Protests greet Sasse at UF, special session underway, classroom books covered, and more

Sasse takes over at UF: About 100 University of Florida faculty and students protested new president Ben Sasse on his first day of work Monday and presented a list of demands, including raises for staff, a public disavowal of attacks from Tallahassee on academic and free speech, and keeping commitments made about maintaining tenure for faculty and protecting inclusivity, equity and diversity. Sasse did not respond directly, but wrote letters to students and faculty expressing his excitement about being at UF and calling for everyone on campus to have “big ideas” and “do big things.” Gainesville Sun. WCJB. WGFL. Tampa Bay Times. Sasse is expected to announce today that UF will partner with the city of Jacksonville to create a campus that focuses on the technology side of health care and financial services. The university already has a health-care presence in the city, with UF Health overseeing two campuses. Florida Times-Union.

In the Legislature: A bill filed on the first day of the special legislative session would maintain Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, but transfer operational authority from Disney to a five-member board of supervisors that would be appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. In two years, the name of the district would be changed to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. DeSantis targeted the district after Disney publicly opposed the Parental Rights in Education bill, which bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 and restricts it for older students. The bill goes before the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: Broward teachers have been advised by the district to “cover and close all classroom libraries” to comply with a state law, a former Broward administrator is gaining support to become interim superintendent, Palm Beach school board members are agreeing to make changes to the district’s equity policy and LGBTQ+ support guide under pressure from the state, Duval parents are critical of a school survey that asks students as young as 6th-graders about their sexual history, Volusia district officials and teachers reach a tentative contract agreement, and New College trustees meet next week to consider a contract for interim president Richard Corcoran. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: District teachers have been advised by administrators to “cover and close all classroom libraries” in order to comply with state laws restricting access of materials that discuss race, sex, identity and history. “(Do) not allow students to have any access to them for the time being,” stated the e-mail sent to teachers. “New statutes have been put into place and every title must be vetted and approved.” One Broward teacher said, “I’m about to teach the Renaissance. Well, what am I allowed to show them? Some of the greatest pieces of art that I could show them from the Renaissance time period, some people would consider pornography.” WLRN. Earlean Smiley, a former assistant superintendent in the district, has picked up support from the president of the teachers union and school board members who will choose an interim superintendent today. The other candidates are current district administrators Ernie Lozano and Jermaine Fleming. Sun-Sentinel.

Orange: A mother is suing the school district for providing her daughter with a laptop for remote learning during the pandemic that didn’t have parental controls or software blocking her access to certain websites. The suit claims that as a result, the girl, who was under the age of 13, was contacted and groomed by a 26-year-old man and subsequently kidnapped and sexually assaulted. WKMG. WESH.

Palm Beach: School board members have tentatively agreed to revise several sections of the district’s equity policy and LGBTQ+ support guide in order to comply with state law. Gone are references to “inequities and institutional racism” and on “removing academic barriers based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or socioeconomic status of students.” Added was language to clarify that school curricula be age and developmentally appropriate. The updated policy will be officially approved at a future board meeting. Palm Beach Post. A Palm Beach Gardens Community High School student was arrested Monday and accused of having a loaded handgun on campus. The gun was discovered after another student told school officials he saw the student with it. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: Some parents are criticizing the district for distributing a survey that asks students as young as 6th-graders about their sexual history. The questions are part of a youth risk behavior survey that was created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parents want the surveys sent to them first so they can decide whether to allow their child to participate. WTLV.

Polk: Members of the community are being asked to help the school district name an elementary school that opens in Winter Haven in August. A committee narrowed the choices to Sensabaugh Elementary after Effie Reeve Sensabaugh, a beloved elementary teacher with more than 40 years spent teaching students in Winter Haven, South Pointe Elementary, Osprey Elementary or Osprey Landing Elementary. Online voting ends Feb. 20. WFLA. WTSP.

Volusia: District officials and the teachers union have reached a tentative contract agreement that provides employees total compensation of $11.7 million. About $5 million would go for raises for all teachers, with the rest going for various supplements and bonuses. “I am pleased that an agreement was reached that raises the minimum teacher salary and includes increases for veteran teachers,” said Superintendent Carmen Balgobin. Teachers and the school board still have to approve the agreement. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Jeanne Jendrzejewski, a Spanish teacher and swim coach at DeLand High School who has been teaching for 54 years, was recently honored with the Irving Wershow Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Florida Foreign Language Association. The 74-year-old Jendrzejewski said she expects to teach for at least a few more years. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Alachua: District officials’ proposal to lower the educational standards needed for certaing jobs in the district will get a public hearing today. High school diplomas or GED would become preferred quaifications for transportation and maintenance jobs under the proposal, which was initiated as a way to widen the base of candidates to fill the increasing number of empty jobs. Mainstreet Daily News.

Bay: Callaway Elementary School officials have unveiled their newly renovated media center. It includes new furniture, painted walls, books, vinyl work and a book vending machine. Funding for the project was provided by the St. Joe Community Foundation. Panama City News Herald.

Colleges and universities: New College trustees will meet Feb. 13 to consider a proposed contract for interim president Richard Corcoran. Terms were not disclosed. If the contract is approved, Corcoran will start next month. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The anti-Semitic campaign known as “Ye is right” is hitting Florida’s colleges and universities, but free speech experts say there’s little the schools can do about it. Palm Beach Post. Six members of the Florida Institute of Technology men’s rowing team are suing the school for ending the program, citing the federal Title IX law requiring universities that receive federal funding to provide equal opportunity and treatment in athletics without regard to gender. Florida Today.

Florida and black history: African American studies is considered part of the K-12 core curriculum, but only 11 of the state’s 67 county school districts have a plan to develop the curriculum, train teachers and integrate instruction in their required coursework, according to the Florida Education Commissioner’s Task Force on African American Studies. The group was initiated in 1995 to help districts implement the law. One of the reasons for the absence of plans is that there are no consequences for districts that don’t offer specific instruction beyond Black History Month in February, said state Sen. Jim Hargrett, a Tampa Democrat and a sponsor of the 1994 law. Miami Herald. The publishing company Haymarket Books is offering free black history e-book downloads, and marketing the effort in Florida after state officials banned an AP African American studies course. The Hill.

Opinions on schools: The demand for choice exceeded the willingness of the political system to provide choice, resulting in ubiquitous wait-lists. Families began making their plans accordingly with a do-it-yourself spirit. Lawmakers obviously have gotten the memo that their constituents want choice, and they want it now. You don’t need to be gifted with prophetic powers to surmise where things are going next. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. As a long-time resident of the bottom of the academic food chain, I would know if radical politics were being imposed downward by the bureaucracy because they would land on me with maximum kinetic energy. But instead, we are all busy trying to give our students at all levels the best possible opportunities to learn and achieve with limited resources. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Supporting school choice empowers parents, creates competition that drives schools to enhance academic programs, serves as a catalyst for innovation and raises the level of excellence in schools across Florida. That is exactly what every parent, taxpayer, employer and community member should want in an education system. David Brown, Naples Daily News. Giving a fuller picture of history isn’t about making any students feel discomfort or guilt about events that happened long before their life (an element of the “Stop WOKE Act”). But teaching history also shouldn’t be about avoiding the uncomfortable, telling only feel-good stories. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff