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Jefferson district bid-rigging investigations, Orange board’s LGBTQ+ proclamation, book bans, scholarships for disabled, and more

Around the state: A federal grand jury that is now investigating allegations of bid-rigging over a $4 million contract to help students in the struggling Jefferson County School District began after a state investigation went nowhere, Orange County School Board members approve a proclamation declaring October as LGBTQ+ Awareness and History Month after board member Alicia Farrant attacked the proposal as “a push to normalize sexual promiscuity and sexual ideations at a young age,” Clay County’s school board considers an expansion of the state’s definition of objectionable content in school books as a way to exclude even more, some private school leaders say the state’s expansion of school vouchers is discriminatory because it imposes a cap on the number of disabled students who can receive them, teachers in Lee and Collier counties continue to negotiate with their districts for raises, and the Escambia school district is offering anger management classes as an alternative to suspensions. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Review committees have recommended social studies textbooks to school board members, who are expected to collect more public input and decide at a meeting Oct. 11 whether to follow those recommendations and adopt them. WPLG. WTVJ.

Broward: Apollo Middle School in Hollywood has opened a new media center as part of a $12.7 million upgrade that is expected to be completed by next August. The renovated library includes  improved lighting, learning spaces, access to enhanced Internet and educational games, and is part of the $800 million bond approved by voters about nine years ago to rebuild and renovate aging schools. WFOR.

Orange: School board members approved a proclamation declaring October as LGBTQ+ Awareness and History Month. Before the vote, board member Alicia Farrant had attacked the proposal as “a push to normalize sexual promiscuity and sexual ideations at a young age.” The Moms for Liberty member said she objected to the “+” in the proclamation, saying it was an “all-encompassing” symbol that “according to my research” includes “leather pride, bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism” and “many other sexual ideologies and perversions.” Several colleagues called her remarks “hateful” and uninformed. Orlando Sentinel. WESH. Some Advanced Placement students may have to change their Capstone Diploma Program research projects after the district said it won’t accept those that include survey questions about LGBTQ+, critical race theory, Black Lives Matter, body image and racial and gender stereotypes. District officials said they are working on a solution that will allow students to work on topics they’re interested in that will meet state guidelines. WFTV.

Palm Beach: Twenty-seven students whose completed Advanced Placement tests were lost in May were told this week that they have just three weeks to prep before before retaking them Oct. 19. “Less than a month’s notice to take a test is nowhere near enough (time),” said Laurance Singh, a junior at Royal Palm Beach High now preparing for his second AP calculus exam. The original booklets were lost on their way to the College Board for grading. Only six of the students decided to retake the exams to try to salvage their college credit, according to district officials. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: District officials are considering shortening a discrimination policy by eliminating the words gender orientation and gender identity from a statement that begins with the phrase, “the school board does not discriminate on the basis of sex” in education programs and activities. They say the change is necessitated by new state laws, and will be discussed further at future meetings. WFLA. Street lights have been added to 17 school bus stops in Lake Wales as a response to the death of 13-year-old Jadin Galindo, who was hit by a car while he was waiting in the dark for his school bus in February. He was an eighth-grader at McLaughlin Academy of Excellence. The driver was not charged, and a civil lawsuit filed by the boy’s family was dismissed. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Teachers union representatives have rejected the school district’s latest contract offer that would pay teachers with zero to three years of experience $50,000 a year and scale up so teachers with 20 years of service would receive $63,000. Union officials countered with a request of $50,000 a year for new teachers, and scaling up so teachers with 20 years experience would receive $7,400 pay raises. The next bargaining session is scheduled Monday. WINK. WFTX.

Osceola: An 8-year-old student with disabilities somehow managed to walk away unnoticed from Ventura Elementary School but was safe after being taken in by a resident a block away from the school. The student’s mother said he is supposed to have one-on-one supervision from a school employee to make sure he gets to the car safely. School officials said, “On the second day of school, a Ventura Elementary child did not go home the correct way. Procedures were immediately put into place so that it wouldn’t happen again.” WOFL.

Seminole: The city of Oviedo is being sued by the parents of a 9-year-old special needs student who was handcuffed by police at Stenstrom Elementary School earlier this year. An individual education and behavioral intervention plan between the parents and the school specified that when the boy exhibited “physical aggression,” he was to be isolated and not engaged in conversation. Despite that, school resource officers intervened, asked him if he wanted to go to jail, handcuffed him and put him on the floor, which violated the SRO agreement with the district that prohibits handcuffs being used on any special needs student in grades K-5. WKMG.

Volusia: Members of the community fought for and against book removals at this week’s six-hour school board meeting. Moms for Liberty organized the reading of explicit passages of some books, assuming that if they were stopped by a board member the book would be automatically removed. But board members said their interpretation of the law is that removal would only happen if there is an official, written objection. Several speakers then filed complaint forms, which board members said will be reviewed. WESH.

Collier: Teachers union officials and the district continue to squabble over a contract. The district has offered a higher starting salary, raises of up to 10 percent for teachers based on current salary level, seniority and position, and an increase in experience credit from 10 years to 18 years. Union officials said the offer would pay few teachers 10 percent more, and many would get as little as 5 percent. Instead, they want a $5,000 salary increase across the board, plus case-by-case increases for teachers who reach different “steps.” WINK.

St. Johns: School rezoning maps for the 2024-2025 school year have been revised and will get a public hearing at the Oct. 3 school board workshop meeting before a final decision is made in November. Creating attendance zones for two new K-8 schools will send nearly 2,300 students to new schools and address overcrowding at other schools, a proposal that has drawn extensive criticism from the parents of those children who would switch schools. WTLV. WJAX.

Sarasota: Nate Francis, principal at Eisenhower Middle School in Hillsborough County, has been hired to replace Ryan Chase as principal at Brookside Middle School in Sarasota. Chase is now the principal at Sarasota High School. WWSB.

Escambia: The district is now offering four weeks of anger management classes as an alternative to suspensions. Classes are held before school hours in middle school and after dismissal for high schools. They’re conducted by volunteer mental health counselors. WEAR. School board member Kevin Adams is proposing building a new high school in Beulah to help deal with rising enrollment. He wants to use 50 acres from a 500-acre outlying field once used by the Navy for flight training. “You have this just unreal growth that’s going on and for a high school you have to look out 5 or 7 years. So I believe it’s going to have to happen,” Adams said. WEAR.

Clay: School board members are considering expanding the state’s definition of objectionable content in school books, a move that could significantly increase the number of titles being banned. The district already has removed 181 books from district bookshelves, the most of any district in the nation. But board member Michele Hanson, calling the removed books “filthy, filty pornography,” wants to add “filters” that will flag books that now fall outside of the state’s rigid new restrictions. Chief academic officer Roger Dailey cautioned that adding more filters will have consequences, citing the county’s already “ignominious” reputation. He said Clay has 1.5 percent of the state’s students but is home to 80 percent of the state’s book challenges. WTLV.

Bay: School board members have approved a proposal to have epi-pens placed in every school to combat potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. School nurses or another trained professional would administer the medication, which will be stored in a locked cabinet. A final vote on the proposal is scheduled in 30 days. WEAR. WJHG.

Charlotte: Superintendent Mark Vianello and school board attorney Michael McKinley told school district librarians over the summer to remove any book that contained LBGTQ+ characters or themes in order to comply with the state’s Parental Rights in Education law. “These characters and themes cannot exist,” they said when asked if that included a book with a gay secondary character or a main character with same-sex parents or a gay friend. District officials are now saying saying some materials with LGBTQ+ themes or characters are still be available in high school libraries. Associated Press. Popular Information. WBBH. Representatives of the Lee County branch of the NAACP say they will file a federal civil rights complaints against Babcock Ranch High School after a 16-year-old student’s allegations of racial bullying by classmates. Several incidents were caught on video. School officials condemned the videos, and said the school has “taken steps” to address the behavior. WBBH.

Flagler: Charges against an autistic Matanzas High School student who attacked her teacher two years ago were dropped this week. Reba Johnson, now 20, cursed the teacher and punched her in the back. She was charged with battery on a school employee, but a judge decided she was incompetent to stand trial. Flagler Live.

Bradford: A Lawtey Elementary School student has been referred to juvenile authorities after being found in possession of a plastic gun at school this week. The student faces a misdemeanor charge of disrupting a school function. WCJB.

Jefferson: A federal grand jury that is now investigating allegations of bid-rigging over a $4 million contract to help students in the struggling Jefferson County School District began after a state investigation went nowhere. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, interviewed no one involved in the scandal, according to records, and simply referred the case back to the Florida Department of Education’s inspector general, who produced no reports and pulled no records. State Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, had requested a state investigation last year after a report that the Florida Department of Education, then led by Richard Corcoran, tried to steer the contract to a company led by political ally Trey Traviesa. Tampa Bay Times.

Colleges and universities: With the search for a permanent president stalled, Florida Atlantic University faculty and donors are urging trustees to offer the job to interim president Stacy Volnick, who had been the school’s chief operating officer. Brad Levine, chair of the trustees, said “exploring” that as an option “is a reasonable thing.” Trustees also voted 10-2 to end the automatic ascension of their board’s vice chair if the chair’s position becomes vacant. The vote was seen as a slight to vice chair Barbara Feingold, who criticized the search after state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, failed to make the list of three finalists. Levine is the chair of the search committee and has defended the process. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Broward College trustees finally agreed this week to accept the Sept. 13 resignation of President Gregory Haile. An interim president is expected to be appointed next week. Sun-Sentinel. Carol Probstfeld, president of the State College of Florida for the last 11 years, announced this week that she will retire July 1. WWSB. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Alumni of New College and other supporters are launching an online learning platform as a way to counter the state’s conservative makeover of the school. Alt New College will provide access to courses that the new leadership has ended, such as gender studies. WUSF.

Disability discrimination? Some private school leaders say the state’s expansion of school vouchers discriminates against disabled students. They say having a cap on the number of students who can receive Family Empowerment Scholarships (FES) for Students with Unique Abilities is discriminatory because there is no cap on the number of students who aren’t disabled who can quality for the scholarships. “That cap is unfair and it’s illegal,” said Maria Preston, a Florida private school leader pushing for change. WTLV.

School district rankings: Sarasota is the best school district in the state, according to the online ranking and review site Niche. It was followed by St. Johns, Seminole, Okaloosa and Collier counties. Districts were ranked using test scores, academic performance, federal data used to evaluate teachers and resources, and input from students, alumni and parents. Patch.

Around the nation: Fear of school shootings, anxiety over bullying and anger over the encroachment of politics into public schools are among the leading reasons parents are turning to home-schooling, according to a new poll. Washington Post. reimaginED. About 97 percent of students between the ages of 11 and 17 use their cell phone during the school day, according to a study. Time spent on the phone during ranged from under a minute to more than 6 hours. K-12 Dive. Education Week. A new Biden administration rule is expected to be published Oct. 10 that would cut funding to colleges whose degrees leaves students with high debt and low pay. Specifically targeted are for-profit colleges and traditional universities that offer certificate programs. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Gov. DeSantis says book bans are a “hoax,” and Republicans are quick to say that Florida hasn’t banned any books. They might be technically right, but their deflection is disingenuous. They might not personally be perusing school catalogs looking for content they consider subversive, but they empowered groups like Moms for Liberty to do their bidding by pressuring schools to do so. One way or the other, Florida is to blame for any of those books that’s no longer available to students. Miami Herald. Florida has spent decades creating a university system that offers affordable higher education at a mix of schools across the state; a system that has kept many of Florida’s best students in state. By all kinds of measures, it is one of Florida’s success stories. It ain’t broke. So there should be concern when current state leaders say they’re going to fix it. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff