Trans teacher wins injunction against state pronouns law, Florida’s student aid requests plummet, and more

Pronouns law injunction: A federal judge has blocked the state from enforcing a law that requires teachers to use pronouns aligning with their sex assigned at birth. Katie Wood, a transgender Hillsborough County teacher, and AV Schwandes, a nonbinary teacher fired last year by Florida Virtual School, had challenged the constitutionality of the 2023 law because they contend it violates the teachers’ First Amendment rights and a federal civil-rights law. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday to block enforcement of the law against Wood, but the injunction does not apply statewide and does not extend to Schwandes. “Once again, the state of Florida has a First Amendment problem. Of late, it has happened so frequently, some might say you can set your clock by it,” Walker wrote. “This time, the state of Florida declares that it has the absolute authority to redefine your identity if you choose to teach in a public school.” News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Technical problems with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form have led to a 33 percent decline in completions among Florida students, Volusia school board members decide to move forward with a plan to conduct random electronic searches at schools, Hernando Superintendent John Stratton says he is retiring at the end of the school year, Cheryl Massaro announces she won’t run for re-election to the Flagler school board, a motion to ban all but the American and Florida flags in Osceola schools was rejected by the school board, and Escambia schools are closed today and Santa Rosa and Okaloosa schools will dismiss early because severe weather is forecast in the area. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Palm Beach, south Florida: Students are out of school today as the district observes Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting, prayer and reflection. The holiday is “extra special” because it’s the first year county students, as well as those in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, have the day off, said Samir Kakli, president of the South Florida Muslim Federation. Palm Beach Post. Twenty-seven Palm Beach County high schools now have metal detectors for students to walk through after installations this week at Olympic Heights High School, West Boca Raton High and the Crossroads Academy alternative school for grades 6-12. WPBF.

Polk: An investigation has been launched after three complaints were filed accusing Lake Wales Charter School Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich of creating a “toxic and hostile work environment” and engaging in discriminatory and demeaning behavior. The school’s board of trustees hired a law firm to look into the allegations. Rodolfich will continue to work from home during the inquiry, said district human resources director LaQuanda Burroughs. Rodolfich said he welcomes the investigation into his conduct. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Kenneth Savage was sworn in Tuesday as the interim superintendent of the school district. He replaces Christopher Bernier, who resigned unexpectedly this week. Savage, the district’s chief operations officer, will be paid at an annualized rate of $210,700 and will hold the job until the person elected this fall takes over. Fort Myers News-Press. WBBH. A science teacher at Bonita Springs High School was arrested this week and charged with possession of cocaine. Jennifer Dilthey has been fired, according to district officials. WINK.

Brevard: A report showing that black students continue to be disproportionately disciplined compared to other students even after the district revised its procedures is drawing a harsh reaction from civil rights activists. “We don’t really see any movement in terms of any proposals of programs and/or training that would help alleviate the problem,” said William Gary, president of the North Brevard NAACP. Florida Today. A custodian at West Shore Jr./Sr. High School in Melbourne is being credited with saving the life of a student last week. Derrick Hamilton, who is also a coach, was monitoring the lunchroom last Thursday when a student began choking on a beef stick. Hamilton performed the Heimlich maneuver and dislodged the obstruction. “This heroic act was nothing short of a miracle and in the words of the EMS folks that responded shortly thereafter, it saved the life of the student,” principal Rick Flemming wrote in an email to parents. Florida Today.

Osceola: A motion to ban all but the American and Florida flags, badges or stickers in schools was rejected Tuesday by school board members. Jon Arguello introduced the resolution, saying, “You want to know why this district is so bad? It’s not because teachers aren’t working hard. It’s not because people in this room don’t care. Cowards manage this district from protecting your kids at all costs.” WOFL.

Volusia: School board members agreed Tuesday to move ahead with a new policy that allows random searches at schools. A final vote is scheduled for May 14. The proposed policy states, “All individuals entering or present on Volusia County school sites or events are on notice that randomized screenings may be conducted without cause by the site administrator utilizing minimally intrusive electronic devices.” In practice, a computer would randomly choose a school and classroom where metal detectors would be set up and students screened before or after class. WKMG. WFTV.

St. Johns: Design plans for two new K-8 schools were approved Tuesday by the school board. The schools will be located in Nocatee and the Silverleaf community, and are projected to open in the fall of 2026 with about 1,500 students each. WJAX.

Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa: Escambia schools are closed today and Santa Rosa’s schools and Okaloosa’s will dismiss early because of the possibility of severe weather moving into the area. The area is under an “enhanced” risk of severe storms that could include heavy rain, hail, flooding and high winds. All three districts are expected to resume normal operations Thursday. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Leon: A new school district logo and brand have been released. According to the district, “The new brand represents a pivotal step towards advancing and aligning the district’s identity with the dynamic and diverse character of its students, educators and families.” It emphasizes the five pillars of the district, says Superintendent Rocky Hanna: safe, healthy and caring environments; effective, innovative and relevant academics; quality resources; informed, engaged and empowered community; and fiscal stewardship and transparency. WTXL.

Alachua: A complaint filed against school board member Tina Certain has been dismissed by the Florida Commission on Ethics. Certain had been accused of violating the Sunshine Law by making comments on Facebook about a nonprofit group’s attempt to convert three public schools in Newberry into charter schools. Lindsay McKeown, who lives in Newberry, filed the complaint, which the commission rejected because it said it has no jurisdiction over alleged Sunshine Law violations. Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: School Superintendent John Stratton announced at Tuesday’s school board meeting that he is retiring at the end of the school year. He said he and his wife decided it was time to leave the district he had run since 2018. Stratton has clashed with the school board over students’ low test scores, book challenges, his actions during the pandemic and more, and survived a vote of no confidence. In a four-minute speech, Stratton said, “I have never understood the time and money spent on politics trying to impact public education and this position. The focus on the negative has been detrimental to our schools in more ways than one.” Board members will begin the discussion on replacing Stratton within the next week. Suncoast News. WFLA.

Flagler: School board member Cheryl Massaro said Tuesday that she will not run for re-election to her District 5 seat. “As for where I see this board going,” she said, “its direction concerns me, for members are allowing politics, religion and personal agendas to infiltrate public education. A very dangerous practice that could prove detrimental to all Flagler students, their families and staff.” Massaro’s decision leaves two candidates for her seat: Palm Coast attorney Vincent Sullivan and long-time Belle Terre Elementary PTO president Lauren Ramirez. Flagler Live.

Monroe: A Coral Shores High School teacher was treated at a hospital this week when she tried to break up a fight between two students and was pushed into a table, striking her head. One of the boys in the fight, a 15-year-old, was later arrested and charged with felony battery on an educational employee and misdemeanor battery. Florida Keys Weekly.

Suwannee: Spessard Boatright, who was elected school superintendent in 1968 at the age of 27 and is still the youngest school superintendent ever in the state of Florida, died April 6 in Tallahassee at the age of 83. He ran the district for eight years and guided it through integration, and later worked for 25 years at the Florida Department of Education before retiring in 2010. Tallahassee Democrat.

Colleges and universities: Technical problems with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form have led to a 33 percent decline in completions in Florida, according to federal data. Less than 25 percent of state students have completed the FAFSA form, which colleges use to determine grants and loans. Tampa Bay Times. A Florida State University lawsuit against the Atlantic Coast Conference won’t be put on hold, a Leon County judge decided Tuesday. FSU wants to leave the conference and it and the ACC are suing each other over the exit fee, which the ACC says is more than $500 million. News Service of Florida. Florida Polytechnic University trustees are expected to pick a new president Monday. Five finalists are being considered to replace Randy Avent, who has led the school since it opened in 2014. News Service of Florida. Broward College has begin its search for a new president. Gregory Haile resigned the post last October, and acting president Barbara Bryan’s contract ended April 3. Donald Astrab is the current acting president. WLRN. The University of Florida is proposing to cut its payments to the city of Gainesville in half for student bus services when the contract ends in June. The city says 11 of its 39 routes will be cut without that funding. Mainstreet Daily News. Gainesville Sun.

Around the nation: Florida and six other states are suing the U.S. Education Department in an attempt to stop President Joe Biden’s student loan repayment plan. They contend the plan is unconstitutional and will cost the country $475 billion. Associated Press. The Hill. Florida Phoenix. Four-day school weeks have a negative impact on students’ math and reading test scores, according to a recent study published in the Economics of Education Review. Non-rural students showed a greater decline than rural students, according to the research. Previous studies have found four-day weeks have “ambiguous impacts” on student performance. K-12 Dive.

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BY NextSteps staff