Board to consider rule change on orientation and gender discussions in classrooms, charter school funding bill and more

Board rule change proposal: Members of the state Board of Education will consider a rule change Wednesday that would prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for all public school students unless the discussion is part of health instruction. The proposed rule states that schools and teachers may “not intentionally provide classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on sexual orientation or gender identity unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards … or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend.” A state law passed last year barred those discussions for K-3 students. News Service of Florida.

Charter school funding: The bill making charter schools eligible for “capital outlay” funding that traditional public school districts receive every year from local property taxes was approved Monday by the House Appropriations Committee and is now ready for a House vote. About $56 million could shift from traditional public schools to charters next year if the bill is approved and signed into law, and that could rise to $280 million or more within five years, according to a House staff analysis. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida.

Senate tax package: Tax cuts worth $973 million this year were proposed Monday by the Senate. Among the provisions in S.B. 7062 are two back-to-school tax holidays from July 24 to Aug. 6 and from Jan. 1-14, 2024. Exempted items would include clothing items worth $100 or less, school supplies worth $50 or less and personal computers worth $1,500 or less. The bill deviates slightly from the bill the House proposed last week. Members of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee are expected to vote on the package today. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Last week’s record rainfall and subsequent flooding caused at least $8 million in damages to Broward schools, Sarasota school board members are expected to vote today on a controversial consulting contract, the number of students passing the state bar exam in the first time sitting for it dropped in seven of the 11 state law schools in 2023, and a Citrus County teacher has been named national computer teacher of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A 114-panel solar array was unveiled last week at the MAST@FIU Biscayne Bay campus in north Miami, the first such installation for the district. School officials said the panels will generate 5-10 percent of the school’s energy needs. The district has set a goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2030. WLRN. A 28-year-old social studies teacher at Country Club Middle School has been arrested and accused of child abuse and witness tampering for allegedly pursuing a romantic relationship with a 13-year-old student at the northwest Miami-Dade School. Police said Muhammed Ahmed communicated with the student at various hours during the day and gave him gifts. District officials said they have initiated termination proceedings. WFOR. WSVN.

Broward: Last week’s record-setting rainfall and subsequent flooding caused at least $8 million in damages to district schools, according to spokesman John Sullivan. All schools were closed Thursday and Friday but reopened Monday. The heaviest damage was reported at nine schools in the Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood areas: Attucks Middle, Olsen Middle, Parkway Middle, Seagull Alternative School, Steven Foster Elementary, Stranahan High, Walker Elementary, Westwood Heights Elementary and Whiddon Rogers Education Center. “There was water intrusion and some of those schools, ceiling tiles that had to replaced, leaks that had to be addressed, floors that had to be either replaced or repaired, drywall had to be repaired,” said Sullivan. Sun-Sentinel.

Duval: New detectors that are reportedly more precise than traditional metal detectors at flagging guns, knives and bombs have been installed and are being tested at five high schools. The district plans to install the Evolv machines at every county high school by the end of the year. The lease-to-own contract will cost the district about $8 million over the next five years. WJXT. Five school buses worth at least $400,000 were destroyed in a fire Friday at the Student Transportation of America bus depot. The fire is considered suspicious and a state fire marshal is investigating. WJAX. WJXT.

Pinellas: Most schools are projected to have the same start and finish times next fall, but three could see significantly different start and finish times when schools reopen Aug. 10, according to a proposal recently released by district officials. Changes are planned for Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg, which could begin at 7:15 a.m. and end at 1:45 p.m., while students at East Like Middle School in Tarpon Springs and Pinellas High Innovation in St. Petersburg could start their days at 7:25 a.m. and end them at 1:55 p.m. WFLA.

Lee: Oasis High School, a charter school in Cape Coral, is considering following the district in switching from a block schedule to period scheduling. Period scheduling consists of seven-period days, with each class lasting 47 minutes. In block scheduling, students take eight classes. Four of the classes meet one day, and the other four the following day, and so on. WGCU.

Brevard: A recent audit of the district’s discipline policies suggests that discipline remains a concern for teachers and staff. even as the number of behavior incidents reported has decreased since peaking in the 2018-2019 school year. The survey also shows that 80 percent of bus drivers have experienced student behavior that has led them to feel unsafe while transporting students, and 71 percent said they don’t feel supported by school administrators in imposing disciplinary measures. Acting superintendent Susan Hann says the audit presents an opportunity for district to adapt its policies for dealing with disciplinary issues. Board members will discuss the results of the survey Wednesday. WFTV. Space Coast Daily.

Osceola: District teachers will receive $2,000 supplements from the district as discussions about raises for next year continue. Also under negotiation are additional days off for bereavement leave, more pay for counselors, social workers, ESE/ESOL resource compliance specialists and media specialists to cover their extra work days at the beginning and end of the school year, more teacher planning time during testing, and more. The next bargaining session is May 11. WFTV. A team of school district recruiters recently spent three days in Puerto Rico interviewing about 200 prospective teachers in hopes of reducing the current teacher shortage of up to 400. The district has been recruiting there since the 1990s. WFTV. A 1st-grade teacher at Deerwood Elementary School in Kissimmee has been arrested and accused of raping a 15-year-old. Deputies said Joel Tapil, 36, and the teen met on a dating app. Tapil arrived on an international exchange visitor visa from the Philippines in September and has only worked at Deerwood Elementary, according to a district spokesperson. The district is in the process of firing him. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Sarasota: School board members are expected to vote today on hiring a consultant with ties to the conservative Christian Hillsdale College in Michigan to conduct a district improvement study for the school district, which has been A-rated by the state since 2010. Jordan Adams, a consultant for the Vermilion Education company, would be paid $28,000 to review textbooks, library books, lesson plans, guidance counseling practices, collective bargaining agreements, and more. WUSF.

Clay: District officials said they are seeing more students bring knives to schools than in previous years. District Police Chief Kenneth Wagner said knives considered as weapons include swords, kitchen knives, razor blades, or box cutters. Bringing common pocket knives, plastic utensils or blunt-bladed knives are exempted from criminal charges, but still can be grounds for expulsion, he said. WTLV.

Bay: Superintendent Bill Husfelt has proposed firing Rutherford High School English language arts teacher Brian Gautier for alleged sexual harassment against students, according to district records. Gautier was suspended last week. WMBB.

Citrus: Jerome Swiatek Jr., a computer science teacher at Citrus High School, has been named national computer teacher of the year by Project Lead the Way. More than 2,800 teachers nationwide were considered for the award. Swiatek has been with the district for 18 years and has been teaching at Citrus High for 13 years. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: The number of students passing the state bar exam in the first time sitting for it dropped in seven of 11 state law schools in 2023, according to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. Students at Florida State and Florida A&M students were among those who passed at a lower rate. The University of Florida and Florida International were two of the four schools with higher pass rates this year. Tallahassee Democrat.

Education podcasts: Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill and Amy Graham, vice president of policy, innovation and empowerment for SUFS, talk with about the new universal school choice law, why it’s one of the most transformative laws in Florida’s public education history, and more. SUFS, which hosts this blog, helps administrater Florida’s K-12 scholarship programs. reimaginED.

Around the nation: Recent school board elections in Wisconsin and Illinois showed a backlash against conservative candidates who ran campaigns centered around cultural issues. “Where culture war issues were being waged by some school board candidates, those issues fell flat with voters,” said Kim Anderson, executive director of the National Education Association labor union. “The takeaway for us is that parents and community members and voters want candidates who are focused on strengthening our public schools, not abandoning them.” Politico. A recent study showed significant learning gains for kindergarten students who received short-burst, in-person 1-on-1 tutoring. The study took place in Broward County during the 2021-2022 school year and showed that 70 percent of the students who received the tutoring met their reading level goal compared to 32 percent who weren’t tutored. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: Schools of choice have been relatively enthusiastic adopters of the Core Knowledge curriculum and may become more so with more high-quality evidence to drive demand. Choice and curriculum reform are mutually reinforcing and a force to be reckoned with. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. It’s easy to see how quickly higher-education decisions can be made not for academic rigor, not by educators, but by elected officials with a political agenda. This is the kind of dangerous meddling lawmakers are inviting into our university system. Miami Herald. Only a small number of Florida students are using dual enrollment to get a head start on bachelor’s degree programs in STEM subjects. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff