Book challenges, new testing, real estate literacy, presidential searches, board elections and more

Book challenges: Florida has the third-highest number of school district book bans since last July, according to a report from an advocacy group for writing professionals. The anti-censorship group PEN America said Florida had 204 reports of books being banned in seven school districts. Only Texas and Pennsylvania had more. Florida school districts mentioned in the report are Brevard, Clay, Flagler, Indian River, Orange, Pinellas and Polk. Associated Press. Florida Phoenix. Lakeland Ledger. Education Week. Book challenges seem to be concentrated in a handful of Florida school districts, and the data show that only a few of the books drawing objections are being removed from school libraries. WFTS.

Around the state: The format for the state’s testing program is changing but the effects of the results are not, a year after district officials promised to appoint a task force to find ways to close the racial achievement gap in Miami-Dade school it still hasn’t been done, four books were removed from Osceola school bookshelves for review after parents complained about their contents, Polk school review committees say two books that drew complaints from parents should stay in libraries, an Alachua school board member removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis because she didn’t live in the district she is running for the seat again this year, IDEA Public Schools wins approval to build a charter school in Polk County, and field trips are finally back for two Sumter County schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A year after the school district said it would create a committee to find ways to close the academic achievement gap between white and minority students, not a single person has been appointed. In February 2021, board vice chair Steve Gallon called on then-superintendent Alberto Carvalho to “conduct a review and examination of the achievement gaps in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.” The data, Gallon said, would help establish the goals for the district’s five-year strategic plan. “I’m disappointed it took as long as it did for this step (committee selection) to happen,” said Ruban Roberts, former president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. “I would’ve hoped that (the district) would’ve already had the (committee) recommendations from board members and we’d be much further along.” Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: Twice a month, Tampa Realtor Kella McCaskill conducts workshops at the private LinaBean Academy to provide students with practical information about housing affordability, mortgage agreements, down-payment assistance,  rent-to-buy options, savings plans and more. “We want our kids to be thinking about the real world,” said Ischolina Williams, who founded the school six years ago for students with special needs or who face learning barriers because of their home situations. “We’re teaching life lessons.” Tampa Bay Times.

Polk: Two more books have been approved by review committees to remain on middle and high school library bookshelves despite objections from some parents about their content. The two committees, made up of 18 parents, teachers, psychologists, librarians and students, determined that It’s Perfectly Normal, a sex education book by Robie Harris, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a novel about the aftermath of 9-11 by Jonathan Safran Foer, should continue to be available to students. Parents do have the option to decide what books their child may have access to. Lakeland Ledger. County planning commissioners have given their approval for a new charter school in Lakeland. Texas-based IDEA Public Schools intends to open the K-12 school for 1,645 students in the fall of 2023. Lakeland Ledger. A teacher at the private Crossroad Christian School in Lakeland has been arrested and accused of sexual misconduct with students. Derek Stribling, 39, a history teacher, dean of students, basketball coach and a “life management coach” at the school, has been charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor, lewd and lascivious conduct, offenses against students by an authority figure and transmitting material harmful to a minor. WFLA. Lakeland Ledger. WFTS.

Osceola: Four books were removed from school library shelves last week and will be reviewed by a district committee after parents complained about their content. The books are Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Johnson and Looking for Alaska by John Green. Superintendent Debra Pace also announced that parents now have the ability to log into the district’s website and choose whether their children have unlimited access, limited access or no access to material in their school’s media center. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Spectrum News 13. WMFE. Officials from the school district, law enforcement and the Department of Children and Families said they are investigating a “violent attack” that occurred Friday at Horizon Middle School in Kissimmee. School officials did not disclose the nature of the incident, saying only that “action will be taken in accordance with the law, Student Code of Conduct, and personnel policies.” WKMG.

Sarasota: A school board member helped push the state to write and approve the Parental Rights in Education bill regulating the discussion of sex in schools, and now a district student has joined a lawsuit challenging the law. Board member Bridget Ziegler lobbied the Legislature to pass a parental rights bill to regulate discussion of student gender discussions in 2019, and that led to H.B. 1557 being passed this year. Zander Moricz, a high school senior and class president at the Pine View School who is openly gay, recently joined a lawsuit that aims to overturn the legislation. He called the law part of “a nationwide trend attacking the LGBTQ community.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: Branson Hurst, a 9th-grader at Chiles High School in Tallahassee, has been named the school district’s student volunteer of the year. Hurst goes to DeSoto Trail Elementary School every day after school to help teachers with technical issues and to maintain student Chromebooks. He won an $8,000 college scholarship from Florida Prepaid. WCTV.

Alachua: Diyonne McGraw, who was removed from the District 2 school board seat by Gov. Ron DeSantis last summer after it was disclosed that she didn’t live in the district, has announced her candidacy for that seat in this year’s election. Since district boundaries have been redrawn because of the census, McGraw’s home now sits in District 2. She will challenge Mildred Russell, who was appointed by DeSantis to replace McGraw. Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Nassau: The family of a 7-year-old boy at Yulee Primary School is suing the district for injuries the boy suffered in 2019 when he pulled on a desk drawer and the table fell over on him. His attorney said the index finger on the boy’s dominant hand was crushed and sustained permanent damage. The suit charges the school district of “creating a hazardous condition,” but the school district said the boy was responsible for his injuries. Florida Politics.

Sumter: Field trips are back at the Villages Charter and Wildwood elementary schools after being canceled during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. “Our teachers tried to make up for not experiencing in-person field trips during the height of the pandemic by finding virtual options,” said LeAnne Yerk, principal of the Villages Charter Elementary School. “However, it’s not the same.” Villages Daily Sun.

Gulf: School board members have approved a 2022-2023 school year calendar that puts the first day of school Aug. 10, the last day May 26, and closes the school for the full week of Thanksgiving. There will also be a fall break Oct. 17 and 18, and spring break March 13-17. Port St. Joe Star.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida, Florida International University, University of North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University are all searching for new presidents, and all will be following the new state law that allows schools to keep names and personal information about applicants confidential until 21 days before the search process concludes. Miami Herald. University of Central Florida researchers are working to develop environmentally friendly, ammonia-based fuel and jet engine components to help the aviation industry meet net-zero greenhouse gas emission goals by 2050. Orlando Sentinel. UF is one of just 22 U.S. universities that plans to pay student-athletes for getting good grades. NCAA rules allow schools to pay players up to $5,980 a year for their academic performance. Yahoo Sports. ESPN. Dr. Bernard Fogel, dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine from 1981 to 1995, died March 30 In Maryland. He was 85. Miami Herald.

Testing change: The state’s newly approved school testing system has been touted as an improved, streamlined version of the annual Florida Standards Assessments. Students will take three tests periodically throughout the school year that will monitor progress of students and deliver quicker feedback on areas of improvement. But the format revisions don’t change the effect of the testing; they will still determine whether students are promoted from 3rd grade and graduating from high school, and district and school grades that are used for teacher evaluations and state recognition money. “I’ve lived in Florida for 22 years now. This will be the fifth overhaul of testing in that time. They keep changing it, but it doesn’t improve,” says Bob Schaeffer, executive of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. Palm Beach Post.

Around the nation: Mark Riddell, the former director of college entrance exam preparation at IMG Academy in Manatee County, was convicted Friday of taking college entrance exams for wealthy students and sentenced to four months in federal prison, ordered to pay $240,000 in forfeiture obligation and placed on supervised release for two years. Associated Press. At least a dozen states are working to pass laws similar to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill that prohibit classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity for students in grades K-3. NPR. Why is it so hard for American school districts to spend all the federal coronavirus aid they’ve received? The reasons why are complicated. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Deliverance from the grossly impersonal and inefficient public educational system by subsidies to parents, instead of a government school, may at first seem “the same difference.” After all, the parent’s role is every bit as undemocratic. The decisive difference is that it is also uniquely and intensely personal; the comfortable family experiences it so, as well I recall. Jack Coons, reimaginED. If a St. Johns County teacher had shown up to school wearing a shirt that said “Save the manatees” instead of “Protect Trans Kids,” I can’t imagine a parent would be “expressing concern” and the principal would be hustling to hand the teacher another T-shirt to wear immediately in order to prevent the school from being sued. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.