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Cities could apply to turn public schools into charters, Passidomo backs social media ban, and more

Converting schools to charters: Cities would be able to apply to convert a public school into a charter school under a proposal that won approval Thursday from the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee. Under current law, parents, teachers and school districts can petition the state’s Charter School Review Commission to make such a switch. “(The bill) just gives cities an opportunity to participate in that process,” said state Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola. A colleague, Rep. Fabian Basade, R-Miami-Dade, added, “I think this puts our public schools on notice to get their act together. There is a tremendous lack of accountability. They are not underfunded. The money doesn’t go where it’s supposed to go.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Social media ban gets support: A House bill banning children under 16 from having social media accounts has gained the public support of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. “I support the concept, I support the bill,” she said Thursday, a day after the House approved the bill in a 106-13 vote. “The speaker is so passionate about the issue. My conversations with him, you know he has two little kids, and his concerns are valid. So we’re going to take up the bill.” The Senate could consider its version of the bill or simply adopt the House bill. News Service of Florida.

Also in the Legislature: Six “patriotic organizations” would be allowed to speak to students and distribute informational materials in public schools under a proposal that won the support Thursday of the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee. Those groups are Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Future Farmers of America and the Civil Air Patrol. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Also approved by the subcommittee was a bill that would loosen labor laws for 16- and 17-year-old students and expand career and technical education. Florida’s Voice. University students who support “foreign terrorist” organizations such as Hamas could be penalized financially under a bill approved Thursday by the House Postsecondary Education & Workforce Subcommittee. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A Republican leader in Lee County is organizing a protest against a flag in a high school classroom that he calls “woke indoctrination” and a violation of state law, Nassau County parents are being asked to vote for their preference for the 2024-2025 academic calendar, Monroe County’s superintendent is asking the school board for a one-year contract extension, the Pasco, Alachua and Flagler school districts announce their teacher of the year winners, and five finalists are named for the Broward school teacher of the year award. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A creative writing teacher at Miami Norland Senior High School has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program award. Precious Symonette will take a semester-long online course, followed by a professional development workshop in Washington D.C., and then travel to another country during the summer to study its culture and educational system. She’ll use her experiences to teach her students about preparing for the global economy. “Showing students how they can be ‘glocal’ will help our world to become a better place,” she said. WPLG. A North Miami Beach High School student was airlifted to a hospital Thursday after being stabbed in the chest during a fight at the school. He’s in stable condition, and police are searching for the suspect. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR.

Broward: Five finalists have been named for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Angela Cohen, the literacy coach at Indian Trace Elementary School in Weston; Nicole Coutain-Marshall, the literacy coach at Village Elementary in Sunrise; Monique Acher, a health science teacher at South Broward High; Claudia Singkornrat, a science teacher at Pompano Beach High; and Nadine Lallouz, an English language arts teacher at Broward Virtual School. The winner will be announced Feb. 2. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: A school district book review committee voted this week to keep the book Identical, by Ellen Hopkins, in the Newsome High School media center. It had been approved last fall, but that decision was appealed. The book is about 16-year-old twin girls whose mother is running for a U.S. congressional seat and father is a district court judge. Contents include discussions of sexual abuse, drug use and eating disorders. WUSF. A $15 million donation from the Bellini family will help build a center for the arts at Tampa Catholic High School. Construction began this week. Tampa Bay Times. Parents are lobbying the county commission to fund a crossing guard program for the district’s high schools. Spectrum News 9.

Lee: The chair of the county Republican Executive Committee is organizing a rally at the next school board meeting to protest a flag in a classroom at Riverdale High School that he claims is “woke indoctrination” and violates the state’s Stop Woke Act. The flag hangs over a bulletin board with the words “Hate Has No Home Here.” It’s covered in hearts that contain the American flag, a peace symbol, the words Black Lives Matter, and the LGBTQ+ and trans flags. “The issue at hand is that the district needs to get out of having any type of political influence on our children,” said Michael Thompson. District spokesman Rob Spicker said, “The district is aware and continues to work toward a satisfactory resolution.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: LeAnne John, an agriculture teacher at Zephyrhills High School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible to compete for the statewide award. Also honored Thursday were administrator of the year Daniela Bruno, school-related personnel of the year Tami Milner, non-bargaining non-instructional employee of the year Billy Wade, principal of the year Chris Dunning and assistant principal of the year Jill Cortier. Tampa Bay Times.

Leon: School board chair Rosanne Wood has filed to run for re-election to her District 2 seat this year. She was first elected to the board in 2016 and ran unopposed in 2020. She is being challenged by Daniel Zeruto, so far. WFSU. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Dwynette Smith, a music teacher at Metcalfe Elementary School in Gainesville, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. She now will compete for the statewide teacher of the year award. WUFT.

Indian River: School board members have approved the 2024-2025 academic calendar. The first day is Aug. 12 and the end of the year is May 23. Schools are closed Nov. 25-29 for Thanksgiving, Dec. 23-Jan. 3 for the winter break, and March 17-21 for spring break. TCPalm.

Flagler: Allison Kucharski, a 2nd-grade teacher at Rymfire Elementary School in Palm Coast, has been selected as the school district’s teacher of the year. Jimmy Sorrentino, a campus advisor and coach at Buddy Taylor Middle, was named the district’s employee of the year. Both are now eligible for the statewide awards. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Flagler County School District.

Nassau: Parents of students are being asked by district officials to vote for one of two options for the 2024-2025 academic calendar. Both options start Aug. 12, and have the same time off over the winter holidays and for spring break. But the Option A school year ends May 22 and includes just three days off during Thanksgiving week, while Option B has schools closed for a week over Thanksgiving and makes May 28 the final day of school. Voting ends Feb. 2. WJAX.

Monroe: School Superintendent Theresa Axford is asking the school board to extend her contract by one year, to July 31, 2025, at the same $175,000-a-year rate she’s receiving now. “My contract request reflects an extension of one year to allow me to spend one full budget cycle with our new executive director of finance who began work in January, and to continue my work to improve working conditions for teachers and staff with salary increases and affordable housing,” said Axford, who has worked for the district for about 35 years. Board members will consider her request at Tuesday’s meeting. Florida Keys Weekly. Zach Bentley, a Key West native who works in real estate, has announced his candidacy for the District 2 seat on the school board that is being vacated by Andy Griffiths. Bentley and businesswoman Yvette Mira-Talbott are the only declared candidates so far. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: The first residential dorms at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee are on track to open to about 200 students in the fall. The top four floors of the six-story, $42 million building are housing for students, while the bottom two floors will include a student center, dining hall, mailroom, ballroom, meeting rooms, study lounges and a campus bookstore. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The killer of a Pensacola State College math teacher and assistant basketball coach Carla Williams has been sentenced to life in prison. Kennon Farrow, Williams’ former partner, pleaded guilty in December to her murder. Pensacola News Journal.

More on graduation rates: Florida’s high school graduation rate hit a record high of 88 percent in the 2022-2023 school year, the Florida Department of Education announced this week. Here are reports on graduation rates from school districts around the state. Volusia, Flagler. Bay. Florida Department of Education.

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BY NextSteps staff

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