Use of pronouns and bathrooms in schools targeted by new state laws, publisher sues Escambia over book removals and restrictions, and more

New laws on pronouns, bathroom use: Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bills Wednesday that bar schools and staff from using pronouns for students that don’t align with their birth gender, require schools and public facilities to have separate bathrooms and locker rooms for men and women based on their birth gender, and allow pregame prayers at school sporting events. H.B. 1069 expands the existing Parental Rights in Education law by limiting pronoun use in schools and expanding the public’s rights to challenge books and materials in schools. H.B. 1521 makes it illegal for transgender women to use female bathrooms, and H.B. 225 allows prayers before sporting events, revises the structure of the Florida High School Athletic Association to give the governor more power to appoint its board members, and permits students being home-schooled or in private school to try out for public school sports teams as well as allowing charter school students to play for private schools. Other bills signed Wednesday block children from attending adult-themed drag shows and prohibit transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapies or surgeries. “There’s a lot of nonsense that gets floated around,” DeSantis said during an event at a private Christian school in Tampa. “What we’ve said in Florida is we are going to remain a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy. Kids should have an upbringing that reflects that.” News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Pensacola News JournalWFLA. WPTV.

Other education bills signed: A bill signed Wednesday by Gov. DeSantis allocates $158 million to identify K-4 students who are struggling in math and reading and provide them with individualized education plans. Florida Politics. Local school board candidates can establish residency in the districts they want to represent when they assume office under a new law instead of when they qualify to run. Florida Politics. School districts will now have to provide documentation to the state that they are teaching African-American history as required by law. Florida Politics. DeSantis also signed bills that will improve career guidance services in schools and require schools to create progression plans for students with disaibilities. Florida Politics.

Around the state: The nation’s largest book publisher is suing the Escambia County School District over its removal of some school books and placement of restrictions on others, Broward’s school board never approved a sex education curriculum so no lessons were offered this school year, a relatively new school curriculum that emphasizes solving business-related problems is spreading into Tampa Bay area high schools, an assistant superintendent has been appointed as the interim leader for Flagler schools, and a report indicates that building a 35,000-seat football stadium on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa will cost about $340 million. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: With the school year nearly over, the school district still has offered no sex education classes to its students. The curriculum has traditionally been taught over the last two months of the school year, but hasn’t this year because it still hasn’t been approved. “We’re almost at the end of the school year. Our students have not received a sexual health curriculum. That is very, very dangerous,” said board member Sarah Leonardi. For the past eight years, the district has used a curriculum that discusses both abstinence and protection for those who are having sex. But that program has not been approved by the state and also includes LGBTQ references at elementary school levels, which violates the Parental Rights in Education law. District officials offered a revised curriculum in March, but without information about birth control, the reproductive system, human anatomy and LGBTQ people. Board members rejected it and asked for a revise. It was never submitted. “We were all waiting on something and now to hear that it’s not going to be taught at all is worrisome,” said board member Daniel Foganholi. Sun-Sentinel.

Tampa Bay area: A relatively new program created by the Junior Achievement organization is spreading quickly into area schools. The 3DE program refocuses core classes of English, math, science and social studies to help solve problems presented by sponsor companies such as Home Depot, Delta Airlines and ReliaQuest. Those companies also provide mentors for students. Teamwork and critical thinking are emphasized, and students in the program form bonds with teachers and each other because they move forward together every year. About 13,000 students in five states are now in 3DE programs, including 3,200 in Florida. Six high schools in the Tampa Bay area have programs, and three more will add it in the fall. While research is limited on the effectiveness of 3DE, those involved with the program say it works. “Across every critical measure of success we are seeing progress — from engagement to knowledge gains to satisfaction,” said Richard George, president of Junior Achievement Tampa Bay. “When I hear a principal say 3DE has catalyzed a culture of learning and achievement among their school community, that’s how I know it’s working and what motivates us every day.” Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: School board members reluctantly agreed to new policies to comply with state laws regarding book complaints. Books may now be challenged by a parent of a child in a district school, a county resident, or a school board member. And while challenged books are not immediately removed under the revised policy, a new state law requires them to be removed within five days of the challenge and to stay inaccessible until the challenge is resolved. So further changes to the policy are forthcoming. Orlando Weekly.

Duval: Construction began Wednesday on the $53 million Highlands Elementary School, which will be the third elementary school built as part of the district’s taxpayer-funded master facility plan. It’s expected to open in August 2024 to as many as 750 students from Highlands and Pine Estates elementary schools. This coming school year, Highlands students will attend Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary. WJXT.

Lee: The director of security at the Canterbury School in Fort Myers who was arrested Monday and charged with possession of a weapon by a convicted felon has resigned, school officials said Wednesday. Wyatt Henderson was a former Charlotte County sheriff’s detective who was convicted of pistol-whipping a teenager during a drug bust in Port Charlotte in the early 2000s and served 27 months in prison. WINK.

Pasco: A divided school board has approved the Patel Foundation for Global Understanding’s plan to expand its charter school operations. The foundation, funded by Tampa Bay entrepreneur and philanthropist Kiran Patel, wants to open a 1,000-student high school by 2025 on 20 acres of land in the Trinity area of west Pasco that the district bought for $750,000 in 2017 but will sell to the foundation for $20. Board member Alison Crumbley questioned the sale, and she and colleague Colleen Beaudoin also said an application for the charter school should be filed before the property is transferred. Tampa Bay Times.

Escambia: The largest book publisher in the country, a free speech organization and authors and parents are suing the school district to try to halt its removal and restrictions of 154 books, which they call unconstitutional. Penguin Random House and PEN America filed the lawsuit asking a federal court to return books that have been removed to school libraries. The suit accuses the school board of restricting access to books discussing race, racism and LGBTQ+ identities against the recommendations of the district review committee, which they charge is a violation of the First Amendment. It also said about 60 percent of the books affected touch on racial or LGBTQ+ themes, and 37 percent of the authors are either nonwhite or LGBTQ+. Pensacola News Journal. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. USA Today Florida Network. Politico Florida. New York Times. Education Week. Florida Phoenix.

Alachua: School board members have tentatively approved changes to the codes of conduct for elementary and secondary schools that include an expansion the definition of weapons, and penalties for fighting, vaping and school bus rule violations. “The clearer we can be with actions and consequences in here, and the easier (the code) is to understand, the better it will be for parents,” said board member Kay Abbitt. Mainstreet Daily News.

Santa Rosa: A former bookeeper for Gulf Breeze Middle School was arrested Wednesday and accused of embezzling money from the school. Police said Summer Bourland, 36, is charged with fraud, larceny-grand theft and forgery. WEAR.

Hernando: A motion made by school board member Mark Johnson to conduct a vote of no confidence in Superintendent John Stratton failed by a 3-2 vote at a recent board meeting. Johnson cited a lack of communication from Stratton on the incident at Fox Chapel Middle School, in which a transgender teacher made remarks that some perceived as threats and was removed from the classroom, then reinstated after an investigation, but removed at the demand of the state, as well an increase in disciplinary incidents and absenteeism in district schools. Hernando Sun. Suncoast News. School officials said state investigators did question 5th-graders at Winding Waters K-8 on Wednesday about a Disney movie they were shown by their teacher, Jenna Barbee. The PG-rated movie Strange World includes a gay character, and school board member Shannon Rodriguez filed a complaint with the state. WTSP.

Martin: A school counselor at the Clark Advance Learning Center in Stuart was arrested earlier this month on charges that she stole about $1 million from a nonprofit company in Loudoun County, Va. The chief financial officer for the Institute for Building Technology And Safety told authorities in April that someone had accessed his e-mail and intercepted a payment made to a vendor. After several transfers, the money landed in the bank account of Tiffany Jones, 42, who was put on leave by the school district until further notice. WPEC. WPTV.

Flagler: LaShakia Moore, the district’s assistant superintendent for academic services, has been named interim superintendent by the school board. She replaces the departing Cathy Mittelstadt, whose last day is June 30. Moore starts June 1 and will work with Mittelstadt during the month-long transition period. Moore has worked in Flagler Schools for 15 years as a teacher, a teacher support colleague, principal at Rymfire Elementary, and in her current position for the past year. She’ll be paid $12,500 a month through Jan. 31, when the board hopes to have hired a permanent replacement for Mittelstadt. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WJXT.

Colleges and universities: A 35,000-seat football stadium built on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa will cost about $340 million, according to a board of trustees finance committee. USF would finance $200 million of that over 20 years, with the rest coming from school funds. Tampa Bay Times. Santa Fe College in Gainesville is proposing to raise student user fees and fines next fall. Trustees will vote on the proposal June 20. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB.

Holocaust books rejected: Among the 25 social studies textbooks the state recently rejected are two books about the Holocaust that are intended for high school students. Modern Genocides and History of the Holocaust were rejected because they include the terms “social justice” and “critical race theory,” which are prohibited by the state, reported the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Both also received low scores from the state’s educational review committee. TCPalm.

High school graduations: High schools around the state are holding graduation ceremonies. Here are reports and photos about some of them. Palm Beach Post. Tallahassee Democrat. Lakeland Now. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. Palm Beach Post. WFTV.

Opinions on schools: Florida doesn’t need to roll back the clock on its education models, especially not to give Gov. DeSantis bragging rights to a “revolution” that plays well to his base but undermines the potential of Florida students to explore the world around them with a questioning, critical and informed mindset. It may sound good on the campaign trail, but that shouldn’t be the critical test. Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff