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School lunches have come into the crosshairs of Florida’s culture war

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state
Kindergarteners Denise Kelly, left, and Aliyas Lott pick their lunches in the cafeteria at Sandy Lane Elementary School in 2021. The federal school lunch plan has become part of the culture wars in Florida.
Kindergarteners Denise Kelly, left, and Aliyas Lott pick their lunches in the cafeteria at Sandy Lane Elementary School in 2021. The federal school lunch plan has become part of the culture wars in Florida. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 2|Updated Aug. 2

The big story: In Florida’s ongoing school culture wars, education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. told district officials to ignore the Biden Administration’s guidance on gender discrimination.

He put school lunches in the crosshairs, Florida Politics reports.

Diaz warned that following the federal guidelines, which he said are nothing more than recommendations, could put the districts afoul of state law.

A Stetson University law professor suggested the state might be on the wrong side of this debate. “That federal law, when it is inconsistent with state law, wins. That’s because the US Constitution says it does, in Article Six of the US Constitution,” Louis Virelli said in an interview with WUSF. Read more here.

Democrats are pushing back in the culture wars. A new group funded by some key Democratic money movers aims to organize teachers, students and parents in 15 states including Florida against the conservative legislation and rhetoric relating to gender, race and instruction in the schools, Politico reports.

School districts continue to explore how to operate amid the new laws and heated debates, Insider reports. During a back-to-school news conference, Palm Beach County superintendent Mike Burke clarified that the new laws are not forcing a curriculum change in district schools, the Palm Beach Post reports.

Hot topics

School board politics: The Florida Democratic Party jumped into the school board endorsement realm, announcing its backing of 18 candidates in 13 counties, Florida Phoenix reports. School board races are supposed to be nonpartisan.

Housing costs: Newly hired faculty at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus are turning down the jobs after finding they can’t afford to live in the area. School officials are looking for solutions, such as subsidized housing rates.

Tax referendums: The Duval County school district is asking voters to approve a 1 mill property tax increase to fund salary increases and school arts and athletics programs, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Employee shortages: A month ago, Lee County schools needed 69 bus drivers to fill all route vacancies. Now they need 139, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Tampa Bay area schools are in need of crossing guards, WFTS reports. • Close to 2,000 teachers left the Hillsborough County school district in the past year, Tampa Bay Business Journal reports. • Collier County schools hired 350 teachers over the summer, but still have 160 vacancies, WINK reports.

School safety: The Clay County law enforcement offices worked with the school district to create an active shooter response plan for each school, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Other school news

“Better than Christmas morning.” A Bay County middle school received a $50,000 grant to upgrade its aging theater and stage, the Panama City News Herald reports.

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Tallahassee Community College planned to open a STEM charter school this fall. A glitch in state rules is causing a delay, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

A Nassau County resident recommended the School Board create a citizens advisory committee on the budget, for greater transparency. The board voted down the idea, Florida Politics reports.

One new St. Johns County school won’t begin classes on Aug. 10 along with all the others. Construction delays are pushing back the first day to Aug. 15, WJAX reports.

Bay County’s Oscar Patterson Elementary closed four years ago after Hurricane Michael. It’s reopening this year as a refashioned academy, WJHG reports.

Don’t miss a story. Here’s a link to yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... What? You missed the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show earlier this summer? Well, check out Lark’s master agility run. Can your pooch do this?

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