Florida ‘effectively bans’ College Board’s AP psychology course, Parkland shooting re-enactment today, school book battles, and more

AP psychology course dispute: The Florida Department of Education has “effectively banned” the College Board’s AP psychology course by advising the state’s school superintendents that its references to sexual orientation and gender identity violate state law. College Board officials are refusing to delete that material, saying the removal would mean the course would not meet the criteria to be considered college-level. The material has been part of the course for 30 years. DOE officials disputed the College Board’s characterization of the issue. “Just one week before school starts, the College Board is attempting to force school districts to prevent students from taking the AP psychology course,” said spokeswoman Cassandra Palelis. “The department didn’t ‘ban’ the course. The course remains listed in Florida’s Course Code Directory for the 2023-2024 school year. We encourage the College Board to stop playing games with Florida students and continue to offer the course and allow teachers to operate accordingly.” The dispute means about 27,000 students who had signed up for the course won’t be able to take it, though there are alternatives. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Tallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. New York Times. The Hill. NBC News. Washington PostForbes. Reuters. CNN.

Around the state: A re-enactment of the 2018 Parkland school shooting in which 17 students and staff were killed is being held today in Broward County as part of a civil lawsuit, several Stephen King novels are among the 22 books removed from school libraries in Clay County after they were challenged,  University of Central Florida officials say they will revise their hiring process after an investigation found “significant weaknesses” that led to the employment of a man who had been accused of sexual harassment, Orange County school officials are adjusting school bus routes because of a shortage of drivers, a new law gives school board meeting speakers the right to read explicit excerpts from books they want restricted or removed, and school budgets are proposed in Palm Beach, Bay and Monroe counties. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The site of a deadly school shooting five years ago will be opened today for a tour by a congressional delegation and a re-enactment of the massacre, with live ammunition, that is part of a civil court case against a school resource officer who took cover instead of confronting the gunman. Elected officials will begin a 90-minute tour at 8 a.m., and the re-enactment will start at an undisclosed time. Live ammunition is being used to re-create the sounds that deputy Scot Peterson said he heard but could not tell whether they came from the building where 17 students and staff were killed and 17 others wounded. Roads around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland have been closed, and school officials have warned the public to stay away from the area. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Students at all 180 Broward schools will receive free meals at schools this year under the federal Community Eligibility Provision program. WPLG. WSVN.

Hillsborough: Construction began Thursday on a new high school in the south Hillsborough community of Wimauma. High School UUU, as it’s being called until it’s named, will have a two-story media center, culinary lab, automotive lab, theater and auditorium with an orchestra pit, and a two-story gym for its anticipated enrollment of almost 3,500 when it opens in the fall of 2025. District officials also said the school’s 87-acre property is expected to eventually include an elementary school and high school. WFTS.

Orange, central Florida: Orange County school officials are adjusting school bus routes to help cover for a shortage of drivers. “We looked at all of our routes, in order to determine which ones and how we needed to move those routes to become more efficient,” said district spokesman Scott Howat. “We’re hoping that a lot of the changes and things that we made will help to ensure that buses are on time and are able to pick up.” WFTV. Orange County school officials said they still have 388 teaching positions unfilled, but that there will be a teacher in every classroom when schools open next week. WFTV. Back-to-school events where students will receive free backpacks and supplies are scheduled this weekend in nine central Florida counties. WKMG.

Palm Beach: A tentative $5.22 billion budget was approved this week by the school board. It includes $1.87 billion for capital projects and a slightly lower tax rate, though most taxpayers will pay more because of higher property values. The board’s final vote on the budget is scheduled Sept. 6. Palm Beach Post. School board members approved a plan this week to place a new tuition-free, Montessori-inspired preschool at Roosevelt Elementary School in West Palm Beach. The Bezos Academy will offer five-days-a-week, year-round programming for low-income students. WPTV. Here are ways Palm Beach County parents can get free supplies for school. Palm Beach Post.

Lee, Collier: Thirty-six of the county’s 53 private schools said they will accept vouchers from the state. A new law has removed income eligibility limits and made the scholarships available to all students. The average voucher is worth about $7,800. About 350,000 Florida students are expected to receive vouchers, an increase of 100,000 over last year. Fort Myers News-Press. Half of Collier’s 32 private schools have announced they also will accept state vouchers. Naples Daily News. A weapons detection system has been installed at Bonita Springs High School for testing. Lee district officials said they want to have systems in 15 more schools by the end of the month. WFTX. WINK. WBBH. An 11-year-old Patriot Elementary School student who made a school shooting threat a year ago has been sentenced to probation. The case drew national attention when Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno posted a video on Facebook of a deputy walking the then-10-year-old boy, handcuffed, to a cruiser. Marceno defended that decision, saying, “We’re going to handcuff them, we’re going to post their picture and there’s going to be a perp walk. I don’t care who it is, I don’t care what age it is.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Volusia, Flagler: Both the Volusia and Flagler school districts still have openings for teachers, but fewer than they needed at this time last year. Volusia has 134 openings compared to 256 a year ago. Schools reopen Aug. 14. Flagler still needs 28 teachers, which is five fewer than it needed last year. Students return Aug. 10. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota: Gene Matthews, a former school board member and county commissioner who was widely known as “Mr. North Port,” has died at the age of 87. Charlotte Sun.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Almost 82,000 students will return to Treasure Coast schools Thursday, where they will find changes in school libraries because of new state laws. Media specialists have received training, reviewed books to make sure they comply with the laws, and posted lists of their books on the districts’ websites. The laws also require districts to adopt policies on book challenges, and to post a list of books removed after a challenge. TCPalm.

Clay: District officials have removed 22 of 45 books from school libraries that were challenged by county resident Bruce Friedman, who said the books “challenge souls.” Among the titles taken out of circulation for middle and high school students were Apt Pupil, Carrie, It and Every Heart a Doorway, all by Stephen King, as well as How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater, Sophie’s Choice and The Lover’s Dictionary. Clay Today.

Bay: District school officials are proposing a nearly $701 million budget, which is about $93 million more than last year’s. The millage rate is down slightly, but higher property values will mean that most taxpayers will pay more in school taxes. A budget workshop is scheduled Aug. 22, and a final vote on the budget is Sept. 11. WJHG.

Charlotte: Port Charlotte Middle School has been named a designated a “threatened historical place” by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation after it was damaged last fall by Hurricane Ian. Trust officials said there had been talks about demolishing the school, and it was added to their list of “11 to save.” Trust board president Mike Cosden said, “By safeguarding these sites, we’re not just preserving buildings and landscapes, but also the diverse histories and voices that contribute to our shared heritage.” Charlotte Sun.

Monroe: School board members approved a tentative budget of nearly $300 million at this week’s meeting. It includes a slightly lower property tax rate that nonetheless will yield more revenues because of rising property values. A final board vote is scheduled Sept. 5. District officials also said 28 teaching positions are still open. School begins Aug. 10. Florida Keys Weekly. Parents of more than 50 children are scrambling to find child-care and a preschool after the Sunbeam Christian School, owned and operated for more than 40 years by Fifth Street Baptist Church, told them July 28 that the school was closing today “due to staffing issues.” Several of the parents and some teachers said the staffing issues were due to the pastor’s demand that workers sign a commitment to live a “biblical lifestyle” as defined by the church and donate 10 percent of their income to the church. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: University of Central Florida officials say they will revise their hiring process after an investigation found “significant weaknesses” that led to the employment of Michael Kepner to lead the university’s military outreach program. It was later reported that Kepner had been court-martialed after allegations were made that he had sexually harassed and assaulted a female subordinate, and that he was also fired from Valencia College. Orlando Sentinel. High school students are increasingly turning to dual-enrollment, AP, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge classes or career apprenticeship programs as an affordable path to postsecondary education, according to the Community College Research Center. Lisa Buie, reimaginED.

Teachers dumping books: Florida book-sellers say they are seeing an influx of books being brought in by teachers who worry that they might inadvertently violate a state law by keeping them in their classrooms. Most of the books, they say, are about minority characters. “We’ve had classrooms as low as elementary schools, we’ve had high school classroom teachers, go ahead and bring us their donations because they’re unsure of exactly what is banned, what isn’t banned,” said MerryBeth Burgess, who co-owns Hello Again Books in Cocoa. “They don’t want to have to be in fear for their job, but they are on a daily basis.” USA Today Florida Network.

Explicit, public readings: One tactic that supporters of removing or restricting books from school libraries have adopted is reading explicit excerpts from books during school board meetings as a way to prove their allegations that the books are pornographic. In the past, those speakers were sometimes shut down by the board. But that’s about to change, because a new law says, “Parents shall have the right to read passages from any material that is subject to an objection. If the school board denies a parent the right to read passages due to content that meets the requirements (in statute) … the school district shall discontinue the use of the material.” Tampa Bay Times.

Early education ratings: Florida ranks 40th among the states for overall early education quality, according to ratings in 12 categories by the personal finance website WalletHub. The state was ranked 40th in access, 30th in quality and 32nd in resources and economic support. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Old and new Floridians could learn much from the 1930s and the slave narratives compiled through the Florida Writers Project. What should we take away from the lives and memories of ex-slaves? They represent America’s highest ideals and our basest behavior: endurance and survival, triumph amid adversity, pride and redemption. Gary Mormino, Tampa Bay Times. Florida’s educational environment is changing fast, and more Floridians need to engage on the impacts to their school systems and communities. They cannot become breeding grounds for division and inequity that already compromise the American ideal. Tampa Bay Times. As someone who has taught American history in a Florida school, I’ve followed the controversy over the state’s curriculum regarding the so-called “benefits” of slavery with particular interest. The way this issue has been demagogued is nothing short of outrageous. Simon Hankinson, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff