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Storm closes some schools, Osceola board wants Melendez removed, student makeover at New College, teacher contracts, and more

Around the state: Strong storms that spawned tornadoes around the state that caused damage and knocked out power closed some schools Thursday and at least one again today, Osceola school board members want colleague Julius Melendez removed by the governor after he was accused of kissing an 18-year-old woman against her will and buying her alcohol, departures are up at New College but the addition of athletics has helped push overall enrollment up slightly, Escambia school board members are considering elevating interim Keith Leonard to the superintendent’s position by January, and teachers in Polk and Brevard will get raises after contract agreements are reached. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A new Miami-based group called Families Against Banning Books has formed to try to counter the influence of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty. “We really needed to have a counter voice,” said group founder Hedieh Sepehri. “We wanted to show that Moms for Liberty wasn’t the majority (in Miami-Dade County public schools). They just happened to be more organized.” Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: School libraries and media specialists have been targeted in the state’s fight against what it calls “wokeism,” which has led to removals and restrictions of books that conservatives claim are “pornographic.” Now, the American Association of School Librarians fly into that environment with its annual conference in Tampa next week. Sessions at the conference will be devoted to helping media specialists continue to select books that will help students and still adhere to new laws covering content and book challenges. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: The deadline for applying for the school superintendent’s job is today, and just seven candidates have formally come forward. Two are from Jacksonville: chief of schools Scott Schneider, who has some support among school board members; and Marianne Simon, the district’s elementary region superintendent. Other candidates are: Clifford Burns, superintendent at Andover Regional School District (K-8) in New Jersey since July 2021; Garrick Askew, assistant superintendent of operations at the Clarke County School District in Athens, Ga., since March 2022; Adam Taylor, a consultant at Darryl Richardson LLC who also experience as a superintendent in Vermont; Corwin Robinson, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former program administrator at St. Tammany Parish School System in Louisiana; and Annie Cruez-Samuels, the dean of academic affairs at Keiser University in Daytona Beach. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Veteran teachers and support staff will receive raises and will continue to have a no-premium health plan under a contract agreement reached this week between the district and the teachers union. New salary schedules addressing pay “compression” for veteran teachers and support staff are a key part of the deal, say union officials. Union members will vote on the deal through Oct. 20, and the school board also has to approve it. Lakeland Ledger. WFTS.

Brevard: Most teachers will get a raise of 9.9 percent this year after the union and the school district reached an agreement this week on a new contract. About a quarter of the boost comes from the district’s general fund, with the rest covered by a tax increase approved by voters in 2022. Other benefits agreed to include the district covering health insurance cost increases, supplement pay going up by 30 percent, parental leave increasing from 10 to 15 days, bereavement leave going from three days to five, and more. The deal still must be ratified by union members and approved by the school board. Florida Today. Public high school graduation ceremonies will be held May 20-25 at various locations, district officials have announced. Space Coast Daily.

Osceola: An attorney for the school board is drafting a letter encouraging Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove board member Julius Melendez after he was charged with battery after forcibly kissing an 18-year-old girl and serving her alcohol last week. Melendez has pleaded not guilty, and his arraignment is Nov. 14. The board attorney is also awaiting an answer from the state whether Melendez’s salary can be withheld. Orlando Sentinel.

Escambia: School board members have begun considering elevating interim superintendent Keith Leonard to the top job by the beginning of next year. Leonard was chosen in June to temporarily replace Tim Smith, who was fired in May. Board member Patty Hightower proposes to promote Leonard to provide consistency in the district, but set January as the target so members of the public will have time to offer feedback. Pensacola News Journal. The district is receiving $1.2 million as its part of the 2022 settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the American electronic cigarette company Juul Labs for marketing their products to children. Schools in 30 states were part of the suit, which ended with Juul agreeing to pay $439 million. WEAR.

Clay: School board members are considering creating a process for reviewing challenged school books. Board member Michele Hanson said having a district process was preferable to relying on outside organizations like the American Library Association, which she called “an association that only defends sexually explicit materials.” Superintendent David Broskie dissented, saying further research should be conducted before such a decision is made. Discussion of the issue will continue at the board’s Oct. 24 workshop meeting. Clay Today.

Leon: A permanent food pantry for students and their families has opened at Riley Elementary in Tallahassee. It has fresh produce, meat and dairy products, as well as dry goods and perishables. School officials teamed with Second Harvest and the Tallahassee Chamber’s Classroom Connection program to create the pantry. “It is amazing to see the community coming together to support our school and our kids,” said principal Maurice Stokes. WTXL. WCTV.

Charlotte: Babcock Neighborhood School, the school’s owner and some parents are the target of a lawsuit alleging that black students have been bullied. Several students have said they’ve been targeted for harassment because of their race, and the suit contends the school failed in its duty to supervise the students at school and school events. Charlotte Sun. WINK.

Colleges and universities: New College’s enrollment is up slightly this year despite a plummeting student retention rate and a spike in the dropout rate since the state’s conservative makeover of the Sarasota school, according to a report from interim provost Brad Thiessen to faculty members. Twenty-seven percent of students left the school between the fall of 2022 and the start of this school year, about double the rate of the previous two years. And the retention rate of first-year students of 64.9 percent was the lowest in school history. Despite that, enrollment is up by 41 students this year, to 733. Adding sports and attracting more than 120 athletes has helped offset the departures. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tampa Bay Times. The Hamas attack on Israel and the resulting military response from the Jewish state have led to demonstrations on college campuses in Florida and around the country, which are putting pressure on U.S. education officials to more closely monitor pro-Palestinian advocacy and discrimination against Jewish people. Politico. Florida Phoenix. Tampa Bay Times. Broward College has fixed many of the problems cited by a team of accreditors and is expected to have its accreditation renewed in December, college officials said this week. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Atlantic University trustees are asking the state for $200,000 to match donations from south Florida hospitals to help expand the schools’ nursing program. News Service of Florida.

Storms affect schools: Strong storms that spawned tornadoes swept through Florida early Thursday, causing damage and forcing the closure of some schools on both the east and west coasts. Citrus County closed schools for the day, and power outages caused by the storms shuttered some schools in other areas. Citrus schools are expected to reopen today, but a power outage will keep Spruce Creek High School in Volusia County closed. Citrus County Chronicle. WFTS. WFLA. WFTV. WTVT. Bay News 9. WUSF. Spectrum News 13. WKMG. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. WESH. Orlando Sentinel. USA Today Florida Network.

Florida’s choice growth: More than 455,000 K-12 scholarships have been awarded in Florida this year, the first since a law creating universal school vouchers was approved. Florida is now home to the nation’s first-, second- and third-largest education choice scholarship programs, and more than twice as many students are using education scholarship accounts in Florida as in the other 49 states combined. reimaginED. Universal vouchers are helping make microschools an increasingly viable educational alternative to public schools in Florida, say many parents and teachers. “I think there’s a frustration that the parents are not getting what they instinctively know what the child needs and the school system is not responding,” said Linawa Shaffer, whose children are now attending a microschool after being home-schooled.WFTS.

Teaching in Florida: Four Florida educator talked about the impact of new state laws limiting school discussions of race, gender and sexuality on teaching and learning at a recent “Freedom to Teach: Confronting Complex Themes in Contested Spaces” conference at Flagler College in St. Augustine. Hechinger Report.

Around the nation: Schools in the United Kingdom will soon ban students’ use of cell phones in school, and some U.S. education experts are suggesting it’s a decision that should be considered for this country as well. The 74. A lack of federal funding is likely to diminish the impact of a new Biden administration rule allowing more schools to offer free meals to all students, say federal officials and school nutrition experts. Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: Why is it that the removal of a book — one that’s been an important work of literature for decades — can happen in an instant, but the preservation of a book takes an entire community spending seemingly endless hours in grueling advocacy? Stephanie Cox, Tampa Bay Times. Elementary school students moving from class to class as middle- and high-schoolers do is a revolutionary approach that students and teachers really like and is paying off with better academic achievement. Henry Saylor-Scheetz, The 74. The Florida Policy Institute’s estimate that the expansion of the state’s scholarship program would cost Florida “about $4 billion in the initial year” missed the mark because it counts future spending. Patrick R. Gibbons, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff