Charter school funding boost, a cut in DEI spending at colleges, closer looks at teacher conduct with students, top principal, and more

Charter school bills advance: A bill that would require school districts to share revenues from local tax collections with charter schools was approved Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee and is now headed to the Senate floor for a vote. If approved and signed into law, S.B. 1328 could shift nearly $500 million in funding for capital projects from public schools to charter over the next five years. Florida Politics. Charter school and Florida Virtual School students would be allowed to play school sports and participate in other extracurricular activities at private schools under a bill that was passed Thursday by the House. It’s also been approved by the Senate and is now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: A proposal that would eliminate spending on diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges and universities was passed Thursday by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee and is ready for a vote on the Senate floor. “Modern DEI initiatives, under the guise of social justice or critical race theory, seek to increase representation of some groups through discrimination against members of other groups,” said the bill sponsor, state Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach. Critics call the bill racist. “I don’t care what you can say that this policy does and does not do, the crux of this policy and a lot of the policies that we’re passing is racist at its core,” said state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens. News Service of Florida. Some school officials say changing school start times will present significant logistical challenges for district, especially in busing. The Legislature is considering bills (S.B. 1112 and H.B. 733) that would require middle school classes to begin no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Tampa Bay Times. Students at about 300 Florida schools and colleges plan to stage a walkout at noon today to protest bills that place restrictions on the LGBTQ+ and education communities. Florida Phoenix. Charlotte Sun. WKMG. WWSB.

Around the state: Records show that Duval school officials opened at least 10 investigations in the past 17 years into allegations that former Douglas Anderson School of the Arts teacher Jeffrey Clayton acted inappropriately with students, Osceola officials are launching an internal investigation into the way employees at Celebration High School handled a series of complaints from female students about the behavior of a baseball coach, Collier school board members select two finalists for the superintendent’s job, Palm Beach County’s superintendent warns that 2,800 district students may not graduate if the state doesn’t delay the implemenation of higher eligibility standards, and a Lake County high school principal has been named the state’s principal of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Palm Beach: Superintendent Michael Burke said if the state doesn’t change the higher graduation requirements that are supposed to go into effect this year, up to 2,800 district students will have to be notified that they won’t get a diploma. Districts around the state are lobbying legislators to delay the implementation of the higher standards. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: District officials opened at least 10 investigations in the past 17 years into allegations that former Douglas Anderson School of the Arts teacher Jeffrey Clayton acted inappropriately with students, according to records. School board chair Kelly Coker released a statement saying, “As chair of this school board, I’m appalled to know that district leadership was aware of this teacher’s behavior as recently as 2021.” She said the board will meet next week to discuss the issue. Earlier this week, the state’s Office of Safe Schools said the district failed to notify it about all the sexual harassment allegations cited in the termination notice given to Clayton, as required by state law. WTLV. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. Construction has begun on a rebuild of Southside Estates Elementary School, which will house current students and those from Windy Hill Elementary when it opens in August 2024. The school will be built on the site of the Southside Estates Park’s ballpark, and a replacement ballpark will be built where the school is now. The budget for the project is about $47 million. WJXT. WJCT.

Pasco: A disciplinary aide at Gulf High School was arrested Wednesday and accused of helping students hide guns that they bought illegally. New Port Richey police said a student contacted Emily Medina, 20, on Monday to pick up the guns and hide them after they were discharged near a street corner off campus. Medina took the weapons home with her, police said. She’s been charged with tampering with evidence and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and was placed on administrative leave by the district. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Osceola: District officials are launching an investigation into how employees at Celebration High School handled complaints from female students about the conduct of then-baseball coach Samuel Figueroa. He was arrested in April after several students told detectives that he made vulgar comments to them, touched them inappropriately, forced them to take pictures of themselves in the school bathroom and sent them inappropriate text messages. WFTV. WESH.

Collier: School board members have narrowed the list of candidates for the superintendent’s job to two people: Leslie Ricciardelli, the deputy superintendent who has been the interim leader of the district since December, and Charles Van Zant Jr., a Clay County school board member from 1998-2012 and school superintendent from 2012-2016. A second round of interviews will be conducted April 26, and a superintendent will be appointed at the May 9 school board meeting. Naples Daily News. WINK.

Lake: The Florida Department of Education has selected Brent Frazier of Umatilla High School as the state’s principal of the year. Frazier is credited with improving student academic performance at the long-struggling school, boosting course options and, according to his supervisor, pulling together “a team of people to do what is best for students, even when members of the team don’t always agree.” The other finalists were Christine Wilson, from Orange Grove Elementary School in Pinellas County, and Kasie Windfelder, from Navarre High School in Santa Rosa County. Daily Commercial. Orlando Sentinel.

Escambia: School board members are under state pressure to reach a contract agreement to hand over control of Warrington Middle School to Charter Schools USA. The deadline for the deal is May 1, and members of the Florida Board of Education sent a clear directive to the Escambia board this week to get a deal done now. Escambia board members said Charter Schools has presented a list of non-negotiable demands that include turning the school into a K-12 choice school with no zoning boundaries, and a 30-year contract for control of the facility at a rate of $1 a year. State board members were not sympathetic, with chair Ben Gibson saying the district has little choice but to accept the terms. “We’ve been desperate to get a charter operator in there,” he said. “Compromise is really the only option that we have. You don’t have a lot of negotiating power here.” Pensacola News Journal. reimaginED.

Alachua: The first of five community meetings to discuss rezoning public schools was held this week at Oak View Middle in Newberry. Parents had questions about long bus rides, losing magnet programs, student discipline and facility expansion, and also placed a request that 5th-grade be moved back into the elementary school. It was moved to Oak View 10 years ago. The next four meetings are April 25 at Wiles Elementary, April 27 at Metcalfe Elementary, May 4 at Norton Elementary, and May 10 at Santa Fe High. Mainstreet Daily News. A refurbished playground was reopened this week at Lake Forest Elementary School in Gainesville. The playground, which cost nearly $400,000, will also be open as a community park during non-school hours. WUFT.

Hernando: Parents unhappy with the way the school district handled the case of a Fox Chapel Middle School teacher who allegedly made threats against students have started a petition to remove Superintendent John Stratton and school board members Gus Guadagnino, Susan Duval and Linda Prescott. Investigations by the district and sheriff’s department concluded the teacher was no threat. A few days later the Florida Department of Education got involved and the teacher was removed from the classroom. Suncoast News.

Martin: School board members may be considering a review of their policy on how the district evaluates book challenges from parents and members of the community. About 100 books have been removed from classrooms and library shelves but at least one board member, Christia Li Roberts, said a review of the policy is in order. Right now, a principal reviews a book that has been challenged and makes a decision on keeping it or removing it. If the book challenger is unhappy with the decision, the issue then goes to a district supervisor. “We might want to be doing something different,” said Li Roberts. WPTV.

Okeechobee: A middle school coach at Yearling Middle School has been arrested and accused of having a romantic relationship with an 18-year-old student at the high school. Deputies said Donny Raney, 36, who is also a youth pastor, initiated the relationship last November. He’s been removed from his job with the school district. WPTV.

Colleges and universities: Plans for a University of Florida graduate school in downtown West Palm Beach have fizzled, but city officials said they are talking with other “top” out-of-state private universities to step in. Mayor Keith James said “conversations are taking place behind the scenes” to possibly bring another university to the city, though he didn’t name names. Palm Beach Post. Florida A&M University trustees approved plans to build two student dorms and an apartment complex that would add 2,000 beds. WCTV. A hotel, convention center, restaurant and student housing are proposed for Indian River State College’s Massey campus. TCPalm.

Around the nation: U.S. House Republicans have passed a bill that bars transgender women from playing on female sports teams and amends Title IX to define sex as based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth. The bill is expected to stall in the Senate, but even if it gets through there President Joe Biden has said he would veto it. Politico.

Opinions on schools: The charter movement, if vitality is to be regained, must rediscover a dedication to competition. Currently, parents are clamoring for new private school legislation and seem relatively indifferent to charter school legislation. Given that decades have passed since a state passed a charter law creating more than a mere smidge of charter school seats, one can hardly blame them. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. The next time a school library book is challenged in Pinellas County, it shouldn’t take three months to resolve the complaint. Tampa Bay Times. Lack of clarity from the state about what students can be taught about sexual orientation and gender identity is a way to stifle discussion about lots of topics that might touch, even tangentially, on those subjects even in the context of historical events. Threatened with potentially losing their teaching licenses, most teachers will probably veer away from any real discussions, and their students will be the poorer for it. Miami Herald. Florida’s educational leaders are presently emphasizing the importance of career education. They should recognize that high school courses in physics, chemistry and upper-level math are career education, too, since they start students on the road to lucrative careers in engineering, science and health professions that are critically important to society. Paul Cottle, Tampa Bay Times. Teaching students actual history and sharing with them concrete contemporary data isn’t unpatriotic. Trying to stop or censor that is. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff