New ‘Don’t Say Gay’ amendment sparks outrage, virtual school, school board term limits and more

Amendment criticized: A new amendment offered by the sponsor of the House’s Parental Rights in Education bill, known to critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” proposal, has provoked a new round of outage from LGBTQ advocates and Democrats. The original proposal from state Rep. Joe Harding, R-Williston, would have offered protection to students who confided personal information to school employees and might have been subjected to “abuse, abandonment or neglect” if their parents found out. Now the bill requires those school employees to notify parents of any such information within six weeks of learning about it. “It intentionally puts LGBTQ youth in harm’s way,” said State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat and outspoken LGBTQ activist. “I just couldn’t believe how malicious it was.” H.B. 1557 also is intended to prevent instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3, or at any grade level when a lesson is considered not age appropriate. The full House will debate the bill today. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. WKMG. Harding talks about what the bill would and would not do. WINK.

Virtual changes opposed: Opposition to a bill proposing significant changes to the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) appears to have made an impact on the bill’s sponsor and other legislators. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said he wanted to “shake up” online learning by preventing school districts from franchising from FLVS because, he said, they were simply FLVS relabeled and with worse academic outcomes. In fact, several offer wraparound services, in-person instruction and more courses. Pasco eSchool is one, and principal JoAnne Glenn effectively argued the point before a House committee. Fine now says he doesn’t intend to hurt districts with good results. “We’re not going to do anything that will hurt kids, I can promise you,” he said. Tampa Bay Times.

Board term limits: The House bill that would place eight-year term limits on local school board members and increase scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials gets a hearing Wednesday in the Senate Rules Committee. If it’s approved, it would be ready to go to the full Senate for a vote. The Senate’s version of the bill, S.B. 1300, would limit salaries for school board members but doesn’t call for term limits. It has not been heard by the Senate Rules Committee. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: An appeals court in Atlanta will hear arguments today in the case of a transgender student at Nease High School who sued the school board after he was not permitted to use boys bathrooms, Seminole County schools are requiring heart screenings for all student-athletes for the 2022-2023 school year, the principal of Lake Wales High School has hired an attorney to help her fight what she calls “systemic harassment” by the Lake Wales Charter School System board, Collier’s school superintendent was recently honored as one of four finalists for the national superintendent of the year award, Citrus school officials say more students are returning to in-person classes, and advocates for the deaf are protesting a recommendation that the University of South Florida end its American Sign Language Interpreting and Deaf Studies program. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Polk: The principal of Lake Wales High School has hired an attorney to help her fight what she calls “systemic harassment” by the Lake Wales Charter School System board. Donna Dunson said the harassment began after she supported a personnel move by former superintendent Jesse Jackson. It intensified, she said, after she asked school athletes to wear face masks during practice so they wouldn’t have to quarantine during COVID outbreaks and questioned the superintendent search committee’s decision to limits its search to local candidates. Trustees of the school system are expected to choose a superintendent today. Lakeland Ledger.

Seminole: Heart screenings will be required for all student-athletes during the 2022-2023 school year. The screenings have already begun, with about 100 students getting an electrocardiogram test at Hagerty High School. School officials are partnering with the “Who We Play For” nonprofit to provide the screenings. WOFL.

Manatee: The district has a shortage of 37 school bus drivers, according to school officials, which has led to consolidating routes for the 118 drivers on the job. Starting pay was boosted from $15.16 an hour to $16.69, putting the district fourth among the state’s 67 school districts in bus driver pay, according to Jamie Warrington, the director of transportation. Longboat Key Observer.

Collier: School Superintendent Kamela Patton was one of four finalists for the 2022 national superintendent of the year award given by AASA, the School Superintendents Association. The award went to Curtis Cain, superintendent of the Wentzville School District in Wentzville, Mo. All the finalists were honored at the National Conference on Education in Nashville on Feb. 17. WFTX. AASA. Collier County School District.

St. Johns: An appeals court in Atlanta will hear arguments today in the case of a transgender student at Nease High School who sued the school board after he was not permitted to use boys bathrooms. Drew Adams won at the district court level and before a three-judge subpanel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But the full appeals court vacated that ruling so all the justices could hear the case. The state is arguing with the school board, which cited privacy issues for its decision. The U.S. Justice Department is backing Adams’ suit, arguing that the school’s decision was a violation of the student’s equal-protection rights and Title IX, which bars sex-based discrimination. News Service of Florida.

Leon: The number of self-reported COVID cases among students and school employees dropped from 181 on Feb. 11 to 68 last week, a decline of 62 percent. Tallahassee Democrat.

Indian River: Bruce Green, who announced in November that he was a candidate for the District 1 seat in the school board election in August, has withdrawn from the race. The former school district administrator, who is now general manager of Premier Landscape Solutions, said he couldn’t continue to work, run for the board and help care for his ailing brother. His departure leaves Dr. Gene Posca, a general practitioner at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, as the only candidate so far for the seat currently held by Mara Schiff. TCPalm.

Citrus: School officials said data shows a trend of students returning to in-person learning. At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, 3,954 students were enrolled in the Citrus eSchool. That number fell to 411 by December 2021. Coupled with uptick in residential development activity, the changes in student’s choices have school officials working on a five-year plan to accommodate growth. The first step will be expanding Floral City Elementary School, starting in the fall. Citrus County Chronicle.

Hardee: Julie Taylor was the Hardee County School District’s teacher of the year and seemed headed for a promotion into administration. But she didn’t like the focus on standardized testing, and wanted more character education and social and emotional learning. So she decided to start her own school on the outskirts of Wauchula, beginning with nine students in grades K-5. Now, 11 years later, Alane Academy is a preK-8 with 70 students who learn the basics and other academically rigorous courses, and are taught to be kind. reimaginED.

Colleges and universities: Advocates for the deaf are protesting a recommendation that the University of South Florida end its American Sign Language Interpreting and Deaf Studies program. It’s one of only two schools in the state to offer a four-year degree in the field. The major has been in place since 2020, and school officials said the interpreter classes will continue even if the program is ended. Tampa Bay Times. The University of Florida has received a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to teach middle school teachers and students how to use artificial intelligence to identify fossil shark teeth. WGFL.

Opinions on schools: Polarization and anger have grown in our democracy, and schooling lies at the epicenter. People have plenty of reasons to feel angry, and many feel that districts have imposed what they regard as inappropriate curriculum on their children without their consent. Virtual platforms like Zoom gave them a first-hand look into classrooms, and many parents did not like what they saw. A mood has grown along the lines of, “Since someone’s preferences are going to be imposed, I’m going to make them mine.” This, however, leads to a dark place, and is contrary to the ideals of the choice movement. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. State Rep. Randy Fine’s attempt to punish Brevard County’s schools is petty and vindictive. Florida Today.