DeSantis wants bill banning mask mandates, early test results show gains, board appointee and more

Targeting COVID mandates: Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the Legislature to write a law that would permanently ban mask mandates at schools, vaccine mandates by local governments and businesses, and COVID-19 passports. Those emergency measures were enacted in a late 2021 special legislative session, but they expire in June and DeSantis wants to put the prohibitions into law. “We believe that there is no turning back from our direction,” DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday. “And we need to lead with this. We need to lead with this by making all these protections permanent in state statute, which we are going to do in the upcoming legislative session.” The governor also wants the Legislature to pass a law that “protects medical professionals’ freedom of speech,” which seems directed at a recently passed California law that would make the spreading of misleading medical information a form of “unprofessional conduct” subject to punishment by the state’s medical board. USA Today Florida Network. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Early results on statewide assessment tests show improvement from the first round to the second, Gov. DeSantis appoints a private school guidance counselor to the Miami-Dade County School Board, Broward school board members will consider a proposal to fire Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, some Orange County teachers are removing their classroom libraries to make sure they don’t violate state law, the state Board of Administration voted Tuesday to forbid the Florida Retirement System Pension Plan and Florida’s Prepaid College Fund from considering “social, political or ideological interests” when making investments, Monroe County names its teacher of the year, and St. Lucie schools name their three finalists for the top teacher award. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A guidance counselor at a private school is Gov. DeSantis’ latest appointment to the school board. Maria Bosque-Blanco, 48, works at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, a private all-girls Catholic school in Miami. She replaces Lubby Navarro, the former vice chair who resigned Dec. 30 to comply with a new law banning elected officials from lobbying. Navarro is a registered lobbyist for the South Broward Hospital District. Bosque-Blanco will serve the remaining two years of Navarro’s term. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Broward: A proposal to fire Superintendent Vickie Cartwright has been offered for consideration at the Jan. 24 school board meeting. Board member Allen Zeman’s idea is to fire Cartwright but have her stay on the job through the end of June. Cartwright is also expected at next week’s meeting to provide progress reports on several district problems. “I wanted to make sure anyone who wanted to speak on this knows it’s going to be coming up,” Zeman said. “We want to make things clear and end the circus.” Today, the board is expected to decide whether to hire a search firm to look for a new superintendent. Sun-Sentinel. Advocates of red flag laws point to an October incident at Seagull Alternative High School in Fort Lauderdale as proof that the laws work, even as gun rights advocates contend that they violate due process. Florida is one of 19 states with a red flag law, and police used it to get a court order to confiscate all weapons in the possession of a 17-year-old former student at the school who made threats on Instagram to “come to yo school and kill everybody.” No guns were found, but detectives are convinced using the law prevented a mass tragedy. New York Times.

Hillsborough: School board members agonized at a workshop meeting Tuesday over cutting the words “institutional racism” from the district’s racial equity policy. The need for the excision was a warning from the state that the policy does not conform with the new Parental Rights in Education law, and board members’ fear of sanctions from the Department of Education if they don’t. Several board members are resisting a change, but Superintendent Addison Davis assured them that the district will continue its efforts to improve outcomes in high-minority schools even without the words. Board members agreed to continue the discussion at a public hearing. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Orange: Some teachers are erring on the side of caution by removing all the books in their classroom libraries to comply with the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law, school board members were told at Tuesday’s meeting. “They’re packing them up and our babies are not having access to all those books in their classroom because of this,” said board member Melissa Byrd. Board members expressed frustration with the lack of guidance from the state. WFTV.

Polk: Two 13-year-old Lakeland Highlands Middle School students were arrested after police officers said they found one with a handgun on school property during the first week of January. Police said the second student brought the gun to school and sold it to the other student. No threats were made. Lakeland Now.

Pinellas: Live-streaming of the public’s comments on non-agenda items at school board meetings will resume Jan. 24, board members decided at Tuesday’s meeting. The practice was stopped in the fall of 2021 in the middle of protests about students wearing masks at school. Board members Stephanie Meyer and Laura Hine called for the streaming to resume, and other members signaled their support. Tampa Bay Times. A 14-year-old student was arrested Tuesday and accused of attacking another student with a box cutter on a school bus. The injuries were not serious. WFLA. WTSP.

Lee: Almost four months after Hurricane Ian swept through the area, district officials gave updates about the three schools most damaged. Fort Myers Beach Elementary remains closed and its future is still being discussed, with a decision expected next month. Work on the historic building is scheduled to completed by the end of the month. A portable campus has been set up for students at Hector A. Cafferata Jr. Elementary, and long-term options for the damaged campus will be presented to the school board Jan. 24. Remediation is complete at the Sanibel School, and replacement of the HVAC and electrical equipment should be completed at the end of the month. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: A Hillsborough County firefighter wants an apology from a Pasco principal who complained to his supervisor after an angry exchange at the school. Shawn Hayston said he and other parents met with Pine View Middle School principal Jennifer Warren last August with concerns about a mural. After the meeting, Hayston said Warren called his boss and said Hayston entered the school under false pretenses, was hostile during the tour and had been cited for trespassing, which he was not. Warren’s actions were reported to Superintendent Kurt Browning, who said Warren had not violated district policy but was counseled for the “inappropriate” call. Tampa Bay Times.

Seminole: District teachers continued their campaign for higher salaries at Tuesday’s school board meeting. An impasse was declared last fall when the district offered raises of up to $2,400, plus bonuses of at least $500 for teachers with 10 years or more experience. But teachers wanted much more, and the conflict is now in the hands of an arbiter to make a nonbinding recommendation on a compromise. Orlando Sentinel.

Collier: District officials are asking the public for suggestions on what qualifications they want in a new superintendent. Kamela Patton was voted out in December after more than a decade leading the district. Leslie Ricciardelli is acting as the interim superintendent. The survey is online, and there are also in-person community meetings tonight and Thursday, and virtual meetings Thursday and Monday. WINK.

St. Lucie: Three finalists have been selected for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are Lisa Embrey, an AP teacher at Fort Pierce Central High School; Anna Babcock, a K-5 gifted teacher at Fairlawn Elementary; and Stephanie Ramirez, a middle school art teacher at the West Gate K-8 School. The winner will be announced Feb. 4. WQCS.

Sarasota: No interim superintendent was chosen at Tuesday’s school board meeting, but board members did decide to get input from the community during the selection and to pay the person they hire at an annual rate of $225,000 a year. Three people have shown an interest in the job: Sarasota Technical Center executive director Ron DiPillo, district human resources and labor relations executive director Allison Foster, and former Hendry County superintendent Richard Murphy. Acting superintendent Chris Renouf said he was not interested. Charlotte Sun. WTSP. WWSB.

Leon: A lawsuit that contended the school district spoke to a teenage student about gender identity without the parents’ permission has been dismissed in federal court. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote that a state court, not federal, is the best venue because the suit’s claims do not meet the high standard that federal case law requires. “Because plaintiffs’ remaining claims raise novel and complex issues of state law, this court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ state-law claims,” Walker wrote. Superintendent Rocky Hanna applauded the decision, saying, “I personally met with the parents before this lawsuit was filed, and before the passage of the Parental Bill of Rights, and felt as though we had reached an amicable resolution. Unfortunately, this unnecessary lawsuit has now cost our school district — and ultimately taxpayers — thousands of dollars that otherwise would have gone to support the education of our children.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Flagler: District officials plan to survey 1,600 employees to see how many of them would be interested in carrying a gun at school if the district joins the state guardian program. Results will be presented to the school board Feb. 21. Flagler Live. School board members are considering a policy that would allow school staff and nurses to administer the nasal spray Narcan to treat someone suffering an opioid overdose. WOFL.

Monroe: Neda Jackson, a math teacher at Key West High School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year, and is now eligible for the statewide award. Other finalists were Christina Belotti, Cynthia Boyd, Ali Ferguson, Stacie Gonzalez, Crystal Hendricks, Malla Horner, Cheyenne Pepper, Diana Ruiz and Veronika Valdes. Florida Keys Weekly.

In the Legislature: State education officials told the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee on Tuesday that early results on the second round of the new standardized assessments tests show improvement from the first round. About 75 percent of the state’s students have taken the second-round tests. A third of students in grades 3-10 performed on grade level in reading during the first round of tests, which improved to 38 percent in the second round. In math, 14 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored at grade level in the first round, but 31 percent did in the second round. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Members of the Florida House’s Postsecondary Education and Workforce Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would allow colleges and universities and their representatives to help student-athletes find deals compensating them for the use of their names, images and likenesses. Schools would still not be permitted to pay athletes or recruits directly. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

State changes investments: Florida’s Board of Administration, which includes Gov. DeSantis, CFO Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, voted Tuesday to forbid the Florida Retirement System Pension Plan and Florida’s Prepaid College Fund from considering “social, political or ideological interests” when making investments. Instead, investment decisions will be made based only on potential risk and return. “Today’s actions reinforce that (environmental, social and governance) considerations will not be tolerated here in Florida, and I look forward to extending these protections during the legislative session,” said DeSantis. Politico Florida.

Survey suit testimony: A professor of education from UCLA called the state law requiring colleges and universities to conduct “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” surveys  is “one of the worst surveys I’ve seen” and is “not a viewpoint diversity survey.” Sylvia Hurtado said the survey questions were leading and are really “asking students to tattletale” on their professors. Florida Phoenix.

More on graduation rates: Florida’s high school graduation rate dropped in 2022, but the rate was up slightly compared with the 2019 rate, which state education officials said is a better comparison because they were the last two years that statewide, standardized assessment requirements for graduation were in place without waivers granted during the pandemic. Here are reports on rates from districts around the state. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WJHG. WCJB. WEAR.

Opinions on schools: Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic will be studied for decades to come as a case study in fiasco. A great many American families, quite understandably, came to the conclusion that they wanted to increase their independence from a public education system that had crashed in such a spectacular fashion. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. If Florida’s leaders want to solve the teacher shortage problem, they’re going to have to go beyond headline-grabbing stunts. And the best way to do that would be to actually listen to educators. Stop calling them names. Stop staging press conferences. Start treating public education like every enlightened society in modern history has — foundational to opportunity, innovation and a strong economy. Also the ultimate equalizer. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Miami-Dade students, banned from seeing the historic Pulitzer Prize-winning play Anna in the Tropics by Miami’s Nilo Cruz after it was wrongly pegged as too sexual and violent even for 18-year-olds, will get to attend special matinee showings after all. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald.

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