Bill banning CRT passes first committee, Miami-Dade picks 3 finalists for superintendent, and more

CRT ban advances: A bill effectively prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in schools or its use in employee training was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday in a 6-3 vote. Sponsored by state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, S.B. 148 carries through on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stated goal to outlaw CRT because “no taxpayer dollars should be used to teach our kids to hate our country or hate each other.” It would ensure that “classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principles of this subsection (of law) or state academic standards,” and prohibit employers from conducting training that “compels” people to believe that they bear “responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.” The bill does not include a provision DeSantis wanted giving parents the right to sue districts that teach CRT and recover attorney’s fees. Democrats say the bill restricts teachers from teaching certain subject areas and is “awful” to the business community. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics. WTSP.

Also in the Legislature: A bill that would allow cameras on school buses to catch drivers who illegally drive around buses that are stopped to take on and let off students was passed Tuesday by the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill sponsor is state Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills. Florida Politics. College presidential searches would be exempt from the public records law under a bill approved Tuesday by the House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee. It was amended to shorten the period in which information about finalists would have to be made public from 21 days to 14. Its sponsor is state Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island. Florida Politics. The history of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders would be required in public schools under a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee. It was filed by state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Three finalists for the superintendent’s job were chosen Tuesday by the Miami-Dade County School Board, the Palm Beach County high school principal who was fired after telling a parent he couldn’t say if the Holocaust was a factual event is appealing to the Florida Supreme Court, Flagler schools adopt a process that allows parents to decide which school library books their children cannot have access to but doesn’t ban the books for all students, the Pinellas County School Board hires the Florida School Boards Association to help it search for a new superintendent, and record numbers of coronavirus cases are being reported by some school districts and Florida State University. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board members have selected three finalists for the soon-to-be-open superintendent’s job. They are Florida Department of Education senior chancellor Jacob Oliva; Jose Dotres, deputy superintendent for the Collier County School District and a former Miami-Dade schools’ chief of staff and chief human capital officer; and Rafaela Espinal, an educator from New York. Sixteen candidates applied during the one-week window. Two subsequently withdrew their applications, and the district said seven of the 14 remaining candidates met the minimum qualifications set by the board. A board majority expressed an interest in expediting the process since Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is leaving next month to take the job of running the Los Angeles school system. Interviews of the finalists are expected soon. WPLG. WFOR. WSVN. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: The Spanish River High School principal who was fired in 2019 after telling a parent he could not say if the Holocaust was a factual event is now challenging the district’s decision before the Florida Supreme Court. An attorney for William Latson is asking the court to review the 4th District Court of Appeal’s ruling in November upholding the firing. News Service of Florida. Superintendent Michael Burke is recovering from a COVID-19 infection he said he contracted last week. “I have no idea where I got it,” Burke said. “I’m vaccinated. I’m boosted. But I guess it wasn’t enough for omicron. The good news is that’s probably why it was so mild.” He expects to return to the office today and attend the school board meeting, Palm Beach Post. Students from 20 elementary schools will receive free books this summer, courtesy of a $465,000 grant from the Mary and Robert Pew Education Fund. Palm Beach Post.

Pinellas: School board members agreed to spend $30,000 plus travel costs to the Florida School Boards Association to help find a superintendent to replace the retiring Michael Grego. A survey will also be conducted to gather community input. Board members said they want to spend February and March collecting information and evaluating applications so they can conduct interviews in March and April and have a final choice in May or June. Grego retires July 1. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: The number of coronavirus cases in the district declined sharply last week, but the shortage of school drivers continues, school board members were told at Tuesday’s meeting. Board member Misty Belford said the shortage was due largely to a paucity of COVID tests. “Almost half of our bus drivers were out the first week of school,” she said. “Not all of them with COVID, but people couldn’t get tests.” In other developments, the conservative group Moms for Liberty questioned the district spending $79,500 on 53 tickets to Conscious Discipline Institute for training, contending the training involved critical race theory and that the organization had a “partisan extremist social agenda,” and the board approved rezoning changes for more than a dozen schools. Florida Today.

Volusia: A shortage in staffing has created a “crisis mode” in the school district, according to officials in the teachers union. “The folks we have in place, they are getting sick and they have to go home and rest and quarantine, but we don’t have substitutes to put in their place,” said union president Elizabeth Albert. Superintendent Scott Fritz said there are 100 job openings for teachers, and the district is trying to cut down on the shortage of substitutes by increasing pay from $10 an hour to $13.50. Until more teachers and subs can be hired, district administrators will fill empty slots. WFTV.

Manatee, Sarasota: Sixteen nonprofit organizations in Manatee and Sarasota counties are joining together to try to cut down on the hostility at school board meetings. Protect Our Public Schools Manasota and Support Our Schools started the campaign, called “Take the Pledge to Stand up for Public Schools,” to encourage people to stand up for high-quality equitable and inclusive education for all students, for an evidence-based curriculum that accurately portrays history and science, to keep school boards nonpartisan and to support well-funded public schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. WTSP.

Lake: Twenty county schools are now in the “red zone,” which contains schools that have 5 percent or more of their students testing positive for COVID-19 over a two-week period. Last week the district reported 1,085 coronavirus cases among students and 243 in staffers, up from 604 student cases and 204 employee cases the week before. Daily Commercial.

Marion: A record 870 students and school employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to the district’s count. That’s 70 percent than last week’s 512 cases and 35 times higher than the 25 cases reported during the week ending Dec. 17. Ocala Star-Banner.

Alachua: School board members approved a plan to spend $61.5 million in federal coronavirus grant funds that follows the results of a community survey. The top priorities for the money are tending to the mental well-being of students, addressing learning loss during the pandemic and upgrading facilities. Mainstreet Daily News. Cassidy Klein, an English language arts teacher at A. Quinn Jones Center in Gainesville, has been named the 2022 Division for Emotional and Behavioral Health Region 8 teacher of the year. The Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders presents the award to one teacher from schools in Florida, Alabama, Georgia,  Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Gainesville Sun.

Flagler: New procedures adopted by the school board Tuesday will allow parents to limit or prevent what books their children can read or check out of school libraries. But those parents will not be able to ban a book for other students. The new procedures set three levels for book access: Level 1 is open access to any students, although elementary students will not be allowed to see books targeted for young adults. Level 2 would allow parents to submit a list of five books their children cannot check out. Level 3 would prohibit any books from being checked out or read without pre-approval from a parent. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: There have been more coronavirus cases among students at Florida State University since the second semester began after winter break than at any other time during the pandemic, according to school officials. In the week that ended last Sunday, FSU reported 1,920 positive tests, and an estimated 641 students are in quarantine. Tallahassee Democrat. The 30 institutions in the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida create 100,900 jobs and contribute $15.7 billion to the state’s economy, according to a survey by the Regional Economic Consulting Group. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: We should insist on reforms that take a student-centered approach to help ensure that each child has a chance for the best possible education. We know that’s key to building stronger communities and a stronger nation. Daniel Garza, Real Clear Education. We have two sets of politically connected cronies trying to cash in on a troubled school district. And the governor and education commissioner are telling you there’s nothing to see, and trying to distract you with tirades about critical race theory. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. We absolutely need more data in the fight against the coronavirus. What we don’t need is a catchall of whatever information happens to be available, including wildly imprecise case counts that include people with symptoms resembling a cold. That’s why we decided to stop updating the dashboard at the University of Florida. Michael Lauzardo, Washington Post. Tens of millions of sales-tax dollars earmarked for improving Jacksonville’s academic buildings are actually headed to a scattered group of charters with fewer obligations to be transparent with the public, more discretion over how they can spend the money, scant oversight to ensure those expenses are legitimate, and an unlimited timeframe in which they can decide to use the money. Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union. It is past time to appoint a new interim superintendent for the Alachua County School District and then begin a national search for a superintendent who, unlike Dr. Carlee Simon, is vetted by the community and meets the qualifications described in the superintendent contract. Pamela Korithoski, Gainesville Sun.