School shooting jury selection delayed another week, 11.84 GPA, taxes, OD policy and more

Around the state: Jury selection in the sentencing trial of the Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz has been delayed another week because his attorney is ill, Leon County’s school superintendent is considering asking voters for a tax increase to boost pay for veteran teachers, Pasco school employees reach a contract agreement with the district after eight months of talks, the Florida Department of Education has specified four topics for publishers to avoid to keep their math textbooks from being rejected, Polk County’s superintendent is proposing adding high school classes and a workforce academy to help fill a half-empty middle school, a delay in an order from the state Education Practices Commission allowed a teacher arrested in Osceola County to take another job and be arrested again in Polk County two years later, and a Hillsborough County student will graduate from high school this month with a grade point average of 11.84. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward, south Florida: Jury selection in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz has been postponed for another week because his lead attorney, public defender Melisa McNeill, is apparently ill. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer did not announce the nature of McNeill’s illness in court on Monday, but was overheard asking one of McNeill’s colleagues if the attorney was being tested. Jury selection resumes May 9. Scherer did complete questioning of 10 of the 11 potential jurors who had been dismissed last month after they said they couldn’t follow the law. Nine of the 10 were then dismissed for a second time when they said serving would be a financial or personal hardship. Sun Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ. WPTV. A summary of Day 10 of the sentencing trial. Sun Sentinel. Laurie Rich Levinson, a school board member since 2010, has announced she won’t run for re-election. She’s the third long-time member to step away from the board this year. At least three people are candidates for her District 6 seat: John Christopher Canter, a grant specialist for Palm Beach County schools; Brenda Fam, a lawyer; and John Moreno-Escobar, who calls himself a “social entrepreneur.” Sun Sentinel. The number of COVID-19 cases is increasing in south Florida and its school districts, but school officials said recent changes in the state law will limit how they can respond. WLRN.

Hillsborough: Dylan Mazard, a senior at Gaither High School in Tampa, will graduate this month with a grade point average of 11.84. School officials said it’s a record in Hillsborough County and probably in the state as well. Mazard managed it with straight A’s throughout school, by earning Florida Virtual School high school credits in 6th grade, taking classes at Hillsborough Community College in 8th grade and sometimes taking up to 14 courses a semester. “From a very young age, my parents always told me that if you settle for mediocrity, you’ll never realize your true potential,” said Mazard, who plans to attend Massachusetts Institute for Technology in Cambridge, Mass., in the fall. WFTS.

Orange: This month, Edgewater High School in Orlando is graduating its first class of 10 from its Future Teachers Magnet program that was started as a way to train students who want to be educators. “The goal of this magnet program is to be able to have them take seats in OCPS classrooms,” said coordinator Linda Eneas. The school is partnering with the University of Central Florida. Students are recruited as 8th-graders, begin taking education-related classes as freshmen and are also dual-enrolled at Valencia College to earn college credits. WOFL.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid is proposing adding high school grades to McLaughlin Middle School and Fine Arts Academy in Lake Wales and create a power academy in partnership with Duke Energy to train students for jobs in that field. He also said students at Lake Wales High charter school would be welcome to attend part-time. McLaughlin is only at about 50 percent capacity and has room for 735 more students. The initial reaction to the proposal from school board members was favorable. Lakeland Ledger. A teacher who was arrested in 2018 in Osceola County for allegedly sending an inappropriate Snapchat photo to a student was able to take a teaching job in Polk County in 2021 because the state’s Education Practices Commission took more than two years to issue its finding in the case. A week before the finding was issued, the teacher, Wayne Ricks, was arrested and accused of sexually battering a student at Haines City High School in Polk County. WTSP.

Pasco: After eight months of contract negotiations, school employees and the district have finally reached a contract agreement for the current school year. All employees will receive 4 percent bonuses, and those who are on the bottom of the pay scale will receive at least $700. The district also agreed to give teachers a 2.7 percent pay raise on or about the first day of their next contract, which begins in August. Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: District officials paid $6 million last month for a 118.62-acre property in Kissimmee where it plans to build a transportation facility. It will mirror another facility on the west side of the county, in St. Cloud, where construction will begin in February. Both facilities are projected to open in 2025. WFTV. A chef at a faith-based private boarding school for troubled teenage girls has been arrested and accused of molesting or abusing four students. Deputies said Manuel Rodriguez, 40, offered the girls nicotine vape or marijuana edibles in exchange for being quiet about the abuse at the Providence Pass Academy for Girls in Celebration. WKMG.

Lake: A 15-year-old student at Windy Hill Middle School in Clermont was arrested Friday and accused of resisting an officer without violence and disorderly conduct after a confrontation with school officials. A school resource officer said the student had a bandana hanging from his pocket, which he said is a possible sign of gang affiliation. The student refused to remove it, tried to storm off and was subdued with pepper spray. WKMG.

Leon: Superintendent Rocky Hanna said he is considering asking the school board to approve the placement of a special half-millage property tax on the ballot that would be used to raise pay for veteran teachers. Legislators have provided money to improve teacher pay across the state during the last two sessions, but 80 percent of it was directed at first-year teachers and just 20 percent to experienced teachers. The result in Leon County and many other districts is that teachers with as much as 10 years of experience make the same or only slightly more as beginning teachers. “While the governor’s initiative to raise base teacher pay is encouraging, it’s also stacked veteran teachers on top of beginning teachers, which has been a huge morale issue this year,” said Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida president Kent Fuchs has sent a video to faculty with advice on how to follow a new law that puts restrictions on the ways discussions about race and gender are used in instruction. Some faculty members called the video “disappointing,” and accused Fuchs of pushing “state narratives.” WGFL. In January, with the encouragement of four local businesses, the University of North Florida launched a Women in Business program to help female business students find mentors, make community connections and identify career advancement opportunities. About 215 students are in the program. Florida Times-Union.

Textbook troubles: While state Department of Education officials yet to specify what was in 54 math textbooks that caused them to be rejected two weeks ago for use in classrooms, they did tell publishers there were four “special topics” that could not be included: “critical race theory,” also known as CRT; “culturally responsive teaching as it relates to CRT”; “social justice as it relates to CRT”; and “social emotional learning.” Seventeen of the 54 textbooks were approved last week after, the state said, publishers began “aligning their instructional materials to state standards and removing woke content.” Sun Sentinel.

New overdoses policy: Florida Department of Education officials have been notifying school districts about their new responsibilities of caring for students with epilepsy and seizure disorders, and dealing with opioid overdoses under two laws that go into effect July 1. S.B. 544 authorizes schools to buy and administer the drug naloxon as a treatment for opioid overdoses, and H.B. 173 requires schools to set up “individualized action plans” on how to care for students with seizure disorders. Florida Phoenix.

Corcoran’s new job: Former education commissioner Richard Corcoran is joining the consulting firm of Continental Strategies, the company said Monday. Continental is a lobbyist that specializes in U.S. and Latin American policies and legislation, and has offices in Coral Gables and Washington, D.C. Corcoran’s last day with the Florida Department of Education was May 1. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: Diversity, pluralism and variety are dependent upon freedom for educators to try new school models. Rather than chasing the shiny, the successes and failures of school systems will require cumulative knowledge and a path to improvement, features noticeably absent in centralized shiny theories. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. In spite of whatever happens in state capital buildings or school district offices that affects teachers, in spite of the pandemic, online teaching, mask-wearing, and the myriad other obstacles, they continue to be there for their students. H. James McLaughlin, Orlando Sentinel. Stop the Nikolas Cruz trial. Now. The proceeding has become farcical, overseen by a judge who is out of her depth and steered by a former state attorney who can’t let go of the case. It is not showcasing justice. It is showcasing the dysfunction of Broward County and worsening the agony for the families of the 17 people who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff