10 districts questioned on policies, school arrests, immunizations, discipline, teacher pay and more

10 districts targeted: Members of the state Board of Education will decide Wednesday if 10 school districts are carrying out the requirements of the state’s Parental Rights in Education law. It bans instruction and discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, and among older students unless the instruction is “age or developmentally appropriate.” All the districts were put on notice by the state Department of Education and ordered to provide an update by Friday on their policies. Being questioned are “best practices” policies in those districts for school personnel on disclosing sexual orientation or gender identity without students’ permission; using pronouns and names consistent with student gender identitues; allowing students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity; and racial equity. Districts targeted are Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. Alachua responded to the state by pulling its LGBTQ guide, and Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the DOE is “trying to force us to out students who are not ready to come out.” Miami Herald. Florida Politics. Gainesville Sun. Tallahassee Democrat.

Around the state: School arrests are down in the Miami-Dade and Broward school districts, Duval threatens to eject unvaccinated students who don’t have exemptions, Brevard school board members direct district staff to begin tighter enforcement of disciplinary rules, Sarasota school board members will consider a contract agreement that raises starting teacher pay to $53,000, contract talks are derailed after Pasco officials propose paying teachers bonuses to remain at a school that’s closing at the end of the academic year, a member of the state Board of Govenors who was under investigation has died in an apparent suicide, five finalists are named for the Marion County School District teacher of the year award, and child ID kits will be given through schools to every kindergarten student in the state. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: School arrests declined last year in both the Miami-Dade and Broward school districts, according to an analysis of school records. Miami-Dade schools reported 199 students were arrested in the 2021-2022 school year, a decline from the 279 arrests in 2018-2019. All were over the age of 12. But a racial disparity remains, said school board member Steve Gallon. “We have less than 25 percent African American students, but they represented over 50 percent of the arrests at the time,” said Gallon. In Broward, school arrests went from 283 in 2018-2019 to 185 during the 2021-2022 school year. Forty-one percent of students are black, but they represented 65 percent of the arrests. WFOR. A 14-year-old student at William Dandy Middle School in Fort Lauderdale has been charged with possession of a firearm on school grounds and carrying a concealed firearm. School officers found the gun in the student’s backpack. No threats were made, district officials said, and the student will also face disciplinary action. WTVJ. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. WSVN.

Duval: District officials are responding to a state report that Duval has the lowest rate of compliance in the state on required school vaccinations by saying “students will be excluded from school buildings until those records or valid exemptions are provided.” No firm enforcement date was set. Only 84 percent of the district’s 7th-graders have been immunized, according to Florida Department of Health. WTLV.

Pasco: A proposal to pay $2,000 bonuses to teachers to stay at Mittye P. Locke Elementary School until it closes at the end of the school year could complicate contract negotiations between the district and teachers. Union officials said they object to singling out one set of teachers for incentives, and proposed adding a section in the contract addressing incentives and transfers for teachers at schools that are closing. District officials said they can’t be sure they’ll have money available the next time a school is scheduled to close. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School district leaders have been directed by the school board to restart and expand a discipline review committee to recommend ways to strengthen the district’s discipline plan. They were also told to ban students’ use of cell phones in schools after Christmas break, enforce a zero tolerance policy on physical abuse and violence against employees, and begin treating the school bus as an extension of the classroom for discipline purposes. Discussion of changes to the district’s book review process and public speaking policies was tabled. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. A 12-year-old 6th-grader in the Florida Virtual School has won the statewide Lunchroom Wars event sponsored by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences. Juliet Karsak of Viera won with her portabella bruschetta burgers stuffed with pesto and Italian cheeses, accompanied by truffle fries with a garlic and citrus aioli dipping sauce and a sweet corn and cherry tomato salad. Florida Today.

Seminole: A 12-year-old student at Greenwood Lakes Middle School in Lake Mary was arrested Friday after a loaded handgun was discovered in her backpack. She’s been charged with possession of a firearm on school property and unlawful possession of a firearm by someone younger than 18 years old. WKMG. WOFL.

Manatee: A former student at the Broach School, a K-12 private Christian school for special needs students in Bradenton, is suing the school after he claims he was sexually abused by a former teacher. The student, who was 15 at the time of the alleged abuse in 2019, contends the school’s parent company, Children’s Education Services, failed to ensure his safety, care and well-being. The teacher, 34-year-old Kassandra Moore, was arrested in 2019 and pleaded guilty earlier this year of sexual battery and four counts of felony sexual battery upon a person 12 or older but less than 18 by a person in familial/custodial authority and transmitting material harmful to minors. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison in May. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

Sarasota: School board members are expected to approve a new contract with employees at Tuesday’s meeting. Starting teacher pay would go from $50,000 to $53,000, instructional employees would receive 6 percent raises, and administrators and classified employees such as front office and maintenance staff would get 7.5 percent raises. Teachers with “highly effective” evaluations would also receive $2,000 bonuses, and $1,500 bonuses will be given to “effective” teachers and highly effective grandfathered teachers. Also being considered is a raise for bus drivers from $17.67 to $25 an hour for the rest of the school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: Five finalists have been chosen for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Lindsey Bigelow, a 1st-grade teacher at Ocala Springs Elementary School; John Gibb, a Lake Weir High School Pre IB English teacher; Cheryl Goldner, a 4th-grade teacher at Saddlewood Elementary School; Belleview Middle School health science teacher Nedra Huggins; and Jamie Roche, a Maplewood Elementary School art teacher. A winner will be announced Feb. 4. District officials also said Friday that Jennefer Bachmaier, a Hammett Bowen Elementary School autism spectrum disorder self-contained teacher, has been named the rookie teacher of the year; Erin Webber, the guidance clerk/front desk receptionist at Fort McCoy, school-related employee of the year; and Mark White, of technical services/school maintenance at Vanguard High School, the above and beyond award winner. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: Starting Wednesday, students under the age of 18 may ride Escambia County Area Transit buses for free. To be eligible, students must fill out applications and have them signed by a parent. WEAR.

Alachua: Former school superintendent Carlee Simon has been cleared in a police investigation of allegations of bid-tampering filed by former school board candidate Daniel Fisher. He filed the complaint with the Gainesville Police Department in September, even though Simon had been fired in March. Fisher alleged Simon was working with a nonprofit, Cognia, and planned to award it a contract that would have paid 10 times what it should have. Gainesville Sun. Hawthorne Middle/High School principal Royce Kamman was removed after an investigation concluded he violated district policy during a fund-raiser at his previous school. Kamman was raising money to establish a school store at the historic A. Quinn Jones Center earlier this year when he held a raffle, which is forbidden from being held on school property along with other “activities of chance.” After a complaint was filed Aug. 5, Kamman was suspended from Hawthorne for a week, then reassigned to the Fearnside Family Service Center as a supervisor in exceptional student education. Kamman has filed an appeal of the disciplinary action. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: Almost 1,000 district students will change schools next year under a rezoning plan approved last week by the school board. Most of those students, 872, will be assigned to the new Wallace Lake K-8 school under construction in Pace. Seventy-seven students are going to Dixon Primary and Dixon Intermediate and 37 to Sims Middle. The moves will ease overcrowding at Dixon Primary and Sims, and will allow children to attend schools closer to their homes, said assistant superintendent Joseph Harrell. Pensacola News Journal.

Martin: A Martin County High School campus monitor and assistant basketball coach has been arrested and accused of paying seven female students to send him nude photos. Deputies said Alton Edwards, 28, paid the mostly 15- or 16-year-old girls from $10 to $75 for their photos. Edwards, who was hired in 2016, has been assigned to work from home during the investigation. WPTV. WPEC. WPBF. WTVJ.

Citrus: School board members are expected at Tuesday’s meeting to give their final approval to updates in district policies governing parental access to their children’s medical and other records kept by schools. The board is also expected to approve its five-year plan for the district, which will then be submitted to the state. Citrus County Chronicle.

Calhoun: A student at an alternative school in Calhoun County has been arrested after allegedly threatening to “blow up” Blountstown High School. It was the fourth arrest of students making threats against Panhandle schools last week. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: Kent Stermon, a Jacksonville business executive who has been on the state Board of Governors since 2019, was found dead Thursday night in a post office parking lot in Atlantic Beach. “There is no suspected foul play. The investigation is being worked as a suicide,” said a news release from the police department. Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said Stermon, 50, has been the subject of an “active investigation” that reportedly involved allegations of sexual misconduct. Stermon has been a prominent Republican donor and was a personal friend of Gov. Ron DeSantis. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Times-Union. WTLV. WJXT. WJCT. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. Florida A&M University is expanding its student housing by buying the Citivue Apartments complex near the campus. The $13 million purchase will add 116 more beds to school-controlled properties. Tallahassee Democrat. Former NBA star Charles Barkley has pledged $1 million to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. B-CU’s athletic director is Reggie Theus, who played in the NBA against Barkley and preceded Barkley as a commentator on TNT. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Catholic school enrollment: Enrollment in Florida’s Catholic schools is at the highest point in more than a decade, according to figures released last week by the Florida Conference of Cathoilic Bishops. Total enrollment is now 88,031, up 4.5 percent over last year and the most since the 2008-2009 school year. reimaginED.

Child ID kits going out: Home fingerprinting kits will be given to every kindergarten student in Florida through their schools, Attorney General Ashley Moody announced Friday. “Every single kindergartner in Florida will now take home with them a child ID kit in which their parents can obtain crucial identification information from physical characteristics including a photograph, fingerprints and even DNA,” she said. WTSP. WWSB.

Around the nation: Thousands of high school students around the country, including in Florida, are being unknowingly enrolled in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps classes. At least seven schools in Lee County acknowledge they automatically enroll students in J.R.O.T.C. classes, but say those who object can change their schedules. New York Times. Almost 75 percent of American school districts say they have a shortage of school bus drivers, and some are turning to ride-share companies to help transport students. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Do the holidays even belong in public schools? Elizabeth Heubeck, Education Week. COVID-19 isn’t Florida’s only public health threat. A new report from the state Department of Health shows that the percentage of Florida school children getting their required immunizations sunk to a 10-year low. This is a worrisome drop the state and hard-hit counties need to reverse. Tampa Bay Times. History has shown us time and again the fundamental error in book-banning. Removing reading material in the name of liberty amounts to double-speak, nothing more or less than a contorted mirror-image of cancel culture. Dan Reiter, Florida Today. It’s going to be a long, difficult slog to restore the glowing reputation to the Sarasota school system, which for years has been acknowledged as one of the best in the state. And nothing positive will come out of hitting this rock bottom unless we acknowledge the mistakes that have been made and absorb the lessons we must learn from them. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.