Florida’s teen health survey, cell phones in schools, top educators, why teachers leave, and more

Around the state: Four months after the state said it would release the results of its own voluntary teen health survey conducted last spring at select high schools, the results are still unknown, Manatee and Flagler school districts name their principal and assistant principal of the year, Tampa Bay area school districts agree that cell phones in school are a distraction but vary in how to deal with it, some Florida teachers explain why they are leaving the state, and a beeping blood sugar monitor forced students at a Brevard County school to briefly shelter in place. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Two years ago, school board members were vocal in their opposition to a new state law that prohibited transgender females from playing on girls school sports team. This week, when five employees at Monarch High were reassigned after they allowed a transgender girl compete on the volleyball team, school board members did not even address the issue during a public meeting. Several declined to comment when asked directly about the incident, and others seemed content to let the investigation of the employees’ actions take its course. “As a school district, it is important that we adhere to state laws while offering our students the support they need to succeed in school and in life,” said board member Nora Rupert. Miami Herald. A teacher at the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale has been fired over her social media posts about the Hamas-Israeli war. She challenged whether Hamas even attacked Israeli, and claimed stories about beheadings and rapes were fake. “Do your own research,” she wrote, as well as “What happened on Oct. 7 didn’t come out of nowhere.” WPLG.

Palm Beach: Renovations costing nearly $25 million are in the works at four county high schools. Design work for two of the projects is expected to be finished by next fall: renovations and repairs at Jupiter High at a cost of $5.2 million, and at Atlantic High costing $5.6 million. Two others are projected to be completed by the fall of 2026: A new parking lot and renovations at Forest Hill High for $8.1 million, and renovations and repairs at Boca Raton High at a cost of $5 million. Palm Beach Post. A 25-year-old paraprofessional and after-care counselor at Jupiter Farms Elementary School was arrested this week and accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old. Sebastiano Scionti has been charged with lewd and lascivious behavior and unlawful sexual activity with a minor, and ordered to have no contact with the girl, anyone under 18 or at any school in the county. WPTV. WPEC.

Polk: A school district substitute teacher was arrested Friday and accused of sending explicit videos of himself to two teenage students. Police said Jerron Dunn, 33, was working as a substitute English teacher at the charter school New Beginnings High when two female students, ages 17 and 18, told school officials he sent them videos through Snapchat showing him masturbating. He’s been charged with a sex offense on a student by an authority figure and transmission of material harmful to a minor. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG. WTSP. WTVT.

Tampa Bay area: While Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning has announced he’d like to ban the use of cell phones on campuses during the school days, his counterparts in Hillsborough and Pinellas are not ready to follow his lead. Pinellas Superintendent Kevin Hendrick and Hillsborough leader Van Ayres said they agree phones are problematic, but will ask parents, students and others for suggestions on dealing with phone usage. “How far are we willing to go?” Hendrick asked. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said the district is trying hard to balance following state laws with showing compassion to LGBTQ+ students affected by those laws. Teachers can use students’ preferred pronouns if parents have approved, and students can wear any clothing that meeds dress codes even if it seems counter to the students’ biological gender. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Students at West Shore Jr./Sr. High in Melbourne briefly sheltered in place Thursday after a suspicious device in a garbage can outside Building 2 was reported beeping. Authorities were dispatched to the scene and found it was a discarded blood sugar monitor. Florida Today. WFTV. WESH.

Manatee: Joshua Bennett of Braden River Elementary School has been chosen as the school district’s principal of the year, and Jessica Kane of Palm View K-8 has been selected as the top assistant principal. Both are now eligible for the statewide competition. WWSB.

Sarasota: School board member Bridget Ziegler’s husband Christian, who is the chair of the Florida Republican party, is being investigated by Sarasota police after an allegation that he sexually abused a woman in October. According to the Florida Center for Government Accountability, the woman “alleged that she and both Zieglers had been involved in a longstanding consensual three-way sexual relationship prior to the incident.” Christian Ziegler has cooperated with the investigation, his attorney said, and is “confident” he will be exonerated. Bridget Ziegler, who is also a cofounder of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty, has not commented. Florida Center for Government Accountability. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Florida Politics.

Marion: A student at Howard Middle School in Ocala reported finding a worm in prepackaged apple slices he was given at lunch. Several students said they felt sick and went to the school clinic. Food service workers inspected the food and found no other worms. WCJB.

Flagler: Jessica DeFord of Belle Terre Elementary School has been named the school district’s principal of the year, and Sara Novak of Matanzas High was chosen as the top assistant principal. Both are now eligible for the statewide competition. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota has launched a campaign to raise $175 million for new buildings, scholarships, faculty development and community programs. About $128 million has already been raised, and the centerpiece of the campaign will be a four-story building that will have classrooms, studios, labs and other academic spaces. Construction is expected to begin in 2024 and be finished by 2027. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Still no health survey results: Four months after the state said it would release the results of its own voluntary teen health survey conducted last spring at select high schools, the results are still unknown. In September, the Florida Department of Education said it was working with the University of South Florida on compiling and reviewing the results, but has said nothing since then. Last year the state decided against participating in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Study, with Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. calling the federal study “inflammatory and sexualized.” WFTS.

Why teachers leave: Florida teachers who are leaving the state are blaming unrealistic workloads, stagnant pay that leaves them struggling to make ends meet, and laws that restrict how they can teach. “I got tired of looking at my paychecks and then barely covering bills,” said Nicole Amica, a special education teacher for 10 years in Hillsborough County who was earning the same amount as a starting teacher. “And, when your foundational needs are not met, I mean, how are you going to really be good for anything else?” For Philip Belcastro, a high school English teacher in Pinellas County, the politics and the pay were significant factors. “Our job description is to instruct children and make sure that they’re learning in a safe and comfortable environment, which is becoming increasingly difficult for no reason,” he said. WUFS.

Opinions on schools: College may not be for everybody, but those who start deserve a fighting chance to finish. That’s why a program in Tampa Bay that helps students complete their journey should be modeled and expanded statewide. Tampa Bay Times. Activists removing books from schools aren’t thinking about literature as a way to prepare students for making informed decisions and empathizing with folks from all walks of life. They’re thinking only about one thing — politics. I’m not sending my son to school to be force-fed somebody else’s narrow-minded version of the world. John Wessley Rexrode, Palm Beach Post. Lost in this conversation about the transgender athlete being allowed to play for a Broward high school volleyball team is the role of public education to ensure a safe place where all students can explore their potential and interests, regardless of gender identity. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff