Students protest after staff reassignments over transgender issue, sociology course and more

Around the state: Students at a Broward high school stage a short walkout to protest the reassignments of five employees after a transgender female was allowed to play on the school’s girls volleyball team, sociology department leaders at 10 Florida universities object to a plan to drop the course as a general education core requirement for students, details are still scarce about why the Hillsborough County School District is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for discrimination, home-schooling numbers have soared in the past four years in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, and Bay County school bus drivers have been at fault in four of the district’s seven accidents so far this year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Several hundred students at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek staged a short walkout Tuesday to support five administrators who were reassigned and are being investigated for allowing a transgender female student to play on the girls volleyball team, and for the student. It’s against state law for transgender female students to play on girls sports teams. The state Department of Education issued its first comment on the situation, expressing outrage and calling for “serious consequences.” And Superintendent Peter Licata said Tuesday he was tipped to the situation by a “constituent” he would not name or describe. He added that new processes will be initiated to “make sure everyone is eligible for the sport they’re playing on all aspects — grade level, so forth and so on — that’s in accordance with state law as well as the (Florida High School Athletic Association).” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRN. WPLG. WTVJ. WFOR. WKMG.

Hillsborough: Why the school district is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is still unclear. Both federal and local officials cite privacy laws for withholding details, though district officials did say a parent accused the district of discrimination based on ethnic heritage after a student had a problem at a school and that school acted on it. Tampa Bay Times. Parents of students at Apollo Beach Elementary School urged the school board Tuesday to turn the school into a K-8 center. They say there aren’t enough options for public middle schools in the area. WTVT. A new Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center building in Tampa was dedicated Tuesday by the school district. K-12 students with emotional and behavioral disorders have attended the school since the 1970s, but in portable classrooms until now. WFTS. WTVT. Kristin Willis has been appointed as the principal at Bailey Elementary School in Dover, effective Dec. 11. Willis, who has been the assistant principal at Bailey, replaces Scott Valdez, who decided to return to teaching. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: A state representative’s family-run university should pay taxes on a $1.6 million house it owns near Windermere because it’s used as a private home and is not “an integral part of the educational institution,” a special magistrate has recommended. State Rep. Carolina Amesty, R-Windermere, is the vice president of the unaccredited Central Christian University, and argued the house should be exempt from taxes because the school president, her father Juan Amesty, lives there and the house is used for some university business. Without the exemption, the property tax bill is about $25,000. The home is in a gated community about 15 miles from the university’s campus. The magistrate’s recommendation now goes before the county’s Value Adjustment Board for a final decision at its April 15 meeting. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: A district teacher has been placed on administrative leave after being arrested three times in eight days earlier this month. School officials confirmed that Hawazin Wright, 43, is a teacher at Christa McAuliffe Middle School in Boynton Beach, and that he had been reprimanded for insubordination and ethical misconduct after an incident at the school in August. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: Jacksonville City Council has approved paying $1.8 million for a Brentwood drive-through liquor store to appease neighborhood residents who protested its opening across the street from the KIPP Voice Academy grade school. A zoning exception was approved by the planning commission in 2020 for the store to sell alcohol less than 500 feet from the school that was then close to opening, despite protests from nearby residents. Council members called the deal a “bad investment” and an “almost no-win situation,” and decided that the purchase was best for the neighborhood and the school. WJXT. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: A Haines City High School math teacher has been arrested and accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student. Police said they were told by the victim that she and Kevin Rodriquez-Febus, 23, had been in a “dating relationship” since early this year. He’s been charged with offenses against students by authority figures, and Superintendent Frederick Heid said the district has begun the process of firing him. WFLA. WKMG. WESH. WTSP.

Lee, Collier, Charlotte: The number of Lee County students being home-schooled increased by 103 percent in the past four years, by 62 percent in Collier County and by 86 percent in Charlotte County. During the 2017-2018 school year, 1,850 Lee students, 1,548 Collier students and 571 Charlotte students were learning at home. By the 2022-2023 academic year, the numbers were up to 3,760 in Lee, 2,502 in Collier, and 1,061 in Charlotte. WINK.

Sarasota: Karen Rose was unanimously elected the chair of the school board at Tuesday’s meeting, and Tim Enos was chosen as the vice chair. Board members also approved a contract agreement with the union representing school workers, with teachers getting raises of 3.5 to 4.5 percent and noninstructional workers receiving 4.5 percent hikes. All employees will also receive 2 percent bonuses. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bay: A school bus crash Monday was the seventh of the year in the district. School bus drivers were at fault in four, but district spokeswoman Sharon Michalik attributed the crashes to an increase in traffic and said Monday’s was caused by a medical emergency to the driver. “Typically, statistically speaking, less than one-third of the bus accidents in any given year are actually our fault,” Michalik said, though at the current rate that could double. WJHG. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: Sociology department leaders at 10 Florida public  universities say they “strongly object” to the state’s plan to remove an introductory sociology course as a general education core requirement for students. They said the course has been “an integral part of higher education for nearly two centuries” and thousands of students take it every year. The Board of Governors has tentatively approved the state’s proposal, with another vote scheduled in January. Tampa Bay Times. Gainesville police are investigating antisemitic vandalism at the University of Florida Chabad Jewish student center last week. Rabbi Berl Goldman, the center’s director, said the “horrific anti-Semitic graffiti and hateful slurs” are “an attempt to intimidate us.” Miami Herald. New College of Florida trustee Christopher Rufo has been nominated as a candidate to be the chancellor of the University of California Berkeley. Rufo, who has been critical of UC-Berkeley and its diversity, equity and inclusion programs, said the nomination is probably a joke. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida A&M University has bought the old university credit union building and will repurpose it for the School of Allied Health Sciences to use for learning, training and treating community members. Tallahassee Democrat. A roof over a walkway at Atlantic Technical College campus in Coconut Creek partially collapsed Tuesday during construction. No one was injured. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

In the Legislature: Bills have been filed in the Senate and House that would create a pilot program requiring music-based materials to supplement middle-school science, technology, engineering and math education. The programs would be launched in Alachua, Marion and Miami-Dade schools. S.B. 590 was filed by state Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, and would pay districts $6 per student. H.B. 537, a similar proposal introduced by state Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, asks for $680,000 to fund the test. The 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 9. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: I understand the goal of the Florida Senate’s recently unveiled deregulation package. Cutting red tape and removing outdated regulations is a worthwhile effort. But this cannot come at the cost of our state and students taking a step backward. Jeb Bush, Sun-Sentinel. Under the Donald Trump administration, the promise of educational accountability was fully abandoned in favor of an emphasis on choice, regardless of what educational and community outcomes choice produced, and the bipartisan choice coalition collapsed like a house of cards in a stiff wind. Peter Greene, Forbes. Charter-school momentum is a trend fueled by changed politics, new strength, better advocacy, and simple staying power. Can the movement sustain, and perhaps increase, this momentum? The answer waits to be seen. But the latest chapter of the charter-school story confirms that the movement has become that rare, perhaps unique, facet of education reform that just keeps on keeping on. Jed Wallace, Education Next.

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BY NextSteps staff