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Week 2 of legislative session begins today, FLVS spends $1.4M in losing lawsuit, and more

Around the state: Week 2 of the legislative session begins today in Tallahassee with the potential for conflict between the Senate and House over the public school deregulation bill, Florida Virtual School spent $1.4 million in a losing 12-year fight over its trademark, Broward schools are being sued by a transgender student’s family who said their safety has been threatened by the legal battle started when the student was barred from playing on the girls high school volleyball team, middle and high school social studies textbooks approved in Duval make no mention of any benefits derived from slavery, Escambia’s school board is expected to consider naming Keith Leonard as the permanent superintendent at its meeting today, and four Florida school districts will receive $33 million from the EPA to buy zero-emissions school buses. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A student has been arrested and accused of shooting a 15-year-old student at Miami Northwestern Senior High after a boys basketball game Thursday. The victim is in critical condition, said law enforcement officials. WPLG. Miami Herald. WTVJ.

Broward: The school district is being sued by the family of a transgender student whose participation on the high school’s girls volleyball team sparked an uproar that led to the school being fine and five employees being reassigned. The family’s complaint challenges a 2021 state law banning transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams, and the suit was amended to include the school board, the superintendent and the Florida High School Athletic Association. It also contends the district’s recent actions have threatened the safety of the family. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press.

Duval: Social studies textbooks newly approved for the district’s middle and high school students have no references to “benefits of slavery” that was among the guidance for the textbooks released last summer from the state. They do cover such divisive issues as Reconstruction, the rise of the white hate group Ku Klux Klan, and the effect of Jim Crow laws on the lives of African Americans. “We want to make sure this is not the beautified dolled up version that makes people feel better, but it is the truth telling accurate version that makes us better because we’ll be required to do better,” said ReGina Newkirk Rucci, the director of equity for 904ward, a group working to end racism in Jacksonville. WTLV.

Pinellas: A 12-year-old student at Carwise Middle School in Palm Harbor was arrested Friday for having a replica gun at school and telling a classmate he was going to use it against other students and teachers. After he was detained, the boy told deputies he brought the gun to be “cool,” and that if he made any threats, they had been jokes. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTVT.

Collier: An 11-year-old student at Manatee Elementary School in Naples was arrested last week and accused of threatening a classmate with a box cutter. The girl is charged with possession of a weapon on school property and aggravated battery. Naples Daily News.

Sarasota: School board members are expected to vote today whether to join other school district in the state and around the country in suing social media companies for the negative impact they have on students. District officials cite the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory that says there is “mounting evidence for the risk of harm to some children and adolescents from social media use” in joining the class-action lawsuit against the parent companies of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Youtube. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Martin County had the lowest percentage among Treasure Coast school districts of chronically absent students during the 2021-2022 school year, at 19.5 percent. Students are considered chronically absent if they miss 21 days or more of school, according to the Florida Department of Education. The state average was 20.9 percent. Indian River’s was 23.3 percent, and St. Lucie’s was 29.4 percent, or the 10th-worst in the state. TCPalm.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Interim Escambia superintendent Keith Leonard was rated “highly effective” in his first evaluation, and could be named today as the permanent superintendent. Leonard has led the district since May, when Tim Smith was fired. Leonard’s aggregate score from the five board members was 74.8 out of a possible 88 points. Four of five board members rated Leonard highly effective, and one gave him an effective rating. Pensacola News Journal. Santa Rosa’s school district was the seventh-best in the state with only 13.8 percent of its students considered chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year, according to state data. Escambia’s rate of 21.8 percent chronically absent students was just over the state average. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: Changes in the school’s transportation for students go into effect today. Most courtesy busing of students who live less than 2 miles from their school is being eliminated, and parents will be required to deliver their children who attend magnet and choice programs to a centralized location, or hub, for pickup. Director of transportation Dontarrius Rowls said the changes should make routes more efficient and lessen the impact of the driver shortage. Main Street Daily News. A scheduled fall opening of the state-run Florida School for Competitive Academics is threatened by bureaucratic and logistical issues, according to state Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, who sponsored the bill creating it the STEM-focused school last year. WCJB.

Putnam: District 3 school board incumbent Sandra Gilyard has filed to run for a third term. She’s drawn one opponent so far: East Palatka resident Jackie Porter, who has never run for elected office in Putnam County. The primary is Aug. 20. Palatka Daily News.

Columbia: An employee of the preschool at the Cambridge Prep Academy in Lake City was killed Friday and her three children were injured when her vehicle ran off the road in Nocatee and crashed into a tree. Alyssa Keller, 28, died, and her two oldest children were seriously injured. WTLV.

Colleges and universities: St. John Vianney College Seminary was the Florida college with the highest graduation rate in 2021 at 100 percent, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, which considers graduates earning a degree within six years of enrollment. The University of Florida was second at 91 percent, followed by the University of Miami at 84 percent, Florida State University at 83 percent, and Ringling College of Art and Design at 80 percent. Palm Beach Post. College students who are enrolled in online-only classes are less likely to graduate than those enrolled in face-to-face courses, according to a report from the University of Florida. Inside Higher Ed. Aysegul Timur was installed Friday as the first female president of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. WFTX. Fort Myers News-Press. Construction has begun on a University of Central Florida nursing building in Lake Nona. The $68 million Dr. Phillips Nursing Pavilion is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2025. Florida Politics. Thomas A. Kinchen, who was president of the Baptist University of Florida in Gainesville for 32 years before his retirement in 2022, died Jan. 11 of pancreatic cancer. Kentucky Today.

Legislature, Week 1: The first week of the 60-day legislative session was highlighted by the passage of a bill that would streamline regulations for public schools. Senators approved three bills (SB 700070027004) that would remove some high school graduation test requirements, expand the time between school bus inspections, reduce the frequency of financial reports, and ease the way for teachers to earn certification. However, House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, opposes the removal of the requirement that students pass both the algebra 1 end-of-course and 10th grade English language arts exams to be eligible for high school graduation. Tallahassee Democrat. News Service of Florida. Spectrum News 9.

Also in the Legislature: Two Democratic legislators have introduced a bill that would require schools to have a plan prepared outlining the steps to take if a student with disabilities goes missing from school. “Unfortunately, there have been these really heartbreaking cases where a child has walked away towards something like a body of water or towards traffic, and we ended up losing that child,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando. WMFE. A bill that would require school employees to be trained on administering an EpiPen appears to be in trouble already because it has not yet been assigned to any committee. Bills must be approved by three committees before being scheduled for a full vote. Sponsor Rita Harris, a Democratic representative from Orlando, said she hopes the initiative will be added to a larger bill later in the session. WKMG.

Book removals in Florida: School districts in Florida are removing books from schools out of confusion caused by varying interpretations of state law, and fear of the threat of criminal charges if they don’t act. USA Today Florida Network. Conservative TV commentator Bill O’Reilly said the Escambia school district’s decision to remove two of his books was “preposterous” and “absurd.” He said he originally supported the law because of “abuse” going on in the state, but it needs to be “tightened up” after his books, Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency and Killing Jesus: A History, were two of more than 1,000 removed from school libraries to be reviewed for sexual content. The Hill.

FLVS’s $1M lawsuit: The Florida Virtual School spent more than $1.4 million in legal fees to defend its trademark in a lawsuit against a Virginia company that was dismissed by a judge who called it a “feeble” claim. The trademark dispute with K12 began in 2012. FLVS hired two outside law firms to bring the suit, which Judge Gregory Presnell of the U.S. District Court in Orlando dismissed Jan. 2. He wrote that FLVS’s “prosecution of this lawsuit seems more akin to a ‘trademark bully’ harassing a competitor than a party seeking reasonable redress for any harm.” Orlando Sentinel.

Grants for school buses: The Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Orange and Seminole school districts will receive more than $33 million from the EPA’s Clean School Bus grant program. Miami-Dade will get $19,750,000 to buy more than 50 zero-emissions buses, Hillsborough $7.9 million and Orange $5 million each to buy more than 20 buses, and Seminole $525,000 for more than 15 buses. Spectrum News 13. WMFE.

Around the nation: Starting in February, the U.S. Department of Education has announced, people who took out less than $12,000 in federal student loans and have been repaying those loans for 10 years will be eligible to get their loans canceled. Florida Phoenix. Associated Press. The principal who was wounded during a shooting at an Iowa school earlier this month has died. Dan Marburger was shot trying to protect Perry High School students on Jan. 4. An 11-year-old was also killed, and the 17-year-old gunman killed himself. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Given Florida’s poor results on the SAT math section, there should be no disagreement whatsoever that improving the math understanding of the state’s middle and high school students should be a high priority for education policymakers. And yet, as far as I can tell not a single bill on improving secondary math education has been filed in the Florida Legislature for the session that began last week. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. New data from Florida’s Department of Education show absenteeism is not just a pandemic problem, but a post-pandemic problem — likely the biggest one facing the state’s schools. Nat Malkus, Miami Herald. A new Florida regulation could prevent professors or students at the state’s universities from discussing women’s health, race and racism, environmentally sustainable practices, or even politics. But Floridians have the chance to speak up to protect intellectual freedom on campuses before it’s too late. Katie Blankenship and Jeremy C. Young, Miami Herald. Teacher Mary Maraghy has lost another former student, at least the eighth, to early deaths. She, of course, isn’t the only teacher who can put together a list like this. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. Legislators should not lay the self-imposed labor shortage on the backs of our students by allowing them to work more and in potentially dangerous situations. Marianne Arbulu, Tallahassee Democrat. By investing in financial literacy instruction, we invest in the future prosperity of our state, fostering a more financially savvy and economically resilient citizenry. Suzanne Costanza, Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff