Parental rights bill advances, Orange school leader retiring, Bright Futures volunteer hours, and more

Parental rights bill:bill that would regulate discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary school classrooms and give parents the rights to make “critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” won the approval Tuesday of the Senate Education Committee. The bill, which has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, would also allow parents to sue school boards over violations. “Let’s realize that these children belong to families, they are not wards of the state,” said state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the legislation. “It’s important that their input into this be respected, rather than being treated as outsiders who are not to be told something.” The House version of the bill also moved forward Tuesday and is now ready for a vote by the full House. Democrats have panned the legislation as potentially harmful to LGBTQ students, and Tuesday the White House released a statement that said, in part: “This is politics at its worst, cynically treating our students as pawns in a game and not people who deserve love and respect.” News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Politico Florida. Capitol News Service. Tampa Bay Times.

Bright Futures service hours: High school students could substitute work experience for volunteer hours requirements to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships under a bill approved Tuesday by the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Current volunteer requirements are 75 to 100 hours plus reaching academic milestones to be eligible to receive scholarships covering full or partial college tuition and fees. State Rep. Lauren Melo, R-Naples, said the current law discourages some working students from applying, and proposed the change to make the scholarships more accessible to those students. “We blocked the financial support from some of those who need it the most,” Melo said. “Not everyone can volunteer in lieu of earning a paycheck.” Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: Protests outside peoples’ homes would be banned under a bill that was approved Tuesday by a second Senate committee. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. A bill that would prevent government employees, including teachers, from having union dues deducted from their paychecks was approved by a House subcommittee. News Service of Florida. A proposal that would force colleges and universities to change accreditors periodically got the backing of a Senate committee. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. A Senate committee has approved a bill that would require school districts and governments to go through a specific checklist before they could pay ransomware for stolen data. Unlike another bill moving through the Legislature, S.B. 1670 would not forbid paying ransom. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins announces that she’s retiring by the end of the year, Broward school board members are choosing a superintendent today, the state has warned Lee County schools to comply with the class sizes law by October or risk being fined $2.7 million, a majority of Alachua County School Board members are critical of Superintendent Carlee Simon’s performance, a proposal is made to change the Brevard County charter to create a process that could lead to the recall of school board members, Seminole schools name their teacher of the year, Hillsborough school board members renew the contracts of four charter schools, an LGBTQ memoir was removed from the shelves of two Pinellas County high schools, Manatee school board members approve a contract between the district and union representing teachers and other workers, and a Pasco County student has been moved to a different school after repeated complaints from her mother. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: New Superintendent Jose Dotres is scheduled to begin working for the district Friday, but he still doesn’t have a contract. School board chair Perla Tabares Hantman said negotiations will be final by the end of the week. Also still unresolved is the district’s separation agreement with former superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who left last week to take the job of directing the Los Angeles school system. Miami Herald.

Broward: School board members meet today to select a new superintendent. The finalists are Vickie Cartwright, who has been the interim superintendent since July, and Michael Gaal, a retired Air Force veteran and former deputy chancellor of the District of Columbia school system. The person selected will replace Robert Runcie, who resigned last August after being indicated for perjury. Tuesday, the finalists met with parents to answer questions. WLRN. WPLG.

Hillsborough: School board members voted Tuesday to renew the contracts of four charter schools that have a total of 3,000 students. Several members said they had little choice but to renew after their experience last summer with the state, when they tried to cancel four charter contracts. The state said the district violated a law requiring 90 days’ notice and threatened financial penalties if the renewals weren’t approved. “We have a very small amount of leeway in approving or denying these charter schools,” said board member Jessica Vaughn. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins announced Tuesday that she will retire in December. Jenkins has been in the job 10 years, and has worked in the district for 30 years. She said she entered into the state’s deferred retirement plan in 2018, which requires her to stop working by the end of 2022. She said board members have been aware of the impending retirement, and she decided it was time to announce it publicly. School board members meet Feb. 15 to discuss the process of searching for her replacement. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV. WKMG. WMFE. WESH.

Pinellas: An LGBTQ memoir was recently removed from the shelves of libraries at Lakewood and Dunedin high schools after the schools heard complaints about its content. School officials said Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir, was not “age appropriate for all high school students.” Students at the schools are protesting the decision. WUSF. The process of choosing a new superintendent will include an online survey and a series of community forums later this month, officials decided at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Superintendent Michael Grego is retiring in June. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School officials have been notified by the state that they have until October to comply with the state’s class sizes rules or risk being fined $2.7 million. Twenty-three schools are violating the rules, which restrict pre-K through 3rd grade classes to 18 students, 4th- through 8th-grade classes to 22 students, and high school classes to 25 students. School officials blame the violations on the teacher shortage and a quickly growing population. WFTX. WINK. Thirty district teachers were recently notified that they are finalists for the annual Golden Apple awards. Six winners will be announced April 29. Fort Myers News-Press. Lehigh Acres Citizen.

Pasco: A parent’s repeated complaints over four months about teachers discussing pronouns with her daughter, “safe space” rainbow stickers in classrooms, critical race theory and more led Superintendent Kurt Browning to reassign her daughter to a different school. Three teachers asked a court to protect them against the parent, Rebecca Yuengling, and one quit. “It’s gotten so bad, it’s gotten so problematic, you have to do something to get things settled back down at the school,” Browning said. In a letter to Yuengling explaining his decision, Browning wrote: “Your voluminous emails (in excess of 500 pages), phone calls, public statements and posts on social media are not only harassing in nature to administration and staff, but also disruptive to the learning environment for our students.” Yuengling contended she is simply sticking up for her daughter. “I made a promise to myself,” she said. “As an adult, I would never be silent for kids.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: A member of the county’s Charter Review Commission has submitted a proposal that would allow school board members to be recalled in a voter referendum. At least 15 percent of voters within a school board member’s district would have to sign a petition to get the recall petition on the ballot. A school board member could then be removed by a majority vote in the member’s district. Blaise Trettis, who is also the public defender for Brevard and Seminole counties, said he submitted the proposal because of the school board’s vote to require students to wear face masks. Florida Today.

Seminole: Julie Gabrovic, the science lab teacher at Wekiva Elementary School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Seminole County School District.

Manatee: School board members approved a contract agreement between the school district and the union representing teachers and other employees. All teachers will be paid at least $47,500 a year, teacher’s with master’s degrees will get raises of $1,200, and $1,000 bonuses will be given to all employees who didn’t receive bonuses from the state. Noninstructional staff also will receive $1,000 bonuses, plus an increase in the uniform allowance and retroactive pay increases. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTSP.

Sarasota: School officials said the district could lose $12 million in state funding under the House budget for the next school year, which targets cuts for 12 districts that defied the state’s ban on face mask mandates for students. WWSB. The school district will begin building a new fire academy in a central part of the county, near Venice, this October, school board members were told Tuesday. The 32,000-square-foot building will replace the academy in the north part of the county, where classes are held in portable classrooms. “We are moving from 1990 portables into these brand new classrooms,” said assistant superintendent Jody Dumas. “We are going to be able to simulate what firefighting is like for real, and that’s our objective — to match what these students would do in the field.” Charlotte Sun.

Marion: A student who was shot at Ocala Forest High School in 2018 is suing the school board, contending it didn’t provide sufficient security. Evan Ekenroth, then a 17-year-old junior, was wounded when a former student, 19-year-old Sky Bouche entered the school with a shotgun and fired it into a classroom. Bouche pleaded guilty and is serving a 30-year prison sentence. Ocala Star-Banner.

Clay: The school district’s transportation director and his wife have been arrested and accused of stealing $5,000 to $10,000 worth of tools and other items from the district. Deputies said Derald and Shannon Sweatt face charges of grand theft. District officials said Sweatt was removed from his position after the allegations were made, and subsequently resigned. WJXT.

Alachua: Three of five school board members said Superintendent Carlee Simon’s job performance has been either unsatisfactory or needs improvement during her evaluation at Tuesday’s meeting. Board member Mildred Russell proposed that the board meet March 1 to further discuss Simon’s evaluation. “There were three members of the board that had a lot of concerns,” Russell said. “I want to discuss those because we need a remedy going forward.” Simon was named interim superintendent in December 2020, then elevated into the permanent position last March. She has clashed with several board members over the district’s face mask and COVID policies. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. WGFL.

Bay: School officials are planning to rezone some school boundaries to alleviate overcrowding and fill Oscar Patterson Academy when it reopens in the fall for about 350 students in preschool through 2nd grade. Students will moved to Patterson from Cedar Grove, Northside, Merriam Cherry and Parker elementary schools. WMBB. WJHG.

Okeechobee: A student who brought a “dummy” grenade to Okeechobee High School was detained Tuesday and will be disciplined, said school officials. A school resource officer received a tip leading to the discovery of the non-functional M-26 fragmentation grenade. WPEC.

Union: The school district’s high school graduation rate improved to 93 percent last year, according to state data. Superintendent Mike Ripplinger attributed the increase to staff efforts and the use of a high school graduation tracking program. WUFT.

Colleges and universities: A preliminary test shows elevated levels of radon and mold throughout the Sandels building on the Florida State University campus. The building was closed two weeks ago after a faculty report linked the air quality to eight cancer cases. Tallahassee Democrat. University of South Florida president Rhea Law said this week that development of the school’s 769-acre forest preserve was off the table, at least for now. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. Eastern Florida State College president Jim Richey’s contract has been extended through 2027 by the board of trustees and includes a raise of $11,000, to $356,670 per year. Florida Today. Applications to Florida Polytechnic University for next fall are up 30 percent, according to college officials. Out-of-state applications rose by 61 percent. Lakeland Ledger.

Public employees, private choice: At least 2,600 public school district employees in Florida are sending their children to private schools using the state’s two main private school choice programs, according to applications for the scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship programs. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: Giving school districts the leeway to install speed cameras is a smart step toward making our roads safer to cross for some of our most vulnerable Floridians — our schoolchildren. Tampa Bay Times. When you ban, challenge and attempt to control what other people read, you elevate and advertise what you are trying to extinguish. And, in doing so, you are sending dangerous messages that other people should be extinguished. Sometimes, you are sending these messages to your own children. Tread lightly. Jenifer Jasinski Schneider, Tampa Bay Times. Public schools are not for the children. They are not for the parents. They are for the country and our democracy. A curriculum, based on literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and rhetorical skill is necessary for the protection of our republic. Adam Byrn Tritt, Florida Today. A proposal that does not allow federal officials to intrude on local schools but helps families meet the needs of their children immediately, without waiting for unions and district officials to decide who is in charge of a school building, is a “type of normalcy that is actually extraordinary.” Jonathan Butcher, reimaginED.