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Fees proposed for excess book challenges, scholarship spending restrictions advances, and more

Fees for book challenges: Certain people who lodge more than five book challenges to a school district during a calendar year would be assessed $100 in fees for each additional challenge under a bill approved Thursday by the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee. Fees would apply only to “a parent or resident who does not have a student enrolled in the school” where the material is located. If the challenge is successful, fees would be refunded. A House staff analysis said Florida had 1,218 objections to books and other materials during the 2022-2023 fiscal year, and 386 books were removed from schools. “Over half of the objections came from two school districts, Clay and Escambia. Clay County district schools reported 489 objections that resulted in removal of 177 book titles. Escambia County public schools reported 215 objections that resulted in the removal of nine book titles,” the analysis said. The fees proposal is part of a larger education bill that aims to reduce regulations on public schools. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: Limits to what parents can use state K-12 scholarships funds to buy for their children would be restricted under a bill approved Thursday by the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. Approves expenditures would be limited to the purchase of materials associated with language arts and reading, mathematics, social studies and science courses. Current guidelines allow the purchase of such things as theme park tickets, TVs, kayaks, treadmills and more. Tampa Bay Times. A House committee is scheduled to hear a presentation today about high school athletes being paid for use of their names, images and likenesses. Florida is one of 16 states that do not now allow high school athletes to be compensated, but the Florida High School Athletic Association is exploring the issue with a nine-question survey to help it decide if that should change. Tampa Bay Times. WJXT. WTVT.

Around the state: Palm Beach’s school board has hired a consultant to help cut down on the number of chronically absent students, Hernando school board members will decide next week whether to remove or restrict six challenged books, Alachua’s school board has hired a company to help with its turnaround program at an elementary school, four finalists have been chosen for the Miami-Dade teacher of the year award, and Jefferson County’s K-12 school is closed today because of a water main break. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Four finalists have been selected for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Melissa Abril-Dotel, a 2nd-grade teacher at North Beach Elementary School; Nick Acosta of Miami Springs Senior High; William Torres, who teaches 3D animation at Robert Morgan Technical College; and Alina Hughes-Robinson of the Robert Morgan Education Center. The winner will be announced Tuesday. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: A consultant will be hired to help the school district cut down on the number of chronically truant students, the school board decided this week. Aly Solutions Inc. will be paid $75,000 from a grant through Sept. 30 to assign case managers to work with truant students, his or her parents and schools to improve attendance. During the 2020-2021 school year, about 16 percent of the district’s students were considered chronically absent because they missed 21 or days of school. WPEC. A student at William T. Dwyer High School was arrested this week and accused of having a weapon on campus. WPEC.

Polk: School district officials are accepting applications from county residents who want to volunteer to serve on the book review committee. Applicants will be selected by random by Feb. 2 and serve on the committee for the rest of the school year. Three books will be reviewed after being challenged: Assassination Classroom, volumes 1 and 2, by Yusei Matsui, Ellen Hopkins’ Identical and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. WFTS.

Pinellas: Florida voters will decide in November whether to switch school board elections from nonpartisan to partisan. But as the board elections in Pinellas show, the party may not be as important as the positions candidates take on certain education issues. Three Republicans running for board seats said they need to win to “bring reinforcement” to the “true conservatives” on the board, which apparently does not include board member and fellow Republican Lisa Cane, as well as at least one other Republican candidate. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Every middle and high school student will soon have a 988 sticker placed on their district-issued laptops. Those three digits can connect students to a national suicide and crisis lifeline. The 75,000 stickers are being provided by a nonprofit started by Kelly Haskins, whose 18-year-old son Hunter killed himself in 2021. Hunter, a Merritt Island High School graduate and University of Central Florida student, had just found out through his laptop that he’d flunked a math test. “Knowing he was physically at his laptop … I wish he had had the 988 number in front of his face to reach out for help,” Haskins said. Florida Today.

Escambia: An early-release school day Feb. 7 has been changed to a full school day to help the district make up time lost to recent weather-related closures. “In order to do our best to ensure there is no question about meeting our state-mandated instructional minutes requirement, we will change Wednesday, February 7 from a half-day for students to a full day for all students and staff,” said Superintendent Keith Leonard. WEAR.

Alachua: Instructional Empowerment will receive up to $407,560 to help the district with its turnaround plan for Lake Forest Elementary School, which has received grades of F and D from the state in the past two years. The company will help with evaluations before the state’s standardized testing begins. If the school doesn’t improve its grade to a C, Instructional Empowerment will then conduct on-site evaluations, help with hiring and relocation of district resources and teachers, and train teachers and administrators. Main Street Daily News.

Hernando: School board members are expected to decide Tuesday whether to remove or restrict six challenged books. The books are: Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan; Speak: The Graphic Novel, by Laurie Halse Anderson; Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell; Sold, by Patricia McCormick; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi; and The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo. Suncoast News.

Washington: School board members have brought district policy in line with state laws by banning the social media app TikTok from being used on all district electronic devices and wireless networks. WMBB.

Jefferson: The K-12 school is closed today after a water main break at the school Thursday at about 2 p.m. “Any changes to the operating schedule of JCS K12 School will be reported to parents and staff through an automated call, Focus, and listed here on our FB page and our website,” district officials announced on their Facebook page. WTXL.

Colleges and universities: Jacksonville University will open an honors college and name it after President Tim Cost and his wife Stephanie, who have donated more than $10 million to the school. The honors college is expected to open in 2025. Florida Times-Union. St. Johns River State College is partnering with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office to create a bachelor’s degree in its criminal justice program. WCJB. Lake-Sumter State College will begin offering a bachelor of science degree in elementary education this fall. About 120 students are expected to enroll. Daily Commercial.

Workforce grants: More than $35 million in grants from the state will be given to 36 school districts and colleges to begin semiconductor-related instructional programs for students. WGCU.

Teacher strike approval: Florida law forbids teachers from striking, but a new poll suggests that more than 70 percent of state residents would support teachers’ right to strike. Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy conducted the survey for Hedge Clippers, an advocacy group of labor and community activist organizations. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Law enforcement agencies acted with “no urgency” during the 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report that cited “cascading failures” in the police response. Nineteen children and two school employees died in the attack. Associated Press. Biden administration officials are criticizing Florida and other states that have refused funding to provide free meals to students during the summer. The the Florida Department of Children and Families turned down the offer because of  “strings attached” to the money. WFSU. The Biden administration is calling on states to increase student attendance, adopt high-dosage tutoring, and expand summer- and after-school learning to reverse declines in student achievement. Education Week. Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: Technology is evolving so rapidly that it may be decades before we realize the full and deleterious effects of social media today on our students’ futures. It’s incumbent on our state and legislators to act now to shield students from harm. Jeb Bush, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff