State appeals pronoun ruling, black history museum finalists, a Lee County baseball story, and more

Around the state: Florida is appealing a judge’s decision that blocks the enforcement of a 2023 state law requiring a transgender teacher to use pronouns aligning with her sex assigned at birth, three sites are chosen as finalists to land the Florida Museum of Black History, a Lee County’s baseball season was cut short by a racially inflammatory email and a subsequent in-game walkout, an inspector general’s recent audit of Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship program found problems at three colleges, and University of Central Florida professors are protesting because they didn’t get raises this year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Seven charter school students have been arrested and accused of beating two classmates so badly Thursday that they had to be hospitalized with concussions. The attack occurred after school outside the SLAM! Miami school in Little Havana. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: A Durant High School teacher has been arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. Deputies said Jaime Hernandez Cabrera, 25, and a 16-year-old first connected through social media in October 2022. A month later they began a sexual relationship that continued as recently as last month on school property. He faces charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and sexual battery by an authority figure over a student. Tampa Bay Times.

Polk: The youngest member of the school board has filed paperwork to run for a third term. Sara Beth Wyatt, the president and CEO of the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, was first elected in 2016 as a 24-year-old. She was unopposed in 2020, but this year is being challenged by home-school advocate Rebekah Ricks. The election is Aug. 20. Lakeland Ledger. Alain Douge, principal at Davenport High School, has been appointed to take over Lakeland High School this summer. He’s replacing Arthur Martinez, who is retiring. Douge taught special education and math and then was Lake Gibson Middle’s principal before opening Davenport High in 2021. Lakeland Now.

Pinellas: A district plan asking parents to register their children for spots on school buses worked so well this academic year that it will be continued next year. District transportation director T. Mark Hagewood said routes were being drawn to transport 36,000 students, but only about 24,000 were riding the bus every day. So it launched the transportation ridership campaign that asked parents to register children who needed a ride. About 25,000 did so, allowing the district to draw more efficient routes and reduce the need for school bus drivers at a time of driver shortages. WFTS.

Lee: On Feb. 14, 2023, a Fort Myers High School assistant baseball coach sent a message on a team group chat that used slang for a racial slur. He was fired, setting into motion a series of events that led to three white coaches, followed by at least nine white players, walking off the field during a game April 6 while one of the team’s black players was at bat and the other was on deck. The white players’ parents cheered. Then came the cancellation of the season, an investigation and the lawsuits. ESPN. A student at a private college prep school in Fort Myers started a peer mentoring program that helps students who lack resources and have fallen behind academically. Dylan Moon, now a junior at the Canterbury School, identified a post-pandemic need in 2020 and started the peer-mentoring group Creating Role Models and Mentors. It now has 16 mentoring and tutoring volunteers, and is expanding the number of schools it helps. “We’re not just mentors,” he said. “We’re friends here to support each other and make a positive impact in our community.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Volusia: Former superintendent Scott Fritz is disputing current Superintendent Carmen Balgobin’s claim that teachers will be displaced next year because of the debt and financial issues she inherited. Fritz said Balgobin’s statement last week was a “misrepresentation” and an “easy out.” He said school board members were warned in 2022 against using federal pandemic funds to fill recurring positions, but did so anyway. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Citrus: Three Lecanto Primary School teachers have been suspended for allegedly physically restraining a child and wiping and scrubbing the inside of the child’s mouth with a baby wipe for swearing. Pre-K teacher Barbara Elliott, pre-K aide Jennifer Bullock and pre-K paraprofessional Felicia Cridland were removed from the classroom pending final termination recommendation proceedings with the school board. Debbie Rumpf, a registered behavior technician from McCoy Behavior, was also involved, according to district officials, and will no longer be permitted to work in any district schools. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: University of Central Florida professors are protesting because they didn’t get raises this year. State money that might have gone toward higher salaries was instead spent to boost the school’s four-year graduation rate to 60 percent so UCF can be eligible for “pre-eminent” status from the state, which would boost state funding. But school officials also said they are working on a “university-wide raise program” for pay increases by early fall. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Polytechnic University trustee David Williams has resigned over the board’s hiring of G. Devin Stephenson as president. Williams backed the trustees’ second choice, H. Keith Moo-Young, for his strong STEM background and because Stephenson was the only finalist with no background in STEM. Lakeland Ledger. Philanthropist Hoyt Barnett has pledged $3 million to help develop the Polk State Haines City-Davenport campus. Polk State College. University of Florida’s assistant director of curriculum and academic policy, Casey Griffith, 43, has been fired after his involvement in a fight at a Citrus County gas station. Independent Florida Alligator.

Black history museum finalists: St. Johns County, Eatonville in Orange County and Opa-locka in Miami-Dade County are the finalists to land the Florida Museum of Black History, the Florida Museum of Black History Task Force decided Friday. Florida A&M University’s School of Architecture and Engineering Technology will now analyze the three bids and report back to the task force May 21. A final recommendation from the task force is due to the state before July 1. News Service of Florida. Jacksonville Today. St. Augustine Record. Spectrum News 13.

Pronoun ruling appeal: Florida will appeal a judge’s recent decision that blocks the enforcement of a 2023 state law requiring a transgender teacher to use pronouns that align with her sex assigned at birth. Earlier this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the law doesn’t comply with federal civil rights law and violates the First Amendment rights of Katie Wood, a transgender teacher in Hillsborough County. News Service of Florida.

Bright Futures audit: An inspector general’s recent audit of Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship program found three areas of concern: Eastern Florida State College’s return of advances without identifying students who may be eligible, the University of South Florida’s non-compliance with state law and Florida Department of Education policies on refunds from students who withdrew or dropped a course, and Pensacola State College’s disbursement of funds in a timely manner. The Center Square.

Around the nation: About 87 percent of children between 5 and 17 years old attended public schools in America in 2022, a decline of nearly 4 percentage points since 2012, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data. In Florida, the decline is 6.5 percentage points, from about 91 percent in 2012 to about 84 percent in 2022. NBC News. Safety experts say installing silent panic buttons in schools reduces law enforcement response times and improves safety, but only Florida and five other states encourage or require them. CNN. U.S. schools continue to censor their graduation speakers, both guests and students. They do it, said Sanford Ungar, the director of Georgetown University’s Free Speech Project and former president of Goucher College in Baltimore, because “nobody wants a riot to break out at commencement.” USA Today.

Opinions on schools: The same state government that inflamed the book bans to start now wants to curb frivolous challenges. When the arsonist calls in the fire, is he a hero? Tampa Bay Times. By insisting on data-driven evidence of outcomes, nonprofits can ensure that investments in literacy programs yield the best possible returns, transforming the lives of students through the power of reading. Robert H. Kelly, Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff