Conservative groups oppose parental choice on 3rd-grade retention, free meals and more

3rd-grade retention: Three conservative activist groups that supported the expansion of parental rights in schools have announced their “strong” opposition to part of a proposed public school deregulation bill that would allow parents to decide if their 3rd-graders should be held back because they struggle in reading. The bill “allows parents to override the school district for their child,” according to letter from the Moms for Liberty Florida Legislative Committee, Florida Citizens Alliance and Citizens Defending Freedom. “While there is an argument that retention needs to be balanced with parental rights, an illiterate child allowed to advance will not only never recover but will have a significant negative impact on the 4th-grade class. Standards are in place for a reason. This needs to be removed.” Tampa Bay Times.

In the Legislature: All public school students in Florida would receive free breakfasts and lunches under bills (SB 300 and HB 477) proposed for the 60-day legislative session that begins Tuesday. Sponsors are Sen. Lori Berman of Boynton Beach and Rep. Allison Tant of Tallahassee, both Democrats. WPEC. WCJB. A universal voucher program for early child-care has been proposed by state Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville. The Capitolist. School districts would be required to adopt anaphylaxis policies that would include a treatment plan and training for employees under bills (SB 52 and HB 65) filed recently for the session. West Orlando News. Prospective teachers would be required to get active-shooter training before earning certification under a bill proposed by state Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs. WCTV. A student conflict resolution and peer mediation pilot program would be launched in five state middle and high schools under a bill filed by state Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach. WPEC. Individual spending requests from legislators now total $3.8 billion in the Senate and nearly $6 billion in the House. Among them are $87.55 million to start a college for dentistry at Florida Atlantic University and $35 million to remodel the Ponce de Leon Hotel on the campus of Flagler College. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: At least 20 Florida school districts either have or are developing inclusivity guidelines for LGBTQ+ students, a Brevard city has approved speed detection cameras for school zones, a Palm Beach County woman is worried about a busy intersection not having crossing guards for charter school students, and Florida Gulf Coast University trustees are expected to vote next week on adding a bachelor’s degree program in computer science. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: A teacher has been indicted for having sex with a student last fall and making 28 video recordings of the liaisons. Marie-Jo Gordo was arrested Oct. 27 and charged with sexual exploitation of children and producing child pornography. She resigned from the school in June and has been working at another K-8 school in the district, according to dfeputies. WKMG. WESH.

Palm Beach: Crossing guards are on duty to help students cross a busy eight-lane intersection in Boynton Beach when two nearby, traditional public schools let out each weekday at 2 and 4:05 p.m. But they aren’t there at 2:45, when students from the Somerset Academy Canyons Charter School are released, because of a quirk in state law that requires law enforcement agencies to pay for guards for traditional public schools but not for charters. Mikki Isackson, a resident who lives near the intersection, has lobbied county leaders to address the safety issue, but has gotten nowhere. “Nobody is taking ownership,” she said. “I don’t care whose budget it comes out of. Ultimately everybody pays taxes and it should be covered. This is all wrong.” Palm Beach Post.

Brevard: Palm Bay City Council members have have approved a plan to place speed detection cameras in schools zones throughout the city. “The ability to have cameras throughout protecting our children is critical,” said Mayor Rob Medina at Thursday’s meeting. The city will have to make a public announcement about the system 30 days before it can become operational. WESH. A private school in Melbourne has announced plans to build a $10 million academic facility for grades 7-12. Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy’s building will include 15 classrooms, presentation space for theater and more, a design center and broadcast studio, and an innovation gym and robotics workshop. About $7 million has been raised. Construction will begin when donations reach the 90 percent mark, and will take about a year. Viera Voice.

Bay: A Rutherford Middle School teacher has been arrested and accused of having a romantic relationship with a 14-year-old student. Deputies said Lindsey Robert Stuart, 38, admitted being intimate with the student, and has been charged with offenses against students by an authority figure, sexual battery by a person in custodial authority, and lewd or lascivious battery. He submitted his resignation Dec. 1, but Superintendent Mark McQueen rejected it, and said he will recommend Stuart be fired at Tuesday’s school board meeting. WMBB. Panama City News Herald. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: Florida Gulf Coast University trustees are expected to vote next week on adding a bachelor’s degree program in computer science. If approved, it would begin next fall, and students could choose to concentrate on cybersecurity, data science or software engineering. News Service of Florida.

Inclusivity guidelines: About 10 Florida school districts have already adopted LGBTQ+ guides that help teachers conform to state law and still allow students to use their preferred pronouns as long as they have parental consent, and another 10 or so are finalizing inclusive guidelines or considering doing so, according to the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Florida. “We work with lawyers that interpret the Florida legislation and we make sure that school districts are using affirming language while operating within the scope of the law,” said Esme Rodriguez of Equality Florida. WUSF.

Around the nation: A 17-year-old student at Perry High School, about 40 miles north of Des Moines, Iowa, shot and killed a 6th-grade student and wounded five others Thursday. Dylan Butler then shot and killed himself, according to police. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: A new analysis runs counter to conventional wisdom by concluding that the U.S. charter school industry has plenty of room to grow. Michael J. Petrilli, The 74. The Broward school board is scheduled to vote Jan. 9 on the creation and funding of a 400-member school police department intended to dismantle the current school resource officer  program. Yet, there has not been a single workshop or community meeting with students, parents, teachers and the law enforcement community to discuss the merits, safety risks and costs of this plan. Mike Ryan, Sun-Sentinel. We are not going to turn back the page on the digital age, and electronic devices are an essential element of any modern classroom. However, a study showing the advantages of reading books over reading on electronic devices is an important reminder that if we want young students to become good readers, we should give them books and other material that they can actually touch, hold and read. Jim Verhulst, Tampa Bay Times. The University of Florida observatory in Levy County may have to shut down if the county approves a proposal to build a sand mine in Williston. Craig Pittman, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff