Banned book battle continues to brew, students take part in a teddy bear drive and more

Around the state:  A group of parents are rallying behind an Orange County teacher, a principal was arrested in Brevard, a theater company created an independent library of banned books and students in Broward participated in a teddy bear drive for first responders to give to children.  Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools and colleges and universities:

Broward: Students at Bayview Elementary in south Florida took part in a teddy bear drive for first responders to give to children years after a boy was killed in a plane crash. Ft. Lauderdale police officers picked up dozens of teddy bears collected by students. The drive was organized by Taylor’s Teddy Bears, a nonprofit that collects stuffed bears for first responders to give to children. WSVN.

Hillsborough: A week before a key vote on school boundary changes and closures, some members of the Hillsborough County School Board indicated they might not be ready to take action. A special meeting and first vote is scheduled for Feb. 28 on sweeping changes that are designed to fix both school crowding and vacancies, while saving money.  Board member Lynn Gray, concerned about pending legislation that would expand the state’s school voucher system, said she fears funding levels and enrollment could drop dramatically, making it impossible to make an informed decision on new attendance boundaries at this time.  Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee: Officials this week echoed Gov. Ron DeSantis by suggesting key changes to public library policies that give parents more control over what children are allowed to read. The updates to library protocols are the latest culture war development from the board of county commissioners here. Miami Herald.

Orange: A group of Orange County parents want school officials to reinstate a teacher accused of using children as “political pawns” in a series of TikTok videos, including some that took aim at book bans. Ethan Hooper, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Howard Middle, was put on administrative leave and faces being fired by the school district after he posted the videos. Orlando Sentinel.

Brevard: The principal of Learning Forward Education Center in Melbourne was arrested this week for allegedly abusing a child with special needs. WESH.

School vouchers: Two Central Florida lawmakers who support a “transformational” expansion of the state’s school voucher programs are closely tied to private schools that already receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from families who use state scholarships to pay tuition. Orlando Sentinel. Speaking of vouchers, the discussion over so-called “school vouchers” has long been a contentious battle in education politics, and GOP lawmakers are pushing to expand the voucher program if all goes well with the state Legislature. But legislation has became fraught with confusion and disagreements over allowing students to attend private schools using taxpayer dollars. Florida Phoenix.

Banned books: The book battle brewing in schools prompted a St. Petersburg theater company to help create an independent library full of banned books. Titles such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Anne Frank: The Diary a Young Girl” now have a new home at the American Stage Theater Company. The theater company, along with Keep St. Pete Lit and Tombolo Books, created the independent library of banned books at St. Pete College. Fox 13.

College savings for newborns: States, cities and community groups that offer free money to families to jumpstart college savings face a dilemma: The families most in need sometimes don’t sign up. To solve that problem, some states have transformed the accounts into automatic programs that help all families. The initiative comes at a time when even affluent families are struggling to afford college. The 74th.

University and college news: A South Florida professor’s job may be in jeopardy after a parent complained to the president of Palm Beach Atlantic University about a racial justice unit included in Samuel Joeckel’s Composition II course, prompting the dean and the provost to let the professor know the renewal of his contract has been delayed, pending review of the unit. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools:  Texas Monthly featured the tale of Dripping Springs Independent School District and how it plays into a vast right-wing conspiracy to destroy public education.  Matthew Ladner, reimaginED.  Great Hearts Academies launched in 2001 with 130 students. Today, it operates 33 classical K-12 schools serving more than 25,000 students in Arizona and Texas. Rick Hess, reimaginED. A Florida mom wants education savings accounts to become a reality. Lisa Buie, reimaginED.