Court tosses challenge to college survey, New College enrollment lags, Sarasota board rejects contract for consultant, and more

College survey challenge tossed: A federal judge ruled this week that university professors did not establish the necessary legal standing to challenge a 2021 Florida law requiring colleges and universities to distribute voluntary surveys about “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campuses. Professors contended the law was a violation of their First Amendment rights. But Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show that they had suffered an “injury-in-fact” that was “traceable” to the defendants. “Plaintiffs’ suggestion that the amorphous threat defendants play by generally enforcing state laws trickles down to cause their fears of speculative future punishment fails to establish, pursuant to binding precedent, plaintiffs’ standing to challenge Florida’s policy choices,” Walker wrote. The professors can revise their challenge and refile. News Service of Florida.

In the Legislature: Senators voted Tuesday 39-0 to ban TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter and other social media platforms on public school devices and require schools to teach students about the dangers of the Internet. It now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for a signature. Florida Politics. A $973 million tax-cut package was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Senate Finance and Tax Committee and is now ready for a full Senate vote. The House has approved a $1.38 billion bill, and the two chambers will have to reconcile the two proposals into a final plan. Both the Senate and House include two back-to-school tax holidays. News Service of Florida. A bill requiring Florida middle and high schools to have later start times was approved Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Education. It has to clear one more committee. The House has approved its version. Florida Politics. House members are expected to vote today on a bill that would restrict students from using school bathrooms that don’t align with their gender assigned at birth. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Senators vote today on a constitutional amendment that would ask state voters to make school board elections partisan. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Sarasota school board members vote 3-2 against hiring a consultant with ties to the conservative Christian Hillsdale College to conduct a “district improvement study,” enrollment in the next first-year class at New College of Florida is “a little bit down” according to interim president Richard Corcoran, Broward’s school board votes against an outside investigation of two members who were accused of “inappropriate touching,” Hillsborough’s school board votes to close Just Elementary School in Tampa, a committee of seven Pinellas school district media specialists has decided that the Toni Morrison novel The Bluest Eye will again be available in high school libraries, and Brevard’s school board selerted four semifinalists for the superintendent’s job. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Two school board members held a meeting Tuesday to discuss “minority participation in procurement and board meeting format and procedures.” The meeting was initiated by Danny Espino, a Gov. DeSantis appointee, and Roberto Alonso, who was endorsed by DeSantis. They were later joined by Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall. On contracts going to minority firms, Alonso said, “When I look at it, sometimes, there’s some contracts, it’s not even involving our community, there are contracts that are outside of our community.” Espino added, “This is a preliminary, probably the most preliminary conversation you have on an item. This is just getting the ball rolling.” WPLG. The Children’s Trust has announced that it is committing $383 million to support 143 after-school and summer camp programs in Miami-Dade County over the next five years. More than 36,000 school-aged children will benefit from the program each year, according to trust officials. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Broward: School board members decided unanimously Tuesday against hiring an outside investigator to look into allegations of inappropriate touching by school board members Brenda Fam and Allen Zeman. Board general counsel Marylin Batista said the investigation was unnecessary because the matter had already been referred to the Florida Ethics Commission. Board members did agree to require awareness, sensitivity and sexual harassment training for all board members and develop a policy on dealing with future allegations against board members. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. The head of school at the Xceed Preparatory Academy in Coral Springs has been arrested and is accused of sexual misconduct with a 10th-grader at the private school. Police said Tracy Michelle Smith, 43, faces a charge of soliciting or engaging in sexual conduct by an authority figure after a student reported in April that she had sexually molested him. School officials said Smith, who had been an educator for 20 years, was fired. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: School board members tentatively voted Tuesday to close Just Elementary School in West Tampa at the end of the school year. A final vote is scheduled May 9. Students would be transferred to Tampa Bay Boulevard and Booker T. Washington elementary schools. Just has a capacity of about 600 students but enrollment is just 283, and it is the only district school that received an F grade from the state. The board also voted to convert Carrollwood Elementary into to a K-8 school. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. School board members have approved the appointments of four new principals: Dantè Jones, 52, who is moving to Williams Middle School from Mann Middle; Candice Dodd, 41, to Belmont Elementary from Edison Elementary; Corrie Heidt, 44, who is being promoted from assistant principal at Buckhorn Elementary to the school’s principal; and Kimberly Parke, 55, who is being promoted from assistant principal at Dover Elementary to principal of Mango Elementary. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: The latest district LGBTQ+ support guide has been changed to comply with state law by restricting students’ use of restrooms to their gender identity at birth or use a single-stall bathroom, and is now advising school staff to consult a parental notification guide and talk to school administrators if a student discloses his or her sexual orientation to them. The previous guide urged staffers not to disclose a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission, and said students could use bathrooms that matched their “consistently asserted” gender identity. “It does align us towards the direction that we see happening in Tallahassee, but I see this as still being respectful of individuals,” said board member Lori Hershey. Jacksonville Today.

Pinellas: A committee of seven district media specialists has decided that the Toni Morrison novel The Bluest Eye will again be available for “self-selection in district library media centers for students in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 with no parental permission requirements.” The book had been off all county school library shelves since January after a parent complained about a rape scene in it. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. A 17-year-old senior at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg was arrested Tuesday and accused of having a gun on campus. Police said the gun had been stolen. WFLA. WTSP.

Brevard: The field of contenders for the school superintendent’ job has been narrowed to four semifinalists. Scott Schneider, Mark Rendell, John Stratton and Jason Wysong will be brought back to the district for interviews April 27 and 28 and a public meeting the 27th. A superintendent will be chosen May 2, with the expectation that a contract will be ready May 9 for a board vote. Schneider is the chief of schools in Duval County, Rendell is a former Indian River County superintendent and current principal at Cocoa Beach Junior-Senior High School, Stratton is the superintendent in Hernando County, and Wysong is a deputy superintendent in Seminole County. Florida Today. WKMG. Space Coast Daily. Suncoast News. WFTV.

Seminole: Complaints to the state from two parents over the easy accessibility of high-calorie candy at their son’s middle school and its sale in fund-raisers has led to the school district banning the sale of candy and other junk food during the school day except on limited occasions such as candy grams fund-raisers on Valentine’s Day. Schools should be “making sure we’re teaching our kids good habits for the future,” not contributing to the country’s childhood obesity problem, said Chris and Lisa Karel, whose 6th-grade son attends Lawton Chiles Middle School in Oviedo. Orlando Sentinel.

Sarasota: School board members voted 3-2 Tuesday against hiring a consulting firm, Vermilion Education, to perform a “district improvement study.” The firm has ties to the conservative Christian Hillsdale College in Michigan. Voting against the $28,000 contract were board members Tom Edwards, Tim Enos and Robyn Marinelli. Bridget Ziegler and Karen Rose voted in favor. Marinelli said she wasn’t necessary opposed to the contract, but wanted the focus of it narrowed. “I haven’t shut the door,” she said. Sarasota has been ranked an A district by the state since ratings began in 2004. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. WFLA.

Escambia: A new $40 million Pleasant Grove Elementary School is opening in the fall. The current campus, which was built in 1948, will become the home for at-risk students. The new school will have a gymnasium and cafeteria, which the old school did not, and some students from Hellen Caro and Blue Angel elementary schools will move to the new building. WEAR.

Alachua: The Florida School Board Association will help search for a new school superintendent, the school board decided Tuesday. Board members meet with the FSBA on May 1 to discuss the search. Shane Andrew has been the interim superintendent since May 2022, after Carlee Simon was fired in March. WCJB.

Hernando: School board members recently voted 4-1 to have school officials compile a list of books containing “smut” and “porn” so they can be pulled from school library shelves. Debbye Warrell, the school district’s lead media specialist, warned that it was a big job. She said her staff is working on scanning 24,000 books in one K-5 school, and there are 24 elementary schools to go. Board member Shannon Rodriguez said she wanted all the offending books removed by the next board meeting. Suncoast News.

Flagler: The school board voted unanimously Tuesday to add the opioid overdose treatment Narcan to the district’s list of emergency medications a school nurse can administer. School resource officers have access to Narcan now. WOFL. A 10-year-old student at Wadsworth Elementary School in Palm Coast was arrested Tuesday after police said he brought a “realistic-looking” pellet gun to school and showed it to classmates. WPLG. WKMG. WOFL. WJXT. WTLV.

Colleges and universities: Enrollment in next year’s first-year class at New College of Florida is “a little bit down,” interim president Richard Corcoran told trustees Monday. He said 100 students have been “enrolled,” but that “we just got another 150 applications, which is very strong, and we’ve gotten 150 kids that we’ve admitted just in the last few weeks. … We need to be up at (300), 400 admits in a year and obviously, with this transition it’s been highly publicized and so in some ways that could be a threat to our admission numbers.” New College is in the middle of being transformed by Gov. DeSantis and the trustees he’s appointed from a liberal arts college into something resembling Hillsdale College, the conservative Christian school in Michigan with deep ties to right-wing politicians. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Eight years of crime data at the University of Florida that had been posted online have been removed. University officials said the data were taken off the website “to ensure the information displayed is accurate and current,” and noted that federal law required that they keep details updated for crimes for only up to 60 days. Fresh Take Florida. Interviews with the four finalists for the Florida Gulf Coast University presidency began Tuesday with Henry Mack, a senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, answering questions. Aysegul Timur, vice president and vice provost for strategy and program innovation at FGCU, is being interviewed today. Neil J. MacKinnon, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Augusta University in Georgia, is being interviewed Thursday and Jay Morgan, president of Morehead State University in Kentucky, visits the campus April 25. News Service of Florida. WINK.

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BY NextSteps staff