Florida colleges in the crossfire over Middle East politics

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state
Police search attendees at a security checkpoint before allowing them to enter a teach-in organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine held at the University of Florida on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023 in Gainesville.
Police search attendees at a security checkpoint before allowing them to enter a teach-in organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine held at the University of Florida on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023 in Gainesville. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 6, 2023

The big story: Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Florida’s public universities to disband chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine.

He argued that the organization offered material support for the terrorist group Hamas, based on language in its national ‘day of resistance toolkit.”

But several legal experts suggested that the governor’s move appears to violate the students’ First Amendment rights.

“Universities cannot exclude student groups from the forums they have established simply because the universities find the students’ speech distasteful,” wrote University of Florida constitutional law professor Lyrissa Lidsky. Read more from PolitiFact.

University of South Florida leaders have not taken any action on the directive to remove the group from campus, WUSF reports.

Tensions have risen on Florida university campuses since the start of war in Israel and Gaza, the Miami Herald reports.

The Legislature will meet in special session this week to focus on Middle East politics, as well as on other matters including the expansion of school vouchers. Small private schools continue to struggle amid delays in state funding for vouchers, WFTS reports. Some are facing closure.

More higher ed

The University of Tampa needs a new president. After nearly three decades on the job, Ron Vaughn is retiring.

Florida Atlantic University has plans for a dental school. The project is delayed by the school’s stalled presidential search, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

University of Miami law school students are learning about intellectual property through pop culture. Their focus is Taylor Swift, the Miami Herald reports.

From the court docket ... A federal judge has blocked an effort to stop Florida’s ban on funding university diversity, equity and inclusion programs, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. The judge said the plaintiffs had no standing to sue.

K-12 topics

Teacher discipline: The Hillsborough County school district is reprimanding a high school teacher who faced years of criticism and complaints that he bullied and belittled students.

School leadership: A Palm Beach County high school has a new principal after the previous administration and several employees were arrested on accusations of failing to report a suspected case of sexual assault, WPTV reports.

Mental health services: Polk County schools face a shortage of mental health professionals to meet student needs, Lakeland Now reports.

Legal advice: Flagler County school district officials disagree over how much it might cost the district if the school board fires its lawyer, Flagler Live reports.

Hazing: A report of hazing in a Brevard County high school’s football program remains under investigation nearly two months after complaints surfaced, Florida Today reports.

Gender issues: A Florida Virtual School teacher was fired for using the gender-neutral title Mx. in classroom materials, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Enrollment: Polk County schools are projected to surpass Duval County in size, as district enrollment has grown by about 3,000 students, the Ledger reports.

Construction: The Broward County school district has begun an $82 million replacement project for a school where the roof collapsed two years ago, WTVJ reports. The Hernando County School Board terminated its contract with a firm hired to build a 12-room addition to Winding Waters K-8, saying the firm had fallen 10 months behind schedule and was not responsive, Hernando Sun reports.

Book bans: The Collier County school district has removed more than 300 books from school shelves, saying they violate state law, WBBH reports.

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

Before you go ... The Beatles released “Now and Then” over the weekend. It’s fascinating to see in this “making of” video how the song got put together.

• • •

Sign up for the Gradebook newsletter!

Every Thursday, get the latest updates on what’s happening in Tampa Bay area schools from Times education reporter Jeffrey S. Solochek. Click here to sign up.