Senate offers amendments on LGBTQ, board term limits, accreditation bills; Miami nominee and more

LGBTQ bill amendment: A prominent Republic senator has offered an amendment to the Parental Rights in Education bill that would more broadly define what schools could not teach K-3 students about sex. H.B. 1557, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would forbid discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, and limit talks to “age-appropriate” in later grades. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, wants to replace the phrase “sexual orientation or gender identity” to read “human sexuality.” He said the amendment “removes the feeling that this targets one group of individuals and really focuses on, ultimately, our outcome we want, which is we want these types of sensitive conversations for kids at a young age to be had in the home, not at school.” The bill is headed for a hearing today before the Senate Appropriations Committee. WFLA. Florida Politics.

School board limits: The drive to eliminate or reduce salaries for local school board members seems dead, but very much alive are proposals to limit the amount of time those members may serve. State Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, wants to limit time in school board seats to eight years in H.B. 1467, which was approved by the House earlier this month. But state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, is proposing that the bill be amended to limit terms to 12 years. He also wants to require training for school personnel on the “selection and maintenance of library media and collections or materials maintained on a reading list,” and have superintendents identify materials removed because of objections. The Senate is scheduled to consider the changes on Tuesday. Florida Phoenix.

College accreditation: Democratic opposition to a bill that would require the state’s colleges and universities to change accrediting agencies every other cycle drew the support of some Republicans during last week’s Senate Appropriations Committee meeting. S.B. 7044 would also allow schools to sue accrediting agencies if they have been “negatively impacted by” or had “retaliatory action taken against.” Democrats contend the bill is payback for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges’ intervention in the search for a new Florida State University president, and could discourage high-quality accreditors from taking new applications. State Sen. Brandes, the Republican from St. Petersburg, voted against the bill, arguing, “I love my Tesla. If someone told me I had to buy another car, but it couldn’t be a Tesla, I would be upset.” Politico Florida.

Around the state: The woman nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court called her time with the competitive speech and debate team at Miami Palmetto Senior High School “the one activity that best prepared me for future success in law and in life,” an investigation clears a high-ranking Broward administrator but could lead to districtwide policy changes on mixing outside work and district hours, Palm Beach’s school board chair said partisanship contributed to his decision to not run for re-election in 2024, students at Blake High School in Tampa say school administrators are finally taking action to address their claims that sexual harassment complaints were being disregarded after they spoke out publicly, Florida school board meetings being disrupted over bitter disputes have become commonplace during this school year, and a University of South Florida fraternity has been suspended after a swastika was drawn on the forehead of a Jewish pledge during initiation. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated last week by President Joe Biden to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, said the time spent with the competitive speech and debate team at Miami Palmetto Senior High School “was the one activity that best prepared me for future success in law and in life.” Jackson, 51, who will become the first black woman on the court if she’s confirmed, grew up in the predominantly Jewish suburb of East Kendall in Miami, graduated from Palmetto High in 1988, attended Harvard and began a legal career that has taken her to the bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. New York Times. Sun Sentinel. NPR. Two students and two parents were arrested Friday at Miami Killian High School. The students were detained after fighting in a bathroom over what police said was the attempted sale of a weapon, which led to the school being placed in lockdown. Two parents were later arrested when they got into a fight during the controlled dismissal. WPLG. WTVJ. WSVN.

Broward: Broward schools spokeswoman Kathy Koch has been cleared of wrongdoing for secretly organizing a rally held on district property in April 2021 for then-superintendent Robert Runcie, who had been indicted on a perjury charge. The investigation had been widened to include a look into whether Koch performed work on district time for her private marketing company. A professional standards committee determined that “insufficient factual or legal basis exists to establish just cause for inappropriate conduct,” primarily because the district has no clear policies addressing those issues. But newly named Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said she will soon propose policy changes to “address secondary paid employment and district business hours.” Sun Sentinel. Cartwright talks about her plans and vision for the district in an interview. WFOR.

Hillsborough: Students at Blake High School in Tampa said school administrators have been taking action to address their claims that sexual harassment complaints were being disregarded since they spoke out publicly last December. In the past two months, the school has held training on Title IX; held a meeting to hear the concerns of students and invited them to submit anonymous comments and suggestions; formed student committees focused on various issues, including sexual assault; and appears to be taking another look at the way they responded to a sexual harassment complaint from 2020. “It’s just so crazy to see they are actually caring about stuff now,” said senior Rebeca Braukman. “I felt seen, heard.” Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Starting today, face masks are optional for all adults on school campuses. “OCPS families and employees, due to the continuing decline of COVID-19 cases in our district and in the community, the use of face masks will be voluntary for all adults beginning Monday, Feb. 28,” reads a statement on the school district’s Facebook page. “Remember, anyone exhibiting illness or symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home.” Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WESH.

Palm Beach: School board chair Frank Barbieri recently announced that he will not run for a fifth term in 2024. He said he and his wife would like to travel and spend more time with their grandchildren, and that less stress would be welcome. “School board meetings have become progressively contentious,” he said. “While I respect varying viewpoints as a vital component of discussions, I’m disheartened by the callous disregard for dignity and civility. … Rude and vicious behavior has somehow become acceptable as an exercise of one’s ‘freedom of speech’ — a freedom which should be cherished, not abused.” Boca magazine. School board members agreed to pay $300,000 to the family of a 15-year-old Inlet Grove High School student who was hit and killed by a school bus in 2019. The bus had a green light when it hit Natasha Dwyer as she ventured into a crosswalk. The driver was cleared of wrongdoing by a sheriff’s investigation. Palm Beach Post. Dennis Pollard, a former school district maintenance worker, was sentenced last week to 25 years in prison for persuading women around the world on Facebook to molest their children and send him photos in return for cash, according to prosecutors. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Two committees have been formed to recommend to the school board if 16 books temporarily taken from school libraries should be retained or removed. The committees are made up of educators, students, parents and other community members and mental health experts. The first meeting is Tuesday and it will be open to the public, although those in attendance will not be permitted to make comments. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee, Collier: Both the Lee and Collier school districts are changing the amount of time students who test positive for COVID-19 are being asked to stay at home from 10 days to 5. The move aligns the districts with guidelines recommended by the state last week. WFTX.

Marion: Retired Dunnellon postmaster Steve Swett has announced that he’ll challenge incumbent Eric Cummings for the District 3 seat on the school board. The primary election is in August. Ocala Star-Banner.

Okaloosa: More than $2 million in grants from the state will be used to expand the Collegiate High School at Northwest Florida State College. Ninth-graders will be accepted for the first time, and dual enrollment will be offered for students to earn associate’s degrees in computer information technology and engineering technology at the same time that they’re getting a high school diploma. WKRG. Northwest Florida State College. A 16-year-old former student at Niceville High School was arrested Friday and accused of having a gun on campus. A school resource officer, working off a tip, found the boy in the area between Niceville High and Ruckle Middle with a gun reportedly tucked into the waistband of his pants. Northwest Florida Daily News. WJHG.

Alachua: The FBI is one of several law enforcement agencies investigating how the school district handled a $3.7 million land sale in 2020. Two real estate agents allegedly inflated the price of about 37 acres of land to nearly double its value in order to receive higher commissions. The school district bought the property as a potential site for a new school. Gainesville Sun.

Martin: An anonymous $10 million donation will be used by Indian River State College to help build its second public charter high school in the county. The school will focus on career and technical education, such as welding, and on dual-enrollment opportunities, and be built near Indiantown. Traditional courses and evening classes for adults also will be offered. No projected opening date was announced. TCPalm.

Indian River: School district media specialists are recommending that the school board remove five books from school libraries because they are not K-12 appropriate. The conservative Moms of Liberty organization is asking the board to remove 156 books because they say they have pornographic passages and themes related to critical race theory. School board members will weigh the recommendations at a meeting today. TCPalm.

Colleges and universities: The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at the University of South Florida has been suspended after a swastika was drawn on the forehead of a Jewish pledge during initiation. Tampa Bay Times. An asthma study at the University of South Florida suggests adding small amounts of an anti-inflammatory drug to inhalers could reduce racial gaps in asthma deaths and hospitalizations. Tampa Bay Times. Richard McCullough was inaugurated Friday as the 16th president of Florida State University. He takes over from John Thrasher. Tallahassee Democrat.

School board battles: School board meetings being disrupted over bitter disputes have become commonplace in Florida during this school year. Fights over mask mandates, COVID precautions, book challenges, critical race theory and LGBTQ issues have led to arrests, citations for trespassing and whole audiences being escorted out of meetings. The fighting has led several school board members to announce that they are resigning or won’t run for re-election. Kristi Burns of Lake County, who recently announced her resignation, said, “At this point, I’m going to step back from all of this divisiveness and really be able to focus on my family.” Palm Beach Post.

Football classifications: The Florida High School Athletic Association is scheduled to vote today on a plan to reclassify state high school football teams. Teams in the eight largest counties in the state would be placed in a four-classification metro division, and the remaining 59 suburban and rural counties would be placed into five classifications. WJXT.

Around the nation: Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines Friday that said Americans can stop wearing masks if they live in counties where the threat of the coronavirus is a low or medium threat to hospitals. CBS News. Chalkbeat. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Progressives should embrace school choice. They should do so both because it would be a much more stable way to access progressive education and because it is simply the right way to deliver education for a free and equal society. Neal McCluskey and Solomon Chen, The Hill. America can unleash the potential of its students by reversing the effects of education redlining. Jonathan Butcher, reimaginED. Steve Sugarman was a much-beloved teacher and a prominent figure in the reform of law of torts, with his own widely praised casebook and many an article striving to make our laws treat the ordinary consumer with fairness and dignity, as well as an education choice pioneer. John E. Coons, reimaginED. As a Republican, a former diplomat, mother of a proud gay son, and life-long defender of equal rights I strongly oppose H.B. 1557 and the danger it poses to the future of our state. Nancy Brinker, Florida Politics. When it comes to educating and preparing our young people for their role in our vibrant and fast-paced economy, should they not have a basic understanding of the tools to build financial stability and develop sensible money habits for themselves and their families? Bill Sorenson, Florida Times-Union. Perhaps it’s time to organize the entire Marion County School District under a charter-school operational model. I believe some high-quality charter schools would be very interested in the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do under a comprehensive “all-schools” model vs. the current situation of having just a few schools in the district operating as charters. Stan Hanson, Ocala Star-Banner.