State asks colleges to report CRT and diversity efforts, UF won’t probe Ladapo, and more

Diversity programs inquiry: Gov. Ron DeSantis is asking all 40 state colleges and universities to provide an accounting of how much they spend on their programs dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory. The governor’s administration sent a memo to the institutions last week requesting how many positions are funded for those programs, saying it wanted a “a full understanding” of college operational expenses as the governor prepares his budget proposal for the legislative session that begins March 7. In his inauguration speech Tuesday, DeSantis said, “We must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology.” The reports are due Jan. 13. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics.

Around the state: The University of Florida said it doesn’t have the standing to investigate an allegation that professor and state surgeon general Joseph Ladapo used flawed research to recommend that men between the ages of 18 and 39 not take the COVID vaccine, Marion County school officials are considering a new plan to fight chronic student absenteeism and truancy, Volusia opens a new elementary school, Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna said he’ll run for a third term, and a Bay County charter school is asking for $6 million from the nonprofit overseeing distribution of the money received by the state after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Three members of the 4th District Court of Appeal have backed a lower court’s ruling to dismiss an attempt to obtain an “advisory opinion” that could have helped Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg decide whether to pursue a lawsuit against Smith & Wesson and Sunrise Tactical Supply over the death of their daughter Jaime in the 2018 Parkland school shooting. The Guttenbergs asked for the opinion because they could be liable for attorney fees and other costs if they bring a suit and then find out the gun businesses are shielded. News Service of Florida. An appeals court has agreed with a private school that a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of a student should be settled by arbitration. The enrollment agreement for Calvary Christian Academy that was signed by the parents notes that any legal disputes will go to an arbiter. Colleen Happ filed the suit when her 13-year-old son Colin committed suicide after being requested by Calvary to withdraw from school because he sold a vape pen to a classmate. News Service of Florida.

Hillsborough: Newsome High School music teacher Chris Allen has won $5,000 for his school’s music program and another $5,000 for himself after being chosen as singer Barry Manilow’s music project award winner. Manilow selects a local teacher in every city where he performs. He appears in Tampa on Jan. 14. WFTS.

Volusia: Beachside Elementary School has opened in Daytona Beach, consolidating students from the old Osceola and Ortona elementaries. “The feeling was a really good one. We anticipated this as adults that the kids would be in awe, and they were,” principal Lynn Bruner said. “(There was) lots of wow factor for the kids.” About 560 students attend the new school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Marion: District officials will present a plan at today’s school board workshop meeting to deal with chronic absenteeism and truancy. The district’s absenteeism rate is about 7 percent above the state average. “We were actually on a downward trend of chronic absenteeism and truancy, and COVID reversed both of those are up, unfortunately,” said district spokesman Kevin Christian. The multi-tiered approach to the problem includes making phone calls home and sending messages from a student’s school, and conducting progress monitoring and problem-solving meetings to track attendance issues. WKMG.

Leon: School Superintendent Rocky Hanna has announced that he will run for a third term in 2024. “I realize this announcement is very early in the process but I felt as though it was important to let our community know my intentions,” Hanna wrote on Facebook. “While I am extremely proud of our accomplishments over the last six years, my work is not yet finished.” He will run as a Democrat. Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee Reports.

Bay: North Bay Haven Charter Academy is applying for a $6 million grant from the Triumph Gulf Coast Inc. to build six classrooms to replace portables being used for marine sciences, engineering, computer and other classes. The application has been endorsed by county commissioners. Triumph is a nonprofit that distributes money the state received in damages after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida officials say they won’t investigate allegations made by the medical faculty committee that COVID-19 vaccine research led by Joseph Ladapo, a professor of medicine and the state’s surgeon general, was “seriously flawed.” The research led to a recommendation from Ladapo that men between the ages of 18 and 39 should not take COVID vaccines because of an “abnormally high risk of cardiac-related death.” UF officials said Ladapo conducted the research as part of his duties as surgeon general, putting it outside of any university review. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. The University of Miami has announced it intends to build a seven-story, $100-million football operations center that would include spaces for training, academic services, recruiting development, a dining facility and a parking garage. Construction would begin later this year, with a mid-2025 completion date. Miami Herald. WFOR. Jose Oliva, a former Republican speaker of the Florida House from Miami Lakes, has been appointed by Gov. DeSantis to the Florida University System Board of Governors. Politico Florida.

In the Legislature: Questions about teacher recruitment and how public-school funds are calculated to accommodate school choice changes were among the topics raised this week during education committee meetings in the Legislature. A new law that helps military veterans get teaching certificates has yielded just 10 new teachers, and state officials said they had plans to increase the number of students going into teacher-training programs. No details were given. Meanwhile, state Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City, wants the Legislature to consider changing the way the state funds schools to take into consideration the rapid rise in school choice. The current formula was installed in 1973. The 60-day legislative session begins March 7. Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: Rick Singer has been sentenced to 42 months in prison for helping children of wealthy parents get into U.S. colleges through cheating and bribery. Singer, now 62, admitted in 2019 that he helped student cheat on college entrance exams and funneled money from wealthy parents to college coaches to help their children get into schools as fake athletic recruits. More than 50 people were convicted in the scheme, including actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. Associated Press. Reuters. NPR.

Opinions on schools: Remote learning was terrible for many students, but learning in quarantine is far worse. Parents should be assured by their local school leaders and state policymakers that their children will be provided with live instruction for the duration of any quarantines. John Bailey, The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff