GOP education priorities that are still pending, Broward’s PR blitz to regain students, tenure request and more

Bills still pending: With about four weeks left in the legislative session, several of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education priorities have yet to pass in at least one of the chambers. Among them: restricting school employees’ use of pronouns in schools to the gender students were born with, later middle and high school starting times, barring state universities and colleges from advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion, ending in-state college tuition for students brought into the country illegally as children, and the state’s education and overall budgets. The session is scheduled to end May 5. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: Broward’s school district is launching a public relations campaign to convince students to return to public schools that will also include closing or combining underenrolled schools, Palm Beach schools are still dealing with the fallout from a principal saying five years ago that he couldn’t say if the Holocaust happened, Brevard school officials are considering relaunching their book review committees but without the participation of school media specialists, seven New College of Florida professors have been asked by interim president Richard Corcoran to withdraw their applications for tenure, Sarasota school board chair Bridget Ziegler is defending a recent social media post showing her wearing a T-shirt that says “Real women aren’t men,” and Tallahassee Classical School’s board chair is refuting the school superintendent’s contention that the charter school was in violation of its contract with the district. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Even as critics contend the new universal school choice law will hurt public education, three school board members were in attendance when Gov. DeSantis signed the bill March 27 at a press conference in Miami. Chair Mari Tere Rojas and board members Roberto Alonso and Mary Blanco took photos with the governor and praised the law. Rojas’ support for a bill “that would likely divert dollars from public schools to private institutions demonstrates she no longer has the interest of Miami-Dade public school children,” charged Mina Hosseini, executive director of a nonprofit organization that supports the school district. Rojas said she does “everything possible to be able to be present” at events when invited by an elected official and “has nothing to do with any motivation of political agenda.” She also said that “it is important to report some of the benefits of H.B. 1, signed by the governor, some of which are priorities of the board.” Miami Herald. Free laptops were handed out last week to 225 students at three district schools, courtesy of the International WeLoveU Foundation. WSVN.

Broward: The public relations campaign being launched by the district to convince charter, private and home-schooled students to return to district schools will include closing or combining underenrolled schools to create a smaller number that perform better. “We are visioning redesigning, realigning, repurposing and consolidating schools,” interim superintendent Earlean Smiley told the school board last week. The district has lost about 20,000 students in the past 10 years, and has 45,000 empty seats, but is counting on the campaign declaring “there’s no place like Broward County Public Schools” to reverse the slide. Sun-Sentinel.

Orange: Sean Mikels has been named the new principal at the UPC West Orange Charter School in Winter Garden. He replaces Tom Brickel, who resigned due to the pressure of his responsibilities, school officials said. Orange Observer.

Palm Beach: Five years after a high school principal declared that he could not say the Holocaust was a historical fact, the district is still dealing with the fallout. School board members and the board’s inspector general are now contending that about $226,000 was misspent on a subsequent investigation by the Holland & Knight law firm. They say the 11-month investigation did not address the allegations the firm was hired to look into, and far exceeded the original $150,000 contract. “They didn’t do the work they should’ve done,” said board chair Frank Barbieri. “And now we’re at a point where we spent $226,000 and we still don’t have answers to those questions.” Palm Beach Post. Among the things Holland & Knight billed the district for were $2,000 for thinking up “topics and questions,” $10,000 to prep for and conduct a three-hour interview, and $200 for one of the firm’s attorneys to talk to another. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: More than 275 threats were reported in district schools between the first day in August and mid-February, according to school officials. The reports include shooting, bomb and other unspecified threats. Mayport Middle had the most, with 17. WJXT.

Brevard: School board members are considering resuming reviews of challenged books, but with a new group of reviewers and a new set of guidelines. One of those guidelines would remove school media specialists from having a vote on which books should stay on shelves and which should be removed or have age restrictions added, though they would still choose their books that go into the libraries. Another would give each board member the ability to appoint a member of the review committee. Board member Jennifer Jenkins opposes the proposal, saying, “There’s no real logical explanation to remove people who have an expertise in those areas off of that discussion, because as we said ourselves, we had a process in place and it was working.” Florida Today.

Volusia: A car owned by a Creekside Middle School teacher who has been missing since October 2020 was discovered Saturday in a New Smyrna Beach canal with a body inside. Police said the body has not yet been confirmed as Robert Heikka, who was 70 when he disappeared, but the department issued a statement reading, “While positive ID has not officially been made, the Port Orange Police Department has been in contact with Mr. Heikka’s family. Our thoughts go out to the Heikka family and friends this evening.” WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WOFL. WESH.

Sarasota: School board chair Bridget Ziegler is defending a recent social media post showing her wearing a T-shirt that says, “Real women aren’t men.” The protest last week drew criticism at last week’s board meeting, which she called “insane” because the message was “a fact.” She added, “The (shirt) that I wore is 1,000 percent true; I will stand behind it all day long. Because I’m dealing with lots of young athletes that are really upset about what’s happening to them as young women.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Clay: School board members are considering a proposed district policy that would require students to use school bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms that conform to their assigned gender at birth. Before a final vote, a hearing will be held Jan. 1 at Fleming High School to get public comment. WTLV.

Leon: Tallahassee Classical School’s board chair is refuting a contention that the charter school was in violation of its contract with the district, as district Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a letter last week. Barney Bishop said the school’s bylaws require just three board members. But the school’s contract with the district states, “The general direction and management of the affairs of the school shall be vested in the governing board with a minimum of 5 members.” Hanna wrote the school in January when only four board members were listed on the school’s website, but Bishop said the letter was sent to the former principal instead of the board chair. Tallahassee Democrat. A teacher at Griffin Middle School in Tallahassee is facing charges for allegedly organizing fights in her classroom, according to school resource officers. Angel Footman, 23, allegedly encouraged the fights, did not intervene and shouted “30 seconds, no screaming, no yelling, no phones, stop pulling hair” during the fights. Court documents indicated that Footman told officers that she didn’t organize the fights in any way, but acknowledged not calling for help or taking action to stop the fights or report them to school officials. WCTV.

Holmes: A dozen school employees have volunteered to become school guardians and are undergoing training for the state program. Once the employees complete 145 hours of training, Superintendent Buddy Brown said each district school will have multiple guardians to deter school shooters. “They’re going to get a rude awakening because if they attack our school, we’re going to kill them,” Brown said. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: Seven New College of Florida professors have been asked by interim president Richard Corcoran to withdraw their applications for tenure. The requests had already been approved by Corcoran’s predecessor, Bradley Thiessen, and go before the school’s board of trustees April 26. Steven Shipman, president of the school’s faculty union, called Corcoran’s request unprecedented. Tampa Bay Times. Four finalists have been chosen as contenders to replace Mike Martin as president of Florida Gulf Coast University. They are: Henry Mack III, senior chancellor for the Florida Department of Education; Aysegul Timur, FGCU’s vice president and vice provost for strategy and program innovation; Joseph Morgan, president of Morehead State University; and Neil MacKinnon, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Augusta University. A single finalist will be selected May 4, be considered by the Board of Governors May 10, and inaugurated July 1. Fort Myers News-Press. WGCU. WBBH.

Fighting book bans: Educators in Florida and other states are fighting book bans by freely distributing copies of targeted books to students, and getting them free digital library cards. Adam Tritt, a high school English teacher in Melbourne, Florida, who has been distributing books for the past year through his organization Foundation 451, is urging teachers and parents to attend school board meetings and speak to principals to take a stand against censorship. “We need a flood of parents writing e-mails to the principals and school boards, because e-mails are public record,” he said. Al Jazeera.

Opinions on schools: Why not trust parents to take control again of their children’s education and trust our free enterprise system to help them? If charter or other schools act badly, parents, having more choices, will desert the bad actors. Will Bronson, Fort Myers News-Press. Florida’s LGBTQ+ students face a terrifying reality in 2023 as school boards become weaponized to push a religious political agenda. Will Larkins, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff