Bills advance pushing parental rights and ending school board salaries, teachers honored and more

Parental rights advance: Two bills were approved by the House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday that continue the push by state Republicans to expand parental rights in education and diminish the roles of school board members. H.B. 1557 would limit discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in local schools, and H.B. 1467 would require all elementary schools to post library and classroom books online and have materials chosen by a “certified educational media specialist.” H.B. 1467 also would remove a portion of state law allowing school districts to pay elected board members, making them unpaid positions. “We want to focus our schools on parental engagement and parental involvement, and by eliminating, quite frankly, the financial incentive for politicians to want to use (their school board position) as an opportunity either as a launching pad to a political career or maybe a landing pad by which to get a salary,” said state Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, the sponsor of the bill. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. Capitol News Service. Florida Politics. WJCT. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Hillsborough and Polk school district name teachers and employees of the year, Bay County school select the teacher of a lifetime, schools are closed today in Escambia County because a winter weather advisory has been issued, a majority of Marion County School Board members signal their support to ask voters in November to renew a 1-mill school tax, one school face mask lawsuit will continue while another is settled in favor of parents who don’t want masks to be required, six state colleges that offer commercial driver’s license and nursing certification programs are being given $2.3 million in grants from the state, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice will argue on behalf of a transgender male student who sued the St. Johns County School District when it wouldn’t allow him to use boys bathrooms, and parents of Brevard County students who skip school too often could soon be held accountable in truancy court. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A 16-year-old student at Northeast High School in Oakland Park was arrested Wednesday and accused of having a loaded gun at the school. He told deputies he had the gun for protection during his walk home after school. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Laura Widerberg, a biology teacher at Armwood High School, was chosen Thursday as the school district’s teacher of the year. Two other awards were also presented: the Ida S. Baker diversity educator of the year is Benigno Lopez, a success coach at Shields Middle School; and Faith Smith, a parent liaison aide at Temple Terrace Elementary, was recognized as support employee of the year. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Palm Beach: In addition to requiring face masks at school board meetings, board members have approved a “Test to Know” policy. It says if a student is exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19, that student’s parents will be notified and given the option to have the student tested at school for up to five days. WPBF.

Polk: Ashley Brannon, a curriculum coach at Karen M. Siegel Academy, was chosen Thursday as the school district’s teacher of the year, and Tiffany Berrien, a physical education paraeducator at Rochelle School of the Arts, was named the employee of the year. Lakeland Ledger. WTSP. Polk County School District. The Lake Wales Charter School System has named five finalists for the superintendent’s job that has been for a year: EmiLean Clemons, principal of Bartow High School; P.J. D’Aoust, director of charter schools for the Palm Beach County district; Andy Oguntola, dean of workforce education and economic development, adjunct professor and the director of the J.D. Alexander Center at Polk State College; Wayne Rodolfich, superintendent of the Pascagoula-Gautier (Miss.) School District; and Anuj Saran, the assistant principal and head of the International Baccalaureate program of Lake Wales High School. Monday, the candidates will be interviewed by the school. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A 17-year-old Riverdale High School student was arrested Thursday and accused of having a loaded handgun on campus. Sheriff Carmine Marceno said deputies were alerted by another student who saw a video of the gun on Instagram. Deputies said they found the gun after searching the car of the suspect. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Brevard: The parents of students who regularly cut classes may soon be sent to truancy court to answer for their children’s absences. Judge Christina Serrano said this is a court of last resort, after all other options are exhausted. “They need to know their kids need to go to school,” Serrano said. “They can’t be missing school with unexcused absences, or they’re going to be called up to court, or they’re going to have to give me a reason why their children aren’t going to school.” Fifteen absences in a 90-day calendar period can trigger an intervention with the parents. WFTV.

Seminole: The 18-year-old Seminole High School student who was shot three times by a 16-year-old classmate at the school Wednesday had surgery and is “resting well,” according to his family. The suspect told police that the victim, Jhavon McIntyre, taunted him. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL.

Volusia, Flagler: Coronavirus cases are still on the rise in the Volusia and Flagler school districts. Last week, Volusia said it had 929 students and 274 employees test positive for COVID-19, the highest weekly total of the school year. In Flagler, 151 students and 10 employees tested positive. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Paul Sharff, a businessman and well-known leader of the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County since 2008, died Jan. 12 of heart issues at the age of 63. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice will argue on behalf of a transgender male student who sued the school district when it wouldn’t allow him to use boys bathrooms. Drew Adams sued the district in 2017 and won at the district court level. The ruling was affirmed in July by a subpanel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the full court then vacated the ruling and said it wanted to rehear the case. Arguments are scheduled Feb. 22. News Service of Florida.

Sarasota: Elizabeth “Liz” Lindsay, a former chair of the Florida Board of Regents, which is now the Board of Governors, and philanthropist, has died at the age of 96. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: A majority of school board members said Thursday that they support asking voters in November to renew a 1-mill tax for schools. The tax, which generates about $23 million a year, helps fund school safety and support music, art, physical education and vocational programs. It was first approved in 2014, then overwhelmingly renewed in 2018. It expires June 30, 2023. The board is expected to formally vote next month, and the request will then go to the county commission for final approval. That vote has been a formality, in the past. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: District schools are closed today because of the weather. The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for the county, effective until noon. Extracurricular events are also canceled. “We anticipate normal district operations will resume on Monday, Jan. 24,” said Superintendent Tim Smith said in a release. “Of course, we’ll continue to work closely with local emergency operations officials to determine what is safest for our families and staff.”  WEAR. Associated Press. WKRG.

Leon: A two-week suspension of the principal of Chiles High School was upheld this week by an administrative law judge. Joe Burgess was suspended after an investigation by an outside law firm disclosed that he had misused Advanced Placement funds to pay teachers and others for work that wasn’t related to AP classes. Burgess said he was following the standard district practice of the past 30 years, and will appeal. Tallahassee Democrat. Mainstreet Daily News. Substitute teachers have been in short supply this week with about 10 percent of the district’s 2,241 teachers being absent. “We have not reached critical mass yet on the possibility of closing due to staffing issues,” said Chris Petley, a district spokesman. “We continue to recruit substitutes. We will make sure to communicate with our parents so they are never caught off guard.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: Cynthia McCauley, a Bay County teacher of disabled students for 47 years, has won the school district’s teacher of a lifetime award. McCauley has worked at Mosley High School, Bay High, and is now at Chautauqua Charter School. WJHG. Panama City News Herald. WMBB.

Indian River: Environmental stewardship is one of the hallmarks of the 72-student, private K-8 Willow School in Vero Beach. Students plant and tend to a garden with beans, peas, broccoli, oregano and parsley, and take field trips that include testing water quality at nature preserves, tromping around botanical gardens and kayaking the Indian River Lagoon. Gardening and growing things “gives kids a way to take pride in their environment, literally,” said principal Peter Turner. “If you have a vested interest in something, you’re going to care about it more.” The school was started in 2004 by Shakti Sutriasa and Govinda Reinhalter, and the curriculum borrows from models such as Waldorf and MontessorireimaginED.

Okeechobee: County health officials will no longer notify the school district when a student tests positive for COVID-19, due to the overwhelming numbers of cases. Contact tracing also will be eliminated for elementary school students. WPTV.

Gulf: Like other districts around the state, Gulf’s has struggled with a shortage of teachers, bus drivers and other employees because of COVID-19. Schools were canceled a week ago because of staffing problems. “It’s a constant deal. Nationwide and statewide there’s a shortage. Especially with our area,” said Superintendent Jim Norton. Port St. Joe Star.

Colleges and universities: Six state colleges that offer commercial driver’s license and nursing certification programs are being given $2.3 million in grants from the state. “If you look at our economy now, a four-year university degree is not always the best way to be successful,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis. “It’s not necessarily about having a sheet of paper, but it’s really about what skills or knowledge are you being equipped with.” WTSP. Tampa Bay Times. The NCAA announced Thursday that it will turn over decisions about transgender athletes competing for colleges to the governing bodies for each sport. The NCAA retains the ability to review those organizations’ decisions. Associated Press.

Face mask suit continues: Parents of students with disabilities have reworked their lawsuit against the state for prohibiting school districts from requiring students to wear face masks. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled against the parents’ request for an injunction, but did allow them to revise and refile the case. The parents contend the state’s policy violates federal laws and puts their children at a higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. News Service of Florida. A judge has sided with a group of Duval County parents who sued the school district last fall over its face mask mandate. The issue was made moot when the state passed a law prohibiting mask mandates for students, but the parents wanted a judge to officially affirm in court that the district broke the state law. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: There is no assurance that the Broward school board will make the right choice for superintendent even after a credible search. Done right, however, a credible search will allow the person who is selected to start without public suspicion. These days, that matters. Sun Sentinel.