Florida details why AP course was rejected, state students lag on ACT, period questions and more

State details objections: Florida officials are defending their rejection of an AP course on African-American studies, saying the course includes segments of critical race theory, communism, reparations, black queer studies, black feminist thought and the black struggle in the 21st century and, therefore, runs counter to restrictions in state law against “woke” instruction. The rejection has sparked outrage among blacks, academics and the Biden administration, which called the rejection “incomprehensible.” Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. dismissed the criticism, saying, “We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education.” Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. New York Times. NPR. Reuters. WKMG. CNN. Daily Beast. UPI. Tampa Bay Times. A professor emeritus at Florida International University is openly defying the new state law that places restrictions on how race is taught. “Listen, if there is such a thing as the woke mob in Florida, I aspire to lead it,” said Marvin Dunn, 82, who leads students on “Teach the Truth” tours of historical sites of racial violence. Washington Post

How Florida did on ACT: Florida students scored below the national average on the ACT test in 2022, according to ACT Inc., the company that provides the tests. Florida students scored an average of 19.0, while the average U.S. high school student scored 19.8. Florida’s scores were 13th-lowest among the states, 8th-lowest in the math section of the exam and 9th-lowest in science. About 36 percent of the nation’s graduating seniors took the test. 24/7 Tempo.

Period questions revisited: A Florida High School Athletic Association sports medicine advisory committee has called a special meeting Tuesday to revisit its recommendation last week to make questions on a registration form about female student-athletes’ menstrual history mandatory instead of optional and for the information to be kept at students’ schools. The panel is made up of eight licensed physicians, a chiropractor, a podiatrist, a dentist, three athletic trainers and a current or retired head coach of a Florida high school. Palm Beach Post.

Around the state: A bill has been filed that would allow high schools participating in championship sporting events to have two minutes of access to the stadium’s public address system to make remarks before the game, a second proposal has been made to fire Broward’s superintendent at a school board meeting Tuesday, Miami-Dade will recognize Eid al-Fitr as a holiday during the next school year, Sarasota schools partially end a freeze on accepting donations of books from the community, and Volusia and Bay schools name their teachers of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Eid al-Fitr, a holiday that marks the end of Islam’s holiest month, Ramadan, will be recognized by the school district for the first time during the 2023-2024 school year. The holiday falls on April 10, 2024, and has been designated on the school calendar as a teacher planning day. Students get the day off. Shabbir Motorwala, a member of the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations, thanked the board and the district for the decision, saying it “shows a deep interest by the (district) and that they thought it was an important issue.” Miami Herald.

Broward: School board members will consider a second proposal Tuesday to fire Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. Last week, board member Allen Zeman proposed that Cartwright be fired but retained through June 30. Now his colleague, Lori Alhadeff, has moved to fire Cartwright and give her just the 60-day notice required by her contract, through March 25. Sun-Sentinel. WSVN. Money won by 20 Broward high school students for their computer skills in a competition sponsored by the FTX Foundation, an offshoot of the cryptocurrency company that recently collapsed, could become part of the bankruptcy proceedings. Each student won $15,000. Fox Business.

Palm Beach: School board members approved several policies last week to comply with the state’s Parental Rights in Education law. Parental permission will now be required for the schools to administer routine health care to students, including checking for head lice, and schools must notify parents about sleeping arrangements on overnight trips. Palm Beach Post.

Brevard: Construction begins Feb. 1 on a new Viera middle school that is forecast to open by the fall of 2024. The school is expected to cost up to $55 million and is being built adjacent to Viera High, which opened in 2006. Florida Today. A teacher at Satellite High School has been arrested and accused of trying to lure a child for sex. Deputies said Timothy Liscum, 64, had been communicating electronically with a student at the school for the “purpose of having sexual relations.” The student notified authorities, who continued the online conversation. Liscum had been a teacher in the district for 30 years. WKMG. WOFL. WESH.

Volusia: Vonda Morris, a probability and statistics/AP statistics teacher at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. She will now represent the district in the state competition. Other finalists were Dodi Gaines, facilitator in Cambridge AICE at Seabreeze High; Tamika Harvard, math coach at Westside Elementary; Valerie Marcus, a 5th-grade teacher at DeBary Elementary; and Cassandra Stewart, media specialist at R.J. Longstreet Elementary. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG.

Manatee: Classroom books are being reviewed by school principals to ensure that they conform to state law governing content. Among the criteria: material must be free of pornography, suited to student needs and ability to comprehend, and appropriate for grade-level. A list of classroom materials must be published on the district website, and violations of the law are considered a felony. WWSB.

Collier: School board members will interview four candidates today for the newly created position of board attorney. Up for the position are James Molenaar, Kevin Pendley, Michael Fasano and Cassius Borel, and the person selected will be paid $180,000. WGCU.

Sarasota: A freeze in the donations of books from the community and organizations is partially over, school officials have acknowledged. Last August, the district froze all donations — even dictionaries — to comply with a new state law. It recently began accepting donations again, for books that are taken home by students. A parental opt-out is still being offered. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Alachua: Loften High School in Gainesville, a magnet school where students can receive instruction in five career technical education programs, is adding a sixth in the fall. The Academy of Media Productions Technology will teach various aspects of filmmaking. It joins academies for automotive technology, gaming and mobile apps, graphic design, fire and emergency medical services, and robotics and engineering. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Adrianna Swearingen of Northside Elementary School has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Other finalists for the award were Donna Stark of West Bay Elementary, Morgan Sansbury of Tyndall Academy, Rebecca Wishart of Parker Elementary and Jessica Brantley of Rutherford High. Ivy McDonald was chosen as the rookie teacher of the year, and Verma Hines as support employee of year. WJHG. Music educators Bill and Mary Kay Thompson have been selected as the winners of the county’s 2022-2023 teacher of a lifetime award. She worked at four schools and finished her career at Hiland Park Elementary School in 2010. He worked at three schools before finishing his career with 20 years at Mowat Middle, also in 2010. Panama City News Herald.

Hernando: A reading program has been added at Eastside Elementary School in Brooksville, the only D graded school in the district. A grant will cover the $26,600 cost of the Magnetic Reading program, in which students’ foundational reading skills are assessed and teachers work with them on skill-building through lessons and reading materials. Hernando Sun.

Charlotte: Thirty-four percent of district students received school-based mental health services, interventions or assistance during the 2021-22 school year because of Hurricane Ian, said Susan Flores, district coordinator of social work. That’s up by 25 percent from the previous year. Flores also told the school board that about 700 students are now homeless because of the storm, up from 500 last year. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: The University of North Florida is spending $3.5 million on diversity and inclusion, it reported to the state last week. A total of $1,788,856 is money from the state, or the equivalent of 25 full-time positions. WJCT. Polk State College reported that it spends $174,000 in staff time and expenses for programs related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory. Florida Polytechnic University spends just $8,363. Lakeland Ledger.

Scholarships history: The march toward universal K-12 scholarships in Florida has been 25 years in the making. It’s a major milestone for Florida schools, and if approved and signed into law, would mark a milestone of the education choice movement. WUSF. Politico.

New mass shooting policy: A new policy to guide police departments in responding to an active-shooter emergency has been drafted by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Commission, which was created to recommend school safety reforms after 17 people were killed at the Parkland high school on Feb. 14, 2018. The policy is expected to be part of a legislative bill. Among the guidelines: Law enforcement must “take immediate action to stop the violence, or threat of violence and preserve life,” that “officers should move toward the sound of gunfire, screams, or any other indicators of an active threat,” and that all officers “are expected to engage and neutralize an active assailant without delay and without regard for the presence of other officers.” Commission chair Bob Gualtieri, the sheriff of Pinellas County, said, “This is the first time that I know of that any entity has adopted a model active assailant response policy for police agencies in Florida.” Sun-Sentinel.

In the Legislature: High schools participating in championship sporting events would be given two minutes of access to the stadium’s public address system to make remarks before the game under a bill filed last week for the legislative session that begins March 7. The bill does not mention prayers, but it was filed while a federal court considers an appeal from a Tampa Christian school that was denied permission by the Florida High School Athletic Association to broadcast a prayer over the loudspeaker before a 2015 championship football game. State Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, is the bill sponsor. News Service of Florida. Charter school students would be permitted to participate in private academy sports programs under a bill filed last week by state Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: School districts are increasingly being pressured to crack down on students who are causing disciplinary problems in schools. Using restorative justice and cutting down on suspensions and expulsions has not worked, critics argue, and it’s time for stricter measures. Associated Press. Teacher for America, which has placed teaching recruits in 51 U.S. communities since 1989, is cutting 400 employees, or about a quarter of its staff. “We have to transform; all of us do,” said CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard. “It’s hard, but we have to position ourselves to have the greatest impact for our kids. Period. End of sentence.” Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: Adjusting to the whims of politicians and society is nothing new for teachers. But, in Florida and other parts of the country, it’s reaching a breaking point. It’s time for elected officials to consider the profession itself and devise laws, rules and standards that will help educators do their jobs and make teaching attractive again. Palm Beach Post. Undefined “anti-wokeness” drives Florida education policy and attempts to tell employers how they can or can’t train their employees on issues of race and diversity. And neither the governor nor his staff feels compelled to explain their actions to citizens. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. Florida officials remain firmly in denial about the need to get more qualified teachers into public school classrooms. The more pressing educational priorities in Tallahassee are to punish teachers who run afoul of culture war battle lines, police books found in schools, fight the teachers unions and get students into private schools. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff