Duval school repairs cost soars, Orange OKs preferred pronouns, book challenges and more

Around the state: Duval school district officials say the cost of the 15-year work list of school repairs and construction approved by voters in 2020 has doubled from $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion, Orange school officials will allow teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns if they have parental permission, Brevard school board members agree with a book review committee to allow a novel about child sex trafficking to remain in high school libraries, Alachua officials will return a book it had removed from a high school library after determining the challenger is not a county resident, and the University of South Florida has terminated a $14.8 million agreement with a construction firm to design and build an on-campus stadium. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Florida Department of Education officials have warned the school district that allowing a transgender female student to play on a high school’s girls volleyball team could result in “severe consequences” for school officials, depending on what the district’s investigation finds. Those penalties could include suspensions or revocations of the school officials’ educator certificates. “But every case is different, so there’s no way to speculate on how this one could go,” said Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association. Teachers union president Anna Fusco said she expects the state to impose strong sanctions, based on the district’s history when it comes to teacher punishment. “I definitely think they’re looking to do something harsh,” she said. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. What does the law say? Sun-Sentinel.

Orange: State officials still haven’t clarified if teachers are permitted to use students’ preferred pronouns with parental improvement, but Orange school officials are giving the go-ahead to district teachers to do so anyway. Administrators have tried several times to get answers from the state, without success. So they’re following the examples of Broward and Pinellas in allowing, but not requiring, teachers to use the pronouns students identify with regardless of their birth gender. Orlando Sentinel. A school in downtown Orlando for orphaned Ukrainian refugee children that opened as online-only in February 2022 has moved into a physical location. Varyvoda Christian Academy has about 60 middle and high school students who take core courses but also are taught English. Orlando Sentinel.

Duval: District administrators say the cost of the 15-year work list of school repairs and construction approved by voters in 2020 has doubled, from $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion, and the amount of revenue generated by the tax could fall $1.4 billion below the new estimate. “We’re going to have to make some decisions in terms of funding” for the work, said Erika Harding, the assistant superintendent for operations, “and some of the projects are going to require some cutbacks.” Florida Times-Union.

Pinellas: A former school bus driver has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison for receiving child sexual abuse material. The sentence was part of a plea deal between Stephen Donald Kearney, 61, and the U.S. Attorney’s office. WFTS.

Brevard: School board members decided Friday to keep a controversial book on high school library shelves despite complaints from some parents that it violates state law. Sold, by Patricia McCormick, is a novel about a 13-year-old girl in Nepal experiencing sex trafficking, and was the first book reviewed by a school committee that had been dormant for five months. Spectrum News 13.

Osceola: County commissioners are expected to vote today on installing speed detection cameras on roads around 15 public schools that are considered high risks for walkers and bicyclists. Those who are caught speeding in the zones will be fined $100. WMFE.

Volusia: All public schools in the county now have Narcan to counter an opioid overdose, said Todd Smith, the district’s director of safety and security. The Volusia Recovery Alliance provided all the Narcan to the district, and also trained school guardians on how to administer it. WESH.

Manatee: The Bradenton charter school Visible Men Academy has missed two deadlines to start building a school campus, and unless an agreement with the county is reached before Jan. 24 the 4-acre property will revert to county ownership. The Visible Men Academy has about 70 students, all from low-income families. Principal Janjay Gehndyu said the school has changed its priorities from building a new campus to working on improving its F grade from the state. “I’m just asking for the county to give us more time to make that happen,” he said. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: A teacher assistant at Eustis Middle School has been arrested and accused of slapping a 14-year-old student across the face. Police said Ute Galloway has been charged with child abuse without great bodily harm, and school officials said she has been “placed in a role with no interaction with students while we investigate.” WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Sarasota: School board member and Moms for Liberty cofounder Bridget Ziegler told police that she had a sexual encounter with her husband Christian, chair of the Florida Republican party, and a woman who is accusing Christian Ziegler of rape, according to a search warrant affidavit released Friday. Both Zieglers have been advocates for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education culture war agenda. Neither Ziegler has been charged with a crime, and Christian Ziegler’s attorney said his client will be exonerated. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Washington Post. Finalists for the school district’s teacher of the year award have been announced. They are: Ronnique Major, a 5th-grade teacher at Emma E. Booker Elementary School; Haley Brown, a middle school teacher at Pine View School; and Dennis Pinna, a social studies teacher at North Port High. The winner will be named Dec. 13. Sarasota County School District.

Okaloosa: A 53-year-old Crestview man mowing his lawn Friday was seriously injured when he was hit by a school bus. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the 57-year-old bus driver made an improper right turn and struck the mower. The investigation is ongoing. WEAR. WMBB.

Alachua: An LGBTQ-themed book with references to sex and masturbation that was removed from Eastside High School’s library last month has been put back after the district determined the person who challenged it isn’t a county resident, making the complaint invalid. Republican county chair Tim Marden said he intends to formally file a new challenge to Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe. Fresh Take Florida. WCJB.

Bay: There are at least 900 district students who are homeless, Superintendent Mark McQueen said Friday. He said the district is getting the necessary resources, such as food, clothing, tutoring and more, to the “students who have really incredible challenges that they’re overcoming.” WJHG.

Martin: Florida’s Bureau of Historic Preservation has rejected a request for the designation of the only remaining one-room schoolhouse on the Treasure Coast for the National Register of Historic Places. So now local backers of the effort are working to get a state historic marker for the New Monrovia One-Room Schoolhouse in Port Salerno. The wooden schoolhouse, also known as the Salerno Colored School, was built around 1930. TCPalm.

Citrus: School board members have elected Thomas Kennedy as board chair for the fourth time, and Sandy Counts was chosen as the vice chair. Citrus County Chronicle.

Glades: School officials say they plan to replace more than half of their school bus fleet with new electric vehicles. The district’s 22 buses have diesel engines, and many are more than 15 years old and don’t have air-conditioning. Funding for the change comes from a federal government grant. WFTX.

Colleges and universities: Tenured professors are giving up their jobs on Florida campuses and leaving the state, with some citing its “open hostility to professors and to higher education more generally” after the implementation of conservative policies pushed by Gov. DeSantis. New York Times. WCJB. The University of South Florida has terminated a $14.8 million agreement with construction firm Barton Malow to design and build an on-campus stadium. USF said it wanted to changed from the design/build model to a construction management model for the $340 million project. Tampa Bay Times. In his annual state of the university address, Florida State University President Richard McCullough announced plans for the school to build a Veteran’s Legacy Complex to house the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, the Student Veterans Center and the Reserve Officer Training Corps facility, which are now at separate locations. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida International University’s student Senate has filed a resolution demanding that the school condemn Israel over its war against Hamas. Miami Herald. A 50-year-old man has been arrested and charged with vandalizing the Chabad University of Florida Jewish Student Center last month. Gainesville Sun.

Opinions on schools: Two bills filed in the Florida Legislature for the coming session would introduce a new twist on the IB exam bonus scheme by allowing the Florida Department of Education to give IB teachers bonuses for exam grades that fail to earn college credit. In short, the bills would authorize failure bonuses. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the woman who led an ultra-conservative movement in Florida education that sought to put gays back in the closet was having a long-term, three-way lesbian relationship with a lover she shared with her husband, the state’s GOP chairman? Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff