State looking at a Christian alternative to SAT, teachers disciplined for anti-state videos and more

Christian SAT alternative: State officials who are looking for alternatives to the College Board’s Advanced Placement courses and SAT test are in discussions with the founder of an education testing company that focuses on the “great classical and Christian tradition.” The Classic Learning Test was founded in 2015 and is used mostly by private schools and home-schooled students. It’s rooted in the classical education model built around the “centrality of the Western tradition.” Company founder Jeremy Tate said the SAT has become “increasingly ideological” in part by censoring “the entire Christian-Catholic intellectual tradition” and other “thinkers in the history of Western thought.” Miami Herald. WJXT. A classical education emphasizes a return to “core virtues” and subjects like math, science, civics and classical texts, and aims to create wisdom and virtue “by nourishing the soul on truth, beauty and goodness,” according to the Mason Classical Academy charter school in Naples. Miami Herald. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ disparagement of the value of AP courses as part of his squabble with the College Board is a turnaround from just a few years ago, when he called AP courses “a gateway to achieving success in college, career and ultimately in life.” Tampa Bay Times. Daily Beast.

Around the state: A teacher in Duval County was fired and one in Orange County has been disciplined for posting videos to social media that are critical of the state for its new laws that allow challenges to school books, book challenges also are in the news in several other districts, about 350 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are being rezoned to another school over the next four years to ease overcrowding, a Polk County committee is recommending the school board reject a charter school’s request for a 15-year contract extension, and a proposal for a University of Florida graduate campus in downtown West Palm Beach is in jeopardy over a dispute about naming rights. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Nearly 90 incoming 9th-graders who had been zoned to attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the fall will instead be sent to Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs as part of a four-year phased-in plan to reduce overcrowding at the Parkland school. Over the next four years, rezoning will send 351 students to Coral Glades High. Students who live in the affected district but already are at Stoneman Douglas will be allowed to stay through graduation. Sun-Sentinel. WTVJ.

Orange: Florida’s Department of Education is investigating whether school district officials are underreporting school crimes to the state. Schools in Apopka are the focus of the investigation for allegedly suppressing reports of incidents and hindering police investigations. The Florida Board of Education ordered the district to submit all disciplinary referrals from August 2022 to Feb. 1, 2023. Superintendent Maria Vazquez said that information will be sent to the state before March 17. WKMG. A Howard Middle School language arts teacher has been placed on administrative leave after district officials determined he “used his students as political props” when he posted TikTok videos of skits of students acting out that Florida had banned books such as dictionaries. WKMG. WESH. Florida’s Voice. An Ocoee Middle School student was struck and killed by a vehicle last Thursday as he was riding his bike home from school. Grief counselors are available at the school. WKMGOrange Observer.

Duval: A substitute teacher at Mandarin Middle School has been fired for posting a video showing empty bookshelves in the school library. Brian Covey posted the video Jan. 27 and it quickly went viral, drawing 13 million views and making national news. It was used by critics of book challenges as an example of what Gov. DeSantis’ policies had led to. DeSantis called it a “fake narrative.” Covey was fired by the company ESS, which supplies subs for the district. In a statement, district officials said, “In discussion between the district and ESS regarding this individual’s misrepresentation of the books available to students in the school’s library and the disruption this misrepresentation has caused, it was determined that he had violated social media and cell phone policies of his employer. Therefore, ESS determined these policy violations made it necessary to part ways with this individual.” WTVL. WJXT.

Polk: A district review committee is recommending that the school board reject a charter school’s request for a 15-year contract extension. The Language and Literacy Academy for Learning in Winter Haven, which has served disabled students for five years, instead should be extended for just three years, the committee recommended. It said it had concerns about the school’s academic and financial conditions. The school’s reserves are under 3 percent, even after getting a federal COVID-era paycheck protection loan and borrowing from an Oregon company. The academy has 290 students and 30 teachers and staff, which includes six fulltime subs with temporary certifications. Lakeland Ledger.

Osceola: District officials have reached a $582,000 settlement with a consultant it had accused in 2021 of taking $4 million in secret payments from insurance companies. “Gallagher (Benefit Services of Chicago) breached its agreements and, worse, the school board’s trust, leaving the unmistakable taint on Gallagher’s fealty given that the school board had engaged a consultant getting paid more from the carriers it was to scrutinize and supervise than from the school board itself,” according to the original lawsuit. As part of the settlement, Gallagher does not admit to wrongdoing. Florida Politics.

Volusia: Nineteen books are being reviewed by the district after being informally challenged “due to sexual content.” Each book will be reviewed beginning in March by a committee of nine people, which will then recommend to the school board whether to “retain or remove from the district’s library collection.” Among the books under review are All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Johnson, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Looking for Alaska by John Green, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: School board members decided Friday that Palma Sola Elementary School will be either remodeled or rebuilt instead of being torn down. Rumors of the school’s impending closure began circulating last year. The school can hold up to 750 students, but has just 413. Rebuilding at the same size would cost $31.9 million, while rebuilding for 500 students would cost $19.6 million. District officials said they have set aside $22 million for improvements. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

Alachua: District officials said the conservative activist group Libs of TikTok is incorrectly contending that two books containing explicit drawings of characters engaging in sexual acts are available for students at three elementary schools. “They don’t realize that a book that they are looking at has been out of circulation for years,” said district director of communication Jackie Johnson about the books It’s Perfectly Normal and This Book is Gay. “It is not available to students, it’s only available to teachers.” The other book was removed in 2019. WCJB.

Flagler: A joint book review committee from Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast high schools decided unanimously last week that Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo should remain on school library shelves. A complaint that the book contained pornography and was “inappropriate” for high school students. It’s a coming-of-age novel in verse about a black, gay Londoner who becomes a poet and performs as the Black Flamingo in drag. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: A proposal to put a University of Florida graduate school campus in downtown West Palm Beach is reportedly in jeopardy over a dispute over the naming of the school. Developer Jeff Greene, who has pledged to donate 5 acres worth an estimated $50 million, apparently wants his name on the campus. School officials have reportedly declined because they worry Greene’s request could discourage other donors. Palm Beach Post. As interim New College president, Richard Corcoran will be paid $699,000 a year plus benefits, more than double what the previous president made. How does Corcoran’s compensation compare to that of other state college presidents? Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sam Joeckel, an English professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University for 21 years, has been notified that his contract renewal has been delayed while school officials review the material he uses. A complaint was filed that he’s “indoctrinating” students. CNN. WPBF. An additional 57 apartments will be available for Florida A&M University students next fall after the school completed its $13 million purchase of the Citivue at Railroad Square. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. A federal judge has ordered the Florida Institute of Technology to resurrect its varsity men’s rowing team this week to prepare for the spring racing season. The school ended the program last June but an alumni group sued, claiming the decision violated the Title IX civil rights law requiring universities that receive federal funding to provide equal opportunity in athletics without regard to gender. Florida Today. The parents of a Jacksonville University track team member who committed suicide in 2021 are suing the school’s former track coach for allegedly bullying her and the school for negligence. Florida Times-Union.

Funds for mental health: Six Florida school districts will receive between $500,000 and $3 million in federal funds to hire mental health professionals, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week. Grants going to the Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Duval, Seminole, Bay and Monroe school districts will be used  to increase the number of  school psychologists, counselors and other mental health professionals. Florida International University, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida are also receiving grants to train school-based mental health services providers. Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: U.S. Rep. Cory Mills, a Republican who represents congressional District 7 in the Daytona area, has introduced a bill that would fine publishing companies up to $500,000 and potentially jail their executives for up to five years if they provide sexually explicit materials to schools. H.R. 863 targets publishing houses that “knowingly furnish an elementary school, a secondary school, a local educational agency, or a state educational agency with published material containing sexually explicit visual depiction of any kind, including a picture, photograph, or drawing.” The Blaze. Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s education system — its public schools that voters have declared to be a top priority, its state college system that opens the gates of opportunity for thousands, its university system that’s currently ranked No. 1 in the nation — could be its most shining asset. But Gov. DeSantis and his legislative acolytes keep trying to turn Florida’s classrooms into backdrops for their divisive, self-aggrandizing culture wars. Orlando Sentinel. Gov. DeSantis picked a fight with the College Board, and the students will be the losers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Book banning sends the wrong message to young people just forming their sense of what’s right and wrong. They need the truth — honest facts and not whitewashing. They will not accept a proclamation that ideas and opinions the governor disagrees with are not acceptable, and that it is now not okay to challenge authority. Marcos Vilar, Orlando Sentinel. With New College paying interim president Richard Corcoran $699,000 a year, you might think you’d be getting a brilliant academician with a wealth of success in the public education arena. Instead, Corcoran – an attorney and career politician with no background as an educator – comes with a reputation for aggressive efforts to undermine public education and promote privatization, failed educational interventions, political cronyism and questionable moral judgment. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The pages of children’s books about sports heroes contain reminders about empathy and tolerance that we all need. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. The governor’s budget proposal ensures that students will continue to have choices in higher education. Bob Boyd, Naples Daily News.

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BY NextSteps staff