Diaz backed unanimously by BOE to run DOE, 17 math textbooks now approved by state, and more

Diaz taking over at DOE: The state’s first Hispanic education commissioner was confirmed unanimously Friday by the Florida Board of Education. State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., a Republican from Hialeah Gardens, was appointed April 21 by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace Richard Corcoran, who announced in March that he was resigning at the end of April. “I think your priorities are very much in sync with those of this board,” said BOE chair Tom Grady. Diaz has worked as a teacher and administrator in public schools, and for a college that offers courses to charter school students. He’s a strong supporter of educational choice, but also said Friday that “public schools are important — they’re incredibly important. We’re going to focus on the whole thing.” Diaz begins the job June 1, after the special legislative session for property insurance that begins May 23. Until then, K-12 school chancellor Jacob Oliva will be the interim commissioner. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. WKMG. Florida Department of Education. Diaz talks about his appointment as education commissioner and his philosophy. WPLG.

More books approved: The Florida Department of Education announced on its website Friday that it has now approved 17 math textbooks that had previously been rejected for not meeting state academic standards or for containing “woke content.” Neither the state nor the publishers have provided any details about how the textbooks were changed to gain state approval. Florida Politics. WJXT. Why textbooks were rejected for containing examples of social emotional learning is puzzling to educators, who point out that another law signed by Gov. DeSantis says students should learn “life skills that build confidence, support mental and emotional health, and enable students to overcome challenges.” Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: A federal judge has set a hearing June 21 to consider a request to block a new Florida law that would limit the way race-related issues can be taught in schools and in workplace training, Santa Rosa County’s teacher of the year has died of cancer at the age of 37, a Republican candidate for a Florida House seat has been appointed to finish the term of a Broward school board member who resigned last year, Pasco school employees resume salary negotiations with the district today after failing to reach an agreement last week, and a “Lunch Lady Squad” has been a viral hit at a Palm Beach County middle school. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Daniel Foganholi, a Coral Springs design consultant and a Republican candidate for the District 97 seat in the Florida House, has been appointed by Gov. DeSantis to replace Rosalind Osgood on the school board. Osgood resigned in November to make a run for the Florida Senate. Foganholi will hold the District 5 seat until Osgood’s term ends later this year. Five candidates have filed to run in November for the seat. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics. The state’s new Parental Rights in Education law prohibits instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation in K-3, and can restrict instruction for older students too. A review of the specifics of the law shows that it will wipe out most of the south Florida school districts’ “student support guides” that help teachers deal with LGBTQ-related issues in classes and after-school activities. Sun Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Lunch workers at Wellington Landings Middle School have become a viral sensation with their TikTok videos of their dance moves. The “Lunch Lady Squad” started by making morning announcements and then branched into the videos. “I said, hey guys, you know what? Why don’t we do a TikTok and see how the students like that,” said Cori Kerezman, the cafeteria manager. “So we did our first one and they went insane.” Now, she said, “They ask all the time, when are you doing another one? It really has brought us closer to the students, for sure.” WFLX.

Polk: Members of the County Citizens Defending Freedom organization are putting pressure on school board members over the district’s decision against removing certain books from school libraries. The group identified 16 books that it said are pornographic or contain material inappropriate for children. Superintendent Frederick Heid appointed two book review committees, which have recommended keeping the 12 books they have reviewed so far. District official say school board members typically vote only on curriculum and instructional materials, while individual schools select media center and library materials. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A 9th-grader at North Fort Myers High School has been arrested and accused of having a knife on campus and making threats to stab some of her classmates. A school resource officer reportedly found the knife and pepper spray in the girl’s bag. WFTX. WINK.

Pasco: The union representing about 8,700 school employees and district negotiators were unable to reach a contract agreement last week, and talks continue today. The issue is over pay raises. Thursday, the district offered what it called its “best and final” offer of 4 percent bonuses but no raises to workers’ base pay. Workers contend that if the district can’t commit to raises, it should increase the bonuses to 5 percent. School board members agreed last month to ask voters to approve a special school tax of 1 mill per $1,000 in taxable property value. The revenue would be used to improve employee pay. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT.

Brevard: The number of home-schooled students in the county has risen by 63 percent since the 2018-2019 school year, from 1,062 to 1,732, according to school district records. That’s meant $13.5 million less in state funding for the district, resulting in budget cuts to deal with rising costs and increased financial mandates imposed by the Legislature. Florida Today.

Sarasota: Michelle Miller, chosen last fall as the district’s assistant principal of the year for her work at Glenallen Elementary School in North Port, has been named the principal for Gulf Gate Elementary in Sarasota. She replaces the retiring Robin Magac. Sarasota magazine.

Clay: County commissioners voted to put the renewal of a school tax survey before voters Nov. 8. It was approved by voters in 2018 and expires in 2023. If the issue is approved, revenue will be used for school safety and security. Clay Today.

Leon: A 17-year-old student was arrested Friday after administrators said they found a handgun in his book bag at Rickards High School. The student was charged with possession of a firearm on campus and grand theft of a firearm. It’s at least the 11th arrest this school year of a student with a weapon on campus. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: School officials are working to reduce class sizes at four schools that exceed the state’s core class-size requirements. Oak View Middle, Howard Bishop Middle, Mebane Middle and Buchholz High are all out of compliance, and could result in a loss of some state funding. “The short answer is to hire some more teachers,” said Howard Bishop Middle School principal Michael Gamble. “What we really need to pay attention to is the long-term impact of this and the stress that we’re putting on teachers and schools.” WUFT.

Santa Rosa: Zack Butler, who was chosen in January as the school district’s teacher of the year, died last month of cancer. He was 37 years old. “Zack Butler was an amazing teacher and wonderful person,” said Superintendent Karen Barber. “He loved his students and was committed to fostering each child’s potential. Zack was one of the most positive people I have had the pleasure to know. His love for his students and his colleagues will be a legacy for many years to come.” WEAR.

Taylor: Money from donations and two fund-raisers has been used to buy a book vending machine for Taylor County Primary School. “We decided that the book vending machine would be a great way to foster the behaviors that we’re looking for and the learning process also,” said 2nd-grade teacher Pam Blue, who spearheaded the drive. WTXL.

Race instruction law: Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has scheduled a hearing June 21 on a request to block a new Florida law that would limit the way race-related issues can be taught in schools and in workplace training. Five plaintiffs contend the law violates First Amendment rights, in part by preventing teachers and employers from using race-related ideas. News Service of Florida.

Money for reading initiative: Corporate donations to the state’s reading initiative have reached $50 million. The New Worlds Reading Initiative sends free books to struggling K-5 readers. More than 130,000 students have registered in the program. Mainstreet Daily News.

Around the nation: Despite the partisan arguments about some education issues, most U.S. parents say they are happy with their child’s school, according to a survey by NPR and Ipsos. Education was behind only inflation and crime as parents’ top concerns, but 88 percent of those polled agree that “my child’s teacher(s) have done the best they could, given the circumstances around the pandemic.” And 82 percent agree “my child’s school has handled the pandemic well.” NPR. Enrollment losses caused by the pandemic are pinching budgets of school districts across the United States. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: With Manny Diaz as education commissioner, working with reformers in both parties and both houses of the Legislature, and a generation of parents extremely motivated to build out new, flexible educational choices for all, we could see a renaissance in Florida’s education system in the next few years. Skyler Zander, Sun Sentinel. University of Florida alumni and students need to push back against political interference in university operations if they want to protect the value of their degrees. Gainesville Sun. Imagine how much more effective public school teachers could be if they worked in conditions in which their professional expertise and judgement were recognized, highly regarded and rewarded. Pamela Sissi Carroll, Orlando Sentinel. This censorship crusade is obviously a contrivance of cranks. Once, they would be ignored. But this stuff thrives lately in a Florida ruled by a political opportunist, happy to exploit parental frustrations spawned by the pandemic. Fred Grimm, Sun Sentinel. I’m a gay kindergarten teacher in Florida. How can I have frank, open conversations with my students about the world around them without being in danger of losing my job? Cory Bernhaert, NBC News. It is time to take educational policy out of the hands of legislators and give teachers, like other professionals, the power to guide and monitor themselves. Susan E. Strauss, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff