Parental permission forms, measles outbreak in Broward elementary school, and more

Around the state: Miami-Dade school district officials order a pause on a controversial parental permission form while it’s being revised, an Orange County high school asks parents to sign a permission slip for students to watch the PG-rated Disney animation film Tangled, five people from a Broward elementary school have been diagnosed with measles, Duval school officials are proposing to combine two magnet elementary schools in mostly black neighborhoods, Alafia district officials are defending an elementary school assistant principal whose comments on book restrictions went viral, Flagler County is reconsidering contributing money for school resource officers, Florida senators introduce a $900 million tax cut package, and Seminole and Volusia schools announce their teacher of the year winners. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: District officials have told principals to stop using the controversial parental permission form 2424 while it undergoes a “revision.” Last week, school officials  required parents to sign one to allow their children to hear a black author read to children for Black History Month. Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. were sharply critical of that decision, with Diaz saying, “Florida does not require a permission slip to teach African American history or to celebrate Black History Month. Any school that does this is completely in the wrong.” WPLG.

Broward: Five people associated with Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston have now been diagnosed with measles since late last week, according to district and health department officials. The school has been deep-cleaned and its air filters replaced as it tries to avoid further cases of the highly contagious disease. Experts say 3 of 1,000 people contracting the disease will die, 1 of 1,000 will get encephalitis, and some people affected can have neurological complications 5 to 10 years after being infected. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. WPLG. Miami HeraldWSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Florida Politics. Ten as-yet unnamed high schools will get walk-through metal detectors next fall, said Superintendent Peter Licata. Sun-Sentinel. A 12-year-old girl was seriously injured Friday when she fell from a second-floor balcony in Westglades Middle School in Parkland. It is unclear how she fell, school officials said. Sun-Sentinel. A charter bus returning from a field trip to Sea World with 47 students and four chaperones from Seminole Middle School in Plantation caught fire on the turnpike Friday night. No one was injured. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WSVN.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Four school board candidates agreed on most issues during an election forum Friday. They all support the teaching of black history, higher pay for teachers, and say culture war issues are distracting from teaching children how to read. There were some differences on book challenges and who’s responsible for the culture wars. Attending the forum were District 1 incumbent Nadia Combs and opponent Julie Magill, and District 3 incumbent Jessica Vaughn and challenger Angela Fullwood. Three other candidates were not there. Tampa Bay Times. Chronic absenteeism in Tampa Bay area schools has soared since the beginning of the pandemic. What are local educators doing about it? Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Parents of students at Boone High School in Orlando said they were asked by school officials to sign permission slips giving consent for their children to watch the PG-rated Disney movie Tangled after school last week. The movie is an updated version of the classic tale of Rapunzel, a princess who is held captive in a tower because her hair has the power to provide eternal life to the old woman who imprisoned her. School officials said they were complying with state law requiring parental permission for all after-school events. WFTV.

Palm Beach: A South Tech Academy teacher who was arrested last week and accused of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student had been warned by school administrators in January not to give rides or gifts to students. Damian Conti, 35, was arrested Feb. 6 and fired Feb. 7. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: District officials are recommending to the school board that two magnet schools in predominantly black neighborhoods be combined and one of the schools closed this summer. Under the proposal, Daniels Elementary would close and its students would be transferred to the R.L. Brown Gifted and Talented Academy, which would then undergo renovations that would be completed by the 2025-2026 academic year. A vote by the school board is expected March 5. Jacksonville Today.

Pasco: Legislators’ rush to ban social media for students under 16, ban cell phones in schools, and restrict books and history lessons draws some strong reactions from students during a Pasco high school classroom discussion and around Florida. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF.

Brevard: A preschool teacher at the Tick Tock Kids Academy on Merritt Island was arrested last week and accused of kicking and slapping a child for allegedly being disruptive. Laura Carmichael, 20, denied kicking the child and said she grabbed the girl’s arm to try to force the child into a timeout seat. WKMG.

Seminole: Vita Holguin, an 8th-grade science teacher at Indian Trails Middle in Winter Springs, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible for the statewide competition. Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: Emily Fagerstrom, a math coach at Champion Elementary School in Daytona Beach, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible for the statewide competition. Orlando Sentinel.

Lake: School board members agreed last week to join other districts in Florida and around the country in suing the parent companies of parent companies of Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok, Google and YouTube and others in federal court, accusing the social media companies of negligence, and intentional and reckless conduct. WKMG. WFTV.

Leon: Construction is expected to begin next month on a $500,000 esports lab at R. Frank Nims Middle School in Tallahassee, the first of its kind in the district. “Esports is growing traction in public schools and I like the fact that we are going to be the first in the district with the room,” said principal Benny Bolden Jr. “It’s going to be gaming but yet learning.” The lab is expected to open in the fall. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: District officials are defending an assistant principal at Terwilliger Elementary School who’s been the subject of heavy criticism over a video of his answers to questions about book restrictions. Critics say the video shows Garrett Jones saying he believes it’s fine for 8-year-old students to read pornographic books. District officials released a statement saying the video clip was taken out of context, that Jones was asked his thoughts on a specific book, and that he said he did not believe the book was pornographic. Gainesville Sun. Main Street Daily News. Alachua Chronicle. WCJB. WPDE. The city of Newberry will vote on a proposal to turn three district schools in the city into charter schools. Parents and teachers at Newberry Elementary, Oak View Middle and Newberry High schools will vote. If they approve, the organization Newberry Education First will take control of the schools in the fall of 2025. WCJB.

Marion: Schools need $840 million in repairs but the district doesn’t have the money for them, says Superintendent Diane Gullett. “It’s not to be overly dramatic when you look at the data, the growth and our facilities. When you have about half our facilities are over 50 years old, the cost of maintenance continues to climb,” she said. So she’s asking county commissioners to approve the district’s request to ask voters in November to support a half-cent sales tax and impact fees. “It’s been 15 years since there’s been a sales tax for our facility needs, and it’s been 13 years since we’ve had impact fees since they were suspended,” she said. WKMG.

Hernando: School board members are expected to decide today whether to remove three more books from school libraries. Fade and All the Things We Do in the Dark are being challenged because of sexual content. All American Boys, which tells the story of a black teenager being unfairly arersted and assaulted by police, is being challenged for “inflammatory racial and social commentary, police profiling, heavy profanity, alcohol and drug use, violence, police brutally and promotion of Black Lives Matter.” Only All the Things We Do in the Dark was recommended for removal by a book review committee. Suncoast News.

Citrus: Like many other counties, Citrus is having a hard time finding school bus drivers. The district has raised pay and provided more hours to drivers, but still finds itself short because, as Superintendent Sandra Himmel says, “A lot of people don’t want to drive with 60 kids sitting behind them.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: The county is reconsidering its commitment to pay half of the costs for school resource officers, Administrator Heidi Petito told Superintendent LaShakia Moore last week. The half amounts to $1.4 million a year. No final decision has been made by the county commission, but the news stunned school officials. Board member Cheryl Massaro said, simply, “Wow” several times before adding, “My first concern is financial. Let’s face facts. We’re not in the best financial situation we’ve been in the past. We’re already below our reserve of $6 million.” Flagler Live.

Nassau: District officials are being sued by the activist group Citizens Defending Freedom, which alleges the district did not fully fulfill its request for information about the behavioral health curriculum. CDF wants to review the material for age-appropriateness. Jacksonville Today.

Wakulla: One child from Shadeville Elementary School was slightly injured when pellets from an airgun shattered a window in a district school bus Thursday. Within minutes, deputies found two children, 11 and 15, who admitted shooting the air rifles. Both were arrested. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Colleges and universities: The year since the conservative takeover and reshaping of New College of Florida has been a time of upheaval and strife. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Anne Kerr, who became president of Lakeland’s Florida Southern College in 2004, has announced she will retire as soon as a successor is found. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland Now. WUSF. AdventHealth University has the lowest undergraduates-to faculty ratio among schools in Florida, at 6-1, followed by St. Thomas University at 10-1. Among the larger schools, the ratio is 13-1 at the University of Miami, 17-1 at the University of Florida, and 22-1 at Florida State, Florida Gulf Coast and the University of South Florida. Palm Beach Post.

In the Legislature: Senators have released a proposed $900 million tax cut package that, like the House’s, calls for a single back-to-school tax holiday. It has a hearing today in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics. A bill that would allow volunteer chaplains in schools will get a hearing today in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Education. Florida Politics. Also getting a hearing today in a Senate committee is the bill that would require “age-appropriate” instruction on the history of communism to students in all grades. WMFE. Florida Phoenix. A bill that would limit the use of corporal punishment in the state has stalled in committee and is likely dead for the session that is scheduled to end March 8, but the sponsor, Rep. Katherine Waldron, D-Palm Beach, said, “I’m committed to putting it forward next year if it doesn’t pass this year.” Orlando Sentinel. The 74.

Florida SAT scores: Mean SAT scores for Florida students have been dropping annually since 2005, and at 966 ranks 46th among the states and the District of Columbia. In the math portion of the SAT, Florida’s students lag behind every state except New Mexico and West Virginia. WTVT.

FLVS appeals ruling: Florida Virtual School is appealing a judge’s ruling in January that its lawsuit contending a competitor infringed on its trademarks was “feeble” and an attempt to “bully” the competitor. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: Even as he’s telling the Legislature to do something about all the books being banned, Gov. Ron DeSantis refuses to admit there are books being banned. Katie Blankenship and Stephana Ferrell, Sun-Sentinel. The prolific book challenger is, in a way, asking for the same things as the advocacy groups trying to stop book bans: clarity. Specifics are desperately needed so educators can do their jobs, not get labeled abusers and operatives for trying to follow a laughably broad law. If more direction comes out of this mess in a way that helps teachers, that will be a positive result. Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times. Florida’s recent book bans directly infringe upon the principles of freedom, liberty, and personal autonomy. By denying Floridians and their children the ability to make choices about their reading materials, these bans strip away individual freedoms and contradict the very essence of what freedom should be. Jane Schlechtweg, Fort Myers News-Press.

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BY NextSteps staff