Challenge to parental rights bill dismissed, A/C issues continue, voucher growth, AP psych course, $80K teacher pay sought, and more

Around the state: A federal judge from central Florida has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a 2022 state law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, a group of New College supporters filed a lawsuit this week against a new state law that prohibits “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States,” many school districts continue to struggle to repair school air-conditioners during this heat wave, Miami-Dade schools report a smooth first day of classes, more districts make decisions on whether to offer the College Board’s Advanced Placement psychology course, the number of students receiving state scholarship vouchers to attend private schools is up 44 percent over last year, and Hillsborough teachers are asking for raises that could boost the top salaries to as much as $80,000 a year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A “smooth” first day was reported for the nearly 350,000 students and 17,000 teachers at the state’s largest school district, said Superintendent Jose Dotres. There were the usual school bus delays and some air-conditioning problems reported, but he said those issues should be resolved soon. Dotres urged parents to get involved. “The greatest message is to please, as parents, don’t stay in the margins, connect with the schools, speak to the teachers, get to know them,” he said. “And we have to focus on educating students, on supporting them, the same thing with teachers, and not allow the narrative of the politics to keep our focus where it needs to be.” Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. WLRN.

Hillsborough: District teachers are asking the school district for raises that would boost the top salary for typical teachers to as much as $80,000 a year. Brittni Wegmann, the teachers union’s executive director, said the request would amount to 7.25 percent raises, on average. “Yes, it’s ambitious, it’s aggressive, all of these things,” she said. District officials said the raises and other union requests would add $100 million a year in expenses. Last year, negotiations dragged throughout the school year, with an agreement reached near the end of it. Tampa Bay Times. Even after spending $87 million this year to repair or replace air-conditioning systems at 14 schools, the district continues to have problems with malfunctioning systems. Technicians said the hot weather is taxing the systems and causing some to fail. “With this unprecedented heat we are dealing with a lot of smaller outages, a lot of major outages. My team is working daily to resolve them as quick as possible,” said Kenny Otero. WFLA. WTVT. WFTS.

Palm Beach: At least 13 schools have new principals, though two of them were approved by the school board nearly a week after classes began Aug. 10. They were Moody Fuller at Boynton Beach High and Kristin Menschel at Sunrise Park Elementary. Palm Beach Post. A large tree fell on a school bus during a thunderstorm Thursday afternoon in West Palm Beach. Twenty students were on the bus, but none was injured. WPTV. WPEC. A physical education teacher at Wellington Landings Middle School is being suspended for 10 days for using the “n-word” and other inappropriate language in a 7th-grade class. Alexandra Munley said she used the words as a “different approach” to correct bad behavior among certain students. WPTV. WPEC.

Polk: Progress is being made in the district’s battle to get school air-conditioning units working and keep them working. Six hundred of the 755 A/C work orders filed since Aug. 1 have been completed, said district spokesman Kyle Kennedy. Still, according to teachers union president Stephanie Yocum, unresolved issues remain at 60 schools. “In the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing, A/C systems can struggle to cool rooms more than 15-20 degrees,” Kennedy said. “We’ve been experiencing some of the hottest temperatures in recorded history. This has created a surge in the number of A/C issues that we typically experience this time of year.” Lakeland Now.

Pinellas: Pinellas County School District officials are joining others around the state in warning students about the security dangers of a popular new app named Saturn. Anyone can create an account in the app and provide personal information, their school, class schedule, and links to social media accounts. It also includes a friend request and chat feature. But, district officials say, there is no verification process required to create an account, leaving students’ information vulnerable to hackers and to predators. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

Lee, Collier: Collier school officials said they have chosen to offer the College Board’s Advanced Placement psychology course, while Lee will not. Instead, its students will have to switch to the Cambridge or International Baccalaureate courses. Collier officials said 299 students have signed up for the AP course. Fort Myers News-Press. The Lee County School District’s 10-year strategic plan anticipates building 16 schools, at a cost of more than $3 billion, to accommodate enrollment growth. Buying land for the schools is expected to cost $22.5 million, according to the plan, with $2.6 billion going to new schools and another $423 million to remodel or add on to another eight schools. The plan will be discussed further at future meetings. WINK. WFTX.

Pasco: Members of the community have started a drive to provide box fans to school classrooms with air-conditioning problems. “Currently all schools are operational except one high school is at 50 percent, but maintenance is working on it now,” said district spokeswoman Melanie Waxler. “We are finding most of the time, it’s just a cooler that needs to be reset. It’s happening often and we are keeping up as best we can and as quickly as we can.” WFLA.

Escambia: School board members got an earful this week from parents and members of the community about their policies on controversial topics such as racism, LGBTQ concerns and book restrictions. Some demanded the board members speak in support of teachers, and black, gay and transgender students, and offer the AP psychology course. Others condemned any mention of gender identity and want the board to use the Bible to guide their decisions. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: School board members expressed disappointment that the proposed rezoning maps they were presented with this week did not explain how the plan would alleviate overcrowding at schools and transportation issues. “This is a big problem,” board member Sarah Rockwell said. “I would rather delay the rule-making process than move forward with the information we have today … This is just not acceptable to the community at all.” Four community meetings are scheduled over the next two weeks, and the district anticipates an initial school board vote Sept. 19. Gainesville Sun. Main Street Daily News.

Wakulla: School board members are expected to discuss proposed changes to the dress code and cell phone policies at Monday’s meeting. Cell phones would be off-limits to students during school hours. Dress code changes include prohibiting shorts, skirts, dresses and holes in jeans from being more than 4 inches above the knees, and hats, scarves, bandanas, and head coverings unless for religious purposes. WTXL.

Monroe: Key West and Coral Shores high schools will offer students the College Board’s Advanced Placement psychology course, said Superintendent Theresa Axford. She said even before the state gave the go-ahead for schools to teach the course in its entirety, including references to sexual orientation and gender identity, she had parents of the 100 students who signed up for it sign a permission slip. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: A group of alumni and longtime supporters of New College filed a lawsuit this week challenging S.B. 266, which directs the Florida Board of Governors to periodically review academic programs and prohibits “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States.” The law is unconstitutional, according to the suit, because it violates the First Amendment by placing restrictions on speech. WUSF. New College has closed its I.M. Pei dorms because of air quality concerns and will move some upperclassmen to the four-star Hyatt Regency 4 miles from campus. In July, the school decided to open newer dorms to first-year students and athletes, and send the older students to Pei. It’s not clear how New College will provide transportation from the Hyatt to the campus. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFTS. WWSB. New College is “rebalancing the ratio of students” to achieve equal numbers of males and females, college trustee Christopher Rufo recently told the New York Times. “This is a wildly out-of-balance student population, and it caused all sorts of cultural problems,” he said. Reason.

LGBTQ suit dismissed: A federal judge from central Florida has dismissed a lawsuit brought by parents, students and a nonprofit group challenging a 2022 state law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. Named as defendants were the state Board of Education and the school boards in Orange, Indian River, Duval and Palm Beach counties. U.S. District Judge Wendy Berger said the plaintiffs do not have legal standing to bring the suit against the Parental Rights in Education Law, and that they also offered “immaterial” allegations. “Even if such allegations are not immaterial,” she wrote, “the complaint is not the proper place for legal argument or posturing.” News Service of Florida.

School voucher growth: The number of students receiving state scholarship vouchers to attend private schools is up 44 percent over last year. Vouchers are now available to all Florida students, regardless of family income. Step Up For Students, which helps administer the scholarships for the state and hosts this blog, said as of Aug. 11, more than 382,000 students have received vouchers for this school years. Last year at this time, the total was 264,400. Vouchers are worth an average of about $8,000. Orlando Sentinel.

School deregulation: A largely unnoticed provision of H.B. 1, the bill that expanded education choice through universal eligibility and flexible spending options for families, directs the state Board of Education to develop and recommend “potential repeals and revisions” to the state’s education code “to reduce regulation of public schools” by Nov. 1. A group of superintendents are lobbying for less regulation for districts on construction costs, budgets, enrollment, school choice, instructional delivery and accountability. “We want our schools to be the first choice for parents, not the default choice, and to do that we need to reduce some of the outdated, unnecessary, and quite frankly, burdensome regulations that public schools have to abide by,” said Bill Montford, the director of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. reimaginED.

Heat may affect sports: The heat wave could postpone some high school football games in Florida. The Florida High School Athletic Association has reminded schools that a reading of more than 92 degrees, as measured by the Wet Bulb Global Temperature (WGBT) guidelines, means all outdoor activities are suspended and cannot resume until temperatures cool. WGBT measures heat stress in direct sunlight and takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover. It is lower than the air temperature unless the relative humidity is 100 percent. Fort Myers News-Press. USA Today.

Around the nation: A U.S. congressman from Florida has introduced a bill that would freeze hiring of political appointees at the U.S. Department of Education. Rep. Aaron Bean, a Republican representing Nassau and part of Duval counties, said the bill is “just the first step to decrease the role of the federal government and return education policy to where it belongs — the state and local level.” Higher Ed Dive.

Opinions on schools: Rather than small-bore pilot programs that offer limited autonomy to a select number of Florida schools and districts that meet specific requirements and jump through multiple bureaucratic hoops, what would a big, bold and simple approach to district flexibility look like? Travis Pillow, reimaginED. Duval County Public Schools recently claimed Florida’s newly expanded scholarship program will leave a $17 million hole in their budget. But the state did fully fund the scholarships, and it appears the funding gap claimed by the district comes from a honest misunderstanding of both the Florida Education Finance Program and a new law intended to address this very concern. Patrick R. Gibbons, reimaginED. How ironic that Florida, the state with the most comprehensive and progressive African American history legislation, is now at the forefront of curriculum culture wars and is promoting curriculum that suggests that enslaved Africans “developed skills which could be applied for their personal benefit.” Chike Akua, Washington Post. It is ironic that New College trustee Christopher Rufo, the person who has accused gender studies of being “ideological activism,” is a self-avowed activist obviously motivated by ideology. Scott Perry, Tampa Bay Times. As I read through the Department of Education’s guidance on teaching black history, I found two sentences that open the door to a full and unvarnished discussion of slavery in the Old South: “Explain how the rise of cash crops accelerated the growth of the domestic slave trade in the United States,” and “Instruction includes how the demand for slave labor resulted in a large, forced migration.” Charles B. Dew, Tampa Bay Times. Beyond empowering families with choice and agency over their children’s education, education savings accounts can help drive long-overdue efficiencies necessary for traditional school districts that have failed to adapt. Arman Sidhu, Real Clear Education.

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BY NextSteps staff