DOE rules on book scrutiny upheld by judge, signs of ‘brain drain’ on state campuses, New College wants to fight ‘cancel culture,’ and more

Rules challenge rejected: An administrative law judge has rejected a legal challenge of new Florida Department of Education rules that increase the scrutiny of books in schools. The rules require online training for school librarians and other employees involved in selecting books for students, and the online posting of reading materials by elementary schools. The Florida Education Association teachers union contended the rules are invalid because the DOE had overstepped its authority and improperly applied the requirements to books and materials in classrooms. Judge Darren Schwartz disagreed, writing that the DOE’s definition of “library media center” to include classrooms was consistent with the law. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Florida universities are reporting a higher number than normal staff resignations and difficulty attracting candidates since the state passed new higher education laws, New College of Florida will ask the Legislature for $2 million to create a “Freedom Institute” that would fight “cancel culture” in universities, New College trustees also approve a pay range of $487,000 to $867,777 for the next school president, state data shows that freshman composition was the most popular dual-enrollment course taken by Florida high school students in the spring, and a choir from Frostproof Middle-Senior High School will open Sunday for Foreigner’s concert at MidFlorida Credit Union Ampitheatre. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The relatives of three victims of the 2018 shooting in the 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and three survivors visited the building Thursday. Max Schachter, whose son Alex died there, said, “I wanted to know what happened in that building from the inside. I wanted to know why he’s not here today.” Walk-throughs will continue today and next week for families of the victims and survivors to see the scene of the crime and collect belongings that were left behind. District officials expect the three-story building to be turned over to them shortly after that, and it will be mechanically dismantled by workers starting next month. The work will not take place during school hours, and is expected to take four to five months and cost up to $1.4 million. District officials have not announced plans for the site, but families of the victims want a memorial. “We need a memorial,” said Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was killed. “Just because the building goes doesn’t mean that that ground is not sacred and important because of who was lost there, who was taken.” Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: Three county teachers were among just 28 from schools in 13 states chosen as 2023 Alfred Lerner Fellows, who spent several days learning new ways to teach their students about the Holocaust. James Johnson of Forest Hill Community High, Susan Burns of Palm Beach Gardens Community, and Paul Sauberer of Okeeheelee Middle said they learned new things at the summer institute that will benefit their students. “It’s a huge tool. I learned so much,” said Johnson. “Every time you teach the Holocaust, you learn new things about what happened.” WPTV.

Polk: About 20 students from Frostproof Middle-Senior High School’s choir will hit the big stage Sunday when they open the concert for Foreigner at MidFlorida Credit Union Ampitheatre. For its farewell tour, the group decided to have local high school choirs open their shows. Choral director Jonathan Carter submitted a recording, and heard the good news that it had been selected just before the school year ended. “I think we’ve all been a little nervous,” said Hayden Wrye, an 18-year-old singer and longtime Foreigner fan. “It’s going to be almost 20,000 people that we’re performing in front of — that’s a pretty big step from the town of Frostproof (population 2,993).” Tampa Bay Times.

Lake: District officials hope to hire 82 teachers and 19 school bus drivers at a job fair next Wednesday at Mount Dora High School. Teachers for math, science, language arts, elementary and special education are needed, as are counselors, speech language pathologists, psychologists, teacher assistants and mechanics. WFTV.

Colleges and universities: New College of Florida trustees decided Thursday to go forward with a plan asking the state Legislature for $2 million to establish a “Freedom Institute” that would combat “cancel culture” in higher education. “Right now there is a tremendous cancel culture that is existing in higher ed,” said interim president Richard Corcoran. “There’s a tremendous pushback against that cancel culture.” Trustees will also ask for $6.035 million to develop three new master’s programs, in marine mammal science, environmental economics and policy, and educational leadership. News Service of Florida. New College trustees also set a pay range of $487,000 to $867,777 for the next school president. Total compensation, which includes bonuses, retirement contributions, and housing and vehicle allowances, would range from $893,461 to $1.5 million. About 60 people have applied for the job. News Service of Florida. Higher Ed Dive. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed two new trustees to the Polk State College District board and reappointed three current members. New to the board are Ann Barnhart, vice president of strategy for AdventHealth; and Ashley Troutman, a financial adviser for Northwestern Mutual. Reappointed were Ashley Bell Barnett, Greg Littleton and Cindy Hartley Ross. Lakeland Ledger.

Signs of ‘brain drain’: A review of staff departures at some of Florida’s largest universities suggests that the “brain drain” widely forecast by critics of new state laws may be starting to happen. Staff departures are up at many Florida schools, and some Florida universities are losing applicants to lower-ranked schools in other states, with some of those candidates specifically pointing to Florida’s political climate. For example, the African American studies department at the University of Florida made nine offers while trying to fill three positions, but none accepted. Wyn Everham, a professor of ecology at Florida Gulf Coast University, said open positions that once drew over 200 applicants now see fewer than 20. Low pay, the high cost of living and tight limits on tenure are also factors, Everham said. Tampa Bay Times.

Dual-enrollment courses: Freshman composition was the most popular dual-enrollment course taken by Florida high school students in the spring, according to the Florida Department of Education. More than 15,250 students took the course. Second was college algebra, with 5,231, followed by U.S. history at 5,101. Bridge to Tomorrow.

In the Legislature: State Rep. Jennifer Canaday, a former teacher and school administrator, has been chosen as the Florida House speaker for the term starting in 2028, assuming she is re-elected three more times and Republicans maintain their majority status in the House. Canaday, 49, would become the House’s first female speaker. Lakeland Ledger.

More on test scores: Results from the new standardized Florida Assessment of Student Thinking exams were announced last week. Fifty percent of students in grades 3-10 scored at grade-level or above in English language arts, and 56 percent of those in grades 3-8 performed at grade-level or above in math. Here are reports from districts around the state. Jefferson. Indian River. Collier.

Around the nation: Federal funding for infrastructure upgrades in high-need school communities is being doubled by the U.S. Department of Energy. The agency will make $178 million in grants available for districts to upgrade HVAC systems, lighting, and install solar panels or batteries. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: The work of the Broward County School Board must proceed in a determined and professional manner regardless of the dysfunction of the group of elected, and in some instances, governor-appointed board members whose minimum job should at least be to show up — not every day, but at least on the days when they commit in advance to do so, like when they schedule officially noticed meetings for themselves. Sun-Sentinel. Hillsborough’s school board must right-size the school district to prove to voters that it can manage its finances and still provide a quality education. Otherwise, how can board members expect voters to approve an expected surtax for operations on the 2024 general election ballot? John Hill, Tampa Bay Times. An important part of Florida’s new universal school choice law relaxes the mandate that the yellow bus system is the only allowable method of transportation, allowing districts to find solutions that make the most sense for each situation. That flexibility will be critical as school districts prepare to comply with another new law starting in 2026 that requires later starting times for middle and high schools. Lisa Buie, reimaginED. School districts from Tampa to Oakland, Calif., have already been getting input from parents on their children’s needs, and it’s a model that’s working remarkably well. It’s community schools, which are public schools that offer a range of support for students’ well-being to make sure they are healthy, well-fed, safe and in the best position to learn. The schools also intentionally listen to parents about what students need to thrive. Jeremy Mohler, The Progressive Magazine.

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BY NextSteps staff