Proposed DOE rule would determine students with ‘substantial math deficiency,’ PragerU’s indoctrination, school work perks, and more

Math rule proposed: A rule that would determine when students have a “substantial math deficiency” and become eligible for a federally required improvement plan was published Monday by the state Department of Education. Students in grades K-4 who score below the 10th percentile “based upon screening, diagnostic assessments, progress monitoring, other classroom data, or statewide assessments” or through teacher observation “must be covered by a federally required student plan” such as an individual education plan that is typically established for students with a disability, according to the rule. News Service of Florida. WJAX.

Around the state: The founder of the state-approved PragerU classroom materials acknowledges the organization’s intent is to indoctrinate children to become conservatives, Miami-Dade school employees could get a better chance to get their children into magnet programs as a work benefit, Broward’s school board will consider starting a district police department, a federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit contending the University of Miami should refund student fees paid when the school was closed during the pandemic, Okaloosa and Hernando school board members give tentative approval to budgets, and a Polk County elementary school is extending its agriculture education program to children in kindergarten and 1st grade. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A proposal to improve the odds that employees’ children can win a seat in the district’s highly rated magnet schools will be considered by the school board at its meeting Aug. 16. It would allow parents and guardians who work for the district to “evoke an employee benefit to increase the likelihood of their child being selected during a random selection process” for choice schools by setting aside 5 percent of available seats in a lottery open only to children of employees. Students who don’t win seats in that lottery could also enter the public lottery for the remaining spots in the school. Another provision of the policy would give magnet admissions priority to children of honorably discharged U.S. military veterans. Teachers union vice president Antonio White called the proposal called a “welcome improvement” and a morale booster for employees. reimaginED.

Broward: School board members will consider a proposal for the district to start its own police department within the next three years instead of hiring officers from the sheriff and municipal police departments to safeguard schools. “There is major value in improving safety with direct board oversight and integrating police in our schools and local communities so parents are reassured about the safety of their children,” said board member Torey Alston. The district pays about $103,000 a year for each officer, and the costs are escalating. How much a district department would cost is unknown, but Superintendent Peter Licata has said he’s beginning to study whether the district can “spend the same kind of money but have employees of our own that may understand the system of schools versus police activity-type things?” Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay: Some of the district’s school boundary changes approved by the school board in June go into effect when classes resume Aug. 10. Just Elementary’s closure will send students to Booker T. Washington and Tampa Bay Boulevard elementary schools or to magnet programs at Dunbar, Lockhart and Tampa Heights elementaries. Carrollwood Elementary is also adding a 6th grade as part of a three-year phase-in to become Carrollwood K-8. The rest of the changes, which will eventually have an impact on 15,277 students, go into effect next fall. WFTS. Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando school districts have increased school bus driver pay and adjusted routes to address shortages and late arrivals. But district officials know there are bound to be some glitches, and not everyone will be happy with the new routes. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Orange: School board members will discuss revisions to the student code of conduct at today’s meeting. Among the proposed changes: Students can’t use cell phones during the school days, and must be silenced and concealed in a purse or backpack. “We are going to require students to put their phones away when they come to school, either in their backpack or in a purse, and we’re still deciding whether to allow students to put it in a pocket,” said board member Karen Castor Dentel. “I prefer that they don’t have it in a pocket because it’s too accessible. They can feel it when it’s buzzing. It’s distracting.” WKMG.

Duval: A former janitor at 10 district schools has pleaded guilty to a single charge of lewd and lascivious molestation of a student under the age of 12. Under a plea arrangement, 10 of the 11 charges were dismissed against Wayne Williams, 62, in return for the admission. He was sentenced to 51 months in prison followed by 10 years probation as a sexual offender. WJXT. WTLV. WJAX.

Polk: Willow Oak Elementary School in Mulberry is expanding the agriculture classes it started during the 2020-2021 academic year for older elementary students to kindergartners and 1st-graders this year. While middle and high school students have been able to learn about farming for decades, the Willow Oak program is the county’s first elementary-level agriculture program. When classes resume Aug. 11, the younger students will get a chance to learn how to grow and harvest food for animals and humans and collect eggs from chickens. “Agriculture is an important economic driver in our community, and we wanted students to have experiences to bridge the traditional academics with connections to agriculture,” said school principal Michelle Townley. Lakeland Ledger.

Escambia: With a little more than a week left before school starts, the district is still looking to hire 47 teachers. “Our hiring process is ongoing and robust,” said Melia Adams, director of human resource, who added that “we have a strong pool of substitute teachers ready to step in as needed to fill any remaining vacancies.” The district also needs school bus drivers to cover 11 more routes. WEAR.

Okaloosa: The proposed school budget for the coming year is 9.9 percent higher than last year’s, at $406.5 million compared to just under $370 million last year, according to district officials who say the increased revenue still might not cover the rising costs in wages, insurance, electricity, retirement fund contributions, and payments to charter schools. The school board’s final vote on the budget is scheduled Sept. 11. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Hernando: A school budget of nearly $506 million is being proposed for the 2023-2024 fiscal year that is about $27 million more than last year’s spending. The district anticipates spending $127.7 million on capital projects. The budget was tentatively approved on a 4-1 school board vote, with Shannon Rodriguez voting no. A second public hearing is scheduled Sept. 5. Suncoast News. More than 65 people have applied for the district’s associate teacher program, which helps paraprofessionals receive paid on-the-job training while earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at no cost. In return, each applicant commits to teaching in the district for four years. Suncoast News.

Martin: New Superintendent Michael Maine is dreaming big in his first year with the district. “I believe that we can be and will be the No. 1 district in the state of Florida. Why settle for anything less, because anything less than No. 1 is not good enough for kids,” he said. Officials have expectations of high achievement from students, too. “We don’t water down the curriculum for our struggling students,” said Maine. “We hold high expectations for them. And we build in scaffolds to push them to achieve at that higher level because we know they can.” WPEC.

Monroe: Come work in paradise, is the pitch district officials are making to fill 28 teaching positions and 10 paraprofessionals before classes begin Aug. 10. “Picture yourself enjoying the best sunsets in the world every night and using your weekends to finally get some much-needed rest and relaxation,” boasts the district website. “From crystal clear waters to the thriving community to up-close encounters with sea life — living like a local is just better here.” The pay ranges from $61,500 to $97,700 a year for teachers, which is higher than in other districts, but the cost of living is also more: the average home in the Keys costs $613,400, and the median gross rent is $1,782 a month. Miami Herald.

Colleges and universities: A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit contending the University of Miami should refund student fees paid when the school was closed during the pandemic. The judges said the school’s student handbook allowed the university to change procedures and access to facilities and “thus, (the school) did not breach any agreement by temporarily transitioning to remote learning.” News Service of Florida. About a month into his job as president of Florida Institute of Technology, John Nicklow said his first impression is “wow, absolutely wow.” Florida Today. The University of Central Florida is expected to receive a $700,000 matching grant from the state to help pay for more equipment and scholarships for nursing students. WMFE.

PragerU’s intent: In his campaign against “woke” in Florida’s schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis has called it a form of indoctrination that has no place in education. But a conservative group’s education materials recently approved by the state for school use are meant to indoctrinate and change minds, the founder acknowledges. “We are in the mind-changing business and few groups can say that,” said conservative radio host Dennis Prager about the mission of PragerU. He also said it’s “fair” to say Prager U indoctrinates children to its message linking patriotism and mainstream conservative talking points. Miami Herald.

New disciplinary rules: When classes resume in Florida schools this month, teachers will have a new state-approved bill of rights that strengthens their ability to discipline unruly students and allows them to request a special magistrate if they don’t feel they’re being supported by school officials. During the 2020-2021 school year, the Florida Department of Education reported there were more than 174,085 out-of-school suspensions across the state, up from 154,798 year before the pandemic. WCJB.

Around the nation: Nine Oklahoma residents and the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee (OPLC) have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s approval of the nation’s first religious charter school. The St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School is scheduled to go online in 2024 and serve 400 to 500 students. “The very idea of a public charter school funded by taxpayers and promoting a religion is, at its core, illegal,” said Erin Brewer, vice chair of the OPLC. “It is the antithesis of ‘public.’ No parent or taxpayer should be forced to fund someone else’s religion.” Ryan Walters, the state superintendent of public instruction, said the plaintiffs are the ones attacking religious liberty. “It is time to end atheism as the state-sponsored religion,” he said in a statement. “Suing and targeting the Catholic Virtual Charter School is religious persecution because of one’s faith, which is the very reason that religious freedom is constitutionally protected.” KFOR. Education Week. The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff