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Potential for severe weather closes at least 8 north Florida districts, masks, Cruz trial, and more

Weather closes districts: Schools in Jackson, Gadsden, Wakulla, Calhoun, Gulf, Franklin, Washington and Liberty counties are closed today and start times are delayed in several other counties because potentially severe weather is moving through the area. Schools will start three hours later in Bay County, two hours later in Walton and Holmes counties, and an hour later in Okaloosa County. The school days will end at the usual times. All schools are expected to reopen Friday. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Port St. Joe Star. WCTV. WJHG. WMBB.

Around the state: Orange County School Board members will consider ending the requirement that employees and visitors wear face masks in schools, the judge in the penalty phase trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz said the trial could last four to six months, Lee school board members have approved the name Amanecer Elementary School for a new school in Lehigh Acres, among the questions about the Parental Rights in Education bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis this week is whether it applies to charter schools, two Levy County students are seriously injured when their school bus was hit by a tractor trailer, Rhea Law is confirmed as the president of the University of South Florida by the Florida Board of Governors, and two new Florida Board of Education members attend their first meeting. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A colorful mural of a child on the side of the United Teachers of Dade headquarters in Miami Springs will be allowed to remain, the city’s Board of Appeals decided Wednesday in a 3-2 vote. The board rejected city staff’s contention that the mural constituted a code violation because it didn’t conform to the pre-approved color palette. Miami Herald.

Broward: The judge in the penalty phase trial for confessed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz said Wednesday that it could last four to six months. The trial will determine if Cruz, who was 19 when he killed 17 students and employees at the school in 2018 and wounded 17 others, is sentenced to death or life in prison. Jury selection begins Monday, and is expected to last through most of April. Twelve jurors and up to eight alternates will be chosen. WPLG. WFOR. Sun Sentinel. Associated Press.

Hillsborough: A 5th-grade teacher at a private school in Valrico was arrested this week and accused of possessing child pornography. Deputies said Stephen Robb, 69, who teaches at Grace Community Church and School, had pornographic pictures of children in e-mails and one photo of a current student who is fully clothed. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WTVT.

Orange: School board members will consider ending the district’s face mask policy for school employees, volunteers and visitors at their next meeting April 12. Board members Linda Kobert and Angie Gallo said the decline in the number of coronavirus cases makes the current policy outdated. WMFE.

Palm Beach: The driver who hit four Royal Palm Beach High School students at a school bus stop last week, killing two of them, is being investigated for DUI manslaughter, according to the sheriff’s office. Deputies said Angel Antonio Lopez, 57, was stumbling around and lethargic after the crash, and had more than two-dozen non-narcotic prescription pills inside his vehicle. Lopez has not been arrested or charged, and is cooperating with investigators. Killed were Tiana Johnson and Chand Wazir, both 15. WPTV.

Duval, northeast Florida: Seven students from Andrew Jackson High School’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps were hospitalized Wednesday during an awards ceremony held to recognize 179 cadets at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Officials from the air station said it’s unknown what caused the medical emergency. WJAX. WJXT. WTLVEleven northeast Florida school districts will receive about $80 million from the new state budget to improve teacher salaries. That’s the area’s share of the extra $250 million approved by the Legislature. WJXT. Four Jacksonville teachers have received 2022 Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence from the University of North Florida College of Education and Human Services. Each award includes a check for $15,000. WJXT.

Lee: School board members formally decided Wednesday to name a new Lehigh Acres school Amanecer Elementary School. Amanecer means sunrise in Spanish, and the school is on Sunrise Boulevard beside Lehigh Acres Middle. Amanecer was one of six naming options presented to the board after a community survey. The school is expected to open in the fall of 2023. WINK.

Brevard: An attempt by Public Defender Blaise Trettis to amend the county’s charter to allow for the recall of school board members is likely a violation of state law and its constitution, according to Charter Commission general counsel Paul Gougelman. In a memo to committee members, Gougelman wrote, “According to a 1971 opinion of the attorney general, it may not be constitutional to provide in a county charter for the recall of a school board member.” Trettis, who initiated the amendment after the school board mandated face masks for students in schools, disagrees with Gougelman’s interpretation, and pointed out that charters for both Sarasota County and the city of Jacksonville provide for the recalls of school board members. Florida Today. A Flagler College history professor will take part in a community conversation April 16 about what critical race theory is and isn’t. Michael Butler will talk at the Harry T. and Harriett V. Moore Cultural Complex and answer questions. Florida Today.

Volusia: The school district received a nearly perfect rating in its latest accreditation by international nonprofit Cognia. Volusia was awarded a score of 385.48, up from 268 in 2015. The average district score is about 280, and the grading scale is 100 to 400. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: A longtime cheerleading coach in Clermont has been arrested and accused of molesting multiple victims since at least 2013, according to police. Vigiland D’Haiti, 39, has co-owned and operated the Rush Allstars cheer team since 2009, and has also coached at high schools in central Florida, including Cypress Creek High School in Orange County until he was placed on administrative leave in January. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

St. Lucie: The old Means Court Elementary School in Fort Pierce, which used to be the only school for black students in the county, is being transformed into the Incubate Neighborhood Center. A grand opening is scheduled next month. The center will be a multi-purpose facility with meeting spaces, classrooms and media production facilities for members of the surrounding community. WPTV.

Escambia: Superintendent Tim Smith said his top goal is closing the academic achievement gap between white and minority students, and he’s reaching out to community partners for help. While 58 percent of white students scored at or above grade level in English language exams, only 24 percent of black students did during the 2020-2021 school year. In math, the gap was 36 percentage points. “Our system is very good for a number of kids,” Smith said. “But our system isn’t connecting with all of our kids, and I think that is true for districts throughout the state and really throughout the nation.” He said the starting place is identifying schools with low pre-K readiness scores and working with community organizations to convince parents of students who feed those schools to get enrolled in preschools. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: Three-term District 1 school board member Janice Kerekes has three challengers in this year’s election. April Peebles, Chris Kirk and Erin Skipper have all filed the paperwork to run for the seat. The primary is April 23, and the general election is Nov. 8. Clay Today.

Bay: Officials at the Rising Leaders Academy charter school in Panama City said they were surprised to read recently that some residents around the school don’t believe the academy is acknowledging the history and community associated with the area. Rising Leaders sits on the spot of the old Oak Grove Elementary School, which had a long history in the neighborhood. Principal Amber Perryman said having a strong relationship with residents is vital to her school, and she wants to address their concerns. “We were so concerned that something has caused them to feel this way,” Perryman said. “And so of course, as a school that cares so much about it, we are going to do everything in our power to continue to reach out, to work with the community, the residents, and the city to love the community, to know that we’re vested and we are committed to our local community.” Panama City News Herald.

Martin: School board members have agreed to use about $2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to subsidize a 6.1 percent increase in health-care insurance premiums for district employees. Some families will save as much as $120 a month. WPTV.

Levy: Five students were taken to a Gainesville hospital Wednesday afternoon after the school bus they were on was hit from behind by a tractor trailer. Two of the students are in serious condition, according to Florida Highway Patrol troopers. Mainstreet Daily News. WOFL. WCJB. WGFL.

Colleges and universities: Rhea Law was confirmed as the president of the University of South Florida on Wednesday by the Florida Board of Governors. Law’s three-year contract will pay her up to $1.1 million a year, including base pay, performance bonuses and deferred compensation. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS. WUSF. WTSP. Eight state colleges, a university and two K-12 districts will receive a combined $10.5 million from the state to expand apprentice and pre-apprentice programs. Florida Politics. A University of Florida English professor is suing school administrators because they forbade him from discussing COVID-19 with his students and ordered him to undergo a mental exam when he objected. Gainesville Sun. UF researchers said they have invented a test that can pinpoint which of the five known COVID-19 variants a person has. WCJB. The University of West Florida is the first college in the region to offer educational courses for prison inmates. WEAR. UF’s Board of Trustees has appointed 14 people to a presidential search committee. President Kent Fuchs has announced his intention to leave by the end of the year. Gainesville Sun. The Alachua branch of the NAACP has filed two complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that the UF police force discriminates against its officers and UF students. WCJB.

Does new law include charters? Much is unknown about how the Parental Rights in Education bill signed by Gov. DeSantis this week will affect education, including whether it applies to charter schools. DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw says it affects all public schools, which would include charters. But the sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, disagreed, saying, “I don’t believe they (charter schools) would be,” though he added, “I may not be correct. We may have a lot of legal opinions.” Florida Phoenix. Some parents whose children attend Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill, where DeSantis signed the bill Monday, said it sent a message that students and parents in the LGBTQ community are unwelcome. Tampa Bay Times.

New board members: Two new Florida Board of Education members attended their first meeting on Wednesday. Both were appointed in mid-March by Gov. DeSantis. Esther Byrd, from Duval County, said she would fight “ideology” in Florida schools, and Grazie Pozo Christie of Miami described herself as someone who would support the rights of parents in schools. Board members also discussed how it might proceed to implement the Parental Rights in Education bill and the changes in the annual statewide school testing. Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: Research suggests that intensive tutoring programs can help students recover learning lost during the pandemic. But many U.S. programs are reporting a shortage of tutors. Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: What is at stake in all of these book-challenge controversies is not merely the constitutional rights of students, as important as they are. When children receive the message that ideas challenging the status quo are dangerous or threatening, they also receive the message that people with marginalized identities are dangerous or threatening. As a result, marginalized students become more marginalized, and students with privilege learn that oppression and injustice are not worth learning about or challenging. Alan Levine, Sun Sentinel. Funding students as opposed to systems is the best way to ensure parental freedom in educating their children. Corey DeAngelis, reimaginED. What happened to the proposal to place cameras and microphones on teachers? House Speaker Chris Sprowls, to his credit, assigned the bill to four different committees and subcommittees, essentially guaranteeing it would die a death by being over-committeed. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff