Later school start times coming for some in 2026, state teacher of the year finalists, no deal on Escambia school, and more

Later school start times: Most Florida middle and high schools will have later start times by July 2026 under a bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. H.B. 733 requires middle schools to start no earlier than 8 a.m., and high school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m. About two-thirds of the state’s high schools now begin earlier than 8:30 a.m. Research has shown that later school start times are beneficial academically to teenagers, especially those in high school. “What we’re doing now (with earlier start times) is not what’s best for our kids, for the adolescents especially,” said the bill sponsor, state Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills. “It’s the ‘how’ that can be the hard challenge and the logistics of that and how we make this happen.” Potential issues include school bus schedules and how working parents will be affected. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Teacher of year finalists: Five finalists for the state’s teacher of the year award were announced Friday by the Florida Department of Education. They are: Adrianna Swearingen, a media specialist at Northside Elementary School in Bay County; Kimberly Crowder, a reading intervention teacher at Hamilton County Elementary School; Sarah Idsardi, a 4th-grade teacher at North Wauchula Elementary School in Hardee County; Jennie Goffe, an agricultural teacher at Clewiston High School in Hendry County; and Kayla Jackson, a 5th-grade math and science teacher at Memorial Elementary School in Highlands County. The winner will be announced July 20. Florida Department of Education.

Around the state: A charter school company has rejected a proposed school board contract to take over a struggling Escambia County middle school and the state will now intervene, a 5th-grade teacher in Hernando County said she’s under investigation by the state for misconduct after showing her 5th-graders a Disney movie, a review of 34 social studies textbooks rejected by the state show no direct references to such topics as critical race theory or social justice, and a state delay in implementing new test score standards required for graduation is allowing about  700 Palm Beach County seniors to receive diplomas. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: A school board member who has been targeted for defeat by Gov. DeSantis has drawn an opponent for the 2024 election. District 3 board member Jessica Vaughn is being challenged by Republican Dalton Gregory Williford, who has echoed the governor’s support for greater parental rights in schools. Vaughn’s board colleague, Nadia Combs, is also among the 14 sitting school board members DeSantis wants voted out of office. Tampa Bay Times. Steinbrenner High School’s JROTC robotics team beat out about 130 teams to win the national championship in Dallas in late April. It was the first time a Florida school has won. WFLA. Hillsborough County School District.

Orange: An English teacher at Lake Nona Middle School in Orlando has resigned after the district began investigating complaints about classes. Some students who gave presentations in class last week made offensive remarks about immigrants, and several students spoke on topics like “Why I don’t like black people” and “Why I don’t like Mexican people.” It was not clear from videos of the presentations whether the teacher attempted to stop the speeches that several parents later complained about. WFTV.

Palm Beach: Last-minute legislative changes in requirements for high school graduation helped about 700 district seniors, according to district officials, but about 2,000 still are at risk of not graduating. The Legislature delayed this year’s scheduled implementation of the new, higher test score standards on alternative tests for another year after hearing from districts that keeping the higher standards could cut graduation rates by as much as 10 percentage points. Palm Beach Post.

Pinellas: Parents of some Safety Harbor Middle School students said they’ve had enough of late school buses that are causing them problems but also having an impact on their children’s education. Students say they often arrive at school hours late. The school has even adjusted some of their schedules, putting core subjects later in the day. District officials said they are making adjustments “for the 2023-2024 school year to increase efficiency in practices that have been affected by the national bus driver shortage.” Spectrum News 9.

Marion: A volunteer cheerleading coach at Belleview High School who is accused of stealing more than $6,000 from the team has turned himself in to authorities. Richard Tillman, 32, surrendered to Suwannee County deputies on May 3. WCJB.

Escambia: Charter Schools USA has rejected a proposed school board contract to take over Warrington Middle School, leaving the fate of the school in the hands of the state. School board members objected to Charter’s plan to turning the middle school into a K-12 without a designated school zone. State officials said there was probable cause that the board broke state law by “failing to timely execute a contract with the charter school operator that it chose to partner with as part of its state Board of Education-approved turnaround option plan.” The state board will consider the future of Warrington at a meeting Tuesday. Pensacola News Journal. WKRG. WEAR.

Leon: School Superintendent Rocky Hanna said Sunday that he will respond to allegations made against him by the Florida Department of Education. Last month, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. sent Hanna a letter stating there was probable cause to justify sanctions against Hanna’s state educator certificate because he had a history of defying the law. “I remain optimistic that the commissioner and the decision makers in the Department of Education will realize I have not done the things they have accused me of,” Hanna said. “I absolutely have no ‘history of defying the law’ nor have I ever suggested to anyone to violate the law or not teach the Florida Standards as established by the Board of Education.” WTXL. WCTV.

Bay: Panama City commissioners have reached agreements with Rosenwald High School and Palm Bay Preparatory Academy that will allow the city to use their athletic fields when the schools aren’t using them. Commissioners also extended the city’s tax-exempt status to University Academy, allowing the charter school to qualify for lower interest rates on loans needed for expansion. Panama City News Herald.

Hernando: A 5th-grade teacher at Winding Waters K-8 said she is under investigation by the Florida Department of Education for misconduct after school board member Shannon Rodriguez complained that she showed the Disney film Strange Things to her students. The teacher, Jenna Barbee, said the movie was tied to her Earth science lesson and does not contain any sexually inappropriate conduct. It does contain a gay character. Barbee said every student in the class had a signed permission slip from a parent to see PG-rated movies. Tallahassee Democrat. The Guardian. Some school board members are complaining that the district is not adequately informing parents about incidents of bullying and fighting in schools. District officials agreed to review protocols and procedures. Hernando Sun. A Central High School teacher has been arrested and accused of battery against another teacher. Deputies said Michael Anthony DeJesus, 50, shoved a female teacher after an argument in his classroom Friday. Suncoast News. WFLA. WTVT. WFTS.

Sumter: An exceptional student education teacher at Wildwood Elementary School was arrested last week and accused of abusing a student. Deputies said Sherri Evans Robinson, 55, pulled the hair and ears of a special-needs student in her class when the child acted out. She has been removed from the classroom during the investigation. WKMG.

Monroe: Nicole Smith, the assistant principal at Key West High School, has been named the director of the district’s alternative education. She succeeds Mike Henriquez, who is retiring in June. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Dr. Joseph Lapado has been the state’s surgeon general and a professor at the University of Florida for three years now, and he’s still presented only two guest lectures at UF. His contract with the school calls for him to spend 80 percent of his time in research and 20 percent teaching. He’s paid $262,000 a year at UF, and $250,000 as the state’s surgeon general. Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel. A coffee shop on the campus of New College of Florida closed by the new administration has reopened under the leadership of a man who formerly worked at a school run by interim college president Richard Corcoran’s wife. Sorrento Sweets’ contract with the college calls for the school to reimburse the company for 500 student charges a week, not to exceed $7,500 per week, for the rest of the semester. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Closer look at books: A review of 34 social studies textbooks rejected by the state show no direct references to such topics as critical race theory or social justice, which have been specifically prohibited by the state. Others had traces of institutional racism and discussions about mistreatment of minorities, and some focused on how children can be sensitive and empathetic, elements of social-emotional learning that are also banned in Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: Fulltime virtual education is failing American students, according to a new report from the National Education Policy Center. “What we’ve continued to find is that the performance of students attending virtual schools lags that of those that attend traditional brick-and-mortar schools,” said NEPC director Alex Molnar. “No state is adequately handling virtual education.” WGFL.

Opinions on schools: The governor calls reports of book banning a hoax, but Florida’s obsession with sanitizing books is real, and scary. Miami Herald. How state Rep. Fred Hawkins has risen to be the top to be in line to run a state college is no mystery. He’s on the “right” side politically and did the governor’s bidding. But given the thinness of his resume to lead South Florida State College, trustees owe it to taxpayers and students to reopen the job search. Miami Herald. In the wake of Gov. DeSantis’ war on “woke” and threats toward academic freedom, Florida is seeing a small tsunami of resignations by university and college leaders. And the governor is snatching those vacancies one by one, often handing them out like sugarplums to favored (and sometimes unqualified) political allies. Orlando Sentinel. A plan to develop the Fort Pierce campus of Indian River State College could be exciting. But school officials say they can’t disclose details about the plans, which is extremely worrisome. TCPalm.

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BY NextSteps staff