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Pro-Palestinian group at UF sues state over order to disband, Pasco leader wants cell phones banned in schools, book challenges, school board prayer, and more

Around the state: Florida’s attempt to disband chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine on Florida college campuses has drawn a legal challenge from the group’s University of Florida chapter, a state legislator wants a Palm Beach teacher suspended for her pro-Palestinian remarks to the district, Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning is calling for a ban on cell phones on school campuses, Broward schools reopen today after heavy rains and flooding forced them to close Thursday, a proposal to say a prayer before Collier school board meetings was rejected, and Hernando’s school board votes to remove three challenged books from schools but leave three others. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Severe storms this week caused damages at some schools, but Superintendent Peter Licata said Thursday all are expected to be open today. “We are expected to be 100 percent fully open, and if there is any individual cases, we’re handling individually with schools,” he said. “We’ve got some damages, but nothing significant that we can’t fix in 24 hours.” The district has not decided if the day will have to be made up. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: A 1st-grade teacher who wrote an e-mail to the superintendent and school board urging them to “publicly recognize the Palestinian community” should be suspended, said a Republican legislator. State Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, called the teacher’s letter “disgusting antisemitic genocidal rhetoric” and accused the teacher Caruso of posting the pro-Palestinian slogan “from the river to the sea” on her Facebook page. Caruso said the teacher should have condemned Hamas, the terrorist group that attacked Israel Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 and taking 240 hostages. District officials have issued no response. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Teachers will begin receiving their recently approved pay raises in December instead of this month, as they thought the district administration had promised during October’s negotiations. “If there’s a middle ground that we can reach before Dec. 15, before we leave for winter break, we are asking for that so that we can get some kind of money in people’s hands before they go on Christmas break and on winter holiday,” said union president Stephanie Yocum. Superintendent Frederick Heid said district negotiators said they would “strive” to get the payroll done in November, but “there was never a commitment to that effect.” Lakeland Now.

Pasco: Superintendent Kurt Browning is calling for a ban on cell phones on school campuses by the time schools open in August 2024. Restrictions were placed on the use of phones for this year, but Browning now says, “They don’t need to have them out. There’s no reason to have them out. … I believe one of the major reasons we’re not moving forward academically is because of cell phones.” Browning said he expects resistance. “Parents will complain, they will flare up about ‘I want to make sure my child is safe.’ You have my assurance as parents that we will let you know that your child is safe,” he said. School board members will have to approve the policy proposal. WFLA.

Brevard: Ten years after activist William Gary filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against the school district’s disproportionate disciplining of black students and the lack of black teachers, little has changed. While black students made up 15 percent of student enrollment during the 2022-2023 school year, they were involved with 33 percent of reported discipline incidents. And just 5 percent of the district’s teachers, 9 percent of school administrators and 5 percent of district administrators are black. “This is an attempt to keep children in school,” said Gary, the president of the North Brevard NAACP. “If a student in a middle school is suspended from school, the chances are, that student is eventually going to drop out of school. And once they drop out of school, then they are going to get involved in some kind of criminal activity, and then they end up in the criminal justice system.” Florida Today. Terri Bagby, a before- and after-school coordinator at Quest Elementary School in Melbourne, has been named the school district’s employee of the year. Space Coast Daily.

Volusia: A contract agreement between the school district and support staff was approved this week by the school board. The deal boosts salaries by 2.5 percent and offers increases to those who have worked for the district five years. Previously, the increases were reserved for those with 10 years of experience. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A teacher’s aide at Florine J. Abel Elementary School in the southern part of the county has been arrested and accused of molesting a 3rd-grader. Deputies said Angel Rodriguez Mercado, 67, taught English to a small group of children who are new to the language, and has been with the district since 2016, the last five years in the classroom. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. WWSB.

Collier: A motion to have a prayer replace a moment of silence before school board meetings was voted down this week by the board. But the board did vote unanimously to have the school board attorney draft a policy that would restrict what can and cannot be done during any sort of prayer or invocation. WGCU.

Sarasota: The school district has been named the best in Florida in the latest rankings by, the online ranking and review site. Sarasota’s best category grade was A+ for college prep. It also got A in academics, A in diversity, A- in administration and activities, B+ in both facilities and sports, and C+ for food. St. Johns County was rated second. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: Carol McIntosh, who had positions in the school system ranging from kindergarten teacher at Holm Elementary School to principal at Lincoln Park Elementary School and was a prominent civil rights activist in Pensacola, died Thursday. She was 73. Pensacola News Journal.

Santa Rosa: As opposing groups fight over book restrictions in schools, district officials say an overwhelming majority of county parents have opted to allow their children full access to books in school libraries. Only 51 parents of the district’s 30,000-plus students have limited their children’s access, and none have restricted access altogether. “We believe that paints a picture of what is going on in our media centers,” said Michael Thorpe, the district’s assistant superintendent over curriculum and instruction. Pensacola News Journal.

Hernando: Three challenged books will be removed from school bookshelves but three others will stay, the school board decided this week. And Tango Makes Three, a story about two male penguins raising a chick in a zoo, Julian is a Mermaid, and The Family Book all were kept in 3-2 board votes. The Handmaid’s Tale was removed on a 3-2 vote, while board members voted unanimously to shelve Thirteen Reasons Why and This Day in June. Suncoast News.

Walton: A contract agreement has been reached between the district and the employees’ union that will pay starting teachers $55,000 a year, give raises of $500 to experienced teachers, and increases of $2 an hour plus bonuses to support staff. The district also will pay the 13 percent increase in insurance premiums. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida’s Students for Justice in Palestine group, with backing from the ACLU, has filed a suit against the state and UF that charges the state’s order to disband violates the group’s First Amendment rights of free speech. A day after the order was issued, Chancellor Ray Rodrigues backed off when UF and University of South Florida officials provided legal opinions expressing concerns about disbanding the groups. But the ACLU said the order “remains in place today.” Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, defended the order. “Groups that claim to be part of a foreign terrorist movement have no place on our university campuses. The governor was right to disband a group that provides material support to a terrorist organization.” Politico Florida. Tampa Bay TimesUSA Today Florida Network. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Reuters. New York Times. Noted scholar Stanley Fish talks about why, at the age of 85, he has accepted an offer to teach at New College, and what he thinks about the new direction the state is taking the school. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Missing the math: Florida’s push to have middle school students take the required algebra 1 and geometry course has been a success, with a growing number of students completing the mandatory four years of math before they’re seniors. But many of those students are then deciding to not take another math course in 12th grade. That worries educators, who think students will lose their math fluency. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff

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