State hits back in court fight, school enrollment, book disputes, lessons from Finland, and more

Around the state: Four school districts and the state attorney general are asking a federal judge to reject a request for a preliminary injunction against the new law restricting classroom discussions on race, sexual orientation and gender identity, Broward public school enrollment declines for a third year in a row while Polk counts 113,000 students, Osceola’s school board tables action on a committee recommendation to keep four books in school libraries, the state tells Duval’s school district that it continues to underreport campus crimes, legislative leaders are expected to approve spending $175 million on education projects and more, and Putnam County’s school superintendent says his district has much it can learn from Finland after a cultural exchange. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The body of a man was discovered Tuesday morning near the outdoor basketball courts at Oak Grove Elementary School in Miami. Police said the body, which had a gunshot wound, was found by school employees before students arrived. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Broward: For the third year in a row, enrollment is down in district schools. The 205,743 students counted on the first day of school is a decrease of 4,420 students in public school grades K-12 from last school year. Enrollment in charter schools is up 1,318 from last year, to 48,940. The next count is scheduled Sept. 12. Two years ago enrollment declined by 7,255, and last year it dipped by 4,694 students. Enrollment is up in two neighboring districts. In Miami-Dade, a count Sept. 1 showed an increase of 4,765, and Palm Beach’s enrollment is up 227. Sun-Sentinel. All district elementary schools will soon be posting the titles of every book in their libraries on their websites, to comply with new state laws. School board members are expected to vote on the policy change as early as next week. If it’s enacted, parents can file objections that would be considered by a library advisory committee. At least one member of the board, Daniel Foganholi, said he also would like a similar posting of all books in classroom libraries. Sun-Sentinel.

Duval: The district is still underreporting crimes in schools, the Florida Department of Education said in a letter this week to Superintendent Diana Greene. A statewide grand jury report released in August said the district failed to report about 2,000 crimes. District officials said the problem had been fixed, but state officials said the problems are persisting. Greene is expected to meet next week with the DOE to address what the department calls “major concerns” and a “shocking disregard for student safety.” WJAX. WTLV. A former student who was disabled during a fatal shooting at a Raines High School football game in 2018 is suing the school board, contending that the district and its former chief failed to prevent the violence by underreporting campus crimes. WJAX.

Polk: Public school enrollment is more than 113,000, according to counts conducted Aug. 24 and 28. That includes 94,957 non-charter school students and 18,231 at public charter schools. The racial breakdown is 39.9 percent Hispanic, 35.5 percent white, 20 percent black, 2.7 percent multiracial, 1.5 percent Asian and 0.4 percent Indian American/Pacific Islander. About 9.5 percent are English language learners and 14.6 percent have disabilities. Lakeland Ledger. School board members are expected to vote to join a class-action suit against the vaping company Juul that alleges the company marketed its products to teens. Juul just agreed this week to pay $438.5 million to 34 states and territories for marketing to young people even though e-cigarette sales to children are illegal. WTSP.

Brevard: A Bayside High School teacher’s fund-raising drive to buy challenged books and distribute them to students has drawn about $35,000 in donations. Adam Tritt’s “Foundation 451” project, named after Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, is now a nonprofit organization. It has drawn criticism from several groups, including the local Moms for Liberty chapter. Tritt said future plans include distribution of books beyond Brevard County, and trying to obtain a grant to finance a bookmobile. Florida Today.

Osceola: A scheduled vote on a book review committee’s recommendation to keep four challenged books in school libraries was tabled Tuesday after the process was questioned by several school board members. A majority of the 15 book review committee members are district employers, and board member Jon Arguello questioned their willingness to “go against their superintendent.” Others questioned the process. “This is not… done very professionally, in my honest opinion,” said board member Julius Melendez. “It has a book it has voted to retain. What is the score sheet? What is your basis of making it retain or not retain?” The issue will be discussed at a future workshop meeting. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV.

Alachua: School board members are expected to consider updating district policies to comply with new state laws H.B. 7 and H.B. 1557 that regulate instruction about race, sexual orientation and gender identity. School board attorney Francine Turney will make recommendations for changes at today’s workshop meeting. Tuesday, the board approved a resolution to inform parents about how to secure guns safely and their legal obligation to do so. Gainesville Sun. WGFL.

Santa Rosa: Soaring costs have convinced school officials to sell a 24-acre property near the Whisper Creek subdivision where it had intended to build a K-8 school. The school was intended to relieve overcrowding at nearby schools, but drew opposition from the surrounding neighborhood over traffic concerns and is being sold to a developer. “We began to go through the phasing and in looking at all of the site development that would be required, due to the sloping and some of the potential wetland issues surrounding that property and the property itself, we found that the cost for the site development was going to just be extreme,” said the district’s assistant superintendent for administrative services Joey Harrell. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: Two district students have been arrested and accused of making threats against their schools Tuesday. A 9-year-old Hutchison Beach Elementary School student is being charged with calling in a bomb threat against the school, according to Panama City Beach police. The child left several voice-mail messages with the school, police said, and when officers tracked them back to the source the student confessed. A Mosley High School student was also arrested after allegedly posting a “hit list” of names on a school whiteboard. WJHG. Panama City News Herald. WMBB.

Putnam: Superintendent Rick Surrency said his cultural exchange trip to Finland last May offered many innovations that he’d like to put into practice in his 10,000-student district. “Finland’s got the numbers to prove it on the PISA exam, which is given to 15-year-olds across the world every three years,” Surrency said. “Finland has continued to take the lead in that way above the United States. So there’s some things they’re doing that I think we need to really sit back and take note of.” Among the practices Surrency observed were regularly scheduled playtime, no standardized testing, an emphasis on real-life working internships, and rigorous standards for teachers and greater public respect for them. K-12 Dive.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida is raising salaries for faculty and other workers. Faculty will receive 3.5 percent raises and $2,000 bonuses, with another 2 percent raise next year. Stipends for doctoral and graduate assistants will be increased in each of the next three years, and the school will pay their health insurance premiums. Other employees will get raises to a mininum of $15 an hour. Tampa Bay Times. USF leaders are recommending that Barton Marlow design the new 35,000-seat on-campus football stadium and Populous build it. Trustees must sign off on the recommendation. The projected opening is the fall of 2026. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. Daytona State College is putting up a second building on its Deltona campus, which will be used for the college’s new nursing, sonography and computer-controlled machining programs. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed seven people to the College of the Florida Keys District Board of Trustees. The Florida Senate must approve the nominations. Florida Keys Weekly.

State strikes back on education law: School boards in Orange, Indian River, Duval and Palm Beach counties have joined state Attorney General Ashley Moody in asking a federal judge to reject a request for a preliminary injunction against the new Parental Rights in Education law that restricts instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. Attorneys for a group of parents, students and a nonprofit organization filed a suit against the law in July, contending it violates speech, equal-protection and due-process rights, then asked the judge last week to issue an injunction forbidding the districts to implement policies to comply with it. News Service of Florida.

State spending projects: Friday, legislative leaders are expected to approve spending $175 million on 238 local projects that include at least one school gymnasium and several grants to universities. The largest is $15 million to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg for a flood hub and applied research facility. Florida Politics. Politico Florida.

Opinions on schools: Last week, NAEP released Long-Term Trend data for 2022. One pandemic goat-rodeo response later, any hope of a statewide sample of black students closing the gap with any state’s sample of white students is gone. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. If traditional public school advocates want to champion high-quality district schools, that’s great. But at least be honest about who has access to them (spoiler alert: not everyone) and the fact that high performers can’t and shouldn’t give cover to low performers. Jessica Poiner, Thomas B. Fordham Institute. State scholarships focus on students, not systems and institutions. Frances and Alton Bolden, Sun-Sentinel. Contrary to what a writer in the New York Times recently claimed, you can’t learn physics just by reading about it. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.