Walton superintendent and other educators honored, COVID tests, second school walkout, and more

Around the state: Walton County’s A. Russell Hughes has been named the state superintendent of the year, top educators are announced in Alachua and Manatee counties, Collier County’s school district is being sued because it wouldn’t release e-mail addresses of parents of students and other records, Charlotte County schools are being threatened with a lawsuit over the removal of books with LGBTQ+ characters and content, students at a Broward high school stage a walkout for the second straight day to show support for a transgender female athletes and five reassigned employees, and schools in Florida and around the country will soon be able to get free COVID tests from the federal government. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: District officials said they will build protected bike lanes near select schools to keep students who ride to schools safer. The pilot project was begun after a 14-year-old freshman at Miami Norland Senior High School was hit and killed by a van as he was riding his bike to school in October. WLRN. A 9-year-old student at Bunche Park Elementary in Miami Gardens was hospitalized this week after ingesting marijuana edibles at school that she thought were Airheads candy. The girl is expected to make a full recovery. WPLG. WSVN. Ivan Silva, who has been the interim leader of the Miami-Dade School District Police Department since January, was sworn in as chief this week. The district has 500 sworn officers, making it the largest school police force in the country. WLRN. A basketball referee has been fired after telling the girls of the Scheck Hillel basketball team that their behavior was “disgusting” because they chose not to say a prayer for the people of Gaza before their game with Renaissance Charter School in Cooper City. WPLG.

Broward: For a second straight day, students at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek walked out of classes to protest the reassignment of five school employees and support the transgender female who was allowed to play on the girls volleyball team. State law prohibits transgender females from playing on girls school sports teams. The captain of the volleyball team, Jordan Campbell, said she’s worried about the student, who hasn’t returned to school. “Right now she’s not being treated like a human, she’s not being treated like she’s worth anything to anyone,” she said. “The things people are saying in school and on social media is beyond disgusting. It is truly disgusting. She’s a human and deserves to be treated like one, how about we bring fairness into that? ‘Cause she’s not being treated like that right now.” WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: A Tampa charter school said it will appeal the county’s ruling that it must remove a privacy screen from the fence around the school. Plato Academy’s Tampa campus principal, Heather Jenkins, said she used $3,000 in federal grant money to buy the blue screen. “It is honestly quite terrifying for me,” she said when told the school would not get a variance for the screen. “It’s on me to keep (students) safe day in and day out.” The school has been given until Friday to remove the screen, but said it will ask for an extension so it can file an appeal. Spectrum News 9.

Polk: Polk State College’s collegiate high schools will add 10th-grade programs expanding accelerated learning for the 2024-2025 school year. Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School and Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School allow students to complete college credits and high school requirements simultaneously at no cost. Both will accept applications through March 1. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A 14-year-old 9th-grade student at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg was arrested Wednesday and accused of having a gun in his backpack at school. Police said the boy did not threaten anyone with the weapon. WFLA. WTSP.

Collier: The district and its records custodian are being sued by a conservative advocacy group for refusing to turn over records, which include the e-mails of parents. Records custodian Tiffany Myers denied the request, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, but the Florida Citizens Alliance contends parent e-mail addresses aren’t protected because they’re not student records. Myers also said the district doesn’t have a list of parent e-mails, but officials from the group said they don’t believe her. Naples Daily News.

Manatee: Finalists for the school district’s educator and support employee of the year were named this week. The educator finalists are: Katie Bagley3rd-grade teacher at Prine Elementary School; Joadie Durfee, 5th-grade teacher at Barbara A. Harvey Elementary; Debra McCarthy, a language arts teacher at Lakewood Ranch High; and Jessica Spence1st-grade teacher at McNeal Elementary. Support employee finalists are: Denise Costello, a paraprofessional at Sea Breeze Elementary; Jennifer HarperVPK child development associate at Williams Elementary; Patrice Cairocomputer lab manager at Witt Elementary; and Patricia Pearsonclerical assistant/attendance clerk at Braden River Middle. The winners will be announced Feb. 8. WWSB.

Alachua: Leroy Williams of Eastside High School has been chosen as the school district’s principal of the year, and Mallory Becker of Gainesville High has been chosen as the top assistant principal. Both are now eligible for statewide honors, which will be announced next spring. Gainesville Sun. Main Street Daily News. The city of Newberry is sending a letter to the school board urging it to make school boundary changes that more closely align with the city’s commission districts, and to impose an impact fee to raise money for new school capacity. All the city’s schools are over capacity, with a sizable percentage of their students come from outside the city. Main Street Daily News.

Santa Rosa: District officials are planning another new high school in the north part of the county, which could mean the Central High School will be repurposed as a K-5 or K-8 schools. This latest high school that will be built off the Chumuckla Highway would be in addition to the previously announced South End High School, which is projected to open in the fall of 2026 for students in the students in the Gulf Breeze, Midway and Navarre areas. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: A district school teacher has been arrested and charged with possession of child pornography. Deputies said Brian J. McKay, 56, had hundreds of videos and images of child sexual abuse on electronic devices at his home. District officials confirmed McKay is an employee, but declined to say where he worked or what he taught. They said McKay won’t be allowed on any district school campus. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG.

Charlotte: A national civil rights advocacy organization is threatening to sue the school district over its removal of LGBTQ+ books from schools. All Rainbow and Allied Youth is being supported by the Southern Poverty Law Center to oppose the district’s decision to restrict books with LGBTQ+ characters and content. Charlotte Sun.

Flagler: School board members voted 3-2 this week to make Will Furry board chair and Christy Chong as vice chair. Board members also were told that negotiations continue with board attorney Kristy Gavin to make her a staff attorney. A deadline of Dec. 31 has been set, and if no agreement can be reached between Gavin and Superintendent LaShakia Moore, a board majority has declared its intention to fire Gavin. Flagler Live.

Walton: A. Russell Hughes, who has been superintendent of the school district since 2016, has been named the state superintendent of the year by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and the Florida School Boards Association. Hughes has 32 years of experience in education, starting as a teacher, then working as assistant principal and dean of students before being elected superintendent. WMBB. Walton County School District.

In the Legislature: Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus has set education and social issues are among its priorities for the 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 9. The caucus is trying to challenge new state school district rules that dicate how school districts can teach race and history in classrooms. Teachers can’t discuss race or history in the classroom in a way that makes students feel “discomfort” or “psychological distress” under the rules. WMFE.

Around the nation: Free COVID tests will soon be freely available to Florida and schools around the country from the federal government, starting in December. It’s the first time school districts will be able to order tests directly from the Department of Health and Human Services. NPR. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: In the coming year, I expect censorship advocates to pursue new, creative ways to exert control over public schools and universities. But they will — they must — be met with an increasing wave of resistance from those who know that free schools and colleges make a free people. Eduardo J. Padron, Sun-Sentinel. The state of Florida passed a law last spring requiring school districts to ban student phones during class time. This does not go far enough. Having cell phones in school serves no purpose, and they should be banned all day long. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff