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Most districts closed all week, two teachers unions fight to stay alive, pronoun advice, and more

Around the state: All but four state public school districts are closed all week for the Thanksgiving break, teachers unions in Miami-Dade and Pinellas are struggling to meet the new state requirements to keep their certification, a Palm Beach County 1st-grade teacher has been placed on leave while the district decides if her comments about the Israeli-Hamas war broke state laws or district policies, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. answers Orange County School Board members who asked him for clarity on the new law regarding pronoun usage in schools, Polk teachers will see their recently negotiated raises a week earlier than expected, and Glades school board members said they will support a school guardian plan. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Teachers union leaders say it isn’t clear if they met the new state requirements to remain certified by the deadline Friday. Unions must have at least 60 percent of eligible members paying dues or risk decertification. As on Nov. 10, the last time the numbers were run, the union had 58.4 percent. An audit of membership was conducted Friday and the results will be submitted to the state’s Public Employees Relations Committee, which will determine if the union has met the eligibility requirements. If it doesn’t, the union can begin a campaign to regain certification as long as 30 percent of members say they want a union to represent them. It would then have to show 50 percent membership to be recertified, but would be required to move up to 60 percent membership the following year or again face decertification. Miami Herald. WLRN. A security guard at Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Miami was arrested last week and accused of trying to sexually assault a student. Police said Kayaun Kendrick Whitfield, 38, gave the student a ride home but detoured to a secluded area at the Miami Dade College stadium and assaulted him. District officials said the guard will be fired. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WFOR.

Broward: Negotiations Friday led to no contract agreement between the teachers union and the school district. Union leaders want a 9 percent raise, and the school district continued to offer 1.7 percent with a one-time bonus of 2 percent. “We’re going to respectfully reject that offer,” said union president Anna Fusco. Union members contend that they should receive some of the $11 million in unspent referendum money earmarked for mental health and school safety, since they are being asked to do security and mental health functions. The next meeting will be after the Thanksgiving break. WTVJ. WSVN.

Orange: School board members who wrote a letter to the state asking for clarity on the new law regarding pronoun usage in schools have gotten their answer from Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. “The statute prohibits people from being forced to refer to others by false pronouns, and it prohibits school district employees from taking an active role in exposing students to these falsities,” he responded last week in a letter. Florida’s Voice.

Palm Beach: A 1st-grade teacher who wrote an e-mail to the school district asking that it “publicly recognize the Palestinian community” in any communications about the Israeli-Hamas war has been placed on administrative leave. District officials said they are trying to decide if the teacher’s statement broke any laws or district policies. Last week, state Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, called on the district to suspend the teacher because her social media posts were “disgusting antisemitic genocidal rhetoric.” Palm Beach Post. School board members have signed off on new paperwork athletes must complete that no longer asks them about their menstrual periods or requires them to submit their entire medical history to their school. The statewide changes were made by the Florida High School Athletic Association after questions were raised about forms that contained five questions about periods. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The school district recorded 510 fights in schools and on buses during the 2022-2023 school year, and is on a pace to match that for this school year, according to data from the district. It also had 58 fights that were classified as “major altercations,” meaning a fight among multiple people that causes a disruption of campus activities. WJXT.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid said last week that paychecks with raises and back pay for teachers will be issued Dec. 22 instead of Dec. 29 as scheduled. The change was announced after teachers accused of the district of reneging on a promise to distribute the added pay by Thanksgiving. Heid said no such commitment was made, but in an e-mail, he wrote, “Our mistake was not taking a more proactive position in communicating the outcomes of what was bargained and the timeline that employees can expect to see changes to their paychecks. This will not occur again and going forward we will provide a summary of any resulting language changes and the timeline for payroll changes to be reflected in employee paychecks.” Lakeland Now.

Pinellas: With time running out to prove they have the required 60 percent membership to keep their certification, teachers union officials decided to take another path. They have started a petition drive to collect 30 percent of the signatures of members necessary to request a vote to certify. If they do, a simple majority of eligible members would retain certification for a year, at which time the union would again need to document that 60 percent of eligible employees are dues-paying union members to retain certification. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: The county council’s refusal earlier this month to financially support the school district’s request for seven additional middle school resource officers has prompted the district’s chief financial officer to seek guidance from the state attorney general to help solve the conflict. “The actions and attitudes of the council reflect a concerning lack of respect and understanding of our shared responsibilities in ensuring children’s safety in the county,” district CFO Todd Seis said. The contract calls for the district to pay 55 percent of the cost for SROs and the county to pay 45 percent. But council members agreed that the district’s request came too late in the budget season, and declined. District officials said they are moving ahead with adding the SROs at schools that now have only school guardians. WKMG.

Escambia: Sixth grades will be added at Cordova Park and West Pensacola elementary schools next year as a pilot program, said district officials. “There are a lot of kids that when it comes to the end of 5th grade, they are very hesitant, and their parents are very hesitant about making that transition. They’re just not ready yet,” said West Pensacola Elementary principal Christine Baker. “We want them to have plenty of experience to eventually prepare them for that transition so that they’re comfortable and confident and feel really great about what they’re doing.” If the test is successful, it could be added to other schools. WEAR.

Leon: School board members voted unanimously last week for Rosanne Wood as board chair and first-term board member Laurie Lawson Cox as vice chair. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, has been removed from Eastwide High School over its sexual content even though there are questions whether the woman who challenged the book is a county resident, as required by the district. One member of the six-person book review committee said the book’s legal standing in libraries changed with the state’s new definition of sexual conduct. “From the perspective of the media specialists here, we acknowledge that given the revisions to the law, this text does include sexual conduct,” said media specialist Marianne McKey. “If the law was not revised to include these specific definitions of sexual conduct, we would not move to remove this book.” WUFT. A Gainesville charter school is expanding with the openings of two portable buildings. Caring and Sharing Learning School is increasing enrollment by 85 students, to 335, with the expansion. Gainesville Sun.

Glades: School board members said last week that they will consider joining the state’s school guardian program if the sheriff’s department’s application for a $100,000 grant for the program is approved. The state’s program began after 17 students and staff were killed in 2018 by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. WINK.

Colleges and universities: Brian Lamb, managing director and Northeast segment head for JPMorgan Chase, has been re-elected by members of the Florida Board of Governors to a second term as chair. Alan Levine, chairman and CEO of the integrated health system Ballad Health, was elected vice chair. Tallahassee Democrat. While college enrollment is up 2.1 percent this academic year, freshmen enrollment declined 3.6 percent. The drop is attributed to a higher interest in careers that don’t require a four-year degree, such as many in the health-care industry. Community college enrollment is up 2.1 percent. The 74.

This week’s school schedule: Only four state school districts have classes this week: Charlotte, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns are in session today and Tuesday. The other 63 are closed all week. USA Today Florida Network.

Florida’s targeted books: Among the hundreds of books removed from Florida school bookshelves or restricted only to high school students are works by Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Maurice Sendak, Ayn Rand, Leo Tolstoy and Alice Walker. In guidance to districts, the state has told schools to “err on the side of caution” when choosing whether to make books available, and warned that providing books with sexual content considered “harmful to minors” is a felony. That’s led districts such as Collier County to put more than 300 books into storage. “I can’t apologize for the fact that we’re following the law,” said Collier Superintendent Leslie Ricciardelli. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the nation: Conservatives say their national education message won’t change on the campaign trail for 2024 because they don’t believe it contributed to a disappointing showing in the Nov. 7 general election. The Hill. More U.S. K-12 public school systems are making an effort to protect their data against computer hackers but many remain vulnerable, said Anne Neuberger, the Biden’s administration’s deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Applied strictly, the Florida Board of Governors’ rule prohibiting universities from doing anything to promote diversity or engage in any “political or social activism” would muzzle and effectively put out of business many of the dozens of specialized institutes that have been created over the years for the quaint purpose of serving the public through their tax-supported institutions of higher education. Sun-Sentinel. The Florida Board of Governors’ arbitrary decision to prevent students at public universities and colleges in Florida from taking sociology as one of their general education courses unnecessarily restricts the choice of students and may have unintended consequences for student success and timely progression toward graduation. This decision may also hurt career preparation in ways that might not have been obvious to the board. John Skvoretz, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff

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