Around the state: The Duval, Volusia, Hernando and Jefferson school districts open their door to students today, Broward school officials are creating a new sex education curriculum that they say will be as comprehensive as state law allows, the state’s last-minute decision to require changes in certain U.S. history textbooks means students in Alachua County will go without updated books until new ones arrive in seven or eight weeks, Hernando school board members are asking the county to approve a 100 percent increase in school impact fees, Brevard’s former superintendent is returning as a guidance counselor at a district high school, and a private school in Palm Beach County is switching to a four-day week as a way to retain teachers. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Miami-Dade: In his preview of the school year that begins Thursday, school Superintendent Jose Dotres said his priorities are recovering from the pandemic’s learning losses, promoting the district as the “best choice” to counter the effect of the universal state voucher program, and reaching out to “thought partners” on dealing with new state laws and policies. Specifically, he said, the district will have to navigate around state regulations governing instruction on black history and LGBTQ issues. Miami Herald. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ. Three books have been removed from school libraries this year because of “adult content” or “sexually charged language,” according to district officials. Gone are Daddy’s Roommate, a story about a boy with two fathers that is written for students 4-8 years old; Fate and Furies, a story about marriage that contains sexual content; and A Court of Mist and Fury, a fantasy novel with multiple sex scenes. Miami Herald. Miami New Times.
Broward: District officials have created a new sex education curriculum that they say will be as comprehensive as state law will allow. Changes that were proposed in March to comply with stricter state laws were rejected by the Broward school board for being too restrictive. The new plan includes, among other things, teaching elementary students about puberty and menstruation, and middle and high school students about abstinence, birth control and the need for protect against sexually transmitted diseases. High school students also may learn about sexual orientation and gender identity. Meetings with parents and education groups will be part of the process of creating and refining a curriculum, and a community survey will also be held before the plan is taken to the school board for a vote Oct. 10. The curriculum still will have to be approved by the Florida Board of Education before it can be taught to students in the spring. Sun-Sentinel.
Hillsborough: School board member Lynn Gray, who is in the midst of her second term, already has drawn five challengers in the 2024 election for her District 7 seat. Alene Atkins, Sonja Brookins, Ashley Hartfield-Viewins, Karen Bendorf and Jen Flebotte have all filed to run. Gray attributes Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education policies and the conservative Moms for Liberty group’s focus on opposing some books and curriculum on race and gender to the wide interest. “Education is the front and center of every newspaper, every news show,” said Gray. “The governor has made it a top issue and I think there’s reaction to that among both Democrats and Republicans.” Tampa Bay Times.
Palm Beach: A private school in Lake Park is carrying a four-day school week it began testing in January into the new school year that begins this week. Coastal Middle and High School owner Lisa Collum said she, like most school administrators, was having trouble with teacher retention. “I started to think what can I do as a school owner for teacher retention? I started researching and came across a four-day school week,” she said. It seems to be working, with all her teachers from last year returning. WPTV.
Duval: “Significant” bus delays are expected today as schools reopen, district officials warned parents in a message sent out Sunday. The contractors the district uses for transportation still have more than 130 positions unfilled, out of a total of 800. School begins in the midst of a record heat wave covering most of the state. School will pay special attention to keeping students hydrated, and recess is being held indoors. Outdoor sports practices may also be affected. District officials said the schools’ air-conditioning units are working. WJXT. WJAX. WTLV. The first school built using revenues from an extra half-cent in the sales tax was formally dedicated last week. Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary replaces a school of the same name on the north side of the city, and is the first public school built in Jacksonville in 12 years. The cost of $43 million was covered by the sales tax voters approved in 2020. Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville Today. New principals will be in place at eight schools when classes begin today. Last year, 16 administrators were promoted or transferred into a principal’s position. Florida Times-Union.
Polk: More than 115,000 students were welcomed to the first day of school Friday. While things generally went well, district officials said, schools still have 311 teacher jobs and 60 school bus driving jobs unfilled. A delay in the state processing the paperwork for teacher certifications compounded the problem. The other major issue was nonworking or malfunctioning air-conditioning units in about 25 schools. The teachers union has filed a class-action grievance against the district with the goal of hastening repairs. School officials said they’re using portable air-conditioners, moving students to areas with working A/C, and having HVAC technicians work overtime to fix the issues. Lakeland Now. WTSP. WMFE. Lakeland Ledger.
Lee: School Superintendent Christopher Bernier said the district’s enrollment is up 1,000 students this year, despite the state’s new law offering vouchers to all students regardless of their family income. He said the district would be releasing its 10-year plan to deal with enrollment growth on Wednesday. His top priorities for this school year, he said, are academic achievement and safety. Fort Myers News-Press. More than 750 district students are enrolled in the Lee Virtual School this fall, and another 500 are taking supplemental courses. The school has 43 teachers who work from home and are available for students 12 hours a day. WBBH.
Brevard: Former superintendent Mark Mullins, who stepped down last November when the school board discussed terminating his contract, is returning to the district this week as a guidance counselor at Cocoa High School. “This is a man who has devoted his entire career to educating children in our community, and he’s not done,” said Mark Rendell, Mullins’ successor. “We are so overjoyed that he would take another turn with us, that he would give of himself to our children in our community.” Florida Today. Titusville High School’s girls junior varsity soccer coach was arrested last week and accused of sexual battery of a child. Police said Anthony Gonzales, 43, had an sexual relationship with a player on the team. He’s been fired, according to a district spokesperson. Florida Today. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.
Volusia, Flagler: Volusia students return to classes today with a new student code of conduct in place. The most significant change is that cell phones, tablets, earbuds and smartwatches must be kept in backpacks or purses during classes unless a teacher decides they’re needed for an assignment. And while students are limited to bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological gender at birth, each school will have a unisex bathroom option. WFTV. WKMG. School district officials in Volusia and Flagler counties have eliminated the College Board’s Advanced Placement psychology course for this school year. Instead, they said, students will have the choice of taking the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education psychology courses to earn college credits. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. School board members approved a proposal to spend $142,500 a year to add a deputy for security at the relatively new alternative school on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School. The school has two teachers, an average of 20 students per quarter with some of then attending virtually, and operates four days a week. The new cost is part of the district’s $1.2 million contract with the sheriff for 13 sworn officers to be stationed in schools. Flagler Live.
Collier: Speed limits in Naples school zones when lights are flashing have been lowered, city officials announced last week. In areas with 35 mph speed limits, a school zone limit of 20 mph is now in effect. In areas with 30 mph speed limits, school zones limits are now 15 mph. Those schools include Seagate Elementary, Naples High, Lake Park Elementary, Gulfview Middle and St. Ann Catholic School. Police will issue warnings during the first week, and tickets after that. Naples Daily News.
Alachua: A week before classes began last Thursday, Florida Department of Education officials blocked U.S. history books from getting to the school district. DOE officials have not said why the books aren’t being allowed, and it leaves Alachua and other districts without updated books right now and a more limited supply to choose from. “It’s not an ideal situation,” said district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said. “The district has been working out a way for us to get through this period until the hard copies are printed.” That could be another seven or eight weeks, she said. In May, the district chose a U.S. history textbook for its high schools from the DOE’s approved textbook list. But then the DOE pulled the textbook from the list, asking the publisher to make changes and delaying its publication for this school year. Gainesville Sun.
Hernando: School board members voted to seek a 100 percent increase in school impact fees, citing rapid rises in enrollment and building costs. County commissioners, who have to approve the request, agreed to study the proposal to determine if it’s warranted. The maximum increase currently allowed is 50 percent. “Our concern today that we’re trying to convey to (the BOCC) is that with the low impact fee, the consequence could be that the school district will not have funding to keep up with the development that’s coming on the residential side,” said Chris Wilson of CJ Wilson Law. “If it isn’t increased, the school district is going to seriously have to consider its next steps.” Hernando Sun.
Jefferson: Continuing problems with malfunctioning air-conditioning combined with a sweltering heat wave prompted district officials to delay the opening of schools from Thursday to today. Superintendent Eydie Tricquet said the A/C repairs began this summer, but couldn’t be completed before last weekend. “We’re disappointed that we couldn’t get started,” she said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to start Monday and get our school year underway, because I know that students are disappointed. They’re ready to get back. Parents are ready to get back to their normal routine.” Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.
Colleges and universities: New College of Florida trustees voted last week to begin the process of eliminating gender studies as a major at the Sarasota school. Three of the 12 trustees opposed the decision, and four members of the public were escorted from the meeting by police for their reactions to the move. Trustee Christopher Rufo, who participated in the meeting via Zoom, called the gender studies program “wildly contradictory” to the board’s mission to “revive a classical liberal arts agenda.” Trustee Matthew Spalding, a dean at Hillsdale College, a conservative school in southern Michigan, agreed. “It is a clear outlier,” he said. “It should not be there.” Tampa Bay Times.
Around the nation: Several recent court decisions around the country have supported transgender students in their fight to use school bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity instead of the one assigned at birth. The U.S. Supreme Court is eventually expected to weigh in on the issue. K-12 Dive.
Opinions on schools: Florida parents have greater choices and control than ever for their children. This state policy providing parents more and better educational choices started over 20 years ago and continues today. The focus on student achievement, as opposed to adult interests, has launched Florida students to the top of class. Ed Pozzuoli, Miami Herald. Gov. DeSantis’ blatant bigotry is disruptively and negatively impacting teachers in Florida’s increasingly draconian public education system. Chris Fulton, Tampa Bay Times. Florida stands at a crossroads, as increasing numbers of students, parents, teachers, and communities find themselves personally impacted by new laws and administrative rules whose provisions give credence to the shrillest of voices and the most fanciful of assumptions. Carolyn Nelson-Goedert, Orlando Sentinel. Saving Florida Atlantic University from self-serving politicians is a cause worth defending. The state university system belongs to us. It should not be a plaything for Gov. DeSantis and his cronies. Sun-Sentinel. It’s a painful reality that many teachers are forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave a career they love due to financial strain and an unreasonable workload. By investing in our teachers and students we can build a stronger educational system and a thriving community. Our future depends on it. Clinton McCracken, Orlando Sentinel. The Macbeths running this state have no scruples, which is just one reason why students need Shakespeare. The Bard is famous for calling out steaming piles of hypocrisy. Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times.