of 26 for the fall. Daily Commercial. WKMG.

Sarasota: School board members meet Tuesday to hear an appeal to a failed book challenge. A parent of a Venice Middle School student filed the challenge last May against Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. A review committee declined to recommend it be removed, and it continues to be available for district students in grades 6-12. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: Lindsey Bigelow, a 1st-grade teacher at Ocala Springs Elementary School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Other finalists were Belleview Middle health science teacher Nedra Huggins, pre-IB English teacher John Gibb of Lake Weir High, Maplewood Elementary art teacher Jamie Roche, and Saddlewood Elementary 4th-grade teacher Cheryl Goldner. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: A Beulah Middle School art teacher has been arrested and accused of sexual assault, lewd lascivious behavior on a battery victim age 12 to 16, and sexual offense on a student by an authority figure. District officials said the teacher, Winston Foster, 61, has been fired. WEAR.

Gadsden: Two children were critically injured Friday in a crash outside the Robert F. Munroe Day School in Havana. Trooper said the SUV they were in was turning into the school when it collided with a pickup truck. All four people involved were hurt and taken to the hospital. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: A recently appointed New College trustee who helped engineer the firing of that school’s president and the appointment of a conservative replacement is now turning his attention to Florida State University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Christopher Rufo said the FSU campus is being led by a “sprawling bureaucracy dedicated to promoting left-wing narratives” that supports such things as the Black Lives Matter movement, portraying Europeans as illegal settlers in America, presenting left-wing racialism as the gospel truth, and creating a DEI heroes award. Tallahassee Democrat. Replaying the 25 days that turned Sarasota’s New College from a sleepy outpost of liberalism into a national conservative showplace. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Los Angeles Times. Ron Christaldi, a Tampa lawyer and lobbyist who is a Democrat, joined Gov. Ron DeSantis appointees to the New College board of trustees in firing the president and ushering in other changes intended to turn the liberal arts college into the Hillsdale College of the South. Tampa Bay Times. University of Florida officials wants a court to consider a lawsuit over its policy controlling whether professors can testify as expert witnesses in cases against the state. Professors who brought the suit asked the court to dismiss it after UF adopted a revised policy that they say addressed their concerns. But UF officials want the case to continue so it can decide whether a district judge who originally ruled in favor of the professors was in err. News Service of Florida.

Special legislative session: Legislators gather today for a special session to consider a change in the law that allows student-athletes to be paid for commercial use of their names, likenesses and images. The proposal would remove a restriction “preventing or unduly restricting an athlete from obtaining professional representation by an appropriately licensed or registered athlete agent or attorney for the purpose of securing NIL compensation.” Other issues on the agenda are allocating more funding for hurricane recovery and migrant relocation, and revising laws by appointing a statewide prosecutor to pursue election crimes and transferring control of the Reedy Creek Improvement district — but not its debts — from Disney to the state. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WFSU. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Phoenix.

Impact of education changes: Nearly everyone in the field of education agrees that the changes Gov. DeSantis is making to K-12 schools and colleges and universities will have lasting effects. But while the governor’s supporters say the moves will improve education, critics believe the cumulative effect of all the moves will have a catastrophic impact on the long-term future of the state. Sun-Sentinel.

Florida and black history: After Gov. DeSantis’ rejection of an AP African American studies course from the College Board was criticized as whitewashing black history, the governor countered by pointing out that state law requires it to be taught and called it “part of our core curriculum.” But critics contend that many schools are failing that mandate, teaching it only during Black History Month in February. CNN.

Around the nation: New nutrition rules proposed Friday by the U.S. Agriculture Department would lower the amount of sodium in school meals and also limit students’ accessibility to foods with added sugars. Limits on sugars would begin in the 2025-2026 academic year, and added sugars would be limited to less than 10 percent of a week’s calories by 2027. Sodium would be reduced by 30 percent by 2029. Health officials said the cuts are necessary to decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other problems for children that can carry into adulthood. Associated Press. Politico.

Opinions on schools: To those charged with implementing the transformation of New College who have not done the homework and read from uninformed scripts, I say: “You don’t know what you are talking about, and you do not belong in this class.” Emily Nodine, Orlando Sentinel. Promoting a culture of civil discourse that is essential for maintaining self-government is the goal of the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education and the next step in the educational revamp at the University of Florida. Mike Sabo, Sun-Sentinel. Florida hasn’t made reading a crime — not yet, anyway. But it’s doing the next worse thing by dangling threats of criminal charges against teachers and educators who share the “wrong” books with students. Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff