State’s pronoun usage law for teachers goes to federal judge, FMU hit by ransomware attack, and more

Around the state: Arguments were heard Friday in the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a Florida law that restricts how educators can use pronouns in schools, a ransomware attack against Florida Memorial University has been reported, Broward school officials were warned six years ago that not giving charter schools money from a tax referendum could lead to problems, Catholic schools continue to add enrollment in south Florida, opposition is growing in Nassau County to the restrictions being placed on book availability in the schools, and a St. Lucie teacher was killed Saturday by her estranged husband in what authorities are calling a murder-suicide. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: Even as public schools in Miami-Dade and Broward have lost tens of thousands of students in the past decade, Catholic schools are hitting new highs in enrollment. Archdiocese of Miami schools grew by 4.1 percent last year, and there are now 35,028 students in 64 Catholic schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, including five independently owned schools. It’s a significant turnaround for the archdiocese, which was closing schools not that long ago. “The continued growth of our Catholic schools in south Florida is enormously heartening,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent at the archdiocese. Miami Herald. NextSteps.

Broward: In 2018, a member of the school board warned colleagues that not giving charter schools some of the revenue from a tax referendum was risky because charters “fight back.” The board decided to give charters $4.5 million for security, but declined to give them a share based on student enrollment. Now the board is in a bind because the state has ordered it to pay charter schools $80 million of the $455 million collected from the tax over four years, to come up with a plan by April 17 to resolve the issue, and to make all payments by Dec. 31. If the board doesn’t, it faces sanctions from the state. Sun-Sentinel.

Palm Beach: A district employee and a substitute teacher were arrested Friday and accused of inappropriate contact with students. Jordan Augustine, 30, a non-instructional employee at Royal Palm Beach High School, is accused of unlawful sexual activity with certain minors and offenses against students by authority figures. Corey Pierce, a 21-year-old sub at Woodlands Middle near Lake Worth Beach, is charged with charges of lewd or lascivious exhibitions of someone less than 18 years old and solicitation of lewd conduct with a student by an authority figure. Neither will be returning to their schools, according to district officials. WPTV. WPEC.

St. Lucie: An 8th-grade algebra teacher at the Manatee Academy in Port St. Lucie died Saturday in what West Palm Beach police are saying was a murder-suicide. Jamie Felix, 45, was shot outside a hotel near the Palm Beach International Airport, police said, by her estranged husband, 60-year-old Ray Felix, who later shot and killed himself. Ray Felix was formerly in law enforcement and was once a dean’s clerk at the school. Their children, 17 and 10, were unharmed. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Nassau: Opposition is growing to the restrictions being placed on book availability in schools. Thirty-seven books have been taken out of district schools after challenges by the conservative activist group Citizens Defending Freedom and some district employees. No parents of district children or county residents have challenged a book, and both parents and students made a pitch against the removals at a recent school board meeting. Fernandina Beach News Leader.

Colleges and universities: Florida Memorial University has reportedly suffered a ransomware attack by the group INC Ransom. South Florida’s only historically black college or university has not issued a statement, but INC Ranson has posted scans of passports, Social Security numbers and contracts that appear to be from the school. INC Ransom has a history of leaking sensitive and personal documents if its demands are not met. Miami Times. Research expenditures at the State University System reached $2.94 billion for the 2022-2023 academic year, which is more than $400 million higher than the year before, the Board of Governors announced last week. Gainesville Sun. One of the University of South Florida students who went on a hunger strike March 18 to protest the school’s investments in companies that support Israel in its war in Gaza was briefly hospitalized late last week. USF Oracle.

A question of pronouns: Arguments were heard Friday in the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a Florida law that restricts how educators can use pronouns in schools. It says school employees “may not provide to a student his or her preferred personal title or pronouns if such preferred personal title or pronouns do not correspond to his or her sex (at birth).” A transgender Hillsborough teacher and a nonbinary educator was fired from Florida Virtual School brought the suit, claiming the law violates the teachers’ First Amendment rights and a federal civil rights law. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said he would “do my best to get out an order as quickly as possible.” News Service of Florida.

Florida book challenges: Thirty-three attempts were made in 2023 to ban or restrict 2,672 books in Florida, most in the nation, according to a report issued last week by the American Library Association’s Group for Intellectual Freedom. Almost half the challenges nationwide were of books dealing with LGBTQ+ or minority individuals and themes. Patch.

Around the nation: The solar eclipse April 8 offers U.S. schools a natural teaching moment that doesn’t come along often, and school officials have been planning for months to take full advantage. “We want them to leave here that day feeling they’re a very small part of a pretty magnificent planet that we live on, and world that we live in, and that there’s some real amazing things that we can experience in the natural world,” said Thomas Simon, superintendent of the Portville, N.Y., school district. Associated Press. Conservative lawmakers who are driving the push to allow chaplains in public schools say they are doing to because those religious leaders will act as a “rescue mission” for declining values in those schools. They argue that such a move would ease a youth mental health crisis, boost staff retention and help students who can’t afford or access religious schools. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: We do students a disservice by now denying their exposure to the reality of systemic racism and the critical thinking it elicits. Dr. John W. Frank Jr., Florida Times-Union. It’s time for the Legislature to shift to a new budgetary priority that will attract great new teachers, keep the wonderful teachers we have, and supply them with the tools they need to do their jobs. R. Bruce Anderson, Lakeland Ledger.

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BY NextSteps staff

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