District shortens studies of Shakespeare’s works, the cost of book reviews, districts making decisions on AP psychology course, and more

Expense of reviewing books: A new state law required district media specialists this summer to review millions of books for content that could violate state law and to create online lists of books both available and rejected. Those reviews and the compilation of lists for school websites are costing districts tens of thousands of dollars, and many strapped for staff are choosing to hire outside companies to do the work. Those services are costing districts an average of $34,000 to $135,000 a year, according to a review of contracts. Many of those deals are with a Washington, D.C., company named Beanstack, whose CEO Felix Brandon Lloyd, “While it is possible that our software may be used by some to remove books from shelves, I believe that it is already doing far more to keep books on shelves.” Politico Florida. Click Orlando.

Around the state: Hillsborough schools are cutting back on the study of Shakespeare’s work this year in part because of new state laws that restrict instruction of sexual content, educators around the state are calling on the Department of Education to clarify whether the disputed College Board AP course can be taught without breaking state law, a handful of state districts declare whether they will allow students to take the AP psychology class, wearing brightly colored uniforms discouraged many from trying to become school guardians in Lee County, Escambia school board members approve a tentative $739 million budget, and the Lake school district and the Florida Department of Education are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed after a book was removed from school libraries because the district’s decision was recently reversed. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: About 400 new district teachers attended training and a pep rally Monday to help prepare for the school year that begins Aug. 17. Superintendent Jose Dotres said the orientation was the beginning of “a development week so that they’re ready when they enter their classrooms. … We’re excited that they’re joining us,” he said. “We’re all confident that they will be prepared, that they are going to do the very best for the students in this community.” The district still has about 300 teaching jobs to fill. Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Shakespeare is being short-cut by the district this year, with students being assigned excerpts instead of reading the full works. Officials said they made the change to steer clear of the bard’s sexual content because of state law restricting instruction of sexual content, and also because new state exams cover a broader range of books and writing styles. Joseph Cool, a reading teacher at Gaither High, said, “I think the rest of the nation — no, the world, is laughing us. Taking Shakespeare in its entirety out because the relationship between Romeo and Juliet is somehow exploiting minors is just absurd.” Tampa Bay Times. Each district school will have a bilingual volunteer on the first day of school to make Spanish-speaking families feel welcome and to understand what their children need to do to get enrolled and begin the “learning process.” Mabel Pelaez Rodriguez, who works for the school district as a Spanish interpreter and translator, said, “It’s very important for them to feel like someone is there to help them that speaks their language and can relate to their situation.” Spectrum News 9.

Orange, central Florida: Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole school officials all plan to look for alternatives to the College Board’s Advanced Placement psychology test this year because of the uncertainty of the state’s position on whether the course, which includes lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, can be taught within the confines of a state law that places restrictions on those topics. Seminole schools spokeswoman Katherine Crnkovich said administrators did not want to “gamble” by putting students in a course that still might not be okay and also felt they had to “protect our educators” by only assigning them to teach courses they knew were fully approved. Orlando Sentinel. Educators around the state are calling on Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. to specifically say whether the course will be permitted without violating state law. In an Aug. 4 letter to superintendents, Diaz said the course could be taught “in its entirety” when “age-appropriate,” but did not address the conflict between his direction and state law. “No teacher should be left to wait for permission to deliver a course in the same manner they did just two months ago when the last school year ended,” Florida Education Association union president Andrew Spar wrote to Diaz on Saturday. Florida Phoenix.

Palm Beach: The district is among those that will not offer the College Board’s AP psychology class to students this fall because of the ongoing questions over the legalities of teaching a course that includes instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. District spokeswoman Angela Cruz Ledford said counselors and administrators will contact students who signed up to take the course to help them find “suitable alternatives.” Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Duval, northeast Florida: Duval school officials said Monday they will not offer the AP psychology course for students this year because it includes instruction on gender and sexual orientation. “Instead of AP psychology, students will be enrolled into a different accelerated college credit course such as the AP Seminar course, the Cambridge AICE psychology course, or other options,” said a district spokesperson. St. Johns and Nassau school officials said they will continue to offer the course to students. Jacksonville Today. WJAX. A review of school bookshelves this summer has led to 19 titles being removed from Duval County school bookshelves, 31 from St. Johns and 115 from Clay. WJAX.

Pinellas: Entering his second year as superintendent, Kevin Hendrick wants to build on the academic successes of last year with an “extracurricular educational enrichment experience” for all students. “For example, in high school, we continue to push our college career centers where every student has sort of a personalized plan,” he said. “Some of that involves our local technical college. Some of its partnerships with our community colleges, state colleges.” He said the district also hopes to create affordable housing opportunities to help keep current employees and recruit new ones. WFTS.

Lee: Superintendent Christopher Bernier said a new security system and the addition of school guardians will improve safety and security for students this school year. Sixteen schools are getting new weapons detection systems, and six guardians will supplement school resource officers. Bernier said about 300 expressed interest in the guardian jobs but most changed their minds because they are being required to wear brightly colored uniforms. “When police respond to an active shooter, they’re looking for someone with a gun,” he said. “Without some form of identification, that would alert a responding police officer to a location that this person is actually working with them. The ramifications of that could be deadly.” Bernier also said schools still need 222 teachers. WBBH. WINK. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: School Superintendent Mark Rendell has decided the district will not offer the College Board’s AP psychology course this year. Teaching the course in full would mean including lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, which are restricted under state law. In an e-mail to teachers over the weekend, Rendell wrote, “As I stated before, if a teacher teaches all elements of the course, they will violate the law. If they do not teach all elements of the course the students lose the AP certification.  I will not put either (our) students or staff in this position.” Twelve Brevard schools were planning to offer the course. Florida Today.

Manatee: New Superintendent Jason Wysong said his priorities for the school year that begins Thursday are literacy, safety and security and following new state laws. “Manatee is regarded as an innovative school district and prior leadership did a lot of work bringing innovative programs to Manatee, and we want to be sure that we always sustain those prior efforts before we launch new ones,” he said. Spectrum News 9.

Lake: Both the school district and the Florida Department of Education are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed after a book was removed from school libraries because the district’s decision was recently reversed. And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book based on a true story about two male penguins in a zoo that raised a chick, was taken off shelves in December but returned last month after the district received guidance from the DOE that book restrictions applied only to classrooms. News Service of Florida.

Sarasota: District students will be given the opportunity to take the AP psychology course offered by the College Board, school officials announced Monday. Curriculum teams for the district will work to ensure the course’s content is age-appropriate and complies with state law, said spokesman Craig Maniglia. About 350 students are expected to take the course. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: School board members recently approved a tentative $739 million budget that includes salary increases for teachers and a major renovation for Myrtle Grove Elementary School. Pensacola News Journal. Warrington Middle School in Pensacola has been converted to the Warrington Preparatory Academy charter school and will open its doors Thursday to about 650 students. The school was turned over to Charters Schools USA after 10 years of receiving failing grades from the state. It has three years to earn a C or better. To accomplish that, the school will offer individualized learning plans, and parents are expected to volunteer at least 20 hours over the course of the school year. WUWF.

Bay: District schools are expecting about 1,200 new students when classes begin Thursday. A new mission at Tyndall Air Force Base that added hundreds of new military members and their families is driving much of the gain. Twenty-five portable classrooms have been located at Tyndall Academy, and Superintendent Mike McQueen said he expects another campus to be located there in the near future. WJHG.

Hernando: School board candidate Anthony Arenz was recently arrested and accused of organized fraud. Deputies said Arenz used a self-checkout machine at a retailer five times between June 2 and July 10, and each time scanned one item but put other items in the bag and left without paying for them. Arenz is one of three candidates for the District 4 school board seat, along with Mark Cioffi and Gina Phillips. Hernando Sun.

New laws affecting schools: Here’s a summary of some of the state’s new education laws, and how they’ll affect schools and students this academic year. Florida’s Voice.

Around the nation: Nearly half of K-12 public and private districts worldwide that were hit by a ransomware attack chose to pay to recover their data, according to a survey by the U.K.-based cybersecurity firm Sophos. The average amount paid was slightly over $2 million. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: We can see the danger of stasis in America’s K-12 system. Americans regret the closing of a public school. If, however, we allow antiquated institutions to linger despite an established inability to deliver, we pit our sentimentality against our flourishing. The failed K-12 status quo traps teachers in dysfunctional bureaucratic systems and shortchanges students while creating an ever-growing financial burden on society. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. If the school system of the future wants to recognize the needs of every student, it’ll need a transportation system to match. By providing funding for transportation directly to families through ESAs, transportation scholarships or reimbursements, states can help ensure diverse education options are accessible to every student. Cooper Conway, reimaginED. The urgent need for high-quality computer-science courses in Miami-Dade County is clear. Bridging the inequality gap, preparing students for the tech economy and closing the skills gap all are compelling reasons to prioritize and scale up these programs without delay. Marcus Bright, Miami Herald. The Florida Department of Education’s embrace of PragerU’s controversial classroom offerings, especially the sanitized reassessment of slavery, coincides with the adoption of controversial new middle school history standards that, among other offensive takes, inform students that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Fred Grimm, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff