Florida schools roundup: Bathroom rules, opt-out retention, books and more

florida-roundup-logoBathroom rules: Eleven states are suing the Obama administration over its letter urging school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity or risk losing federal funds. Florida declined to join them, according to a spokesperson for Attorney General Pam Bondi. Gov. Rick Scott says the state is still reviewing the directive, which he says “looks just like blackmail.” Orlando SentinelFlorida Politics. New York Times. Politico Florida. Lake and Sumter school officials say they won’t change their bathroom policies. They require students to use bathrooms based on their birth gender but will consider exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Daily Commercial.

Opt-outs face retention: About 30 third-graders in Manatee County who opted out of Florida Standards Assessments testing and refused to take a state-approved equivalency test are in danger of not being promoted to fourth grade. School officials say they are bound to follow the state’s rules and retain those students who have no test scores. Bradenton Herald.

No wider book ban: A ban of a book at Pasco Middle School will not extend to other schools in the district, according to School Superintendent Kurt Browning. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, contains graphic sexual references. A committee recommended it be banned districtwide. Gradebook.

Suit will continue: The statewide teachers union will press on with its court challenge of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, even after a judge ruled this week in a separate lawsuit that the state has fulfilled its constitutional mandate to provide a quality education for all public school students. The union claims the tax-credit scholarship program violates the Florida constitution by taking money away from public schools. The suit was thrown out, but the union appealed. The arguments have been heard, and a ruling is expected soon. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers the scholarships program. Gradebook.

Discrimination suit: The Palm Beach County School Board discriminated against a pregnant assistant principal by demoting her when she went on maternity leave, then retaliating against her when she complained about it, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the district by the U.S. Justice Department. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

Scholarships audit: A state audit reports that the Department of Education found that 114 special-needs students on Gardiner Scholarships this year were attending public schools during the fall enrollment check. Students are allowed to switch to a public school but lose eligibility once they do so. Eighty-five of the students had spent no scholarship money before switching and the remaining 29 had spent $137,000. Step Up For Students, which administers the program and hosts this blog, returned all the unspent scholarship funds, totaling roughly $1.1 million. Miami Herald.

Contract negotiations: Miami-Dade County teachers who are rated highly effective will get a 3.57 percent raise, and effective teachers will get 2.67 percent under an agreement between the district and the teachers union. Teachers will vote on the agreement next week. Miami Herald. The Orange County School District and its teachers union reach a tentative agreement. Teachers will receive at least $500 a year and can earn up to $1,850 more. The agreement also adjusts the teacher evaluation system. Teachers criticized the system after the percentage of highly effective teachers went from 81.2 percent in 2013-2014 to 2.4 percent in 2014-2015. Orlando Sentinel.

State of the schools: In their annual State of the Schools address, Orange County school officials point to the graduation rate as a sign of the progress the district is making. The rate was 49 percent in 2000, they say, but is up to 90 percent at the district’s traditional high schools. The state says the rate is really 77.6 percent, about state average, when students in alternative schools are included and those who earn GEDs or special diplomas are excluded. Orlando Sentinel.

Geography champ: Rishi Nair, a sixth-grader from the Lincoln Magnet School in Plant City, wins the 2016 National Geographic Bee. His prizes are a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip to Alaska with a parent aboard the National Geographic’s Sea Lionyo. WUSFAssociated PressAmerican Bazaar.

Charter school site: The Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication, a charter school, is asking the Manatee County School District for permission to move into the soon-to-be-closed Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School. Bradenton Herald.

Parents protest: Parents of students at the Pine View School in Sarasota are protesting the switch of the school’s magnet specialty classification from “other” to “academically gifted.” The change is apparently causing them problems when they try to sign up for dual enrollment courses through State College of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Candidate’s protest: Brevard County School Board candidate Dean Paterakis says his free speech rights were violated when he was removed from a board meeting this week. School officials say Paterakis was being vulgar when he used the phrase “erect penis,” then disruptive when he refused to leave the podium. Florida Today.

Sex in school: Sixteen South Fort Myers High School students are disciplined after a 15-year-old girl had sex in a school bathroom with multiple boys. Fort Myers News-Press. The school district’s response to the incident is criticized at a community forum. Fort Myers News-Press.

Student stabbed: One student stabs another in a bathroom at Royal Palm Beach Community High School. The injured student is in stable condition, and the attacker is arrested and accused of attempted murder. The stabbing is at least the third at the school in the past two years. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

Preschool teacher arrested: A 57-year-old preschool teacher in Sorrento is arrested and accused of child abuse for pulling a chair out from under a 4-year-old boy. Belinda Greer was reading to her class when the boy put his feet on the table. She pulled the chair and the boy fell to the floor and hit his head. He was not seriously injured. Daily Commercial.

Student’s ‘hit list’: A fifth-grader at Lewis Elementary School in Temple Terrace allegedly compiled a “kill list” of students and poured bleach in a student’s water bottle. Police are investigating the girl’s actions. WFLA. WTSP.

False gun report: A Winter Haven High School student is arrested and accused of falsely reporting that he saw someone with a gun at school. Police say the boy admitted he lied about the incident. Lakeland Ledger.

Opinions on schools: Sweeping changes in technology, automation and robotics are reshaping Florida’s job market and driving advancements in key industries. If Florida’s education system fails to keep pace with these economic changes and focuses only on the jobs and industries of today, we are setting our students up for failure. Mark Wilson, Florida Politics. I have zero problem with a parent deciding a book is inappropriate for their child. But I have a huge problem with a parent deciding the book is inappropriate for my child. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. The Palm Beach County School District’s recent decision to suspend an outspoken Palm Beach Lakes High School teacher was surprising and disappointing. It was also the right thing to do. Palm Beach Post. Establishing a strong mentoring program is a priority for Polk County School Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. Lakeland Ledger. There are too many real problems in the world to spend time worrying about what bathrooms people use. Ellen Gillette, TCPalm. Being student representative to the Leon County School Board has allowed me to grow as an individual, experience the joy of public speaking and giving interviews, engulf myself in student issues, and understand the importance of becoming involved in one’s community. Carlton DiSalvo, Tallahassee Democrat. While a judge has dismissed the lawsuit about the adequacy of Florida’s education funding, it is clear that there are gaping holes in the state’s K-12 program that need to be addressed. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: High school students in Miami-Dade County brainstorm ways to fight rising sea levels, take care of the elderly and more at a city forum exploring solutions for neighborhood problems. Miami Herald. Noelle Malfa, a homeschooled student who lives in Palm Harbor, wins first place for grades 7-9 in the Florida Junior Duck Stamp competition for her painting of mother duck and two chicks. Tampa Bay Times. Seventh graders from Gulfview and Immokalee middle schools take turns running the county government during a mock county commission meeting. Naples Daily News. Allison Chance and Caroline Tosolini, eighth-graders at Fort Clarke Middle School, win in the group website category at the at the Florida History Fair with their “Salvador Dali: The Madman Behind American Modern Art” project. Gainesville Sun. About  85 Niceville High School students lead a science project called Natural Geography In-Shore Areas, which studies the world’s coastlines. Northwest Florida Daily News. Second-grader Drew Medearis rolls up to W.D. Hartley Elementary School in St. Augustine in NASCAR driver Scott Lagasse Jr.’s car to promote bicyclist and pedestrian safety. St. Augustine Record.

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BY NextSteps staff