Jury selection underway in school shooting trial, private school loses game prayer case, and more

Around the state: Jury selection began Monday in the sentencing trial for the Parkland school shooter, a federal judge rules that the FHSAA did not violation the First Amendment rights of a Tampa private school by denying it use of a public address system for a pregame prayer at a football game, three north Florida school districts are closed today because of the potential for severe weather, two controversial education laws don’t affect charter schools because of the way the bills were written, a recent audit discovers that about 38 percent of the Palm Beach County School District’s school bus drivers failed to disclose if they had completed the required post-trip inspection to make sure all students exited the buses, Leon’s school board denies a principal’s appeal of a two-week suspension, a circuit court judge rules that Gov. Ron DeSantis had the constitutional authority to remove an Alachua County School Board member from her seat because she didn’t live in the district she was elected to represent, and students are taking the Florida Standards Assessments tests this week for the last time. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Jury selection began Monday in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, with 120 of the 160 prospectors jurors questioned being dismissed. Most of them said they couldn’t serve through September, the expected length of the trial. Selecting 12 jurors and eight alternates is expected to take up to two months. Cruz, who has pleaded guilty to killing 17 students and employees and wounding 17 others, will be sentenced to death or life in prison. Once a jury is chosen, it will be allowed to visit the site of the shooting, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer also decided Monday. Sun Sentinel. Associated PressWPLG. WLRN. District auditors have found that five district schools made mistakes in their employee payrolls that resulted in thousands of dollars being misspent or improperly tracked. Valerie Wanza, chief of school performance and accountability, said employee training wasn’t as effective during the pandemic. Sun Sentinel. Broward’s and Miami-Dade’s school superintendents talk about the need to improve teacher pay, student mental health care and the achievement gap during a joint interview Monday. Miami Herald. Robert Herzog, 38, an assistant principal at Cooper City High School, has been arrested and is accused of criminal use of personal information. Police said he asked a school resource officer to check a license plate for personal reasons. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: A federal judge has ruled that the Florida High School Athletic Association did not violate First Amendment rights when it refused to allow a prayer to be broadcast over the public-address system before a 2015 state championship football game between private schools from Tampa and Jacksonville. Cambridge Christian School of Tampa filed the suit, which was dismissed by a district judge in 2017. The school appealed, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and sent it back to the judge for reconsideration in 2019. Last week’s ruling “is not about whether two Christian schools may pray together at a football game,” ruled U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell. “The issue before the court is whether the First Amendment required the FHSAA (the association) to grant the teams unrestricted access to the PA system to deliver the prayer over the loudspeaker during the pregame. … (The) court concludes that the First Amendment does not apply because the speech at issue is government speech, but even if some portion of the speech is considered private speech, the court finds no constitutional violation occurred.” News Service of Florida.

Palm Beach: A recent audit discovered that about 38 percent of the district’s school bus drivers failed to disclose if they had completed the required post-trip inspection to make sure all students exited the buses. Twice in the past 11 years, drivers have failed to notice students still on the bus, and parked and left the students alone for hours in the bus compound. Bus union officials said the shortage of drivers, frequent route changes and increased responsibilities have led to human errors, and that more drivers and aides are needed. Palm Beach Post. Sebastian River High School has its first black valedictorian in its nearly 30-year history. “I’ve always been curious about learning and the world in general,” said Jayden Hughes, who will attend either Duke University or the University of Florida in the fall. WPTV.

Polk: A former school bus attendant has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for striking special-needs students. Juanita Tappin was convicted in February of six counts of battery, abuse of a disabled adult and child abuse. WFLA. WFTS.

Lee: The school district is investigating allegations that district communications office employees are doing much of the same work the school board is paying a marketing company $176,000 a year to do. A whistleblower contends that said both are monitoring news stories, Facebook posts and comments, and forwarding them to administrative leaders. WINK. District officials explain the decision to reintroduce peanut butter to school menus after it was banished in 2004. The impetus was supply-chain issues, but the move has required food workers to introduce and enforce strict protocols to keep students with peanut allergies safe. K-12 Dive.

Pasco: The school district’s plan to drop busing in the fall for about 3,000 students who live within 2 miles of a school has drawn a chilly reception from their parents who worry about their children’s safety. “Some of the feedback has been that people understand we have to do everything we can to be more efficient,” said assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn. “But for the most part, it’s been negative.” Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: Grief counselors are on hand at New Smyrna Beach High School to console students and staff over the death last weekend of a student at the hands of an impaired driver, according to police. Siddharth Sukhdeo, 17, was returning with his parents from his birthday celebration in Orlando on Sunday when their vehicle was struck. Sukhdeo’s parents were treated at a hospital. WOFL. WESH.

Leon: Chiles High School principal Joseph Burgess’ two-week suspension, recommended by the state’s Department of Administrative Hearings, was upheld Monday by school board members. He was accused of violating district policy by paying teachers for extra work without documentation. Burgess had appealed the suspension, claiming the district had not proven he violated a policy, that he wasn’t trained on time sheet procedures and that the court didn’t allow him to introduce evidence of bias and motive. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton: Public schools in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties will be closed today due to the potential for severe weather that could include damaging winds, hail, tornadoes and strong thunderstorms. It’s the second time in the past week that some districts in north and northwest Florida were closed because of potentially severe weather. WJHG. WEAR. WMBB. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: A circuit court judge has ruled that Gov. Ron DeSantis had the constitutional authority to remove Diyonne McGraw from her seat on the school board because she didn’t live in the district she was elected to represent. McGraw was elected for the District 2 seat in August 2020, and removed in June 2021. She then filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and an election challenger, alleging they violated her 14th Amendment rights by conspiring to remove her from office without due process. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. WGFL. The school district still needs 30-40 more school bus drivers, said spokeswoman Jackie Johnson. The shortage has lingered for more than a year. Gainesville Sun.

Nassau: Some members of the school board are balking at the nearly $16,000 annual fee to join the Florida School Boards Association. “As you saw on your agenda, we have received the invoice — it’s $15,996 for us to belong, for one year,” chair Donna Martin told other board members. “If you do a little history, as long as I have been on the board, the board’s decided $15,996 is better spent somewhere else. But it’s open for discussion.” The question will be discussed further at a future board meeting. Florida Politics.

Colleges and universities: The state universities’ faculty union is advising professors to ignore the state’s survey meant to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campuses. “Florida’s government has no right to know the thoughts, feelings, or political or religious beliefs of anyone, including the higher education community,” the letter to faculty said. “Privacy is the bedrock of democracy and a safeguard against autocratic control.” The surveys were distributed Monday. Associated Press. The University of Florida has completed the purchase of the 30-acre Scripps Research Institute site in Jupiter. It will be used to conduct biomedical research. Palm Beach Post.

Charter school exemptions: Charter schools are considered public schools, but two recently approved, controversial state laws will not apply to the 340,000 students who attend them. One of the bills puts restrictions on classroom discussions about sexual identity and health services, and the other gives parents more say in the process of approving school books and materials. Charters are exempt because the laws apply to the state statutes chapter relating to district school board powers, a section from which charter schools are exempted. Tampa Bay Times. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said Monday he will file a bill next year that would subject parents and doctors to a felony child abuse crime punishable by prison and/or loss of a medical license for providing drugs or surgery to a minor for gender assignment. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida.

Final FSA testing: Students from grades 3-12 are taking the Florida Standards Assessments tests this week for the final time. The tests are being replaced next year by periodic testing that will monitor progress. WPTV. WQIK. WJHG. WFTV.

Around the nation: A recent poll shows significant generational differences in how people feel about education policies. Young Democrats are much more likely to favor school choice than older members of the party, the poll found, while younger Republicans have a more favorable view of teachers unions than older members of the party. The 74. The 36-year-old daughter of a former Florida education commissioner was shot to death last weekend in her Indiana home. The husband of Elizabeth Bennett Lewis, 36, whose father Tony Bennett was Florida education commissioner from December 2012 until August 2013, has been arrested and charged with murder. Louisville Courier-Journal.

Opinions on schools: Federal special education law only guarantees a special-needs child the right to attend his or her zoned district school. Federal anti-discrimination statutes may, however, constitute another matter entirely. If a family with a special-needs student moves into the attendance zone of a public school, the school would in effect expand their special needs programs, whether they were “at capacity” or not. But schools routinely choose not to do so for enrollment students. “Program capacity” is simply camouflage for “discrimination.” Matthew Ladner, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff