Trial set in law challenge, two more teacher of year finalists named, more books flagged, and more

Trial set over controversial law: The trial in the lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law will begin Feb. 13, a federal judge has ruled. The law restricts teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity, and is the target of a lawsuit filed by a group of plaintiffs that include the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, parents, students and a teacher. The suit contends the law violates constitutional free-speech, equal-protection rights, and due-process rights because of its “vagueness.” News Service of Florida.

Teacher of year finalists: Educators from Manatee and Sarasota counties have been chosen as finalists for the Florida Department of Education’s state teacher of the year award. Deelah Jackson, a 4th-grade teacher at Samoset Elementary School in Bradenton, and Jennifer Jaso, a 6th-grade social studies teacher at Sarasota Middle School, join Seema Naik, a 4th-grade teacher at Eagle Ridge Elementary School in Broward County, as three of the five finalists. The winner will be announced July 14. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTSP. Bradenton Herald. WWSB. WWSB. Florida Department of Education. Florida Department of Education.

Around the state: Some parents in St. Johns County want 56 books removed from school libraries over “inappropriate” content, a petition drive has started in Brevard County to rename Andrew Jackson Middle School in Titusville, Sarasota school board members approve extra spending for legal fees incurred over the fight with the state about face mask mandates,  Alachua school board members give the interim superintendent a contract through June 2024, a regional chancellor has been hired for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, and a Hillsborough County teacher is being called a hero for saving a choking student in her class. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Vivian Gonzalez, an orchestra magnet teacher at the Miami Arts Studio at Zelda Glazer, is one of just 30 U.S. music teachers to receive a Music Teacher of Excellence award from the Country Music Association Foundation. “We have had really great success with this program and it’s because we give access an opportunity to all of our students to have high-quality music education and access to instruments,” she said. WFOR.

Broward: Twenty-six prospective jurors have advanced so far to the third round of jury selection in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. Jury selection resumes Monday. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: The school district’s first Montessori program will open this fall at Essrig Elementary School in Tampa. The school will accept no more than 54 students, based on a lottery, in programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, and kindergartners. More grades are expected to be added in the future. “This is all about individualized development,” said Superintendent Addison Davis. “There’s a lot of concentrated private institutions that offer Montessori, and we want to be an option for our parents as well, where they choose Hillsborough County Public Schools.” WFLA. WTVT. A 4th-grade teacher at Summerfield Elementary School in Riverview is being called a hero for saving a student’s life last week. Wendy Barnes said she noticed a 9-year-old boy choking and struggling to breathe during state testing. She used the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a mint that had become stuck in the boy’s throat.  WFTS. WFLA.

Orange: Construction has begun on a permanent home in Washington Shores for one of central Florida’s oldest charter schools. Legends Academy has been holding classes in portable classrooms. The school, which now has an enrollment of 350, will focus on STEM subjects and ultimately intends to enroll up to 560 K-8 students. “We’re going to scale up over a period of three to five years,” said Legends executive director Jennifer Porter-Smith. WFTV.

Duval: A local charter school network has announced plans for an August opening of a charter high school on the west side of Jacksonville. San Jose Early College at Cecil will offer up to 275 students college preparation courses, dual-enrollment to earn college credits, and industry certifications and paid work experience in career academies. Clay Today.

Pasco: A high school social studies teacher has been arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. Deputies said Skyler Seidenberg, 30, who works at Sunlake High School, faces a felony charge of an authority figure soliciting or engaging in sexual conduct with a student. Seidenberg and the girl had consensual sex three times at his home, according to deputies. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Brevard: Some members of the community have started a petition drive to have Andrew Jackson Middle School in Titusville renamed. Marcus Hochman, an Oak Park Elementary teacher and resident of Titusville, cites Jackson’s history of owning slaves and his role in the Trail of Tears, which forcibly displaced about 60,000 native Americans between 1830 and 1850 for the petition drive. Three community meetings will be held on the request before the school board makes a final decision this summer. Florida Today. Moms for Liberty’s push to ban Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five from school libraries is based on a scene of bestiality, profanity, crudely drawn breasts and a dig at Christianity from an alien visitor. Teachers who use the book in Advanced Placement classes, however, see an opportunity for students to read an anti-war novel written by someone who has seen horrors of battle firsthand. “It’s one of the best exercises in close reading I could ever give a student,” said Adam Tritt, a longtime AP teacher at Bayside High School in Palm Bay. “It is humorous. It is fascinating. It is true.” Florida Today.

St. Johns: Parents have identified 56 books they want removed from school library shelves because they say they’re “inappropriate” for children. “I believe that we have a very serious issue regarding library book content in our county,” said Jean Moore, who filed 49 of the 56 objections. “There is so much sex and violence at every turn in our culture, parents should feel confident that their children are in a safe zone at school.” School board members will meet next week to review seven of the books. WJXT.

Sarasota: School board members have approved spending $136,639.50 more for legal fees than originally budgeted for the 2021-2022 school year. District officials attributed the increase to the battle with the state over the district’s face mask mandate for students, and called it an “extraordinary circumstance.” Superintendent Brennan Asplen also told board members that the state has approved K-5 math textbooks from McGraw-Hill, so the district will proceed with the purchase. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WUSF.

Marion: Fourteen more high school graduations are scheduled at various locations in the county between Friday and June 4. Three private schools held their commencement ceremonies earlier this month. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: The school district’s first choice for math textbooks for K-5 students, initially rejected by the state for failing to meet state standards or containing “prohibited material,” has finally gotten the state’s approval. “Between last month’s board meeting, when we had to pull it  because the state published their list and they weren’t on it and today, the state has since approved it,” said Steve Marcanio, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The district’s first choice for its honors probability and statistics course has also been approved after being rejected initially. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: Interim superintendent Shane Andrews has been given a contract through June 30, 2024. He’ll received $175,000 a year plus an $800-a-month car allowance. He replaced Carlee Simon, who was fired in March. WCJB. Parents and other residents who can’t attend school board meetings in person will now be able to call in with questions and comments. Board members agreed to spend $7,000 for nine months of the service. WCJB.

Santa Rosa: School officials have begun planning to build two schools on a 150-acre parcel in the East Milton area to accommodate projected enrollment growth. One would be a high school, said Joey Harrell, assistant superintendent for administrative services, and the other could be a traditional K-5, a middle school or a K-8 school. County commissioners must approve the conditional use request to put the school there. The property sale is contingent on commissioners’ approval.. Pensacola News Journal.

Monroe: The Treasure Village Montessori School will add four modular arts classrooms after getting a conditional use permit from the Islamorada Village Council. In return, the school agreed to cap enrollment at 220. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Christian Hardigree, the founding dean of the School of Hospitality at Metropolitan State University of Denver, has been named regional chancellor of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. Hardigree, 51, beat out two other finalists to replace outgoing regional chancellor Martin Tadlock, and begins work July 1. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Florida Politics. Gloria Walker, the chief financial officer and vice president for business affairs at the University of New Orleans for the past two years, has been named chief financial officer and vice president for finance and administration at Florida A&M University. She begins her new job June 3. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Polytechnic University will begin offering master’s degrees in data science and engineering management this fall. Lakeland Ledger. An arbitrator has ruled that the University of Central Florida wrongly fired associate professor of psychology Charles Negy last year for alleged misconduct, and ordered him reinstated. WKMG. WOFL. Steven Kistulentz, an associate professor at Saint Leo University in Pasco County, has been arrested and accused of sending and receiving child pornography. WTSP. WFTS.

Opinions on schools: School choice is the answer to providing students from all backgrounds, not just Hispanics, a level playing field. Families need bold action from both political parties to act for the future of education in America. Valeria Gurr, Washington Examiner. Carrying a fulltime academic load to qualify for many forms of educational aid is the other higher education financing problem. Paul Vasquez, Orlando Sentinel.