Parents must sign waivers for schools to use students’ nicknames, state knocks district for shortcutting Shakespeare, and more

Waivers for name use: Several Florida school districts are telling parents they’ll have to sign a waiver if their child wants to be called by a shortened version of their name, a nickname or anything other than his or her full formal name in school this year. Orange’s, Seminole’s and Alachua’s districts will require completed name preference forms as part of their plans to comply with new state laws, which also bar transgender employees from sharing their preferred pronouns and transgender students and staff from using group bathrooms that don’t align with their “biological sex at birth.” In a guidance memo to Orange County school employees, district deputy general counsel John Palmerini wrote, “As an example, if the student is named Robert, but likes to be called the nickname Rob, the form must be filled out authorizing teachers and other personnel to call Robert the nickname Rob,” the memo said. Parents also can designate a form “allowing the usage of a transgender name.” Students and staff members who violate the laws may be subject to discipline or even criminal charges. Gainesville Sun. WOFL. WFTV. WESH. WKMG. NBC News. Newsweek. The Hill.

Around the state: Department of Education officials are criticizing Hillsborough school officials for restricting access to Shakespeare over its sexual content, Broward school board members approve resolutions supporting LGBTQ issues after a heated meeting, Duval school board members say the projected financial impact of universal school choice could affect its plans for a new headquarters, Volusia’s school board considers stricter penalties for students who vape, more districts announce decisions on whether they will offer the College Board’s AP psychology class this year despite its inclusion of sexual and gender topics, the number in COVID-19 cases in the state is rising just as most schools are reopening, and Fort Clarke Middle School in Gainesville now has a “calm room” in the school library to give students a peaceful refuge where they can cope with their emotions. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A list of 98 resolutions, including ones recognizing LGBTQ issues and black history, were approved Tuesday in a contentious three-and-a-half-hour school board meeting. Members of the audience clashed in their comments supporting and opposing the approval of the resolutions, and board chair Lori Alhadeff had to interrupt the comments several times to issue warnings. Board member Sarah Leonardi said she was alarmed by some of the anti-gay comments. “I heard someone say this morning you can’t force people to accept each other. I never thought I’d hear in a public meeting in the United States of America a call for intolerance,” she said. “No one on this board is forcing anyone to do or believe anything.” The list was finally approved in a 7-2 vote, with board members Torey Alston and Daniel Foganholi voting no. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. School breakfasts and lunches will be free this year to all students after the district was recently accepted into a U.S. Department of Agriculture one-year pilot program. While breakfasts have been free for all students since 2010, more than 60 Broward schools didn’t qualify for free lunches last year. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: District officials’ decision to have students study Shakespeare by only reading excerpts of his plays because of their sexual content was criticized Tuesday by state officials. “The Florida Department of Education in no way believes Shakespeare should be removed from Florida classrooms,” said department spokesperson Cassandra Palelis. “In fact, eight works by Shakespeare are included in the sample text list within the (state) Standards for English Language Arts, including Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.” Also Tuesday, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. released his books of the month for August, and Romeo and Juliet made the list. Tampa Bay Times. USA Today Florida Network. Van Ayres has been interim school superintendent for less than two months, but outlined big goals for the academic year that begins Thursday. He wants to improve reading and math scores and boost the graduation rate over 90 percent. “We aspire to be the No. 1 school district in the state of Florida,” he said. WFTS. Mark Watson, an assistant principal at Durant High School, has been named the principal of Strawberry Crest High School, effective Aug. 14. He replaces Christina Raburn, the district’s new executive director for high schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: Superintendent Michael Burke apologized to parents Tuesday for his decision to drop the Advanced Placement psychology course offered by the College Board. “If there was a way we could teach this course and not have our teachers get arrested, we would do it in a second,” he said, referring to provisions in the Parental Rights in Education law that could put teachers at legal risk for not following its provisions prohibiting discussions of sexuality and gender identity in classrooms. About 1,400 students had signed up to take the class. Palm Beach Post. Some construction is continuing at Dr. Joaquín García High School in the Lake Worth, but all the classrooms are ready for the nearly 1,700 students expected for Thursday’s opening. The school will have features three academies: for business/information technology, medical sciences and the JROTC program. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. Orientation was held Tuesday for West Boynton Middle School, which will offer its 650 students a medical academy and an information technology program that includes coding, 3D printing, graphic design, e-sports and gaming. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The projected financial impact of the state’s new universal school choice law could affect the district’s plans to sell its existing headquarters and move into a new building. School board chair Kelly Coker said in the next 10 years, the district could lose 20,000 students who receive state scholarships to attend private schools and adversely affect the district’s finances. One plan to relocate the headquarters into a renovated building would cost about $27.5 million over 20 years, and the more ambitious plan to build a new headquarters is projected to cost $239 million over the next 40 years. WJAX.

Polk: There will be no AP psychology course for district students this year because of the uncertainty between the College Board and the Department of Education about the legality of the course’s sexual and gender content under state law, Superintendent Frederick Heid said in a letter to parents. “Please know that I share your frustration with the recent turn of events,” Heid wrote. “I had hoped that the Department and College Board would be able to find a resolution that benefits our students. We will shift our focus to ensuring that we find a quality alternative course for your child.” Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Board members voted this week to keep a new form parents have to sign to determine what access their child has to school libraries. The form gives three options: allow full access except for books that require parent consent, no consent, or no access to books that have been formally challenged and reviewed. Some parents said the form restricts students’ access to educational material, while supporters said it honors parents’ rights. WINK. Parents of school bus-riding students can now track them on the district’s newly adopted Where’s the Bus app. Every student is given a card with his or her name, school, grade and address. They scan the card when getting on the bus, and parents can track the location of the bus in real time through the app. WINK. WFTX.

Volusia: New penalties are being considered for district students who vape at school. Students caught with a vape would be suspended for five days, and for 10 days if they’re caught using it under the proposal, which drew a mixed reaction from board members. “Five days you’re out, nobody is talking to you, you’re at home vaping 24/7 because you can, and we really haven’t addressed the root of the addiction,” said District 3 board member Ruben Colón. New restrictions on the use of cell phones and other mobile devices at schools are also being discussed. WOFL. WFTV.

Escambia, Okaloosa: Escambia school district officials said they still need 12 school bus drivers to cover routes when schools open today, and Okaloosa said it needs 30 to 35 drivers before classes begin Thursday. WEAR.

Clay: District officials announced Tuesday that students will not be offered the College Board’s Advanced Placement psychology course because of the uncertainty whether the course, which includes gender and sexual instruction, is legal under new state laws or whether students would receive college credit if they took it. “Our goal in Clay County District Schools is to ensure that our students are receiving a world-class education and awarded the proper credits for the courses they are enrolled in throughout their academic career,” according to a statement issued by the district. Jacksonville Today. WJXT.

Leon: Almost 400 district students will be able to take the College Board’s AD psychology course, Superintendent Rocky Hanna said Tuesday. ” Our teachers have some concerns, but we are going to take the commissioner of education’s word that Advanced Placement Psychology may be taught in its entirety,” Hanna said in a Facebook post. “I have communicated to our staff to respect the law and follow the law, but not to fear the law and do more than it requires. This situation has been frustrating, but I am extremely proud of our principals, teachers and staff for making the decision they believe is in the best interest of our students.” Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: Fort Clarke Middle School in Gainesville now has a “calm room” in the school library to give students a peaceful refuge where they can cope with their emotions when necessary. “It will be a wonderful asset for our students because no matter how regulated you may think you are, something can happen during the course of a day, and as humans, can kind of throw us off,” said Toni Griffin, school counseling and student services supervisor for the district. “Our students deal with a lot that sometimes we don’t know about, and that’s how they exhibit it – through their behaviors, and they have a lot of internal turmoil going on.” A student may stay in the calm room for about 10 minutes, usually supervised by an adult with a timer. They can use whatever they want in the room: fidget toys, coloring pages, a rocking chair, a tabletop Zen garden and more. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. Main Street Daily News.

Bay: A Rosenwald High School teacher has been suspended without pay after his arrest last month on a charge of lewd and inappropriate contact with a former student through electronic messaging. The district will now start termination proceedings against David Wayne Pittman, 53. WMBB.

Martin: District officials are working to get cameras mounted on the outside of each school bus to take photos of cars that pass illegally while the bus is stopped and its stop arm extended. A new law gives district that option of installing the cameras, but Sheriff William Snyder said it may be hard to enforce it. “What would happen is a car would go past the camera, it would snap a picture of the license plate,” he said. “Then we’d get a printout of that, and from there we would have to build a whole case, figuring out who the registered owner is to ticket, stand ready to go to court with that ticket.” If the cameras don’t clearly show who is driving, he said, it will be hard to make a case in court. WPEC. Two new elementary schools were officially introduced to their communities on Tuesday, two days before students begin arriving for classes. Planning for both Jensen Beach and Palm City elementaries began in 2018 and construction was expected to finish by 2021. But the pandemic delayed the openings until this fall. Revenues from the half-percent sales tax voters approved in 2018 are paying the $64 million cost of each school. TCPalm.

Indian River: Safety plans for the district’s 22 schools include a school resource officer on every campus, including charter schools, and new fencing, Superintendent David Moore said Tuesday. “Job No. 1 is making sure kids feel safe and comfortable and can focus in on learning.” The district has almost 15,000 students. WPTV.

Glades: A $100,473 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative has been awarded to the school district, one of only two such grants given to Florida districts. School Superintendent Alice Barfield said the grant allows the district to partner with local farmers, nutritionists and culinary experts to develop creative school meal menus that focus on nutrition, flavor and sustainability. WGCU.

Liberty: The school district is taking part in the state’s school guardian program when classes resume Thursday. Guardians, who are trained and armed, will be at each county school to complement the services of school resource officers. WTXL.

Colleges and universities: An artificial intelligence instruction pilot program for high school students is being expanded this fall by the University of Florida. The AI foundations course began last year in Broward, Orange and Osceola counties, and is expanding this year to Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Putnam, Seminole and Volusia counties. Florida Politics.

COVID rises as schools open: The number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise just as 62 of the state’s 67 school districts return to classes this week. Case totals are up nearly 20 percent in the past week, and only 26 percent of elementary school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 11 have been vaccinated against the disease, according to the Florida Department of Health. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: With the federal bid-rigging investigation into connections between a north Florida school district and state Department of Education officials, Floridians are once again going to have to look to the federal Department of Justice for answers to questions state officials don’t even seem willing to ask. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel.