State report says FAU violated law in its presidential search, OD on a Levy school bus, and more

Around the state: A State University System investigation has concluded that the Florida Atlantic University search for a president violated state law and is recommending that FAU restart the search from the beginning, three teenagers from Chiefland Middle-High School in Levy County suffered near-fatal drug overdoses on a school bus on their way to classes Thursday, enforcement of a new state law has upended a Broward transgender female student’s life, Orange County schools are asking for feedback on a four-month-old policy banning the use of cell phones from classrooms, and an Orange County high school is offering students a class on becoming an official for sporting events. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Six years ago, a transgender female student thanked the school board for its support and acceptance. She played sports, used the girls’ restrooms, girls’ locker and changing rooms, all without incident. Then in 2018, Ron DeSantis was elected governor and in 2021 a law was passed prohibiting a person born with male anatomy from playing on female sports teams. The student and her parents sued, contending the law violated her civil rights. Her life was further upended when a tipster told recently Superintendent Peter Licata that she played on the girls volleyball team at Monarch High. Five high school officials were reassigned for allowing her to play, and the state ordered the district “to take immediate action” and threatened “severe consequences” to those who broke the law. And the transgender female student has not returned to school since. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: A custodian at Bevis Elementary School in Lithia has been arrested and accused of sexual offenses against a juvenile. Deputies said Jonathan Martinez Casillas, 24, committed sexual acts against a juvenile victim between March and June 2018. They said there was no reason to believe Casillas victimized any students from the school. WFTS.

Orange: New rules banning student from using cell phones at schools have been in place for four months, and district officials are now asking parents, students and teachers to tell them what what they think of the policy and its effects. Surveys asking for feedback have been sent to parents and teachers, and on Dec. 15 an online survey will be available to students. All three surveys close Dec. 21. “Feedback is critical,” said Scott Howat, the district’s chief communications officer. “The only way that we really know whether something is working or is in line with where our community is, where our school communities are, is to get that feedback.” WKMG. Olympia High School in Orlando is offering students classes in sports officiating to help with the shortage of officials. The classes teach the rules and regulations of sports, and after finishing the class students can be certified officials. WESH.

Palm Beach: Aug. 12 is the first day of school for the 2024-2025 academic year, and the last day will be May 30, according to the calendar approved by the school board. Students will have a full week off at Thanksgiving, the winter holiday is Dec. 23 through Jan. 6, and spring break is March 25-31. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: A private school teacher at Preparing the Way Academy in Lakeland has been arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl and hiding her from her parents. Deputies said Rameir Jones, 21, who teaches the 5th through 8th grades at the school, has been charged with sex offense on a student by an authority figure, traveling to meet a minor to engage in illegal activity, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, and more. The victim did not attend Jones’ school, according to deputies. WKMG. Patch. Lakeland Ledger. WESH. WTVT. WFTS.

Lake: A special education teacher at Eustis Middle School has been arrested and accused of possessing materials depicting child sexual abuse. School officials notified parents that Michael Kozierowski is charged with “possession, control and viewing depictions of child sexual conduct,” and will not return to the school. WESH. WFTV.

St. Johns: A former private preschool employee who pleaded guilty in October to 12 counts of lewd or lascivious molestation of students under 12 years old in 2022 will sentenced to prison for 35 years to life, according to the terms of a plea deal. Anthony Guadalupe, now 20, worked at Chappell Schools’ Longleaf campus when he was arrested. WJXT.

Clay: Wilkinson Junior High will offer the pre-AICE Cambridge program to students next fall, and Middleburg High will offer the AICE program. That will make the program available at all county high schools. “We already offer dual enrollment (DE) and advanced placement (AP) programs, but now, with AICE, we’re offering another opportunity for prospective students,” said Middleburg High principal Martin Aftuck. Clay Today.

Alachua: School board members are asking the Florida Department of Education for permission to use about $6 million in unspent federal relief funds targeted for HVAC unit replacements to instead go toward technology upgrades such as laptops for students. Gainesville Sun.

Levy: Three teenagers from Chiefland Middle-High School suffered near-fatal drug overdoses on a school bus on their way to classes Thursday, according to sheriff’s deputies. The students, two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old, “began suffering symptoms of the overdose as they arrived at school and were immediately taken to the on campus medical building,” deputies said. Two were treated with Narcan and all three are expected to recover. The drugs tested positive for methamphetamine, and the students could face charges. Main Street Daily News. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: An investigation by State University System officials has concluded that Florida Atlantic University’s search for a president violated state law, and called for the school to restart the search from the beginning. It also recommended that trustee Brad Levine be prohibited from leading the second search. The report said the search committee violated the state’s Sunshine Law when it administered an anonymous survey to produce a list of top candidates. “The survey results that were used to focus the committee’s deliberations concerning semi-finalists were obfuscated by anonymity,” the report states. Politico Florida. Palm Beach Post. News Service of Florida. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Politics.

In the Legislature: Among the $4.6 billion in new projects proposed by members of the House are $100 million for a 200,000-square-foot medical and clinical facility that would be part of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University, and $80 million for a 163,867-square-foot facility as part of the joint College of Engineering of Florida A&M University and Florida State University. News Service of Florida. Senate Education PreK-12 Committee chair Corey Simon has been a leader in the effort to cut state regulations for public education. But at least 50 bills, including one sponsored by Simon, would add other mandates to public schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: An ideal measure of competition may not be the share of students who have left district schools, but the share of students who could leave, and who districts feel compelled to serve more effectively as a result. Travis Pillow, NextSteps. The declining ACT scores in Florida emphasize the continued importance of strong accountability policies and the urgency to enhance our efforts in literacy and math education. It’s not just about improving standardized test scores; it’s about ensuring that our students are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive world. Jeb Bush, Tampa Bay Times. What would it take to fix Florida’s math woes? My perhaps too trite answer is that Florida needs many more individuals who are strong in math themselves to enter the teaching profession. This would probably require a complete transformation in the way that the state’s leaders think about the teaching profession. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Since when must school library books “convey the government’s message?” Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Moms for Liberty, with its book bans, disruptions at school board meetings, defaming educators as groomers and opponent parents as pedophiles, placing a bounty on teachers’ heads, and culture of fear have manufactured a lot of distrust. The question is, does Moms for Liberty create more chaos for the right than for public education? Maurice T. Cunningham, Tampa Bay Times. Groups such as Moms for Liberty seemingly want to have veto power over what our kids are taught. However, as the book The Trial of the Century suggests, history is not on their side. Robert F. Sanchez, Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff