Settlement clarifies reach of state’s parental rights law, athletes urged to reconsider state colleges, and more

Parental rights suit settled: Teachers and students can now discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom as long as it’s not part of instruction, under Monday’s settlement of a lawsuit challenging the state’s 2022 Parental Rights in Education law. Those bringing the suit said the vagueness of the law’s language caused confusion among teachers who feared for their jobs if they unwittingly violated it, and the state agreed to issue instructions to school districts specifying that the law doesn’t prohibit discussions about LGBTQ+ people or Gay-Straight Alliance groups and doesn’t apply to those topics in school library books. Both sides declared satisfaction with the settlement ending the two-year-old lawsuit, which was initially dismissed and then appealed. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office called it a win against “activists and extremists” who tried to “smear and stop” the law. The settlement “should put a stop to the overreacting” by schools, said Roberta Kaplan, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, which included the advocacy groups Equality Florida and Family Equality and several individuals. “We think that is a huge step forward.” Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. Axios. WGCU. New York Times.

Around the state: NAACP officials are calling on black student-athletes to “reconsider” their decisions to attend colleges in Florida and other states that have policies restricting or prohibiting diversity, equity and inclusion programs, a bill is being drafted for the next legislative session that would provide huge pay raises to Florida high school coaches in every sport, University of South Florida trustees have agreed on a proposal to demolish the three oldest dorms on campus and replace them with a five- or six-building complex that will cost $250 million, Pinellas school officials are struggling to write a policy to ban students from using cell phones during the school day, and Lake County school officials said they intend to fire an elementary principal accused of using a racial slur. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The school district will get an additional $19.1 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pay for 50 electric school buses. There are already 20 in the district fleet, and eventually 100 of the 800 district buses will be electric. WTVJ.

Broward: Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to tour the building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where a gunman shot and killed 17 students and employees in 2018 and wounded 17 others. She’ll visit March 23, during the district’s spring break, and talk about gun safety. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Palm Beach: Alumni of the historic Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach are lobbying county leaders to not apply to the state to locate a black history museum at the school, which is scheduled to receive $50 million in renovations from the district. “Any black history museum under the auspices of the Florida Legislature and governor which have enacted the ‘Stop WOKE Act,’ prohibiting and making illegal classroom instruction that would cause anyone to feel guilt, anguish, or any form of psychological distress due to their race, color, sex or national origin, is a black museum without black history,” the alumni said in a news release Monday. Palm Beach Post. A school board promise to build a new high school in Riviera Beach could cost the district $258 million if a plan favored by a majority of the board is adopted. Palm Beach Post.

Pinellas: A school district proposal to construct a policy forbidding students from using cell phones during the school day does not match what school board members had in mind when they asked for it, they said at a recent workshop meeting. District officials say putting together a policy is complex and time-consuming as they consider six months worth of ideas for a policy, the practical implications of each provision and potential penalties for those who violate the policy. Superintendent Kevin Hendrick asked for more time to refine it before presenting a recommendation to the board. “It’s not going to be perfect,” he said. “But it’s our best recommendation based on all the feedback.” Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: A warrant has been issued for a former teacher at the private Canterbury School in Fort Myers who did not appear at a court hearing Monday where he was supposed to work out a plea deal on 2022 charges of lewd and lascivious behavior toward a victim under the age of 16. Thomas Deane apparently cut off his ankle monitor, left his home and was last seen in Miami, according to court officials. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Brevard: District officials have plans to regulate the use of artificial intelligence through the 2024-2025 student code of conduct. Right now, students are not allowed to use AI through such chatbots as ChatGPT, which can write paragraphs of text with a simple prompt. “Teachers and staff are allowed to use it but should not be entering any personally identifiable information for students or employees,” said Robert Klassen, a district technology integrator. Florida Today.

Volusia: A teacher at Cypress Creek Elementary School in Port Orange is under investigation after being accused of telling her 4th-grade students they “almost have to be retarded” because they were struggling to get packed up to leave on the Friday before Presidents Day. Samantha Fuster has remained in the classroom during the investigation. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: The school district said it intends to fire an elementary school teacher who is accused of using a racial slur when trying to break up an argument between two students. A parent of one of the students filed a complaint against Triangle Elementary School principal Debbie Hartog. The district recommendation now goes to the school board. WESH.

Escambia: Ripley Entertainment Inc. are distributing 17,500 free Believe It or Not books to Floridians after the Escambia school district removed three of the company’s titles along with 1,600 other books from school libraries. The company will begin mailing the books in the next few weeks, and Floridians with IDs can also pick up copies at Ripley attractions in Orlando, Panama City Beach and St. Augustine. Florida Politics.

Santa Rosa: District officials have placed artificial intelligence technology on schools buses to detect cars illegally passing buses while the stop arm is out. Violators will be mailed $225 citations. The system went active March 4 but was being tested in February, and 237 drivers received warnings that they had violated the law. Pensacola News Journal.

Colleges and universities: NAACP officials are calling on black student-athletes to “reconsider” their decisions to attend colleges in Florida and other states that have policies restricting or prohibiting diversity, equity and inclusion programs. “If these institutions are unable to completely invest in those athletes, it’s time they take their talents elsewhere,” said Derrick Johnson, the civil rights organization’s president and chief executive. Associated Press. NBC News. Pensacola News Journal. CNN. University of South Florida trustees have agreed on a proposal to demolish the three oldest dorms on campus and replace them with a five- or six-building complex that will cost $250 million. Capacity will more than double, from 900 beds to 2,100, and the buildings would open in phases between 2027 and 2029. WUSF. The Florida Department of Transportation is spending $10 million on a road test of Florida Tech professor Albert Bleakley’s research into the feasibility of recycling reclaimed asphalt pavement. Space Coast Daily.

Bills that died: Among the high-profile bills that didn’t make it out of the legislative session were proposals to restrict what types of flags that could be flown at schools and other public buildings, to require a two-thirds vote from school boards and other local governing boards to increase property taxes, to remove the phrase “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit” from the black history curriculum approved by the state, and to allow cities to approve conversion of public schools into charter schools. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Spring breaking: Twenty-one of Florida’s 67 school districts are on spring break this week. Twenty-eight are off next week, 12 are off March 22-29, four have spring break in April and two had earlier vacations. USA Today Florida Network.

Bill raising coaches’ pay: The Florida Coaches Coalition is working with state Rep. Adam Anderson, R-Palm Harbor, to write a bill for the next legislative session that would provide huge pay raises to high school coaches in every sport. It would require a minimum payment of $15 an hour for coaches, and set a minimum number of hours they would have to work. For instance, head football coaches would be required to put in 1,500 hours over the course of the school year, and would receive $22,500. “We expect a whole lot of pushback, but it’s the right thing to do for the impact they have for these communities,” said Andrew Ramjit, executive director of the coalition. Palm Beach Post. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Football Scoop.

Around the nation: After months of delays, the U.S. Department of Education will begin sending colleges the data they need to put together financial aid packages for incoming students. The delay narrowed the time colleges have to finalize aid offers before the standard May 1 deadline for students to commit to attend. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: If we want to help all families have access to learning options that meet their needs, we’re going to need to devise new methods to give families access to objective information about school performance, and to help them overcome logistical barriers to accessing schools of their choice. Travis Pillow, NextSteps. A review of how the National Guard has been deployed to schools in the past shows the guard can provide service to schools in cases of exceptional need. Yet, doing so does not always end well. F. Chris Curran, The Conversation. The St. Lucie County School Board should be encouraging more public participation at meetings, not less. Blake Fontenay, TCPalm.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff