State education officials sued over law banning DEI funding, bus chaos on Day 1 in Duval, Hillsborough changes course and will offer AP psych, and more

Around the state: A group of New College professors and students have filed a lawsuit against state education officials over a new law that bans university spending on diversity, equity and inclusion programs and prohibits the teaching of “disfavored” subjects on race, sexuality and gender, a shortage of school bus drivers led to a chaotic first day of school in Duval County, Hillsborough school officials announce they will use the College Board’s Advanced Placement psychology course a week after saying they wouldn’t, south Florida parents are scrambling to get their children vaccinated before schools open Thursday in Miami-Dade and Monday in Broward, and a conservative website is reporting that Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. will announce today that the number of teaching vacancies is down 8 percent since the start of the 2022-2023 school year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

South Florida: The scramble is on for south Florida parents to get their children vaccinated before schools begin Thursday in Miami-Dade County and Monday in Broward. A contributing factor is that many students fell behind on their yearly well-checks and vaccine schedules during the pandemic, and parents are trying to catch up so their children won’t miss school. Florida’s required immunizations protect against tetanus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, hepatitis B and polio. The rate of vaccinations in the state declined to a 10-year low during the 2020-2021 school year, and pediatricians say they’re worried that the controversy over the COVID-19 vaccine could continue to drive down that rate. Sun-Sentinel. Artificial intelligence courses put together by the University of Florida will be taught this year in the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach school districts. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Hillsborough school officials said Monday they will offer the College Board’s Advanced Placement psychology course. A week ago, students were told the district would not use the course and that they would have to change to a Cambridge International version. District spokeswoman Tanya Arja said the earlier decision was reversed after “we … received the assurance that we can teach the class and it does abide by state law. Basically, schools that offered it before can offer it again.” Even though teachers had planned to use the Cambridge materials, Arja said, “They’re AP psych teachers. So they will just continue with what their plans were at beginning of the year.” Tampa Bay Times. High school students in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco will have the opportunity to take four courses on artificial intelligence over three years. AI Foundations was developed by the University of Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: School bus issues caused a chaotic first day of school Monday. More than 100 buses were late by as much as an hour or more, district officials acknowledged. Interim school superintendent Dana Kriznar said more than 130 of the 800 driving positions are still unfilled. Kriznar had alerted parents on Sunday night about the transportation problems she expected, and urged parents to make alternate plans or to stay with their children at the bus stop and make sure the students had water because of expected delays and excessive heat warnings. WJXT. WTLV. WJAX.

Polk: More than 30 schools were still without air-conditioning on Monday, the second day of the school year. District officials said they have technicians working overtime to solve the problem. “We have about four or five A/C techs still with the district, but with a district that size, it’s not enough. We have about nine vacancies,” said teachers union president Stephanie Yocum. The union has filed a class-action grievance against the district over the A/C issue. WFTS. Fort Meade Middle-Senior High School students had an unexpected visitor on the first day of school Friday: a small alligator was discovered in one of the dugouts at the softball field. A school resource officer helped capture and relocate the gator off campus. WOFL.

Volusia: More than 60,000 students returned to classrooms Monday. Superintendent Carmen Balgobin said while the district still has 97 teaching and 10 school bus driver jobs open, all bus routes were covered, and so were classrooms with the help of an apprenticeship program with Daytona State College and an international teacher exchange program. Because of the continuing high temperatures, spot cooling stations were made available as needed. “Remain inside as much as possible,” Balgobin said. “Let’s make sure we are monitoring the heat waves and don’t put yourself at risk. These are extreme conditions, and we need to be safe.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WFTV.

Collier: A heat advisory prompted school officials to move all outdoor recess and physical education activities during the school day and at after-school programs indoors on Monday and today. High school athletic programs and bands will follow the advice of certified athletic trainers on modifying outdoor practices and workouts. WBBH. A lack of affordable housing is having an increasing effect on the retention of teachers in the district. “We started seeing the trend quite a few years ago, and that it’s going to get harder and harder to hire in this area,” said Valerie Wenrich, the district’s chief human resources officer. There are still 170 teaching jobs unfilled, and almost 40 percent of the district’s teachers commute from another county. Gulfshore Business.

Clay: A school resource officer at Plantation Oaks Elementary in Orange Park died in a scuba diving accident last weekend in Lake Jocassee, about 40 miles northwest of Greenville, S.C. Tony Reno, 50, had been working at the school since last September. WJXT. WTLV. Jacksonville Today. WJAX. The State.

Hernando: Schools opened Monday, with no major problems reported. The district is still looking to fill 95 teaching and 24 support staff jobs. Superintendent John Stratton, who weathered attempts in May to remove him, said he’s optimistic that the political divisions are lessening and that the most recent school board meeting was the most positive one in months. WFTS. Spectrum News 9. District officials are expanding the use of an artificial intelligence software program called Zero Eyes to help detect guns at schools this year. Early recognition leads to earlier intervention, they said. WFLA. County education officials are looking for attorneys to represent the district and the school board. Nancy Alfonso has notified the school board that her firm would no longer be able to represent it. Her husband Dennis Alfonso had represented the board since 2011, but he died in May. Meanwhile, Superintendent Stratton has pushed for an attorney for the district. Some board members wanted to separate the searches, but ultimately voted 3-2 to move ahead with both searches. Hernando Sun.

Flagler: Despite a 33 percent increase in the county’s population in the past 17 years, from 90,000 to 120,000, enrollment in the district’s traditional public schools is down 100 students from the peak year of 2008. Factors contributing to the decline are more students choosing private and parochial schools and home-schooling, and the rapid increase in the population of people 65 and over. Flagler Live.

Jackson: A former teacher at the Marianna K-8 School has been arrested in Nigeria and will be extradited to Florida to face child pornography charges. Authorities said Eric Horton, 52, is charged with possession of child sexual abuse material and promoting a sexual performance by a child. WMBB.

Levy: A 4-year-old girl who was wandering around a Williston neighborhood alone Friday was dropped off at the wrong stop, according to district officials. Deputies were called by a man who saw the girl, and reunited her with her family. Superintendent Christopher Cowart said the incident was a mistake, and “after fully investigating, the district will take all appropriate action.” WCJB.

Jefferson: The district continues to be plagued with air-conditioning problems. School was supposed to start last Thursday, but was pushed to Friday, then Monday because A/C systems weren’t working properly. Monday, the A/C at the K-12 school was down for part of the day in several buildings. At their meeting Monday, school board members approved the rental of an A/C chiller through December at a cost of $16,000 a month. Superintendent Eydie Tricquet said the district ordered its own chiller in September 2022, but it’s not expected to arrive until November. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: A group of New College professors and students have filed a lawsuit against state education officials over a new law that bans university spending on diversity, equity and inclusion programs and prohibits the teaching of “disfavored” subjects on race, sexuality and gender. S.B. 266 is considered an extension of the “Stop WOKE Act” approved by the 2022 Legislature. “The state of Florida leads the country in efforts to censor academic freedom and instruction in its college classrooms,” attorneys wrote in the 81-page complaint. Politico Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. News Service of Florida. St. Petersburg College has begun offering six mental health courses as training for law enforcement officers to better respond to people with mental health challenges. Tampa Bay Times.

Teaching vacancies drop? Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. is reportedly announcing today that the number of teaching vacancies is down 8 percent since last year, according to the Daily Signal, a political media news website published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Total teacher vacancies is 4,776, Diaz is expected to say, down from 5,208 at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. “It has been a top priority of the governor, the Florida Legislature and the Department of Education to recruit high-quality teachers to fill our classrooms,” according to a statement by Diaz. “It is clear from the nearly 10 percent decline in teacher vacancies reported today that their hard work has paid off.” The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union, contends there are about 7,000 teaching jobs still unfilled. Daily Signal.

Around the nation: The Biden administration is urging colleges and universities to use a variety of methods, including considering ending legacy admissions, to promote racial diversity since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the use of affirmative action policies in June. Guidance from the Justice and Education departments encourages colleges to focus their recruiting in areas with high percentages of minorities, offer clubs appealing to students of a certain race and consider personal experiences shared in application letters. Associated Press. The 74.

Opinions on schools: A recent study shows that enrollment in New York Jewish day schools has slowed, and after exploring multiple potential causes, the authors concluded that a primary driver has been Florida attracting young families. I suspect this trend is just getting warmed up. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Parents should know exactly what public schools spend on their children’s education and consider if those resources could be put to better use elsewhere. Brandon Detweiler, reimaginED. How can we as a nation liberate ourselves from the hatred of African Americans that “classical” and contemporary elites have deeply ingrained in the American psychic, and can we do so when it is illegal in some venues to talk about systemic racism? James Unnever, Tampa Bay Times. Parents, you must be worried about the physical, emotional and spiritual health of your children. And you should be. I’m going to ask you to do something that is much more difficult than it was when my own children were K-12 students. I’m going to ask you to encourage your children to aim high, even if it involves risking failure. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff