Trouble for transgender bill, scholarship bill expansion, guns in churches with schools and more

Transgender bill in trouble: A bill that would have placed restrictions on transgender athletes from participating in high school or college women’s sports was withdrawn Tuesday from consideration by its sponsor, Sen. Kelly Stargel, R-Lakeland, and appears to be dead for the legislative session. “Right now, my primary focus as appropriations chair is our constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget, and in a time-limited environment, I don’t know that we will have sufficient time to revisit S.B. 2012 this session.” Stargel said. The bill is at odds with the measure approved by the House, H.B. 1475, on how resolve complaints about an athlete’s sex. The House version would require a health examination from a health care provider, while the Senate would have left it up to the state Board of Education to create a rule to settle those disputes. Last week, the NCAA warned that any state passing an anti-transgender bill would risk losing championship sporting events. But Republicans in both chambers said they ignored those threats. “The state of Florida is not going be bullied by any corporate actor,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Capitol News Service. Lakeland Ledger. WFSU.

Scholarship bill tweaked: The bill that would merge several state K-12 scholarship programs has been revised to increase income eligibility and is now ready for a vote today on the House floor. Sponsor Randy Fine, a Republican representative from Palm Bay, boosted the maximum income eligibility to receive a scholarship to 375 percent of the federal poverty level, or $99,375 a year for a family of four. The bill calls for priority to be given to families whose income does not exceed 185 percent of that benchmark, or $49,025 for that family of four. “I do not believe people should be punished for being successful,” Fine said in defending the higher threshold. “And while many people who are at that 375 percent line might be making right under $100,000 — coming up with ($6,000 or $8,000) or $10,000 of after-tax income in order to send their child to a private school is quite difficult.” Fine said the bill could add 61,000 students to scholarship programs and cost the state $200 million. The Senate version calls for five scholarship programs to be merged into two and would open education savings accounts for the families of students in the program. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. redefinED

Also in the Legislature: A Senate committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns in churches even if there are schools on their property. Only law enforcement officers are permitted to carry weapons in schools under current state law. This bill would give churches the right to ban or allow weapons, and now heads to the Senate floor for a vote. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. A proposal shielding the names and identifying information of candidates for college and university presidential positions from the public until finalists are chosen or for 21 days before a selection is made was approved Monday by the Senate Rules Committee. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. A bill that would require public union members like teachers to expressly consent to have union dues deducted from their paychecks is stuck in a Senate committee and with time in the legislative session running out, could be dead. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Bay County voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed property tax increase that would have benefitted the school district, the Osceola County School Board approves new protocols for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct in schools, a Duval County high school cancels its prom due to a lack of interest, it’s interview week for the five finalists for the Polk County school superintendent’s job, the Pinellas school district will keep its mask mandate but may make them optional for summer schools, and more districts are abandoning their personalized hybrid virtual teaching programs and requiring students to return to classrooms in the fall. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Duval: Officials at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville said Tuesday that they were canceling the senior prom due to a lack of interest. Only 44 seniors bought tickets, and 250 sales were needed to justify the cost of the event. Mandarin has about 600 seniors among its 2,500 students. WJCT. A 24-year-old teacher who left the classroom a year ago to home-school children from five families called the experience “really satisfying” and will continue next year. Emily Brigham said she went into the new considering it part grand experiment and part great adventure, with a tinge of uncertainty. redefinED.

Polk: The five finalists for the school district superintendent’s job are in Bartow this week for interviews with school board members and to meet members of the community. Harold Border, Frederick Heid, James McIntyre Jr., Michael Ramirez and Nakia Towns will interview with the full board, get tours of the county and several schools, participate in a virtual Q&A session and conclude their week with one-on-one interviews with individual board members. The school board is expected to make its choice at a meeting April 27. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: The district’s face mask requirement for students and employees in schools will stay in place for the final 33 days of the academic year at the recommendation of medical advisers, but school board members said they will consider making masks optional for summer school. “If you want to call it an experiment or an option, see what happens in the summer and then let it go after that,” said board member Bill Dudley. Superintendent Michael Grego and several other board members supported the idea and would like to see the need to do so disappear. “I’m ready to not wear a mask and not have our kids wear masks,” said board member Nicole Carr. Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: School board members unanimously approved a new set of protocols for responding to allegations of sexual misconduct in schools. Among the changes: a hotline will be established for students to report violations of Title IX, trained coordinators will be appointed at all schools to oversee reports and investigations of sexual misconduct and discrimination, and employees will be trained on how to handle claims and support victims. Orlando Sentinel.

St. Johns: The principal of the K-8 Palm Valley Academy in Ponte Vedra Beach said that students protesting the school dress code last week vandalized bathrooms and common areas. Jessica Richardson said students involved will be disciplined. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: The school district’s policy requiring students and employees to wear face masks on campus expires June 30, though the school board said it could be reinstated if necessary. “As long as we stay on the current trajectory, he would be comfortable with a voluntary mask policy to start the school year,” chief operations officer Jody Dumas said. Other changes for the next school year include a removal of the shields at student desks, and an end to concurrent teaching, in which students learning in class and remotely from home are being taught simultaneously by the same teacher. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: District officials in both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties said they have a process in place to make decisions about student graduations and promotions this year based on a variety of measures. Students are taking the Florida Standards Assessments tests this year, but whether they advance or retake a grade won’t be decided solely by test results. “If we can determine through another means other than that one static test that they’ve mastered the content, then we want to afford them the opportunity to graduate or be promoted,” said Santa Rosa Superintendent Karen Barber. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: A private school teacher in Tallahassee has been arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl. Denzel Bonner, 30, a physical educator and health teacher at the Bethel Christian Academy pre-K school is charged with sexual assault of a minor, use of a two-way device to facilitate a felony and engaging in prostitution. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed 1-mill property tax increase to benefit the school district. Almost 75 percent of voters decided against the measure that would have boosted school employees’ pay and provided funding for mental health, school safety and pre-K programs. “I’m not surprised. I think we were asking the voters to consider it, and they considered it,” said Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “Taxes are not a popular thing and they said no.” He said he was disappointed for district employees. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG. Every school in Bay County will hold summer sessions to help students who have been struggling to keep up during the pandemic. “Most programs are centered around learning that was lost during the pandemic. We had many students that were out,” said assistant superintendent Denise Kelley. “We’ve had students that were out during quarantine, were using BayLink and had some interruption in their connectivity with WiFi, and some of them were struggling.” Panama City News Herald.

Martin: County schools will return to in-person learning in August, after school board members approved Superintendent John Millay’s recommendation at Tuesday’s board meeting. More than 80 percent of students are already attending classes at schools. Millay said a decision on making face masks optional in the fall will be made later. WPTV. WPEC.

Citrus: Crystal River Primary School was temporarily locked down Tuesday morning when a custodian called police because to report suspicious people in the campus. They were the lawn maintenance crew. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: The district will not continue to offer its hybrid RemoteLive learning option for the 2021-2022 school year, Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said Tuesday. Students will have the option of attending school in-person or through the iFlagler virtual program, in which students set their own schedules and pace and work from home. WKMG. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A crowd of about 70 people engaged in a tense but civil debate at a school board workshop over the school district’s policies toward transgender students. Flagler Live.

Jefferson: In the past nine months, school board members have twice declined an application by charter school operator Jefferson Somerset to start a virtual school in the county. But the issue is back again. Superintendent Eydie Tricquet said the Department of Education is requiring the board to evaluate the application and, if it’s turned down again, explain why. Jefferson Somerset could still appeal the decision to the DOE. Jefferson has been the state’s only charter-run school district for the past four years, but Somerset’s contract is expiring at the end of the school year and the local school board will regain control of the district. Jefferson County Journal.

Colleges and universities: Rainy weather is forecast for the Tallahassee area this weekend, so Florida A&M University officials have decided to move their four graduation ceremonies from Bragg Memorial Stadium to the Al Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium. WTXL.

Opinions on schools: Quality early learning and voluntary pre-K programs help to create and build a brighter future for our children. Howard Burnston, Palm Beach Post.