State says ignore feds: State school districts are being advised by Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. to disregard the U.S. Department of Education’s new guidelines extending Title IX protections to include schools’ “obligations not to discriminate based on sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation and gender identity.” If they don’t, Diaz told the districts, they may risk violating state law. “The department will not stand idly by as federal agencies attempt to impose a sexual ideology on Florida schools that risk the health, safety, and welfare of Florida students,” Diaz said, adding, “Specifically, for example, nothing in these guidance documents requires you to give biological males who identify as female access to female bathrooms, locker rooms, or dorms; to assign biological males who identify as female to female rooms on school field trips; or to allow biological males who identify as female to compete on female sports teams.” When the guidelines were issued, the U.S. Department of Education said, they “would make clear that preventing someone from participating in school programs and activities consistent with their gender identity would cause harm in violation of Title IX.” News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Politico Florida. The Hill.
Around the state: Miami-Dade County School Board members reversed their reversal on Thursday and will use sex education textbooks that some critics called inappropriate, Orange County teachers narrowly approve a contract agreement with the district, Hillsborough teachers said they’re ready to declare an impasse in contract negotiations after the district offered then bonuses but not raises, the Duval and Lee school boards approve tentative $2 billion-plus budgets, Collier’s school board will proceed with a search for a new superintendent despite protests from a group that wants the search delayed until after the election, and a state audit is critical of actions taken by the Volusia school district. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Miami-Dade: School board members decided in a 5-4 vote Thursday to reverse last week’s decision to reject the use of two health and sex-education textbooks for students in grades 6 through 12. The revote was taken after a four-hour special meeting called to discuss the implications of the decision on July 20, also approved by a 5-4 vote, which left the students without a comprehensive health education curriculum. Board chair Perla Tabares Hantman voted for the use of the textbooks Thursday after voting against them last week. She said she switched after realizing the district could be penalized for not following state teaching standards. Opponents said they weren’t against sex education, but objected to what they consider inappropriate content in the textbooks. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. The Florida Charter School Alliance’s lobbying team has cut ties with Christian Cámara after he used an image of Gov. Ron DeSantis in an ad for a school board candidate running against a woman DeSantis has endorsed. Politico Florida.
Hillsborough: Teachers union officials said Thursday they are ready to declare an impasse in contract negotiations with the district. The two sides had hoped to reach an agreement before schools open Aug. 10, but last week the district said it could offer teachers only bonuses instead of permanent raises. “Our employees are not having that,” union president Rob Kriete said at the time. “We, quite frankly, will not accept that.” Declaring an impasse would lead to hearings before a special magistrate. The next bargaining session is scheduled Aug. 4. Tampa Bay Times.
Orange: District teachers have narrowly ratified a contract agreement with the school district. Fifty-two percent voted for the deal, which includes a boost in the starting salary from $47,500 to $48,400, a cost-of-living adjustment of $900, raises of $1,800 for teachers who are rated as effective and $2,425 for those evaluated as highly effective, and increases in the supplements for teachers with advanced degrees. WKMG. WESH.
Duval: A tentative budget of $2.6 billion got the unanimous approval of the school board this week. That’s nearly $400 million, or 26 percent, above last year’s budget. About $1.1 billion of the budget will go to instructional salaries, which is 35 percent higher than last year, and additional money is needed for higher fuel costs, inflationary effects on big contracts, curriculum enrichment and more. Most of the revenue growth comes from one-time coronavirus relief aid from the federal government, and it’s largely being used to address learning loss from the pandemic. The final budget hearing is Sept. 6. Florida Times-Union.
Pinellas: Most Florida schools saw declines in student test scores during the pandemic. Midtown Academy, an elementary school in St. Petersburg, is one of the exceptions. Its 300 students improved their test scores and the school improved its grade from the state to an A from the C it received after its first year in 2019, said principal Keila Victor. WUSF.
Lee: School board members approved a tentative budget of $2.1 billion this week. Despite a rollback in the millage rate, higher property valuations will bring an extra $121.8 million to the district, said chief financial officer Ami Desamours. The board’s final vote is scheduled Sept. 7. Cape Coral Breeze. Dozens of school library books were recently found in a dumpster outside of South Fort Myers High School. School officials said the library’s floors were being replaced and the staff was recycling books that hadn’t been checked out in six years. “Through their district-issued Chromebooks, students maintain digital access to many of these books and the many more available online in their school library and the Lee County Library system,” district officials said in a statement. WBBH. Dunbar High School student Andrew Chuang Saladin recently finished second in the Microsoft Office Specialist U.S. World Championships for his mastery of Microsoft Excel Office 2016. Saladin won state, national and world championships in 2021 for his use of PowerPoint 2019. WFTX.
Volusia: A state audit of the school district concludes that hundreds of thousands of dollars were sent to unverified bank accounts in apparent overseas scams, that background checks on 5 percent of the district’s employees were not done in a timely manner, and that the district did not do the required inventory or obtain school board approval before getting rid of $200,000 in equipment such as furniture and cars. In its response, the district said it was hacked, that losses were covered by insurance, and that vendor payment process and procedures have been enhanced. WFTV.
Collier: School board members said they are moving ahead with the search for a new superintendent despite demands by the Florida Citizens Alliance to put it on pause until after the elections. “There’s plenty of time after Nov. 9 to hire a replacement for (current Superintendent Kamela) Patton, and our 48,000 students deserve much better than what’s happening right now,” said Keith Flaugh, founder of the group. “We suspect that anybody that they hire, with whatever characteristics the current school board decides now, just provides us with another woke superintendent.” School board chair Jennifer Mitchell said the search would continue. “This can take anywhere from 6-12 months,” she said. “If there are any changes in the board, they will be able to help choose the new superintendent.” WBBH.
Sarasota: The District 1 school board race pits incumbent Bridget Ziegler, a prominent conservative who helped launch the political organization Moms for Liberty, against first-time candidate Dawnyelle Singleton, who with a win would become the board’s first black member. Ziegler, 40, is seeking a third term. She supports parents’ rights in education decision and opposed face mask mandates. Singleton, 46, is critical of Ziegler for not sending her daughter to a public school, and said she decided to run because public schools are under “attack.” The primary is Aug. 23. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Alachua: All students at 33 district schools are automatically eligible for free meals during the coming school year, the federal government has told the district. Students at 17 other schools will have to apply to see if they qualify for free or reduced-price meals. WUFT. WCJB. Alachua County School District.
Flagler: Curriculum designer Courtney VandeBunte and realtor Will Furry are two of the three candidates for the District 2 seat on the school board. In an interview, they answer questions about their qualifications, their priorities if elected, whether they support the renewal of the extra half-cent sales tax, and more. The third person in the race is Lance Alred. The primary election is Aug. 23. Flagler Live. Flagler Live.
Putnam: The Putnam EDGE Charter High School in Palatka is closing its doors after nine years and its 70 students will have to find a new school, the school’s board of directors decided this week. School directors cited financial issues, test results and more for their decision. Palatka Daily News.
Levy: The boys junior varsity basketball coach at Bronson High School was arrested Wednesday and is accused of molesting and battering two players. Alachua County deputies said Billy McCall Jr., 39, inappropriately touched the boys, 15 and 14, asked them for nude photos, and threatened them if they refused. He’s charged with lewd and lascivious molestation and lewd and lascivious battery on a juvenile victim, directing a child to create a sexual performance, and using a two-way communications device to facilitate a felony. WGFL. WCJB. Mainstreet Daily News.
Colleges and universities: Hodges University in Naples is home to the new Southwest Florida Music Education Center, which is developing curriculum and expanding capacity for post-high school musical students whose brains use different processes and timing to absorb knowledge and social skills. The school is partnering with the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs of the Berklee College in Boston, and is the first such program in the United States. Naples Daily News. The University of South Florida’s Office of Supplier Diversity is tasked with making sure 13 to 20 percent of all school purchases go to local businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans. The building of an on-campus football stadium scheduled to open in 2026 will be the biggest opportunity yet for those businesses to profit from the $350 million project. Tampa Bay Times.
Budgeting issues: It’s budgeting season for Florida school districts, and most districts will have more money to work with because of federal dollars for coronavirus relief aid and higher property valuations. But there are limits on what that money can be used for, and some districts are asking voters this fall to approve new taxes to help pay for higher employee salaries, safety and security measures and enhanced academic programs. Tampa Bay Times.
Opinions on schools: School choice opponents in West Virginia recently turned to an unlikely place for help stopping school vouchers: Florida. But a closer look reveals an argument based on the 2006 case Bush v. Holmes would be on shaky constitutional ground. Patrick R. Gibbons, reimaginED. Pollution and costs make electric buses the right choice for our schools. Maria Revelles, Orlando Sentinel. Indian River County has come a long way educationally the past few decades. It has a long way to go. I’d hate to see an election derail years of progress just because some board members want their own puppet. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm.