State suspends distribution of ideological surveys to colleges, districts rip DOE’s communication, more scholarship details requested, and more

Ideological surveys suspended: The state has temporarily suspended the distribution of state-required ideological surveys to 2 million college students, faculty and staff just a year after they were introduced. The voluntary “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” surveys were written into law last year after Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican legislators expressed concern about anti-conservative bias on college campuses. Results are required to be published every Sept. 1. But only about 1 percent of the more than 1.7 million students and 10 percent of 120,000 faculty, instructional staff and administrators completed the survey, rendering the results statistically insignificant. Clifford Humphrey, the executive vice chancellor of the Florida College System, confirmed the suspension for 2023 and said the surveys will be distributed again next spring. No reasons was given for the suspension. Fresh Take Florida.

State guidance criticized: School district leaders around the state say the relationship between districts and the Florida Department of Education is decaying over vaguely written rules, changing directives and confusing guidance from state officials on how districts and their teachers are supposed to comply with the deluge of new state laws. “I don’t think the relationship has ever been as poor,” said Pinellas school board member Carol Cook. “We’re kind of in flux trying to do what we’re required to do but not knowing exactly how they want us to do it.” Bill Husfelt, who recently retired as Bay County school superintendent, said, “There’s a lot of angst out there, a lot of fear and worry. Everybody is afraid to make a mistake.” DOE officials did not respond to requests for a comment. Tampa Bay Times. WFSU.

Around the state: Thirty-one research and advocacy organizations are asking the state for more information about the students receiving scholarships under Florida’s new universal school choice program, Alachua schools will end “courtesy” busing for students who live within 2 miles of their schools, metal detectors will screen fans attending Leon County high school football games, and some Florida private schools, which are not bound by new state laws imposing restrictions on how black history is taught, are offering expanded courses and experiences visiting landmarks in civil rights history. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: County commissioners are considering hiring a company to install and maintain speed-detection cameras in school zones. Tickets for $100 would be generated automatically during school days. “It protects our children,” said commissioner Anthony Rodriguez, who sponsored the proposal to authorize the cameras and hire a Georgia company to install them at more than 200 schools outside city limits across the county. “It’s for the safety of our kids.” Miami Herald.

Palm Beach: Media specialists pleaded with the school board Wednesday for help, saying they’re overwhelmed with the new extra duties in state law requiring them to review books and deal with book challenges. “I love my job and I love my students, but something has to give,” a Marsh Pointe Elementary media specialist said. “I am not able to help them find their just right books and foster their love of reading because I am a slave to the vetting process. I don’t want my students to suffer.” WPTV. A former Atlantic High School teacher who is accused of giving herself a bonus for work she didn’t do was fired at Wednesday’s school board meeting. Andrea Smith-Thomas, a former teacher and athletic director, was arrested last October and charged with public order crimes, grand theft, and fraud or swindling under $20,000. WPEC.

Duval: Residents want a new school superintendent who understands the issues teachers face, can frugally manage the budget and will be a cheerleader for the district through appearances around town, according to 3,628 responses to an online school district survey. The survey is part of the search process that’s expected to end later this year with the selection of a superintendent who can start work around Jan. 1. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Polk: District 1 school board incumbent William Allen will have at least one challenger in next year’s election. Bernnie Brandt of Lakeland, who works as a security supervisor, has filed his paperwork for the seat. The political newcomer, 33, said he’s concerned about the air-conditioning problems at schools throughout the district and wants to avoid discussions of social issues because he thinks that takes away from the primary purpose of education. In the only other 2024 board race on the ballot, Travis Keyes and Marcus Wright Jr. are running for the District 2 seat being vacated by incumbent Lori Cunningham, who isn’t running for re-election. Lakeland Ledger.

Pasco: Extra security officers were stationed at Zephyrhills High School on Wednesday after two fights involving 14 students broke out Tuesday at lunchtime. Students who participated in the fights were ordered off campus until the district decides what disciplinary measures to impose. “Let me be perfectly clear: behavior of this nature will not be tolerated in Pasco County Schools. Every student has the right to a safe and conducive learning environment, and we will take every necessary measure to ensure that this remains the case,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Spectrum News 9. WTVT. Suncoast News.

Volusia: A DeLand Middle School student was arrested Wednesday after school resource officers said they found a gun in his bag on campus. They were tipped off through the FortifyFL app. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

St. Lucie: An assistant principal at a charter high school in Port St Lucie has been arrested and accused of beating up the teenage boyfriend of his daughter in the parking lot of a shopping center Monday. Ovidio Rivera, 53, an assistant principal at Somerset College Preparatory Academy, has been charged with cruelty to children and battery. WPEC.

Escambia: School district officials and the sheriff’s office are investigating allegations that two members of the cheerleading staff at Pine Forest High School misappropriated funds meant to buy uniforms for squad members. The two staff members accused have reportedly stepped down. WEAR.

Leon: High school football fans will have to pass through metal detectors to get into games, starting Friday, school district officials announced Wednesday. A walk-though metal detector will be in place at Gene Cox Stadium, while hand-held wands will be used at Lincoln High School. Other security measures include a ban on backpacks and loitering, and keep home and away fans separated. “Every weekend you’re seeing a national story of a shooting taking place at a high school football game,” said district spokesperson Chris Petley. “While that has thankfully not happened here locally, we didn’t want to wait till it was too late.” Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Okaloosa: Ernest Hebson, who started the band program when Fort Walton Beach High School was built in 1969 and was its director until he retired in 1999, died Wednesday at the age of 84. He was inducted into the Florida Bandmasters Association Hall of Fame in 2004. WEAR.

Alachua: An ongoing shortage of school bus drivers has prompted the district to end “courtesy” busing to about 1,200 students who live within 2 miles of their schools, starting Jan. 8. Special education students won’t be affected. District officials said courtesy busing costs the district $1.8 million a year and requires 16 buses, and the state doesn’t reimburse transportation costs for students who live that close to school. Gainesville Sun. An initial school board vote on the district’s proposed school rezoning has been postponed to the Oct. 17 meeting. Community meetings to discuss the plan are scheduled Oct. 2, 5, 10 and 12. A public hearing is Nov. 14, and a final school board vote has been tentatively set for the Dec. 5 board meeting. If the zoning changes are approved, they’ll go into effect for the 2024-2025 school year. Gainesville Sun. Thirty-five Alachua students have been named semifinalists in the 2024 National Merit Scholarship program. Nineteen of those students attend Buchholz High School, and three of them — Megan Chen, Daniel Wang and Nathan Wei — earned the highest score on the exam. Here’s a full list of the Florida semifinalists. Main Street Daily News.

Hernando: School board members clashed this week when asked to approve a trip to Montgomery, Ala., for director of secondary programs John Morris and Superintendent John Stratton to talk about how the Equal Opportunity Schools program is used in Hernando. Board members Mark Johnson and Shannon Rodriguez argued against the trip, with Johnson calling the program “affirmative action.” EOS is a nonprofit from Seattle that forcuses on increasing access to college and career-prep secondary school courses for minority and low-income students. The travel request was approved in a 3-2 vote. Suncoast News.

Colleges and universities: Yaffa Popack, a Miami Beach real estate investor who was a big fund-raiser for Gov. DeSantis last year, has been named to a seat on the Florida International University board of trustees by DeSantis. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. Philanthropist Janet Cohen, whose name is on Florida Gulf Coast University’s student union because of donations from her and her husband Harvey and whose giving centered on children’s causes, has died in Naples. She was 98. Naples Daily News.

Scholarship details sought: Thirty-one research and advocacy organizations, led by the Florida Policy Institute, are asking the state for more information about the students receiving scholarships under Florida’s new universal school choice program. The groups say the information is needed to properly evaluate the program, which makes scholarships worth about $8,000 a year available to every Florida K-12 student, regardless of family income. They want to know who the students receiving the scholarships are. their demographics, family incomes, individual education plan designations and the number of new private schools that have applied to accept scholarships. Florida Department of Education officials said “the Florida Policy Institute’s concerns are unfounded” and that its “claim that the department has not been transparent about the scholarship process is ridiculous.” Florida Phoenix. WFTS. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida.

Private schools, black history: Some Florida private schools, which are not bound by new state laws imposing restrictions on how black history is taught, are offering expanded courses and experiences visiting landmarks in civil rights history. “Children need to be taught the truth,” said Marsha Hall, a 7th-grade teacher at Monarch Learning Academy in Orlando. “And again, age appropriately. Let me say that age appropriately and with context and with the opportunity to disagree with the opportunity to feel upset and work through those feelings.” WMFE.

Around the nation: The number of U.S. school shootings doubled to a record high of 188 during the 2021-2022 school year from the previous year, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. Fifty-seven people were killed, which was also a record. The 98 school shootings in 2020-2021 school year broke the previous record of 78, which was set in 2019-2020. The 74. If a Catholic charter school in Oklahoma opens as planned next year, secular charter advocates worry it could split the charter school movement at a time when support is already fraying. “This is probably the biggest challenge to the intent and origins of chartering that I’ve seen in 30-plus years,” said Ember Reichgott Junge, a former Democratic state senator who wrote the country’s first charter-school law in Minnesota. The Atlantic.

Opinions on schools: The question facing our public education system is whether it can reorder itself to adapt to its current reality, rather than continue struggling to restore the old one. Travis Pillow, reimaginED. There’s a reason Florida has one of the worst teacher shortages in the nation right now. With culture war madness around every corner, why would anyone sign up for that? Jessica Grose, New York Times. Public education is fundamental to democracy. It’s the nation’s singular institution structured to cohere a hugely heterogenous population into Americans. Whatever deficits our schools have should be fixed with the tax dollars we are now diverting to private schools that are operating on principles most Americans have worked for decades to eradicate. June S. Neal, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff