Battle over new civics curriculum, school board ballot questions, chancellor resigning, and more

DeSantis pushes back on civics: After some south Florida and Duval teachers said this week that the state’s training for educators to teach the new standards for civics education is laced with Christian and conservative viewpoints, Gov. Ron DeSantis praised the program. At a press conference Thursday in Sanford, the governor said the state is “unabashedly promoting civics and history that is accurate and that is not trying to push an ideological agenda. … You’re learning the real history, you’re learning the real facts, but it’s not going to be done in a way that’s trying to indoctrinate students with whatever modern agenda that somebody may have.” USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics. WKMG. WFTV.

Around the state: Questions are being raised in two school districts over the eligibility of school board candidates, state university system chancellor Marshall Criser announces he’ll resign when his contract ends in December, St. Johns County School Board members approve borrowing $90 million to help build three K-8 schools in the two years, Citrus County School Board members sign off on a contract with the University of Florida for athletic trainers at each of the three high schools, some LGBTQ students and teachers say their fears about the impact of the Parental Rights in Education law are starting to happen, more school districts are issuing reports on Florida Standards Assessments testing results, and Florida educators are considering loosening up rules governing religious expression in school settings after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the subject this week. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A hybrid microschool program is being launched this fall in Miami that combines online lectures, virtual collaboration for students with their peers in a club-like setting, and in-person lessons. Primer Microschools will open for about 100 students in grades 3-6 at six locations after a successful pilot program last summer. The founders are Ian Bravo, who worked for Teach for America and as a teacher and administrator for the KIPP charter schools network, and Ryan Delk, a University of Florida graduate who became a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. A typical school day consists of team-building, mindfulness activities such as yoga, core academic subjects, and time for students’ “passion projects.” reimaginED.

Broward: A 51-year-old father of three who can’t work for the school district or volunteer at his children’s school because he’s been convicted of a felony is a candidate for the school board’s District 1 seat this fall. Rod Velez was convicted of aggravated battery in 1995, but said he was defending himself and his then-girlfriend and took a plea deal to avoid prison time. His opponents, teacher Marie Murray Martin and pastor Paul Wiggins, question whether Velez, who works as a property manager, is eligible to run. But in 2019, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill that allowed felons who have done their timer to have their voting rights restored, which also makes him eligible to run. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: An app that the school district will use this fall to track the locations of school buses has some parents concerned about their privacy. They contend that the Here Comes the Bus app will allow schools, app makers or even hackers to track their children. “We don’t want their private information, our locations, addresses, places they visit to be out there,” said parent Marianne Gonzales. WTVT. A man has been indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in the late May death of a 3rd-grade math and science teacher at Cypress Creek Elementary in Ruskin. Authorities said Matthew Terry, 47, stabbed his girlfriend Kay Baker, 43, the mother of two boys, during an argument after an evening out. Tampa Bay Times.

Pinellas: School board chair Eileen Long is asking for a review of the leadership at Tarpon Springs High School after a school year in which four assistant principals and two-dozen teachers, including the current school teacher of the year, resigned. “It’s really getting disheartening,” said Long, a retired teacher. “There’s got to be something wrong. What is it?” Several of those who resigned went on record to blame principal Leza Fatolitis for the turnover. Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: Two candidates for the District 1 school board seat say a third candidate lives outside the district and should not be allowed on the ballot. Al Hernandez, a Humana executive and Pasco-Hernando State College trustee who has the support of many established political leaders, says he bought a house in the district and intends to live there, but it’s being renovated and is currently uninhabitable. His opponents, Steve Meisman and James Washington, say state law requires candidates to live in the district they’re running to represent “at the time she or he qualifies.” No formal complaint has been made to the supervisor of elections. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: Margaret “Peg” Smith, the district’s school superintendent from 2004 until she retired in 2015, died June 18 in Port Orange. Before moving to Florida, Smith was a state superintendent of the year in Pennsylvania and later the state secretary of education. While leading the Volusia school district, she was chosen as Florida superintendent of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Johns: The school board approved a plan this week to borrow $90 million to help build three K-8 schools that would open in the fall of 2024. School NN will be in the Shearwater development and have capacity for 1,500 students. School PP is in the RiverTown development, would have a capacity of about 1,100 students and is likely to transition to become a middle school after another school is built in the development. School OO will be in Beacon Lake and have an enrollment of about 1,500 students. The total cost of construction is estimated at $192.6 million. Other sources of funding include impact fees, proportionate share mitigation, property tax revenue and revenue from other certificates of participation. St. Augustine Record.

Citrus: School board members approved a contract with the University of Florida to provide an athletic trainer at each of the district’s three high schools and one to float among middle schools during the 2022-2023 school year, at a cost of $258,601. The contract does not guarantee a trainer will be at every high school athletic event, but one will be on call when student-athletes are injured and need treatment. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Florida’s state university system chancellor for the past eight years, Marshall Criser, announced at Thursday’s Board of Governors meeting that he is stepping down when his contract expires in December. Gov. DeSantis is reportedly recommending that state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, replace Criser. Rodrigues recently announced he would not run for re-election amid speculation that he was in line for a job in the DeSantis administration. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The Board of Governors approved the appointment of former University of South Florida business dean Moez Limayem as the seventh president of the University of North Florida. He replaces David Szymanski, who resigned last year, and begins Aug. 1. WJCT. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. WJXT. Seminole State College in Sanford will begin offering new bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and exceptional student education in the fall. WOFL. Florida Gulf Coast University faculty members have rejected the school’s latest contract offer, which proposes no raise this year, 2 percent hikes next year and $1,500 bonuses. WBBH.

Effects of new law: When the Parental Rights in Education bill passed, LGBTQ activists warned that it and the rhetoric that often accompanied it would lead to censorship of their voices and embolden some to harass queer students and those who support them. In a dozen or so cases in Florida school districts, that’s exactly what has happened. The law, which goes into effect today, specifically bars instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity for students in grades K-3. The state is still developing guidelines on what is considered age appropriate for older students. USA Today Florida Network. WPTV. WPLG. WESH.

Religion and schools: The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this week that it was constitutional for a Washington state football coach to pray on the 50-yard line after games has educators around Florida considering loosening up rules governing religious expression in school settings. Tampa Bay Times.

FSA test results: More reports from school districts on how their students in grades 3-10 did on the Florida Standards Assessments math and language arts exams in the spring. Miami Herald. Florida Times-Union. Palm Beach Post. Fort Myers News-Press. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gainesville Sun. WUSF. Lakeland Now. Florida Department of Education.

Opinions on schools: If there isn’t a drastic change in how young people are educated, even more of them will be left behind, unqualified to perform in the workplace. If students can’t read, it’s foolhardy to think they will be able to compete for jobs in industries like construction, which is turning to technology due to widespread labor shortages, inefficient productivity and jobsite safety. James F. Lawrence, Gainesville Sun. Fewer 7th and 8th-graders took algebra 1 during the pandemic, and fewer still passed the end-of-course FSA exam. From this, we can conclude that Florida’s STEM pipeline hasn’t yet recovered from the pandemic. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. We believe that the controversies over the University of Florida’s COVID response and accusations of political influence on academic freedom, research integrity and faculty hiring and tenure have been shown to have no merit. UF’s David Bloom and Kent Fuchs, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff