DOE wants to talk school security with 5 districts, transgender assault report unfounded, and more

School safety concerns: Five large school districts that were criticized by the statewide grand jury report for failing to follow state school safety requirements have been asked to meet with the Florida Department of Education to discuss those problems. Broward’s failures were the primary focus of the grand jury findings because of the deaths of 17 students and staff in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but superintendents from Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Duval counties have also been summoned to discuss the grand jury’s conclusion that they have underreported criminal activity on campuses. “We have reason to believe that some of the policies and actions the grand jury found are ongoing and require immediate action,” the letter from the DOE stated. Florida Politics. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. WFTV. WKMG.

Around the state: Melbourne police wrap up their three-week investigation by concluding there is no evidence that a transgender student sexually assaulted a girl last summer in a Brevard middle school bathroom, several Florida school districts continue to wrestle with the propriety of some school library books, a member of the Proud Boys said the group played a key role in the election of three conservatives to the Sarasota school board, a Bay County principal is apologizing after a middle school teacher mistakenly read a racial slur to her students, Martin County school employees can now earn bonuses for perfect attendance, Volusia’s director of school safety and security resigns to take a job in Orange County, and the former Escambia student who was accused of helping her mother rig the 2020 vote for the school’s homecoming queen said she plans to sue the district and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board members are scheduled to vote Wednesday whether to recognize October as LGBTQ History Month. Last year was the first year that October got that designation. The board is also expected to decide if teachers may use two landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases in 12th-grade social studies classes. Obergefell v. Hodges granted the right to same-sex marriage and Bostock v. Clayton County prohibits employers from discriminating against gay or transgender workers. Miami Herald. The Hill. Cutler Bay Middle School teacher Michelle Vargas drowned over the weekend while saving her son from a rip current at a beach in El Salvador. It was her 49th birthday, and the two were visiting the boy’s paternal grandparents. WSVN.

Broward: Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was described by his adoptive mother in testimony Friday as a “loving kid” and “gentle soul” who was prone to violent outbursts when he lost his temper. Cruz has pleaded guilty to killing 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School more than four years ago. Defense attorneys are trying to convince the jury to recommnend life in prison instead of the death penalty. Judge Elizabeth Scherer scheduled a court session for today to hear motions, but testimony doesn’t resume until Sept. 12. Sun-Sentinel. WTVJ. Summarizing what happened Friday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Hillsborough: Many parents have expressed outrage at the presence of the book This Book is Gay at Pierce Middle School, Middleton High and Tampa Bay Technical High. The book has sections that teach and give advice to kids about oral sex, anal sex, hookup apps and more. Board member Lynn Gray assured the parents that more screening will be done. Florida Standard. Snopes. School board members are considering a request from parents of children at Carrollwood Elementary School to convert it to a K-8 school. The president of the PTA said the request reflects parents’ objection to their children moving from the A-rated school after 5th grade to the assigned school, Adams Middle, which received a D from the state. Tampa Bay Times. A series of town hall meetings will be held Sept. 12-16 to gauge the community’s feelings on changing school boundaries. District officials said 24 percent of its schools are overcrowded and 44 percent are under-enrolled. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Orange: Recently re-elected school board chair Teresa Jacobs has reported herself to the Florida Commission on Ethics after her campaign accidentally used part of a school district database for election e-mail messages. Jacobs said she doesn’t think the mistake is an ethics violation, but wanted to let the commission decide. If it says it was a violation, she said, she would pay any required fines and “rectify this unfortunate and inadvertent error.” Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Palm Beach: Fifteen school library books have been restricted to students in grades 4 and above, 15 others have been cleared for classroom use and one will remain available to students, but cannot be used for classroom instruction. The 31 books were recently reviewed by district teachers, media specialists and other employees who were looking for content that might be considered in violation of the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law. The 15 books restricted mostly deal with gender identity or sexual orientation. The one that’s available to students but not for lessons is The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, which focuses on the consequences of slavery and the history of black resistance in the United States. Among the 15 books reviewed but cleared were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: School board members have approved the hiring of three district administrators and the appointments of 20 principals and assistant principals. Cassandra Peters is the new director of ESE curriculum for charter schools and private schools, Jennifer Rouse is senior director of professional development, and Patricia Trejo is the new director of ESOL. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A community health clinic has been opened on the campus of John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg. In late August, United Way Suncoast partnered with the nonprofit Evara Health to open the clinic as part of the Campbell Park Resource Center, which also offers employment coaching, financial advice, legal counsel and after-school programs. “Our mission is to make quality health care accessible to everyone,” said Evara chief medical officer Nichelle Threadgill. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: A three-week investigation by Melbourne police has concluded that a report of a transgender student sexually assaulting a girl in a middle school bathroom last summer is unfounded. School officials said no assault was ever reported,, but police decided to look into the rumor after state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, asked Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. to investigate. Florida Today. Revenues from the half-cent sales surtax for schools have allowed the district to upgrade technology this year. Buses were equipped with GPS that allows parents to track their children, and planning continues to get a laptop or iPad in the hands of every district student in the next few years. All middle-schoolers have already received their equipment. The surtax, which was first passed in 2014 and has been renewed every four years since then, funds facility and security upgrades and classroom technology. Florida Today.

Volusia: The district’s director of safety and security, Michelle Newman, has resigned to take a job as chief operating officer for the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County. She held the Volusia position or about two and a half years. She submitted her resignation Aug. 22, a week after classes began, and her last day was Friday. “She’s moving on, and we’re happy for her,” said school board chair Ruben Colon. “She was key to getting our safety and security department established as well as the success of our guardian program, and so we wish her well.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A Manatee High School student was arrested last week and accused of making a threat against the school on the social media platform Snapchat. The FBI tipped Bradenton police, who arrested the boy on campus Friday. “The student admits to posting, and later deleting, the threat on social media,” police said. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

Sarasota: A member of the far right extremist group Proud Boys said the group played a key role in the election of three conservatives to the school board, contradicting assertions from board member Bridget Ziegler and incoming member Robyn Martinelli. They were photographed with several members of the group celebrating on election night. But Ziegler said the Proud Boys are “a menace. … They aren’t involved with the work and they played no part in the win, but they attend public events and try to photobomb every photo just to secure attention and headlines.” James Hoel responded, “My loving wife and I were invited to the recent victory celebration because of the efforts we put in during this vital campaign to flip our liberal school board. We did not, ‘Just show up,’ and we did not photobomb.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: The Tate High School student who was accused of helping her mother rig the 2020 vote for the school’s homecoming queen said she plans to sue the district and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for falsely arresting her and violating her civil rights. Emily Grover pleaded guilty to the charges of gaining unauthorized access to school records, but the charges were dropped when she completed a supervised program. Her mother, former school administrator Laura Carroll, goes on trial Sept. 19 on charges of illegally accessing and using student information. WEAR. School officials are investigating how a 5-year-old Montclair Elementary School student was missing for two hours after school Friday. When the grandmother arrived to pick up the girl, she wasn’t there and school officials said they didn’t know where she was. Almost two hours later, the grandmother said, she was found scared and upset down the road. WEAR.

Bay: Mowat Middle School’s principal has sent out an apology to parents after a teacher who was reading aloud to a class repeated a racial slur from the book. Principal Ed Sheffield said the teacher failed to redact the slur when reading the book Zane and the Hurricane, which discusses racial injustices during Hurricane Katrina. A statement released by the district read, “We do not condone this teacher’s actions. The teacher herself is very apologetic that she inadvertently read the word. … We are disappointed this happened and we’re taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.” WJHG.

Hernando: A substitute teacher at the Winding Waters K-8 School in Weeki Wachee has been removed from the campus after students made allegations of “inappropriate touching,” district officials told parents in a message. “Substitutes are employees of Kelly Services and Kelly Services will also conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into the matter,” a school system spokesperson said. WFLA.

Martin: District officials are now offering bonuses to employees with perfect attendance. Those employees who arrive on time and work a full shift every day for a month will receive an extra $10 a day. “It’s pretty much a black and white process,” said Julie Sessa, the assistant superintendent of human resources. “If you take a sick day, you don’t get the bonus. If you take a vacation day, you won’t get the bonus.” WPTV.

Charlotte: Peace River Elementary School principal Heidi Keegan is one of about 40 in the United States to be selected as a national distinguished principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. The program was started in 1984 to recognize elementary and middle school principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement and character of the students. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: The school bus driver shortage has meant waits of up to two hours for some students both going to school and coming home. “We hope to have the situation fixed as soon as we can, but without drivers, buses can’t run,” said district spokeswoman Lindsay Blair. Transportation director Marilyn Farmer said there are 11 bus routes with no driver assigned to them, and another six without drivers who are dealing with medical issues. “Every time we get a new driver trained and ready to drive, we lose one or two more,” said Farmer. Citrus County Chronicle.

Nassau: A 12-year-old Yulee Middle School student has been arrested and charged with making multiple threats of violence against the school, according to sheriff’s deputies. He’s been charged with stalking and cyberstalking. WJXT. WTLV.

Walton: The sheriff’s office has donate about $50,000 worth of drone equipment to the Magnet Innovation Center, a STEAM school in its third year. “These drones will be invaluable to our coding and computer science students who are going to be learning how to apply their coding knowledge and the languages they are learning into real-life applications including using drones,” said principal Kate Benson. WMBB.

Monroe: School board members vote today on a $288.65 million budget that is $19 million higher than last year’s, but includes no raises for teachers. “I’m still extremely unhappy with all the funding we have here that we have not been able to drastically increase salaries of everyone who works with the school district,” said boatd chair John Dick. “I’m not sure where it’s gone, but that part has bothered me. We say we want to get more money, and when we get it we don’t give it to them.” Florida Keys Weekly.

Hardee: A student has been arrested and accused of making a threat on social media to attack a school in the district. Deputies said the boy admitted making the threat, and was charged with making written threats to conduct a mass shooting. WTSP. WTVT. WFLA.

Colleges and universities: About 200 incoming students of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton are living in nearby hotels after demand for on-campus housing outstripped supply for the fall semester. School officials attribute the shortage to a first-year class of about 4,500 with almost 1,000 from out of state and the high cost of off-campus apartments. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: I’m not anti-public school. I’m just pro-choice. Otis Young, Tallahassee Democrat. If there is one thing the latest grand jury report confirms, it is that parents, not bureaucrats or union hacks, should guide their children’s education. Edward J. Pozzuoli, Miami Herald. As a young college instructor, why do I outearn my mom, who has worked as a Florida teacher for 30 years? Josh Corson, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff