Bill would require students to fill out FAFSA forms, head of Florida DOJJ once praised CRT, and more

In the Legislature: Florida high school students would be required to fill out federal financial aid forms in order to graduate under bills proposed for the 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 11. S.B. 698, filed by Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, and H.B. 979, filed by Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, would require students to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to become eligible to receive diplomas. “Filling out a FAFSA is one of the most important steps students and their families can take to pay for college or technical education,” said Daley. “This legislation will encourage students to take advantage of federal aid through grants, scholarships and loans.” News Service of Florida.

CRT and DOJJ chief: One of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ closest aides once described critical race theory as a good “framework” to study racial inequities in the public education system. Eric Hall, a former high-ranking official in the Florida Department of Education who was recently appointed by DeSantis to head the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice, wrote in his 2014 dissertation in the doctorate program at the University of South Florida that “CRT provides a grounded set of beliefs that seek to uncover and expose racism and its related impact on those who are often without power, in the case of this study, minority students.” DeSantis has been campaigning against CRT and wants a bill passed in the next legislative session to ban it from being used in schools and for training in workplaces. The governor’s office said Hall now believes that “CRT has no place in our schools,” but he was not made available for an interview. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Open-government law experts say the Palm Beach County School District’s proposal to limit public comments at meetings and prohibit speakers from addressing board members by name or attacking them could raise constitutional issues depending on how the policy is enforced, students at a faith-based private school in Jacksonville are protesting administrators’ decision to cut out a dance between two girls as part of the school’s dance ensemble’s upcoming recital, a private school in Naples is using a grant to pay for a social-emotional learning specialist to work with students on their mental health issues, and Casey DeSantis’ Hope Ambassadors program that started in 25 schools in the 2020-2021 school year is expanding to 100 this year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: Officials at Legends Academy, one of central Florida’s oldest community charter schools, said they have finally found a spot for a permanent home. The K-8 school has most recently been located in 22 portable classrooms in Washington Shores. Its new home will be on 6 acres off John Young Parkway. A 40,000-square-foot building on the property will be renovated, and another 20,000 square feet will be added. The work is scheduled to begin next month. WFTV.

Palm Beach: The school board’s proposal to limit public comments at meetings and prohibit speakers from addressing board members by name or attacking them, the superintendent and district staff, could raise constitutional issues depending on how the policy is enforced, according to an expert on open-government laws. “It’s not per se a violation to say ‘Don’t use a person’s name,’ ” said Virginia Hamrick, a staff attorney for the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee. “If they let the public say names only to praise but they’re cutting down discussion when it’s critical of the school board, then it can get into viewpoint discrimination.” A school board vote on a new policy could come early in 2022. Palm Beach Post. District officials have confirmed 7,171 COVID-19 cases so far this school year, nearly six times the 1,268 reported at the same time last year. Boca News Now.

Duval: Students at a faith-based private school in Jacksonville are protesting administrators’ decision to cut out a dance between two girls as part of the school’s dance ensemble’s upcoming recital. Administrators at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville said the number was cut because they didn’t think it would be appropriate for middle school-aged and younger students in attendance. After the students protested, school officials said they could include the dance number in a show for high school students only. Students said it’s still censorship and a display of homophobia. Florida Times-Union.

Lee: A real-life Elf on a Shelf showed up in a variety of places this holiday season at Tropic Isles Elementary School in North Fort Myers. Principal Rob Mazzoli donned the elf costume and positioned himself on the roof, the school garden and the back of his pickup truck, among just as students began arriving for school. “This is the fun part of the job,” he said. WBBH.

Seminole: A Lake Brantley High School senior has collected more than 1,000 toys to hand out to children who will be hospitalized over the holidays. Isabella Miguez, 17, began collecting toys for kids with cancer three years ago. “How can we expect parents to pay for their treatment costs to save their child’s life and for Christmas gifts as well,” she said. “It’s a lot so I wanted to do something to help out.” She collected about 675 toys in 2019 and 2020, but his year is her biggest haul yet. Miguez said she wants to study non-profit management at UCF so she can someday operate her own nonprofit to help children. WKMG.

Collier: The Community School of Naples, an independent preK-12 college preparatory day school, is using a grant from the nonprofit Fountain 33 to pay for a social-emotional learning specialist to work with students on their mental health issues, with a goal of openly acknowledging students’ feelings and dealing with them before they become problems. “We are working with whole classes to help children create healthy identities, to manage their emotions,” said Natalie Donahue, the specialist. “If students get lessons in the classroom as a whole, as a proactive measure, to have skills for daily challenges, then there’ll be less need for mental health therapy in the future.” WINK.

Marion: New boundaries for the five school board seats were recently approved by the board. Each of the five districts had at least some changes, and each will represent about 75,000 people. Districts 2, 3 and 4 have been altered the most. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: School board members recently approved spending $950,000 to buy a 28.75-acre property next to Chiles High School. The district has no plans yet for the property, but Superintendent Rocky Hanna said having it gives the district the flexibility to add to Chiles High or build a transportation facility. Tallahassee Reports.

Alachua: There are now threat assessment teams in every county school, including charters, according to Angie Chesser of the district’s Office of Safety and Security. Each team usually has an administrator, a school guidance counselor, and a school resource officer or another member of law enforcement. Each member undergoes specialized training. The team meets after a threat is reported, interviews the students involved, meets with their parents, evaluates the severity of the threat and recommends how the district should proceed. Gainesville Sun.

Colleges and universities: A circuit court judge has ruled that a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed against Polk State College by a student can proceed. The student wants his fees refunded for the time the college was closed and students were learning remotely. Polk State is appealing. Lakeland Ledger. An electrician apprentice program will be started next fall at Locklin Technical College in Milton, thanks to a $112,746 grant from the state. The school already has HVAC and plumbing apprenticeship programs. Pensacola News Journal. The Haney Technical Center in Bay County is changing its name to the Haney Technical College in an attempt to boost enrollment. “I think career technical education has often played the second seat in the education realm for post-secondary,” said HTC director Ann Leonard. “So we are hopeful that this encourages more students to consider us as their post-secondary choice.” WJHG.

Hope ambassadors: Casey DeSantis’ Hope Ambassadors program that started in 25 schools in the 2020-2021 school year is expanding to 100 this year. The Florida Department of Education describes the Hope Ambassador program as a “youth peer-to-peer student mentorship program that will recruit student volunteers to work with their peers and help create an environment of kindness and compassion in their schools.” Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: I have come to fear that the term “merit,” as used in our schools, is not only ambiguous but often so in a subtle and potentially hurtful manner. I would urge a continued effort to separate true human worth (and equality) from the halo of our natural and accidental gifts. John E. Coons, reimaginED.