New math controversy, new exam schedule in Broward, book out of Flagler schools, and more

Around the state: A controversial new approach to teaching math in the Duval school district and across the country to make it more inclusive and promote equity is “dumbing down” the process, critics contend, Broward high school students have a new schedule for exams week that includes full days at school, the memoir of a black LGBTQ activist will remain off Flagler school library bookshelves until the district can develop a process to evaluate “sensitive” books, no criminal charges will be filed against Brevard school board members who were accused of violating the state’s open meetings law, Broward school board members are looking for ways to keep high school graduation speeches from veering into politics and controversy, plans to build a football stadium on the University of South Florida campus in Tampa are moving ahead, and a one-armed basketball player is excelling on the court for Life Christian Academy in Orange County. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: For the third time this week, a student has been arrested for making a threat against a school. This time it was a 17-year-old who allegedly threatened to blow up Miami Lakes-Hialeah Senior High School. Miami Herald. WSVN. WTVJ.

Broward: The customary short school days during exams week are changing this year for district high school students, and they are not pleased about it. In the past, students went to school only to take exams and then went home in the four days before the winter break. Last week they were told those exams days will now be full school days, because schools are slightly below the required number of instructional hours for the semester and school year. “Students are not happy about this,” said Raymond Adderly, a senior at Fort Lauderdale High and the student representative on the school board. “They are super upset there’s no half-day. They’re trying to make sense (of) why they take tests in the morning and then have class in the afternoon.” Sun Sentinel. WFOR. School board members are looking for ways to keep high school graduation speeches from veering into politics and controversy. They are recommending that a small committee of faculty and administrators be appointed to review speeches before they’re given. District staff will craft a policy for school board members to consider before the graduation season. Sun Sentinel.

Orange: Having just one arm hasn’t stopped senior Hansel-Emmanuel Donato from excelling on the basketball court for  Life Christian Academy in Kissimmee. He even has a college scholarship offer from Tennessee State University, a Division I program. Donato lost most of his left arm in an accident when he was 6, but has been an inspiration to his coaches and teammates. “He’s taught me that we cannot give up. We cannot complain about nothing because we as a human sometimes, we have a lot of things, and we don’t appreciate it,” said his coach, Moises Michael Cruz. WOFL.

Palm Beach: A proposal to rezone the boundaries of five Boca Raton schools to ease overcrowding and fill a new elementary school opening next fall will be considered Thursday by the district’s boundary committee. About 800 students would change schools under the plan. Calusa Elementary would send about 410 students to the new school, which is being called O5C until it’s named. The rest of the students going to O5C would come from J.C. Mitchell and Verde elementaries. Some Verde students would move to Addison Mizner, some Mizner students would move to J.C. Mitchell, and some Whispering Pines students would be rezoned to Calusa. The new school is being built adjacent to Don Estridge High Tech Middle School. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A new approach to teaching math in the school district and across the country to make it more inclusive and promote equity is “dumbing down” the process, critics contend. Schools have begun collapsing math “tracks” that separate students based on ability and are putting data science courses on a par with calculus. And they’re beginning to add real-world math problems that reflect social and racial inequities, which some critics consider a move in the direction of critical race theory. “We’re not changing or lowering the standards. We’re outlining how inequitable the teaching of math is right now,” said Jo Boaler, a Stanford University math education professor and leader of the changes. Florida Times-Union. School officials asked students to provide feedback about the district’s student dress code, and about 3,500 of them replied. Many have complained that the code is outdated, unfair and targets females. The district is sorting through the responses as it considers how the code might be changed. WJXT.

Brevard: State Attorney Phil Archer said no criminal charges will be filed against school board members who were accused of violating the state’s open meetings law. The complaints were filed after the Oct. 5 meeting, when board chair Misty Belford cleared the room after several disruptions over the district’s face mask policy, then resumed the meeting. It was live-streamed in all public areas outside the board room. Archer said Belford’s decision did not constitute an unlawful restriction of public access, but he warned board members that “this type of action should be the rare exception and not taken as a matter of routine or convenience.” Space Coast Daily. In a separate case, trespassing charges were dropped against two anti-mask protesters who were arrested outside school board headquarters during a board meeting Sept. 21 after they tried to enter the building without masks. Florida Today.

Collier: A 6th-grade science teacher at Pine Ridge Middle School in Naples has been arrested on charges of transmission and possession of child pornography and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Jason Michael Siciliano, 45, was arrested Tuesday by deputies, and district officials said he was fired. WINK. WFTX. WBBH. A 12-year-old student has been arrested for having a pellet gun at East Naples Middle School. WINK. WBBH.

Leon: After law enforcement officers determined a Snapchat video in which a Lincoln High School student said, “Kill all the (racial slur),” was not a credible threat, school officials said the student and others in the video have been disciplined. “A social media video of a student making a disgusting comment was brought to our attention,” said Leon County Schools spokesman Chris Petley. “Law enforcement spoke with the students involved and the school administration disciplined those students in accordance to LCS policy.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Masks will continue to be optional in Alachua schools, despite the concerns of some parents who said their children are being bullied because they choose to wear them. School board members did vote 5-0 to have the board attorney research what the district might do to accommodate those parents’ concerns. WCJB. Some parents who objected to the school district’s mask policy now say they have been blocked on Twitter by Superintendent Carlee Simon. Simon said because Twitter handles are anonymous, she wouldn’t know if she was blocking a local parent. And in some cases when she did know the parent was local, she blocked him or her because she didn’t choose to continue engaging with that individual. WGFL.

Citrus: Work has begun on construction of a sidewalk North Forest Ridge Boulevard on the border of Beverly Hills and Hernando as part of the state’s Safe Routes to School program. The $2.2 million project was launched to improve pedestrian safety around Forest Ridge Elementary School in Hernando. Completion is expected next spring. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: The memoir of a black LGBTQ activist will remain off school library bookshelves until the district can develop a process to evaluate “sensitive” books, Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said this week. All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M. Johnson, will eventually be returned to school libraries once they “have age-appropriate locations for sensitive matters,” Mittelstadt said. Three other books that drew criticism were cleared by the district’s media review committee and will be placed back in libraries. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. WESH. WJCT. WTLV. The word “equity” is back in the district’s proposed strategic plan as a core value. It had been removed after objections were raised that it called for equal outcomes. Deputy superintendent Bobby Bossardet said, “We believe that ‘equity’ defined gives us the opportunity to provide all of our students the opportunity for equal success.” The board agreed to restore the word in the context of “educational equity.” Flagler Live.

Monroe: The school district’s plan to spend the $13 million it is receiving in federal coronavirus relief aid includes $8 million for 66 new positions, such as social workers, reading interventionists, nurse techs and guidance techs; $1.5 million for charter schools; $2 million for furniture for collaborative learning and social distancing; and $200,000 for technology such as additional Chromebooks and hotspots to allow students to work remotely. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Plans for an on-campus football stadium at the University of South Florida are moving quickly, and trustees say the team could host games in four or five years. The cost estimate is in the range of $250-$400 million. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. Three University of South Florida professors are among 164 nationwide to be named National Academy of Inventors fellows. They are engineering professor Norma Alcantar, medical professor Subhra Mohapatra, and Institute for Advanced Discovery & Innovation professor Sumita Mitra. University of South Florida. Three Florida Polytechnic University professors are on Stanford University’s annual list of the top 2 percent of scientists in the world. They are Ajeet Kaushik, an assistant professor of environmental engineering; Hisham Mahmood, an assistant professor of electrical engineering; and Patrick Zhang, director of research mining and beneficiation at the school’s Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute. Lakeland Ledger.

In the Legislature: Florida House Democrats made their pitch Tuesday for increasing state spending for schools and educational services, particularly to address staffing shortages. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who announced the highlights of his proposed $1.1 billion education budget last month, is expected to release his full budget proposal this week. The Capitolist, News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics.

Around the nation: Can parents in Maine send their children to religious schools using a K-12 state aid program? That question is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, and while it only directly affects families in Maine, court observers said the ruling will have national implications. reimaginED. Associated Press. Even before the pandemic, children in America were facing a mental health crisis and the pandemic has only made things worse, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said this week. NPR.

Opinions on schools: It is perhaps little surprise that student behavior in school is showing signs of the disruptions and trauma that have characterized the pandemic. Most tragically, when coupled with access to guns, the result can be deadly. F. Chris Curran, Gainesville Sun. Why school choice can mean a better education for underserved students. Lexi Boccuzzi, Daily Pennsylvanian. The University of Florida has to go back to school. It is disgracing itself again by sacrificing academic integrity to politics, and the situation is so dire that it threatens the accreditation on which federal aid and student loans depend. Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff