Orange schools remove 673 books, New College cleared, Leon’s Hanna draws an election challenger, and more

Around the state: Orange County school officials have removed 673 books from teacher classrooms over concerns that they may violate state law because they contain sexual content, an accrediting agency has cleared New College of Florida of allegations made by third parties, Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna is being challenged in the 2024 election by one of the district’s principals, Miami-Dade’s teachers union has failed to reach the threshold to remain certified, Palm Beach County school officials are considering whether to join other districts in a lawsuit against social media companies, Leon County names its teacher of the year, and a 2-year-old Osceola County girl’s parents are outaged that their daughter was forced to portray Rosa Parks in a preschool re-enactment of Parks’ 1955 arrest that included the child being restrained. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Teachers union officials have failed to meet the state law requiring that 60 percent of eligible employees be dues-paying members in order to retain certification. “Yesterday, we, United Teachers of Dade, submitted our application to renew our union certification to the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission,” union officials said in a statement. The filing gives the union time to keep trying to hit the 60 percent threshold. A rival organization is also trying to collect signatures of 10 percent of union members so it can trigger of preference vote between the unions. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. WLRN. WFOR.

Hillsborough: County commissioners are considering an ordinance creating a moratorium prohibiting vape shops from opening within 500 feet of a school. That moratorium would last six months, which would give the county time to schedule public hearings necessary to amend the land development code. Commissioners say the goal of the ordinance is to limit vaping use by teenagers. WFTS. WFLA.

Orange: District officials have pulled 673 books from classrooms because they worry that the books could violate state law restricting students’ access to material with sexual content. The list includes such classics as John Milton’s 17th-century poem Paradise Lost, John Grisham’s The Firm, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and John Irving’s The World According to Garp, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The books will be reviewed again by media specialists and could return to classrooms but, as Superintendent Maria Vazquez said, “There’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books, and they also have another job they are doing at the same time.” Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Four law firms have been hired by the school board to evaluate whether jto join other districts around the country in a lawsuit against major social media companies. More than a dozen Florida districts have joined 650 other U.S. school systems in the suit alleging that the companies have targeted children with addicting products. The algorithms used by Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, SnapChat and others have “created a youth mental health crisis, body image issues and caused physical damage to district schools as a result of pranks and stunts,” the district stated in its contract with the law firms. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Widespread school bus delays are expected today because of an “abnormally high number” of anticipated bus driver absences, district officials said in an e-mail sent to parents Wednesday. WJXT. WJAX. WTLV.

Brevard: A video of state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, hiding under a desk in his office while an investigator knocks on his door to serve a subpoena is making the rounds. It was taken Oct. 30 by a private investigator hired by school board member Jennifer Jenkins to serve Fine with a subpoena for her lawsuit against colleague Matt Susin. Fine said he didn’t know the man and got under the desk as part of a safety protocol against threats. Florida Today. A new middle school will open in Viera, a new career and technical education center begins at Titusville High, and a proposal to start a year-round school pilot program are among the highlights of what to expect from the school district in 2024. Florida Today.

Osceola: A 2-year-old black girl at the Building Brains Academy in St. Cloud was forced to play Rosa Parks in a re-enactment of Parks’ 1955 arrest for refusing to move to the back of a city bus, which included her being restrained and fingerprinted by another student dressed as a police officer, according to her parents. “That was the first thing that went through my mind is just, I can’t believe this is happening to our daughter,” said her father. He’s asked the NAACP to intervene. Photos of the incident “do not offer a complete or accurate representation of the full lesson about the importance of equal rights,” Paola Rosado, the preschool’s owner and founder, wrote in a letter to the NAACP. “Our school believes in and teaches the importance of equality, of standing up for our rights, and of speaking up when we see something isn’t right.” WESH. WSVN. NBC News.

Collier: Fake text messages from people who claim to be school district officials are being sent to parents in an attempt to talk them into donating gift cards for district employees, school officials warned this week. They said they send text messages to parents only to convey vital information during emergencies, or as a reminder about significant events. Parents are advised to not click on any links and never send passwords, pin numbers, codes, account information, credit card numbers, or other personal information via texts. WBBH.

Escambia: Seven district elementary schools landed in the bottom 10 percent of 1,809 state elementary schools issued grades last week by the state. Montclair, Warrington and Lincoln Park elementary schools, and Global Learning Academy, received F grades, while Brentwood, Ensley and O.J. Semmes elementaries received D grades. “We don’t plan on making excuses. We plan on making improvements, is where we are,” said Superintendent Keith Leonard. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. District officials say they’re looking to hire 10 more armed school guardians to add to the 40 they already have. Guardians are not sworn law officers, but supplement school resource officers. “Their role is to protect the school if there was someone you know, God forbid, to shoot up a school — this is the person to take that person out,” said district security director Kyle Kinser. “We are not trying to check boxes to say we have Guardians on campus’ we want people that can do the job.” WEAR.

Leon: Joe Burgess, principal at Chiles High School in Tallahassee, has filed to run for the superintendent’s job against Rocky Hanna, who has held the position since 2016. Burgess insists his decision is not in retaliation for being suspended for two weeks for violating district policy by paying teachers for extra work without documentation. Other candidates could join the race before the qualifying period ends June 14. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Tallahassee Reports. Florida Politics. Daisy Bush, a 7th- and 8th-grade English language arts teacher at the the Woodville K-8 school in Tallahassee, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible to compete for the statewide teacher of the year award. WFSU.

Alachua: “Corrective” action should be taken against a Gainesville High School employee over the way she handled a complaint over the formation of a club for at-risk minority males, according to a district investigation. The parent who filed a complaint after her son was recruited did not get a response from the district with 10 days, as required by state law. The investigator said he couldn’t substantiate racial bias in selecting students for the club but that the club was not fully compliant with district policy because proper information was not available online as required. “Based on the facts in this matter, and the lack of specific language or guidance … It is at least questionable as to whether (the district) complied with the required deadline in the statute,” the investigator wrote. “Accordingly, to prevent further issues, it is recommended that (the district) develop a procedure or policy to ensure future responses are provided in a timely manner.” Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: Three teenagers have been arrested and accused of breaking into Fox Chapel Middle School in Spring Hill and stealing a Roku device and a drill. Arrested were boys who are 17, 15 and 14 years old. Surveillance cameras caught the break-in and theft, and the 17-year-old was identified when he went to class at Weeki Wachee High School student wearing the same blue hoodie that one of the suspects was wearing in the video. He then identified the other two, who also attend Weeki Wachee High. WTVT.

Flagler: School board members unanimously approved Cari McGee as the new principal at Bunnell Elementary School. McGee, who has been an assistant principal at the school, was chosen by Superintendent LaShakia Moore to replace Donelle Evensen, who resigned Sept. 6 after approving a controversial school assembly to discuss low test scores to which only black students were invited. McGee begins immediately. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: New College of Florida has been cleared of allegations that it changed its mission without going through the accreditation reporting process and that it hired employees with “little to no experience in higher education and inadequate credentials.” The report by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, a regional higher education accrediting institution, investigated complaints from third parties. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Four University of Florida research projects will split $10.2 million in state grants, President Ben Sasse announced this week in the fourth round of distributing $130 million in funds. “Our faculty do incredible work, and we are making some strategic bets on projects that can transform everything from space exploration and agriculture to construction and sports,” Sasse said. Florida Politics. University of Florida.

Around the nation: Colleges and universities that require employees, students or applicants to write diversity, equity and inclusion statements would lose federal funding under a bill proposed in Congress this week by U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas. Higher Ed Dive.

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BY NextSteps staff