Broward seeks exemption to later school start times, Flagler picks a superintendent, cyberattack in Hillsborough, and more

Around the state: Broward school officials are planning to ask the Legislature for an exemption to a new law that requires later school starting times by 2026 for middle and high school students, Hillsborough officials say they’re working to restore systems that were affected by a cyberattack, a state audit discloses that the Lake school district failed to report at least 10 complaints against teachers and administrators as required by state law, Flagler’s school board elevates its interim superintendent into the permanent job, a Martin County principal is reassigned after he and another administrator had three male students strip to their underwear in a search for vapes, and Florida State University’s trustees will consider taking on $255 million in debt to make renovations to Doak Campbell Stadium. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: About 18 months ago, Renee O’Connor was a finalist for the district’s teacher of the year award. Today, she’s on leave from the job she said she loved, teaching African American history at Miami Norland Senior High School, citing the state’s new black history curriculum standards. “I refuse to teach lies,” she said when discussing her decision and what would have to change to bring her back to the classroom. WLRN.

Broward: District officials plan to ask state lawmakers for an exemption to the new law requiring schools to push back start times for all middle and high schools by the 2026-2027 school year. Citing research that indicates teens perform better academically with later starting times, lawmakers approved a bill this year that set the earliest start time at 8 a.m. for middle schools and 8:30 a.m. for high schools. Broward will lobby for a new bill during the legislative session beginning in January that would allow districts to choose their own start times. District officials say start times are staggered and scheduled around bus routes, and the change “would definitely increase transportation costs: It would mean more routes and more drivers” at a time when districts are struggling to find drivers, said district spokesman John Sullivan. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Hillsborough’s school district was the target of a cyberattack, school officials acknowledged last week. Law enforcement is investigating, and the district is working to restore the systems that were affected. WFLA. School bus driver shortages are continuing to cause problems for Tampa Bay area school districts. Nearly 27 percent of bus driver jobs remain open in Hillsborough County, for example, and about 20 percent in Manatee County. Most districts are raising pay as a way to attract applicants. WUSF. A school for students with special needs, autism, attention deficit disorder and other neurodiverse conditions has been opened at a former Suncoast YMCA building in Clearwater. The Learning Independence for Tomorrow school will help up to 400 students and adults from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Daily Catalyst.

Palm Beach: Since July 1, 2022, only one school district book was formally challenged for content, and another five were informally challenged through complaints to individual schools, according to school district records. The formal challenge was denied, and all six of the books remain in school libraries. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A Douglas Anderson School of the Arts teacher was removed from the classroom Tuesday for a second time. Corey Thayer, the cinematic arts chair at the school, was accused in April of inappropriate touching and taken out of the classroom. After an investigation, he was cleared to return at the beginning of the school year, but removed again Tuesday after additional information was discovered, according to district officials. WJXT.

Polk: The city of Lakeland has announced plans to locate a $75,000 esports center at the Coleman-Bush Building at Simpson Park. The center is sponsored by MidFlorida Credit Union and is expected to open around Jan. 1 with 20 high-tech consoles and two flight simulators. Giving students recreational opportunities other than sports and helping students learn science technology, engineering and math skills are the goals, said Mike Marotz, superintendent of recreation for the city. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland Now.

Lake: A recent state sudit found that the school district failed to report at least 10 complaints that actions by district teachers and administrators during the 2022-2023 school year adversely affected the health, safety and welfare of students. State law requires districts to file written reports on complaints against administrators and teachers to the Florida Department of Education within 30 days after the complaint is filed. District officials said their responses sometimes took longer than 30 days due to the availability of witnesses, school breaks and law enforcement involvement. The Florida Auditor General report also found that 1,413 school employees and 3,792 students had not received state-required training about mental health care services. The Center Square.

St. Johns: District officials reviewed six options for school rezonings during a town hall meeting Tuesday at Bartram Trail High School. Many of the attendees of the meeting spoke against the proposals, which are intended to ease overcrowding and fill two new schools that are expected to open next fall. WJXT.

Sarasota: School board vice chair Karen Rose has filed to run for re-election to her District 2 seat in August 2024. Rose was first elected in 2020 and has drawn one challenger so far, former school psychologist Liz Barker. Rose was one of the board members who pushed for the firing of previous superintendent Brennan Asplen. She then supported Terry Connor for the job, and he was hired on a 3-2 vote. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. School board members have approved a plan outlining how the superintendent and board members should communicate with each other. It directs the superintendent to send regular e-mails to update board members with relevant information. School board members will refer constituents with concerns to the superintendent, and must notify a school principal and the superintendent before making a school visit. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: A records clerk at Escambia High School was arrested last week and charged with driving under the influence and possession of cocaine and fentanyl. Regina Bonal, 39, was arrested after a traffic stop because her car was drifting outside of its lane and was “unable to maintain a consistent speed,” according to deputies. WEAR.

Alachua: Seven of the 13 teachers at the Alachua eSchool have been transferred into schools because of low enrollment and the need for classroom teachers, said district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson. “We need to add a certain number of allocated teacher units to this school and take away teacher units from this school,” Johnson said. “That happens every year in every district. It’s just the nature of the beast.” Independent Florida Alligator. School board members said they wanted to hold community meetings before revising the district’s LGBTQ guide. Specifically, they want clarity about punishments for district teachers and employees who violate the district’s policies. WCJB.

Martin: South Fork High School principal Timothy Aitken has been reassigned by the district after he and another school administrator allegedly called three male students into the office and had them strip down to their underwear during a search for vapes. Sheriff William Snyder said his office investigated the “inappropriate behavior,” but referred the matter to the school district after prosecutors concluded no crime had been committed. Assistant principal Jaime Thompson has been named the interim principal of the school. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Flagler: School board members voted unanimously Tuesday to end their search for a new superintendent and appoint interim leader LaShakia Moore to the position. Moore, who had been the assistant superintendent for academic services, has been running the district since Cathy Mittelstadt was fired in April. Moore said, “For me, this is about doing good work, because good work needs to be done.” Contract negotiations now begin between Moore and the board. Flagler Live. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG.

Colleges and universities: Florida State University’s trustees will consider taking on $255 million in debt to make renovations to Doak Campbell Stadium, the school’s football field. The money would be spent on significant renovations to the west side and south end zone of the stadium and “upgrades to antiquated infrastructure.” Tampa Bay Times. More than 4 million federal student loan borrowers have enrolled in the Biden administration’s new repayment program, according to the Department of Education. More than 291,000 of those borrowers are from Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Atlantic University has closed a $35 million building it just opened in January because of pressurization issues that have left researchers and other employees unable to open some doors. Palm Beach Post. Florida public universities said they will continue to award college credits to high school students who pass advanced psychology courses offered by Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge AICE. TCPalm. Florida State University graduate assistants have negotiated a pay raise, from a minimum stipend of $16,250 to $18,700 starting in the fall of 2024. Tallahassee Democrat.

Schools reopening today: Public K-12 schools in Hamilton reopen today after being closed because of Hurricane Idalia. Lafayette, Suwannee, Taylor and Madison County High School, Madison County Central School and Pinetta Elementary in Madison County return Thursday. The Madison, Live Oak and Perry branches of North Florida College remain closed all week. Florida Department of EducationWCJBWCTV.

Around the nation: The teacher shortage has prompted many U.S. school districts, including Florida’s Monroe County, to return to remote learning in some circumstances despite its acknowledged shortcomings during the pandemic. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to find a way to get instruction in front of those children,” said Andy Pruitt, spokesman for the Charleston County schools in South Carolina. The 74. A recent Gallup poll concludes that just 36 percent of Americans are satisfied with education, the lowest mark since polling on the topic began in 1999. But 76 percent of parents said they’re satisfied with the education their oldest children is getting from his or her school. Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: Learning loss during the pandemic should be a national emergency, yet outside of a small group of policy experts and academics, and a handful of politicians, the reaction to America’s massive learning loss has been eerily quiet. Responsibility for reversing this loss extends from families to teachers to state and national leaders. Until all those responsible for educating Americans acknowledge the crisis and commit to addressing it, learning loss is likely to continue. Michael J. Petrilli, New York Times. The tools and platforms students utilize in online schools often provide them with a digital fluency that surpasses that of their peers — something that will serve them well in higher education and work. Laura Downes, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff