State says school libraries are forum for government speech, governor’s budget, and more

Around the state: Florida’s reply to lawsuits over books removed from school libraries contend that those libraries are a “forum for government speech,” Gov. Ron DeSantis releases his state budget recommendations this morning, Flagler schools are considering extending each of the seven high school class periods by a minute in order to have a longer Thanksgiving break and close schools on election days, Orange schools release their “inclusive support” guide for employees, and the mother of a Broward transgender female student who has been at the center of controversy after playing on the high school volleyball team says her daughter was “wrongly” outed. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The former athletic director and physical education teacher at the Doctors Charter School in Miami Shores has been arrested and accused of inappropriate contact with a female student. Police said Jose Glen Rodriguez-Vazquez, 33, had several “suspicious” interactions with the girl, including conversations about sex. School officials said Rodriguez-Vazquez was fired after the district investigated the allegations. WTVJ.

Broward: The mother of the transgender female student whose participation on a high school girls volleyball team said her child had been wrongly outed and called it a “direct attempt to endanger the person,” but that her family had received an “outpouring of love and support from our community this past week.” Jessica Norton, an information technology worker who also coaches volleyball at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, said Monday the student is her daughter. Norton is one of five school employees who has been reassigned while the district investigates whether they broke a state law prohibiting biological males from competing on girls sports teams. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WSVN. Florida International Consulting Engineers Design Inc. is suing the school district and the contractor managing the district’s construction program, claiming that it is owed more than a million dollars for work. WLRN.

Orange: “Inclusive support” guidelines for the school district were released Monday, and they allow school employees to use a student’s preferred pronouns if a parent has provided written permission, make single-user bathrooms and changing rooms available for students and allow students to wear any type of clothes preferred, as long as it abides by the district dress code. Same-sex couples will be able to attend school-sponsored dances, such as proms and homecomings, teachers will be permitted to display rainbow stickers, banners or flags, and “safe space” stickers and flags in the classroom, and more. WKMG.

Palm Beach: A 25-year-old cafeteria worker at Pahokee Middle School has been arrested and accused of having sex with a student. Deputies said Faith Angram admitted the sexual relationship, but said it was in 2019 and was consensual. She’s been charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor and lewd and lascivious battery. WPEC.

Lee: Fort Myers Beach Elementary School, heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian 430 days ago, reopens today to 48 students. They have been attending San Carlos Park Elementary, 15 miles away. Cost of the renovation was $6 million, and the school will expand as enrollment grows. WFTX.

Osceola: County commissioners have approved placing speed detection cameras outside 15 county schools to deter people from driving too fast near the schools. County officials now have 30 days to make the public aware of the change, and during that time anyone caught speeding will be issued a warning. After 30 days, the tickets will cost $100. Fines collected will go into the school crossing guard recruitment and retention program. WMFE. WOFL. WFTV.

Sarasota: Bridget Ziegler is best known as a school board member and cofounder of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty, but has drawn attention in the past week for telling police that she and her husband Christian, chair of the state Republican party, had a sexual encounter with a woman who is now accusing her husband of rape. Bridget Ziegler, 41, worked in the insurance industry before being appointed by Gov. DeSantis to the school board in 2014 and subsequently was elected twice. She also is a member of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District overseeing Disney World infrastructure. She’s fought against school mask mandates and to restrict what bathrooms transgender students can use. She’s been involved in the effort to limit access to some school library books because of content about sex and gender identity, and has supported the Parental Rights in Education law and DeSantis’ efforts to fight “woke” in education. Bridget Ziegler has not been charged with a crime, and she has yet to comment on the accusation. USA Today Florida Network.

Alachua: Challenges against 13 books in school libraries have now been filed by county residents. The latest is against the book Beyond Magenta, which was removed from the Gainesville High School library in October for sexual content. The challenges now go before the school library advisory council, which will decide whether the content warrants the book’s removal. Main Street Daily News. Charles S. Chestnut III, a Gainesville funeral home owner and civil rights leader who became the first black member of the school board in 1976, has died at the age of 83. Chestnut served 16 years on the school board and then was elected as a county commissioner for two terms. Gainesville Sun. Main Street Daily News. WCJB.

Flagler: School district officials are considering adding one minute to every high school class period — or seven minutes a day — during the 2024-2025 academic year so schools can be closed on election days and for the entire Thanksgiving week. School board members have expressed support for the change. “Add a minute,” said board member Cheryl Massaro. “That’s what’s going to keep the community and the staff and the kids happy.” Calendar committee members will describe the plan at today’s school board workshop meeting, with the board taking a final vote Dec. 19. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: Community college enrollment in Florida is up 4.4 percent this school year, according to the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research. The Center Square. Nearly $10.9 million in grants will be handed out by the University of Florida to 10 school projects that include artificial intelligence, scientific centers and a digital lab. It’s the third of four rounds of grants distributing $130 million in money from the state for UF projects. Gainesville Sun. Main Street Daily News. At a presidential campaign stop in New Hampshire on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis complained that there are too many “foreigners” attending U.S. universities. He said “foreign students don’t have the right” to study domestically, and added that, “I think these universities should be doing more American students anyways.” Florida Politics. New College has hired the lobbying firm Ballard Partners to seek federal funding so the school can restore the historic Ellen and Ralph Caples Estate. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Governor’s state budget: Gov. DeSantis will announce details of his proposed state budget at a 9 a.m. news conference today in southwest Florida, according to a spokesperson. State law requires governors to submit their spending recommendations at least 30 days before the first day of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 9. DeSantis has been in Iowa campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, and will take part in a GOP debate Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. USA Today Florida Network.

Role of school libraries: In a legal brief responding to lawsuits over books being removed or restricted in schools, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said public school libraries are “a forum for government speech,” not a “forum for free expression,” and that the state and schools have a First Amendment right to remove books with LGBTQ content. Critics of the state call that position “extreme, chilling” and “authoritarian.” USA Today Florida Network. WINK.

Districts’ winter holiday: Some state K-12 public school students will begin their Christmas breaks Dec. 18, but most will start their holiday on Dec. 22. A few districts resume classes Jan. 2, but most will return Jan. 8 and a few come back Jan. 10. Here are the winter holidays for each of the state’s 67 counties. USA Today Florida Network.

Around the nation: Scores on the Program for International Student Assessment test declined in math for 15-year-old U.S. students from 2018 to 2022, but held steady in reading and science. American students lost less ground than their peers in other countries, according to the results. About 620,000 students from 38 countries take the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation’s test, and the United States ranked 6th in reading, 10th in science and 26th in math. Education Week. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Limiting the fiscal pain of losing students can also weaken the signal that spurs district schools to improve. Travis Pillow, NextSteps. Connections with academic or career mentors serve as an invaluable resource to the school district by demystifying postsecondary education and de-stigmatizing career and technical education. Leon County School Board member Marcus Nicolas, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff