Purple Star schools pen letters to service members, book ban bill, chronic absenteeism and more

Around the state:  Parents in Palm Beach can use a bus tracking service for their student, an associate professor is teaching students at University of Florida the importance of recycling batteries, the “Fight Book Bans Act” has been proposed and chronic absenteeism is being addressed across the state. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The private school in south Florida that recently fired an employee over posts related to the Israel-Hamas war released a statement on Friday after the former employee discussed her ordeal. The Pine Crest School reported terminating an employee on Nov. 19 after social media posts that were “hateful and incendiary” to a degree that the school “will never” tolerate. WPLG.

Palm Beach: County officials here are expanding the bus tracking service. “Here Comes the Bus” is available via a website and an app allowing parents to opt-in to watch their child’s school bus to know when it arrives at the student’s stop. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Pasco: The school district here is introducing a new approach to the school calendar in the 2024-25 school year to help with chronic absenteeism. The schedule will include several “four-day mini breaks strategically placed throughout the years,” according to the district. The extended weekends will be held from Oct. 12-15, 2024, February 14-17, 2025 and April 18-21, 2025. “This forward-thinking initiative not only benefits students but also accommodates the needs of parents and guardians who often struggle to coordinate family vacations with the academic calendar,” the district added. Fox 59.

Alachua: The Florida Music Education Association recently announced that 36 students from 11 Alachua County Public Schools have been selected as all state musicians. The students will participate in 13 all state ensembles at the annual FMEA conference in January in Tampa. Main Street Daily News.

Purple Star schools: Schools in Florida recently spent part of their day participating in the “Holiday Letters for Heroes” program for deployed service members. Nelson Elementary School is in the first group of Purple Star schools in the state. On Friday, students wrote letters to members of the Florida National Guard to show support and bring holiday cheer to our service members. Students were also able to learn all about Florida’s National Guard. “They help our community, our state and sometimes they even get deployed, they get activated to go to another part of the country to help,” said second-grade teacher Sheena Longstreth. Bay News 9.

Fight Book Bans Act: Congressman Maxwell Frost introduced a new bill called the “Fight Book Bans Act” during an event in Orlando on Saturday. The legislation aims to give school district’s the resources they need to fight against book bans, according to Frost’s website. “We believe when that book is taken off the shelf, the book ban has begun,” Frost said. The bill would allow the Department of Education to help school district’s cover the cost of fighting the book ban, which could include retaining legal representation, traveling to hearings on book bans and getting expert research. The Department of Education would be able to provide up to $100,000 to a school district with the total appropriation capped at $15 million over five years. WKMG.

Colleges and universities: A proposal to drop sociology from general education requirements for public college students  has prompted controversy. Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. proposed replacing the sociology course with “Introductory Survey to 1877,” which is an American history class that would allow students to meet the state’s civic competency requirements. The change is still subject to a final vote in January. Orlando Weekly. Meanwhile, the high demand for housing in South Florida is taking a toll on college students. Many students face the challenge of balancing several jobs and classes to stay afloat financially and academically. WLRN. Katerina Aifantis, a University of Florida associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, found a discarded battery on campus and began a movement to teach students and the public about recycling them. Aifantis, who has been at UF since 2017, teaches the only battery course and has now organized two battery recycling drives. Miami Herald.

Chronic absences: Florida may have been among the first states to reopen its schools after the COVID-19 outbreak, but the state is exhibiting symptoms of a plague nationally that has gotten worse since the virus began: Absenteeism in schools. Rep. Dana Trabulsy of Fort Pierce noted that 30% of the state’s students, or about 987,000, are chronically absent from school. That’s defined broadly as when kids miss 10% of school, or 18 days a year, of the prescribed 180 days that make up an academic year. More than 70% of Florida schools have 20% of their students meeting the definition of chronically absent, officials say. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: A new scathing report documents the “horrifying” deterioration of higher education in Florida. It should be required reading for every college student, and, come to think of it, taxpayers, too. Steve Bousquet, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  Should cellphones be banned in classrooms? That question is being asked around the state. Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board. The pandemic merely illuminated and exacerbated what has been happening in American education for years: The systematic dismantling of a culture of high expectation. Aimee Guidera, The 74th.

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BY Camille Knox