Part of Stop WOKE Act temporarily struck down, state backs school’s prayer challenge, and more

Judge hits Stop WOKE bill: A federal judge on Thursday granted a temporary injunction against a portion of a new state law that restricts the use of critical race theory in workplace training. The bill was approved in the Legislature this spring and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who frequently refers to it as the “Stop-WOKE” Act. It expands the state’s anti-discrimination laws to bar schools and companies from assigning guilt or blame to students and employees based on race or sex. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the law violates the First Amendment rights of businesses and called it a policy “bordering on unintelligible.” He wrote, “If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case. But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents. Because, without justification, the (bill) attacks ideas, not conduct, (the businesses) are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of this lawsuit.” The state is expected to appeal. Also on Thursday, the ACLU and Legal Defense Fund filed another lawsuit against the legislation on behalf of students and educators. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Florida Phoenix. WFSU.

State backs prayer challenge: The Florida Department of Education has thrown its support to a Tampa Christian school that sued the Florida High School Athletic Association for denying its request to broadcast a prayer over the public address system during a state championship football game in 2015. In April, a district judge denied Cambridge Christian School’s argument that the FHSAA decision was a violation of its First Amendment rights. The school has appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, and was backed this week by the DOE. Its supporting brief read, in part, that the FHSAA “completely disregarded core First Amendment principles when it refused to allow Cambridge Christian School to pray over the loudspeaker at its 2015 championship game solely because of the religious message of the prayer, even though secular, non-governmental messages were allowed.” State law gives the nonprofit FHSAA the responsibility for governing high school sports. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A private Christian school in Hillsborough County is asking gay, transgender and gender nonconforming students to leave immediately, a still-unreleased statewide grand jury report on the 2018 Parkland school shooting is hanging over Tuesday’s school board elections in Broward, a judge has ruled that a Seminole County School Board candidate will remain on the ballot, signs have been posted at every Gulf County school warning would-be shooters that there are armed employees inside and that “any attempt to harm children will be met with deadly force,” Orlando airport officials want to open a charter school and day-care on site for employees, and school board elections in several districts are previewed. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Six school board seats are on Tuesday’s ballot, but hanging over the election is the still-unreleased report from the statewide grand jury that investigated the district after the 2018 Parkland school shooting. In June, a court filing revealed that the grand jury would recommend that some school board members be removed from office. But which members won’t be known until the report is released. Five of the board’s nine current members were in office in 2018, although not all are running for re-election. WLRN. The judge in the Parkland school shooting case ruled Thursday that the brother and a friend of gunman Nikolas Cruz must answer questions asked of them by prosecutors. Both had objected, contending that the questions were inappropriate. Also cleared to testify is Cruz’s sister. Opening statements by defense attorney are scheduled for Monday. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Students at a private Christian school in Valrico are being asked to leave immediately if they are gay, transgender, or gender nonconforming, according to an e-mail to parents from the school. Barry McKeen, the administrator at Grace Christian School, also said the school will refer to students only by their sex assigned at birth. He cited several Bible scriptures in announcing the decision. NBC News. WFLA. Nearly two-dozen district schools that had been struggling and placed in the district’s Transformation Network reported improved grades from the state this year. Palm River Elementary School took the biggest step forward, improving from an F grade in recent years to a B this year. Only five of the lowest-performing schools are still failing to meet the standards set by the state. Bay News 9. A 17-year-old Lennard High School student was arrested Thursday for allegedly having a gun in his truck at school, according to deputies. The gun was discovered after an 18-year-old friend of the student accidentally shot himself in the leg with it. He’s in stable condition. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS.

Orange: Orlando International Airport officials are considering starting a charter school and day-care for workers. “We’re going to model this school on a charter school at The Villages, which has just gotten extraordinarily excellent report cards,” said John Evans, a member of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority board that oversees the airport. Evans said he’d like to get the school open in four years. WOFL. WFTV.

Palm Beach: Fourteen candidates are running for four open seats on the school board, including incumbents for three of the positions, in Tuesday’s primary. In races where no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top vote-getters will meet again in the Nov. 8 runoff. Candidates in each of the races recently answered questions about their top priorities, how they’re qualified, parental involvement in schools, the shortage of teachers and other employees, and any changes they’d like to see in school safety and the district’s police department. In District 3, incumbent Karen Brill is being challenged by Connor Frontera, Bailey Lashells and Kristen Stevenson. In District 4, Angelique Contreras is running against board member Erica Whitfield. Four candidates are trying to unseat Marcia Andrews in District 6: Jeff Browning, V. Deanne Ewers, Jennifer Showalter and Amanda Silvestri. In District 7, Debra Robinson decided not to run for re-election, leaving Edwin Ferguson, Christopher Persaud and Corey Smith competing for the seat. WPEC.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid defended his new opt-out policy on 16 challenged school library books even as a Lakeland activist has threatened to file police reports against anyone who distributes them. The new policy allows parents to designate any book as off-limits to their children. That doesn’t satisfy Robert Goodman of the group County Citizens Defending Freedom, who said at this week’s school board meeting that putting the 16 books back on the shelves was a “blatant” violation of state law. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland Now.

Lee: The school district has received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund farm-to-school projects and expand school gardens so they can provide food for school cafeterias. The grant will help the district export what Island Coast High School has done with its the Academy of Natural Resources to other schools. Island Coast has a hydroponics farm with fish and plants. “Here at Island Coast, they have been the model school to help us learn how to do that and they are going to continue teaching other schools how to do that as well,” said Susie Hassett, environmental education resource teacher for the district. WFTX.

Pasco: A 15-year-old Anclote High School student has been arrested and accused of threatening to kill a classmate. Deputies said the threat was directed at one student. WFLA.

Seminole: A judge ruled Thursday that Autumn Garick will remain on the ballot next Tuesday as a candidate for the District 5 school board seat. Opponent Dana Fernandez had argued that Garick was still living in her District 2 house when she qualified for the District 5 election. But Judge Jessica Recksiedler said Garock had established residency in District 5 by both renting a home and building a home there. Fernandez said she would appeal the decision. Orlando Sentinel. A mother was killed and her daughter injured when they were hit by lightning Thursday shortly after dismissal from Keeth Elementary School in Winter Springs. Police said they were waiting in nearby Trotwood Park for another student when they were struck. The child is expected to recover. WOFL. WFTV. WKMG. WESH.

Collier: Voters who go to the polls this year will receive an “I voted” sticker designed by Oscar Andablo, an 8th grader at Eat Naples Middle School. It features an alligator dressed as Uncle Sam waving an American flag with fireworks in the background. It was chosen over about 200 other entries. “(His selection) makes me feel like a very good person. There’s like billions and billions of people out there, and I’m the person that, you know, came first,” he said. “It means a lot to me.” Naples Daily News.

Escambia: Parents who want to learn new skills to help their children succeed in school can attend the first session of Parent University on Saturday at the Global Learning Academy. Sessions will include tips on raising healthy kids in a digital world, positive intervention, how to access resources, filling out job applications, and job opportunities with the school district. Parent University is in its second year in Pensacola. It was created as a nonprofit in 1999 by Michael O’Neal in Savannah. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: A Clay High School teacher has been arrested and accused of cruelty toward a 1-month-old child and aggravated child abuse. Deputies said Gabriel Quant, 41, brought the infant to a hospital with severe bruising and a broken leg, and told them he “snapped” during a diaper change. District officials released a statement that reads, in part, “The district is following policy and the employee has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.” WJXT.

Leon: Candidates for the District 4 seat on the school board recently answered questions about the top problems in the district, their thoughts on the district’s LGBTQ+ support guide, and how the board should respond to new state legislation restricting classroom discussions about race, gender identity and sexual orientation. DeeDee Rasmussen had represented the district for 14 years, but is stepping down. Contenders to replace her are physical education teacher Laurie Cox, Godby High assistant principal Alex Stemle, and parent Susan Hodges. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: The school district is partnering with HCA Florida Fort-Walton Destin Hospital to launch the Health Academy of Northwest Florida. High school juniors and seniors interested in health-care careers can earn industry certifications in practical nursing. The program will be located at Okaloosa Technical College until construction at the hospital is finished. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Citrus: Schools opened the year with certified teachers in every classroom, officials said this week. “We’re in better position this year than what we have been in the last handful of years,” said assistant superintendent Jonny Bishop. “In the last few years, this time of year, we would have 60 openings, classrooms that had no teacher in them that we were trying to find long term substitutes for. Fast forward to this year, through the recruiting efforts of our HR staff, we’re down to 29 openings.” The district recruited aggressively and has moved certified teachers on special assignment into classrooms until hires can be made. Citrus County Chronicle.

Columbia: A 17-year-old Columbia High School student was arrested this week and accused of having a gun on campus. School resource officers they were tipped the boy had a gun, and found it when he was confronted in the school parking lot. WCJB. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Gulf: Signs have been posted at district schools that read, “Warning: Staff members are armed and trained. Any attempt to harm children will be met with deadly force.” Every school has a resource officer and the district takes part in the state’s guardian program, which trains armed school employees to help deter an attack. “I believe in throwing the kitchen sink at something,” said Superintendent Jim Norton. “If that’s the last thing a bad actor sees and they turn around and walk away, then they’ve achieved what they are. They are not our front line of defense. That is the last thing that somebody that might think about doing the unimaginable might read and hopefully turn around and walk away.” WMBB. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: College counselors believe there will be large numbers of incoming freshmen who need for mental health services this fall. Many of those students have spent significant time in high school learning remotely and being inundated with stories of violence in schools, and they’re headed to institutions struggling with shortages of those counselors who can help them. “It’s going to be problematic. Some are calling it the perfect storm,” said Dr. Jon Brunner, chair of the Florida College Counseling Directors Association and director of the counseling center at Florida Gulf Coast University. Sun-Sentinel. The University of South Florida wants to join an elite group of the top 60 research institutions in the country, and will ask the Legislature for about $300 million in the next budget to help it get there. Tampa Bay Times. About 300 University of North Florida students have been placed on a waiting list for on-campus housing. Florida Times-Union. Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland has officially opened its $47 million Applied Research Center that more than doubles the school’s lab and research space. Lakeland Now. Many of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities want to establish a pipeline from prison-to-college to reduce recidivism and improve former inmates’ lives. NPR.

Opinions on schools: Teachers from schools in Tampa Bay area share their ideas on maintaining discipline in the classroom. They say whatever the rules are, keeping order is a team effort. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff