Florida grapples with vague laws on school books, lessons

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state
Florida education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., left, shown at a State Board of Education meeting in July, has issued statements on AP psychology and school book content that have not satisfied critics who say rules coming from the Department of Education are too vague.
Florida education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., left, shown at a State Board of Education meeting in July, has issued statements on AP psychology and school book content that have not satisfied critics who say rules coming from the Department of Education are too vague. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published Aug. 9

The big story: The Florida Department of Education has taken heat lately for issuing rules and guidelines that leave too much room for interpretation, prompting school leaders and teachers to act over-cautiously in fear of violating state law and facing dire consequences.

Much of the concern has arisen over how the state would interpret revised laws governing lessons and materials that discuss gender identity, sexual orientation and sexual content.

The recent dispute over whether high schools may offer the Advanced Placement psychology course, which includes a unit on gender identity, is but one example. Education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. issued a statement saying the course could be offered in its entirety, but in adding the qualifier that the lessons must be age appropriate, many school officials expressed continued reservations.

As a result, several walked away from the AP course. Among the latest moves, the Duval County school district reversed itself and will no longer offer AP psychology, WJAX reports. And Palm Beach County’s superintendent apologized for pulling the course, but said he couldn’t risk teachers getting arrested, the Palm Beach Post reports. Polk County schools also ditched the AP course, the Ledger reports.

Some experts have raised concerns that more AP courses might face removal in Florida over their content, WMFE reports.

Decisions over which books schools may use in courses and place in libraries is another example. Actions have hinged on worries over how the state will interpret the law that restricts “sexual conduct” in materials. Students return Thursday, but the state has yet to clarify its rule on the subject.

Aiming to avoid conflict, the Hillsborough County school district announced it would pare back its use of William Shakespeare’s works to excerpts. On Tuesday, the department attempted to get in front of the debate, declaring it does not support removing Shakespeare from course work. State written rules remain unavailable. Read more here.

Hot topics

Book challenges: A Brevard County teacher is offering copies of books banned by his school district through his own personal collection, Spectrum 13 reports. • The Lee County School Board rejected a proposal to revise a form that parents must fill out granting consent for children to use school library material, WINK reports.

Gender identity: The Orange County school district told transgender employees and contractors they can’t use their personal pronouns or restrooms in violation of new state law, The Hill reports. • Aspects of the state law governing instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation continue to vex some teachers and students, WLRN reports. • The Broward County School Board spent hours debating three resolutions supporting the LGBTQ+ community, amid an outpouring of community opposition, WTVJ reports.

Nicknames: The Seminole County school district told parents that they need to sign a permission slip for their children to be called anything other than their legal name while in school, WESH reports. • The Marion and Volusia county school districts are preparing to have the same requirement, WOFL reports.

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Sports training: Palm Beach County high schools are taking steps to ensure that athletes remain safe during training in the summer heat, WPTV reports.

Teacher vacancies: School districts in northeast Florida are turning to out-of-field teachers to fill classrooms as time runs short before students return, WEAR reports.

Other school news

Hillsborough County’s Strawberry Crest High is getting a new principal. Mark Watson had been an assistant principal at Durant High.

The Duval County School Board is considering options for a new district headquarters. The board has hesitated to accept any of the proposals, Jacksonville Daily Record reports.

A new Martin County charter school opens today. It’s the only high school in Indiantown, WPEC reports. • The Martin County school district also is officially opening two new elementary schools that were delayed during the pandemic, TC Palm reports.

The Palm Beach County is introducing its first new high school in 20 years. Some minor projects on campus are still in the works, but the classrooms are ready for students, the Palm Beach Post reports.

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

Before you go ... The Super Mario Bros. movie is streaming on Peacock now. How about some of the iconic Koji Kondo music from the games for your entertainment?

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