States picking sides in bathroom lawsuit, Bright Futures, a $140,000 courtesy wall, and more

Bathroom battle resonates: The case of the St. Johns County School District denying a transgender male’s request to use a boys high school bathroom is the latest line drawn in the partisan divide. On Friday, 22 states and the District of Columbia filed a brief with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals siding with the student, Drew Adams. A month ago, attorneys general in 18 states filed a brief siding with the school board. Adams brought the suit in 2018 and won at the circuit court level. The school board appealed, and a subset of three appeals court judges decided in July to uphold the circuit court ruling. Another school board appeal, this time to get the case heard by the full court, was accepted. Arguments are scheduled to start the week of Feb. 21 in Atlanta. News Service of Florida.

Face mask suit: The fight over wearing masks in schools is over. A new law bans districts from mandating face masks, and all the districts have fallen into compliance. And now both the state and a group of parents who have been suing over its masks rule are asking an appeals court to dismiss the legal fight and vacate an earlier ruling that favored the parents. News Service of Florida. How many students are wearing masks now, or were opting-out of local mandates earlier? The numbers have never been tracked on a statewide basis. “Some districts had different policies. Some districts had no policies,” said Florida Department of Education spokesman Jared Ochs. “There’s a lot of nuanced variables. … What we were mostly concerned about is that they (school boards) were just giving the option (of parental opt-outs).” Florida Phoenix.

In the Legislature: Students could meet the Bright Futures scholarship volunteer requirements by getting a job instead under a proposal filed for the legislative session that starts Jan. 11. State Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, is the sponsor of S.B. 1060, which is a companion to H.B. 461 that was filed earlier this month by state Rep. Lauren Melo, R-Naples. News Service of Florida. A bill has been filed in the House to set aside $750,000 to help finance an expansion of the Florida State University Schools campus in Tallahassee. H.B. 4319 is sponsored by state Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee. Florida Senate.

Around the state: The Palm Beach County School District built a $140,000 wall between a new school and a Boca Raton neighborhood after residents complained about the noise, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that Brevard school officials were “wrong” to tie a mask onto a 7-year-old Ocean Breeze Elementary School student with Down syndrome in October, the number of Polk County juveniles involuntarily committed by law enforcement, doctors and families under the Baker Act is skyrocketing, and a for-profit university in Winter Park could get $1.3 million in tax breaks under a bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year that exempts property used by private schools with 500 or more students and specializing in teaching movie production skills. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: Face masks are now optional for adults at all district schools. The new policy went into effect Monday and includes visitors, volunteers and vendors. Mask requirements for students and employees were dropped earlier in November. WFTV.

Palm Beach: A rebuild of a Boca Raton elementary school this year included a 974-foot, $140,000 concrete between the school and a subdivision at the request of the residents. The wall was approved by district officials despite not being in the construction plans and not getting school board approval. Board members are unhappy they were asked to approve the expenditure after the fact to accommodate residents in an upscale neighborhood around the Addison Mizner School. “This is not right,” said Debra Robinson. “If my neighbors find out there was a $200,000 wall built in Boca, they’re going want a $200,000 wall built in West Palm Beach. Are we going to give it to them?” Palm Beach Post.

Polk: The number of juveniles involuntarily committed by county law enforcement, doctors and families under the Baker Act is skyrocketing, according to the University of South Florida Baker Act Reporting Center. During the 2001-2002 fiscal year, 15,000 children were committed. By 2018-2019, that had grown to 37,900, an increase of 152 percent. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that school officials were “wrong” to tie a mask onto a 7-year-old Ocean Breeze Elementary School student with Down syndrome in October, even though police determined no laws were broken, the girl was never in distress, and the parents of the girl gave false statements about the circumstances. DeSantis said regardless of the specific details, the district was violating the state order against mask mandates. “She was not treated right,” he said. “That school district was not following state policy. That’s just a fact.” The family plans to file a civil lawsuit. Florida Politics. WOFL.

Volusia: The mayor of DeBary is asking the sheriff’s office to intervene in the increasing number of fights and threats in county middle schools, and against the rising number of students using meth. Karen Chasez asked the sheriff’s office to attend the Dec. 15 city council meeting to see what more it can do to limit the bad and sometimes illegal behavior. “I’m looking to see what can all of the systems around our young people do to help them when we see risk-taking behavior that, if allowed unchecked, can go into very wrong directions,” she said. WFTV.

Marion: Christine Sandy of Oakcrest Elementary School has been named the district’s principal of the year, and Sarah Dobbs, also from Oakcrest, is the assistant principal of the year, district officials have announced. WCJB.

Flagler: A history teacher at Flagler Palm Coast High School resigned in October after an investigation disclosed that he had a relationship with a student, paid her almost $6,000 in 127 cash-app transactions, and lied on his job application by not disclosing a previous firing. Deputies said no criminal charges will be filed against Timothy Whitfield, 44, who resigned when he was told he would be fired. Flagler Live.

Monroe: The school district is looking for bus drivers. Director of transportation Jason Thomason said the district usually has 50 drivers, but is 10 short of that. Some school schedules are being juggled and other employees are filling in. Thomason said the need for a commercial driver’s license and the staggered hours are among the problems he has filling the jobs. Florida Keys Weekly.

Holmes: An 11-year-old 6th-grader at the Poplar Springs School in Graceville is facing charges after deputies said she made written threats to harm a classmate. The girl sent a text message to a suicide hotline on Sunday, saying she has suicidal and homicidal thoughts. She was involuntarily committed under the Baker Act and is in a mental health facility in Bay County for treatment. WJHG. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: The for-profit Full Sail University could get $1.3 million in tax breaks from a bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year that exempts property used by private schools with 500 or more students and specializing in teaching movie production skills. Full Sail’s leaders have contributed heavily to Republican lawmakers and candidates and to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Orlando Sentinel. Dr. Dexter Frederick, who started a program 17 years ago in Tampa to support minority students who want to become doctors, has been named a 2022 AARP Purpose Prize fellow. The award is given to people over the age of 50 who are using their knowledge to address social issues. He receives $10,000 for his organization, Brain Expansions Scholastic Training, and a year of technical support to expand his work. Tampa Bay Times. A professor of anatomy and physiology at Florida SouthWestern State College has been fired after multiple allegations of sexual harassment, unwanted touching and making inappropriate sexual comments during class. Leonel Mera had been a fulltime professor for three years. Fort Myers News-Press. WBBH. At a town hall meeting Monday called by the NAACP, some members of the Tallahassee community asked the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency to reverse an earlier decision to spend $20 million in sales tax revenues to make improvements at Florida State University’s Doak Campbell Stadium. A final decision is scheduled to be made by the agency Dec. 9. WCTV. WTXL.

Around the nation: Republican legislators around the country are starting to consider legislation that can capitalize on the latest target of parents angry at schools: books about race, gender identity and sexual orientation. Politico.

Opinions on schools: If you’re aiming to pass education choice legislation, you may as well go big, because your opponents will accuse you of destroying public education regardless. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Home-schooling is not just popular among a few segments of the U.S. population but is now commonly practiced by families from different racial, cultural and income backgrounds. It has become more diverse than ever and, in doing so, has become a good reflection of the U.S. population in general. Steven Duvall, Home School Legal Defense Association. The pandemic has upended charter school accountability and complicated oversight. Forward-thinking districts are changing their own practices to pursue a more nuanced understanding of charter schools’ challenges and accomplishments, while strengthening the ability of charters to connect to and reflect the communities they call home and to contribute to systemwide educational goals. Alex Medler, Melissa Brady and Tom Hutton, The 74. The 12,161 DACA students pursuing higher education in Florida deserve an easy path to citizenship because they are already Americans in everything but title. Julia Willis, Gainesville Sun. I am a public school advocate, and my son is in a private school. It’s not public school in general that didn’t work. It was that school that didn’t work for him. LaToya Baldwin Clark, Education Post. In our constitutional order, children’s freedoms take priority over parental freedoms. Given the overriding importance of schooling to democracy, our laws elevate and protect the rights of all children to learn and to grow as citizens. That perspective has been lost amid the sound and fury of the education culture war over parental rights. Joshua Weishart, Education Week. Rewarding good teaching is a huge part of improving our school systems across the state. Until teachers receive proper respect for their profession, look for continuing sickness, fights and trouble in Florida schools. Michael D. Langan, WBBH.