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Homeless students, heavy interest in Duval schools HQ, book removals, photo op under fire, and more

Around the state: A Palm Beach County School Board member says the number of homeless students is growing by 50 a week, 16 bidders submit proposals to buy the Duval school district’s riverfront headquarters, some Brevard schools are individually making decisions to pull books from library shelves after complaints, LGBTQ advocates in Leon County aren’t satisfied with the latest draft of the school district’s LGBTQ+ School Support Guide, Alachua’s teachers union says at least 44 school employees have been physically attacked by students in the past 19 months, Citrus school board members will consider a proposal to hire professional athletic trainers for schools, University of Florida researchers say they have helped develop a COVID-19 test that will deliver results within 30 seconds, and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office is being criticized for holding an event to “build relationships with our kids and parents” where young students could get their pictures taken while holding grenade launchers. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A mother whose 7th-grade daughter was beaten into unconsciousness by several students at Gulfstream Academy on April 1 has accused the school and district of not doing enough to punish the responsible students. The woman said the school is fully of bullies and she wants principal Tarshé Freeman removed. A district spokesperson issued a statement saying, “School staff immediately responded and intervened. Emergency responders evaluated one student at the school. No students were transported. The students responsible for the altercation received appropriate school disciplinary consequences in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct.” WPLG. WSVN.

Hillsborough: A former assistant high school teacher and football coach who was charged in March with inappropriately touching a student at Livingston Academy in Seffner in March was rearrested April 6 and accused of molesting another student, this time at Bloomingdale High School, more than 50 times between 2017 and 2022. The Bloomingdale student came forward after deputies arrested Matthew Hike, 33, last month and asked for other victims to notify the sheriff. WFLA. WTVT. WFTS. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: Nearly 3,900 district students are now considered homeless, according to school board member Erica Whitfield, and the number is growing by about 50 a week. That’s nearly double the number in the district just 18 months ago, she said. “Palm Beach County is becoming an ever-increasingly difficult place to live,” she said. “It’s a very difficult place to find housing.” WPTV. A 16-year-old student at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington is now a published author. Ryan Snider’s 281-page novel about a floating city called New Atlantis is titled 70 Meters, and was published by author Stephen Kozan. “Pretty ecstatic is really the only word to describe it,” Snider said at Thursday’s book signing. “I wrote a book, I got it published. People are coming here to support me. It’s amazing.” WPTV.

Duval: Sixteen bids have been submitted for the school district’s headquarters building on the St. Johns River. Among the bidders are Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Florida Blue and CSX Transportation. District officials decided to sell the property and move to a slightly smaller space that can consolidate their operations. The bids will be analyzed and recommendations will be made to the evaluation committee, which will prepare a short list for school board members to consider. Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville Daily Record. Four Duval County School District teachers have been chosen as winners of Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence by the University of North Florida’s College of Education and Human Services. The winners, who each receive $15,000, are: Meshellia Hughes, a 3rd-grade math teacher at Andrew A. Robinson Elementary; May Hotard, a Spanish teacher at Bishop Kenny High; Crystal Parker, an Advanced Via Individual Determination (AVID) and English teacher at Edward H. White High; and Sara Henry, a reading and language arts teacher at Ruth Upson Elementary. Florida Times-Union.

Pinellas: A Gibbs High School resource officer’s idea has turned into the Gibbs Grab N Go Boutique, which makes new and lightly used clothing available for students in need. Officer Grace Albritton, a Gibbs graduate, came up with the idea to create the boutique in an empty classroom after seeing the need for clothing assistance during a 2020 Thanksgiving school giveaway event. “I didn’t grow up with much, so I know how it feels,” Albritton said. “To be able to give back to the school that I graduated from, of course, is amazing because I feel like now I’m here. I’m in a place where I can help.” WTSP. WFTS.

Brevard: Some schools are choosing to remove books from their libraries after their contents have been challenged by the local chapter of the advocacy group Moms for Liberty. The group submitted 19 books to the district that it believes violate state laws. District spokesman Russell Bruhn said schools with the books are deciding whether to remove them permanently or for further review. “(The principal and media specialist) can take action by taking it out of circulation, but there’s no list that is a ban list,” Bruhn said. Moms of Liberty members wrote in a statement that they are “thrilled with this progress and look forward to further investigation into all of the titles submitted. Explicit and pornographic content has no place in a K-12 library – especially without the knowledge or consent of parents.” Florida Today.

Osceola: A campus monitor at Tohopekaliga High School in Kissimmee has been arrested and accused of child abuse. Sheriff’s deputies said Christopher Ferguson, 26, was seen on a video lifting a student who was serving an in-school suspension by the neck, holding him against a wall and then dropping him to the floor. Ferguson had kicked the boy out of the room for using the N-word, deputies said. Ferguson had only been working at the school for about a week, according to school officials who said he resigned after his release on bond from jail. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Volusia: Three candidates have emerged for the District 3 seat on the school board that is opening because incumbent Linda Cuthbert is not running for re-election. The candidates are Kim Short, a mother and school volunteer who has a child in the district; Justin Kennedy, who owns a landscaping company and has a child in high school; and Jessie Thompson, a standup comedian and PTA president at Coronado Beach Elementary who has three small children. The primary is Aug. 23. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Marion: As many as 6,000 students are expected to take part in the school district’s summer school program. The district is using $3 million in federal relief money to hire 1,400 teachers and almost 1,000 paraprofessional, bus drivers, clerks and more for the programs at 30-plus schools. Instruction will be offered most weekdays from June 6 through July 21. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: LGBTQ advocates say the draft of the school district’s LGBTQ+ School Support Guide is missing key elements that would make it more useful for the people it’s meant to help. “This is being done on the cheap compared to other counties like Broward and Duval, and (the district is) trying to skimp on it, and they’re going to end up in the same situation as before unless the district commits the proper resources to it,” said Chris Sands of the advocacy group PFLAG Tallahassee. The Leon guide is 19 pages, compared to Broward’s 101 pages and Duval’s 35. Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee Reports.

Alachua: Teachers union president Carmen Ward says at least 44 district employees have been violently attacked by students since September 2020. She said some of the attacks have been from students with disabilities, and a majority have been by elementary students. “No one should have to go to work and be kicked, spit in the face, beaten. It’s outrageous,” said Ward, who said she would be taking her concerns to the superintendent next week. WGFL.

Northwest Florida: School bus drivers are in short supply across the school districts in northwest Florida. Escambia is looking to hire 60 drivers, Okaloosa up to 30, Bay at least 20, Walton up to 20, and Santa Rosa as many as a dozen. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: Rutherford High School students in the Air Force ROTC and Construction Academy programs will be able to take International Baccalaureate classes next year, school officials have announced. “The traditional diploma program is a fantastic way to prepare students for college and careers,” said Rutherford IB Coordinator Cathy Rutland. “But it’s an all-in program where they’re taking those college-level IB classes for two years in 11th and 12th grade. The career program combines the workplace skills, career and technical education with those IB courses.” WMBB.

Martin: A former Stuart Middle School teacher was found guilty Thursday by a jury of sexual battery on a child. Jeffrey Tomasulo, who was 29 at the time of his arrest in 2018, was convicted of having sexual contact with a 13-year-old student. WPTV.

Citrus: School board members are considering hiring professional athletic trainers to deal with injuries and emergencies at school sporting events. “We need to look at that closely for next school year,” said board member Doug Dodd. An official from the University of Florida will be on hand at Tuesday’s meeting to make a presentation to the board. Citrus County Chronicle.

Putnam: The sheriff’s office is under fire for allowing young students to have their photos taken while handling grenade launchers as part of an event to “build relationships with our kids and parents.” Critics took to Facebook and Twitter to question the department’s decision, saying the event could glorify weapons and prompt children to perceive guns as toys. Sheriff’s officials defended the event, and a spokesperson said, “We will continue to host and participate in events that promote the positive interactions as well as hands-on learning between law enforcement and our community.” Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida researchers said they have helped develop a testing device that can detect a COVID-19 infection in as little as 30 seconds, and as accurately as the widely used polymerase chain reaction test. The research is being conducted in collaboration with scientists at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. Mainstreet Daily News. A University of Florida English professor is suing the school, alleging that it retaliated against him after he criticized its decision to hold in-person classes as coronavirus cases were surging. Richard Burt said he was stripped of his teaching assignments and barred from the campus after his comments. Miami Herald. All Pensacola State College students who earn an associate’s degree will be guaranteed admission into the University of West Florida under an agreement they two schools signed Thursday. WEAR.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Ron DeSantis claims that just about everyone but his political allies are trying to indoctrinate children into questionable beliefs, including college professors, public school teachers and companies such as Disney. But the reality is that Florida Republicans are seeking to force schools and businesses to promote their political agenda. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun. The growing interest in and supply of hybrid schooling across the country reflect a larger educational trend away from traditional schooling and toward innovative, decentralized solutions. Kerry McDonald, Foundation for Economic Education. Florida is not creating two parallel school systems. It is funding students, not systems, ensuring the money follows the child to the setting that works best for him or her. Scott Kent, Tallahassee Democrat. (Note: Kent is assistant director of strategic communications for Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.)

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BY NextSteps staff