Sex ed textbooks rejected, armed teachers, vets can teach without a degree and more

Around the state: Miami-Dade County School Board members narrowly vote to reject two sex education textbooks that critics said were inappropriate and a violation of state law, Florida is now allowing military veterans and their spouses to teach even if they don’t have degrees, some teachers will be armed when schools reopen in Okeechobee County, Hillsborough teachers say they won’t accept another year of bonuses instead of raises, the number of Florida students being home-schooled went up another 6 percent last year, students and teachers continue to testify about the horrors they saw during the Parkland school shooting, the prices of school meals are increasing in Sarasota schools this fall, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist follows Gov. Ron DeSantis in taking the unusual step of endorsing local school board candidates, and a Santa Rosa County School Board candidate said doctors who give hormone shots to children to help them transition genders should be hanged. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: After hearing emotionally charged comments from parents and hours of discussion, school board members voted 5-4 to reverse an earlier decision to adopt two new sex education textbooks for the 2022-2023 school year. Speakers argued that the material in the books was not age-appropriate and violated the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law. The vote leaves the district without a sexual education curriculum for at least four to eight months. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ.

Broward: Students and teachers continued Wednesday to describe in graphic detail the horror of the 2018 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by Nikolas Cruz. They testified about trying to hide and using their backpacks as shields, the devastating injuries caused by bullets from Cruz’s AR-15 rifle, the acts of heroism by some teachers and students, and bodies lying on the floor. Testimony is expected to continue today. Cruz confessed to the crimes last year, and the jury will decide whether to recommend that he be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WLRN. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. WPTV.  Summarizing what happened Wednesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. School board members delayed making a decision to approve a five-day suspension for a Stranahan High School teacher who is accused of sexually harassing students. A 10-day suspension had been recommended, but that was cut in half by Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. Several school board members expressed unhappiness with the process and the superintendent. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: District officials are offering teachers a one-year contract with bonuses instead of pay raises, an offer that drew criticism from union officials. “Our employees are not having that,” said union president Rob Kriete. “We, quite frankly, will not accept that.” District officials said they are still trying to work through a financial recovery plan that resulted in deficits and a weakening of reserves. Both sides had hoped to reach a contract agreement before the first day of school Aug. 10. The next bargaining session is scheduled July 28. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Demensio Barton, who is challenging incumbent Teresa Jacobs for the school board chair seat, contends that a pre-election mailing from Election Supervisor Bill Cowles contained “misinformation” that could confuse voters unaffiliated with a political party and cause them to skip the Aug. 23 primary election. The mailing contained answers to frequently asked questions, including, “Can a person vote for someone in a party-primary contest if they are not registered as a voter of that party?” Cowles said the answer is no. Barton contends that’s confusing. Cowles said no confusion is likely, though the sample ballots that are mailed in August will contain “clarifying” information. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV.

Palm Beach: School board members have approved a proposal to buy an emergency alert system that gives every employee an identification badge with an attached panic button that can immediately alert police and provide the location for an emergency. School officials have been using a phone app as a panic alarm. More than half of the district’s 202 schools will have the badges by Aug. 10. The cost is $2.1 million for the first year and $1.3 million for each of the remaining four years of the contract with Centegix. Sun-Sentinel. School board members renewed the district’s contract with the Palm Beach County Health Care District to provide nurses in schools, despite questions from several board members about the service the district has been receiving. WPTV. Tronneal Mangum, who shot a 7th-grade classmate at Conniston Middle School in West Palm Beach in 1997, is being released from prison on parole. Mangum was 14 when he killed John-Pierre Kamel in a dispute over a wristwatch. Palm Beach Post.

Pinellas: Educators Keesha Benson and Carl Zimmermann and personal trainer and school volunteer Dawn Peters are running for the at-large District 3 school board seat that is being vacated by Nicole Carr. Benson wants the school system to deliver a safe, equitable, diverse and accountable education. Peters supports Gov. DeSantis’ education agenda and wants better access to the board for parents. Zimmermann would push the district to adopt application-based learning that gets students to solve problems through interactive and realistic exercises. Tampa Bay Times. Nine candidates for school board seats discussed and debated issues such as school safety, teacher retention and parental involvement at a recent community forum. St. Pete Catalyst.

Lee: A candidate for the District 4 school board seat confirmed this week that he was court-martialed in the U.S. Army in 1993, served six months in confinement and was discharged for bad conduct. Jason Jones said, “I made a bad decision trying to help a friend back in the military days,” and that he is not the man he was almost 30 years ago. Jones, Dan Severson and Gerri Ware are challenging incumbent Debbie Jordan. WBBH.

Pasco: An F grade given by the state to West Zephyrhills Elementary School has forced a change in leadership that led to several other moves for principals. Even though Scott Atkins led the school off the state’s watch list, the F on top of the D grades it got in 2016 and 2017 put the school under state rules that require a change of principals. Christina Twardosz, who had been reassigned in May to run Mittye P. Locke Elementary, will now take over West Zephyrhills instead. Atkins will become the principal at Odessa Elementary, and the shuffling also puts new principals at Locke and Cypress. Tampa Bay Times. The three candidates for the District 1 school board seat, Al Hernandez, Stephen Meisman, and James Washington, answered questions about the property tax referendum, electing or appointing a superintendent, how to improve public schools declining a letter grade, parental rights and more at a recent community forum. Suncoast News.

Sarasota: Students will pay more for school meals this fall. Breakfast prices are going up by 50 cents to $1.50 for elementary students and by 75 cents to $2 for middle and high school students. All lunches will cost 50 cents more. That puts the costs at $2.75 for elementary students, $3 for middle-schoolers and $3.25 for high school students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Okaloosa, Walton: Okaloosa county commissioners have agreed to be the “conduit issuer” of up to $14 million in bonds to finance the finance the expansion of the existing campus at the Destin High School charter school. The school opened last August for 310 students in grades 9 through 11, and already has 475 enrolled for the coming school year with a waiting list. The bonds will help pay for a 25,500-square-foot building that will allow the school to grow to 800 students in grades 9-12. Northwest Florida Daily News. Six schools in Okaloosa and one in Walton County will have new principals when classes begin next month. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Leon: Candidates for the District 1 school board seat talked about the district’s LGBTQ guide, critical race theory, segregation, teacher salaries and more in a recent community forum. Alva Striplin is the incumbent in the race, and is being challenged by Marianne Arbulu and Anthony DeMarco. WFSU.

Alachua: A “Family Empowerment Summit” will be staged Aug. 8 by the school district to provide parents and students information about such issues as youth mental health, student behavior, attendance and more. Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman for the school district, said the primary focus will be school attendance. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: A candidate for the District 3 seat on the school board said doctors who prescribe hormone blockers to children transitioning from one gender to another should be hanged. Alisabeth Janai Lancaster, who is challenging incumbent Carol Boston, said, “These doctors that are going along with mutilating these children and prescribing hormone blockers to these kids, in my opinion, they should be hanging from the nearest tree.” Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Flagler: School board members voted unanimously this week to renew funding for the Flagler Youth Orchestra for an 18th year. Board members Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright had questioned the economic model of the program, but said they were surprised their questions led some people to believe that they did not want to continue it. The program gets $70,000 a year from the district, which pays for five music teachers and the program director. Flagler Live.

Okeechobee: There are teachers in the school district who are acting as school guardians and have been since the 2018-2019 school year, district officials confirmed, though they won’t say who they are, how many there are or what schools they teach in. The armed teachers are volunteers and have been trained by sheriff’s deputies. Each school also has an armed school resource officer. “The quicker you can respond the more lives you can save and so that’s why I think it’s very important for us to be able to have that additional backup on a school campus so that we can react very quickly,” said Superintendent Ken Kenworthy. WPEC.

Teaching qualifications: Military veterans and their spouses will be eligible for temporary teaching certificates even if they don’t have college degrees, according to a recent decision by the Florida Department of Education. Veterans interested in teaching can get five-year vouchers allowing them to teach in classrooms. They must have a minimum of 48 months of military service completed with honorable/medical discharge, and a teaching mentor. “There are many people who have gone through many hoops and hurdles to obtain a proper teaching certificate,” said Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County teachers union. “(Educators) are very dismayed that now someone with just a high school education can pass the test and can easily get a five-year temporary certificate.” Gainesville Sun.

School board endorsements: Gov. DeSantis has taken the unusual step of endorsing 26 school candidates around the state who have pledged to be “pro-parent” and support his education initiatives. Now one of his Democratic challengers, Charlie Crist, is following suit by announcing his support for seven board candidates, saying, “Florida deserves dedicated public servants on our school boards that won’t inject politics into the classroom, but rather work every day to fight for the best interests of our students and educators.” Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida.

Florida home-schooling growth: The number of Florida students home-schooled during the 2021-2022 academic year was up 6 percent, according to a Florida Department of Education report. Last year the increase was 35 percent, and since the 2011-2012 school year the number of students home-schooled has grown from 72,408 to 152,109, an increase of 110 percent. Hillsborough has the most home-school students in the state with 13,641, while Broward is next with 10,412 and Palm Beach has 9,687. reimaginED.

Education conversation: Ben DeGrow, the new policy director for education choice at ExcelinEd, explains in an interview how he got into the education field, then moved into public policy work. That led him into the school choice movement, where he became an advocate for education savings accounts, hybrid models, microschools and more. reimaginED.

Opinion on schools: Gov. DeSantis wants his political foot soldiers to take over Florida school boards. He should have armed them with more than unfounded anger. Randy Schultz, Sun-Sentinel. By wading into local elections, Gov. DeSantis may have created something that one day he won’t be able to control. These races will attract more people who want to use school board meetings to howl at the moon. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

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