Parents’ rights law could be expanded, interim superintendents, nursing exam failures, and more

Around the state: Senate President Kathleen Passidomo suggested last week that the Legislature could update the Parental Rights in Education law to extend the ban on instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in additional grades beyond K-3, school boards in Brevard and Sarasota choose interim superintendents, Marion school board members rejected an offer from the sheriff to take over the district’s school security operations, Florida nursing students are failing the national exam needed for certification to practice at the highest rate in the country, Alachua district officials said they will create a new LGBTQ+ support guide for students after dropping the old one under pressure from the state, an impasse is declared in contract negotiations between the St. Johns County School District and teachers, a well-known charter school in Citrus County may have to close for financial reasons, and students at a Seminole County high school are involved in the move to have the scrub-jay named the state bird. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A district vendor who has been accused of overcharging parents for graduation caps and gowns and failing to provide students’ invoices to the district has been dropped by the supplier of those products. Herff Jones has cut ties with Chuck Puleri, 65, who had been the exclusive distributor of its products in Broward since 1992. Company officials said they are still interested in working with the district. On Nov. 14, school board members barred the district from dealing with Puleri. A criminal investigation by the Broward State Attorney’s Office is ongoing. Sun-Sentinel. A bookkeeper at Margate Elementary School has been arrested and accused of stealing almost $20,000 that was meant for school events. Police said Dina Newland, 54, who had been the school’s bookkeeper for 18 years, took the money during the 2021-2022 school year and spent it on groceries, gas and cigarettes. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. Benjamin J. Williams, a former county school principal and three-term school board member whose nickname was “Mr. Fantastic,” died Dec. 9 in Bartow. He was 87. Sun-Sentinel.

Palm Beach: A mascot and school colors have been chosen for Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School, which opens in August in the Lake Worth area. The teams will be known as the Bulldogs, and the school colors will be Carolina blue, navy and white. While the school boundaries have not been set, it’s expected to draw its 2,600 students from Palm Beach Central, John I. Leonard, Santaluces and Park Vista high schools. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Two schools are getting new gymnasiums, school board members decided last week. Lake Gibson Middle’s gym is expected to cost $6.6 million, while McLaughlin Middle-High’s will cost $14.9 million. The difference in costs is attributed to the need for a high school to include more seating, weight rooms, locker room showers and a press area. The district’s half-cent sales tax, renewed by voters in 2018, will fund the projects. Lakeland Ledger. A Lakeland man was arrested last week after he gained entry to Sleepy Hill Middle School and allegedly assaulted a substitute teacher during class. It was the substitute’s first day, according to Lakeland police. The suspect, Jacquez Kornelius Ruise, 21, was let onto campus by a student, police said. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A charter school focusing on classical education will open next fall in Estero as a K-8 school with an additional grade being added each year. By then, Optima Classical Academy at Estero is expected to enroll 1,250 students. Erika Donalds, the CEO of OptimaEd, said the opening of Naples Classical Academy last year has been so successful that she wanted to expand to Lee County. The schools stress phonics, grammar, diagramming sentences, reading classics, studying the Constitution and more. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: Robert Schiller, a schools consultant who has been a superintendent in several districts around the country, was unanimously chosen by school board members Friday as the interim superintendent for the district, starting Jan. 1. He replaces Mark Mullins, who resigned earlier this month after 29 years with the district. Board member Katye Campbell said she thought Schiller was best equipped to assume the role and have a positive influence while being a “stabilizing influence.” She added, “I don’t think an interim is going to come in and solve all our problems, but I think an interim like Dr. Schiller will help us focus on what we need to do first. He’s got a plan to come and work with the board and help us figure out what our priorities are.” Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. WKMG.

Seminole: Environmental science students at Seminole High School are joining an effort to replace the mockingbird as the state bird with the Florida scrub-jay. “Since the scrub-jay is found only in Florida, it should be chosen as the state bird without a doubt,” said Navya Sharma, a senior at Seminole High. Another factor is that the scrub-jay population has dwindled from 50,000 about 100 years to about 8,000 today, and it’s listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Bills aimed at elevating the scrub-jay to state bird failed in last year’s legislative session. Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: New school buildings were approved last week by the school board for Edith I. Starke Elementary in DeLand and Turie T. Small Elementary in Daytona Beach. They’ve been “a long time coming,” said board chair Jamie Haynes. Board members also approved funding for 10 other projects, even though some funds had to be shifted toward the Stark and Small elementary projects due to rising costs. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Johns: An impasse has been declared in the contract negotiations between the school district and the union representing teachers. Members of the union rejected a previous agreement, saying the proposed raises weren’t enough. Both sides will now argue their cases to a special magistrate who will make a recommendation. It that is rejected by either side, the final decision on raises will fall to the school board. WJXT.

Sarasota: Chris Renouf, the school district’s assistant superintendent and chief academic officer, was chosen last week by the school board to act as interim superintendent at least until the next board meeting on Jan. 17. He replaces Brennan Asplen, who recently resigned under fire. The search for Asplen’s permanent replacement will take shape at that board meeting. School board chair Bridget Ziegler said the goal is to have the superintendent in place by the start of the 2023-2024 school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: School board members have rejected an offer from the sheriff’s office to take over the district’s SAFE Schools Program, but school officials said they will continue to discuss ideas with the sheriff to improve school security. Six security specialists coordinate the district’s plan, which includes school resource officers and armed guardians. The sheriff’s plan would have assumed the responsibilities of those six. Superintendent Diane Gullett said she will appoint a task force to prepare a plan that can be presented to the school board and sheriff’s officials. WKMG.

Escambia: Tate High School’s Synoma Perea and Ge’Khiya Brown from Booker T. Washington High School have been named the district’s Sunshine State Scholars for 2023. Each year, the state selects top STEM subject students in 11th grade to attend a program in Orlando in April. North Escambia.com.

Alachua: School officials scrapped its LGBTQ+ Critical Guide Support under pressure from the state, but school officials said they plan to put together a new guide. “(The LGBTQ+ guide) has been removed from use … and as far as an update on the guide, we’re working on a new guide at this time. But of course, we would collaborate with the Florida Department of Education prior to any implementation of a new guide,” said Superintendent Shane Andrew. District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said there will be a lot of discussion before a new guide is completed. “We’ve got to do some research as to what other districts whose plans have been approved by the state, what those plans look like,” she said. Gainesville Sun. Ginger Stanford, who has been a teacher, interim principal and an assistant principal, has been named principal at Hawthorne Middle/High School. She replaces Royce Kamman, who was removed after an investigation concluded he violated district policy during a fund-raiser at his previous school. WUFT.

Bay: A cast eagle that used to hang above an entryway to Bay High School has been located after an absence of nearly 50 years and will be used in the renovations of the school. The eagle hung at Bay High from 1926 to 1976, but went missing when the building was demolished. But as another renovation begins, the man who had the eagle has come forward to make it available. Lee Walters, executive director of facilities, said he’d like to use it on the new exterior if it can be cleaned up. If not, he said, “We will still incorporate it in the building and probably have it in a display case in the front office.” WMBB.

Charlotte: Education officials are preparing to lobby the legislative delegation at a meeting Jan. 11 to support a plan to deal with the shortage of teachers. School board member Kim Amontree’s proposal would include funding for an apprenticeship program that would pay bonuses to experienced teachers to mentor teaching candidates, allow colleges to pay students during internships, waive or shorten restrictions placed on retirees for returning to the classroom by adjusting the Deferred Retirement Option Program, and provide temporary teaching certificates to students with associate’s degrees and a 3.0 GPA who clear a background check. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: The Academy of Environmental Science charter school in Crystal River is in danger of closing because the costs of some structural repairs, such as the elevator, have been far higher than expected, according to a letter from the school’s board of directors. Repairing the elevator cost $275,000 more than forecast, draining the school’s reserves. School officials expect to spend another $750,000 in repairs over the next few years. If the school can’t lock down the funding for needed repairs by February, though, it will not be able to open for the 2023-2024 school year, according to the board. The school offers hands-on learning experiences for students interested in environmental sciences for its 120 students. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Florida nursing students are failing the national exam needed for certification to practice at the highest rate in the country, according to a new report from the Florida Center for Nursing at the University of South Florida. Fewer than two-thirds of the students passed the exam in 2021, a rate more than 17 percentage points lower than the national average. The report comes at a time when 20 percent of nursing positions in Florida hospitals are vacant and staff turnover is at a historic high. If the state can’t starting producing more competent nurses, said Rayna Letourneau, an assistant professor of nursing at USF and executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing, “you’re going to see hospital units closing, wait times are going to get longer, elective surgeries are going to take longer to schedule and in general care is going to get worse.” Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Department of Education is considering updating its rules on the use of college accreditation agencies. The change would remove a reference to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the longtime accrediting agency of choice that fell out of favor with legislators. News Service of Florida. Cleveland Clinic Tradition Hospital president Dr. Madhu Sasidhar has been appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the  Indian River State College trustees. DeSantis also reappointed five other trustees. TCPalm.

In the Legislature: Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, suggested last week that the Legislature could update the Parental Rights in Education law to extend the ban on instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in additional grades beyond K-3. “The one thing that I think could be looked at is, we ended it at grades 1 through 3. I don’t think I’d be supportive of high school, because kids in high school are hopefully a little bit more mature, at least they should be. But, you know, the middle school, maybe going to 6th grade or something like that,” she said. The 60-day legislative session begins March 6. News Service of Florida. State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, has filed a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles in K-12, colleges and universities. Florida Senate.

Opinions on schools: Providing a more equitable education landscape and giving parents of all income levels and backgrounds more opportunities to help their child grow and succeed is not just a winning political platform, it is the common ground that we desperately need as Americans. Families know it, and now politicians on both sides of the aisle do, too. Colyn Ritter, The Hill. Fixing the overriding problem with public education is simple: Pay good teachers $100,000 a year with good benefits and fire the bad ones. Chris Fulton, Tampa Bay Times. An idea to use surveys of the opinions of students as part of the teacher evaluation process is flawed, because students don’t know who are effective and ineffective teachers and they bring biases learned from their families and peers that color their responses when they are asked to evaluate their teachers. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Florida’s schoolbook vigilantes are demanding parental control over schoolbooks and curriculum, but only for their kind of parents. Fred Grimm, Sun-Sentinel. Never before has there been such urgency to elevate students academically thanks to severe learning losses. School board members, new or old, should be laser-focused on that issue. Yet one of the first major items the Miami-Dade School Board took up was full of virtue-signaling and little substance. Miami Herald. By not being a clear-throated advocate for life-saving vaccinations, Florida is mortgaging the future of its children. For what? Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.