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The state’s math of textbook reviews, school shooting trial judge picked at random, and more

Math textbook reviewers: Just three of the 125 people who reviewed math textbooks for the state reported that only four math books violated a state rule prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory, even though dozens of textbooks were rejected. One of the three reviewers is a Florida aerospace engineer who is affiliated with the Indian River County chapter of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty. The other two are from Hillsdale College, a conservative college in Michigan with deep ties to conservative Republicans. One is a civics education specialist at the college, and the other is a sophomore who is secretary of the Hillsdale College Republicans. The state rejected 54 of the submitted textbooks, approving some only after it claimed the publishers removed “woke content.” No examples have been provided. State officials did not explain what qualifications were needed to become a reviewer, or why these three were chosen, saying only that the reviewers were “qualified.” Miami Herald. WFTS.

Around the state: A computer that didn’t consider experience randomly selected the judge for the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, a former student at Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Palm Beach County was shot to death Friday after crashing a van into the school and attacking a resource officer, a group said it will sue if the Polk County superintendent’s plan to put disputed books back on library shelves doesn’t protect students or follow state law, Pinellas school board members will select a new superintendent Tuesday, a Lake County school investigation concludes that two former employees committed ethical violations, high school graduations return to pre-pandemic normal in Duval County, and students at a Broward middle school are getting home up to a half-hour later every day since district officials prohibited school buses from making a left turn coming out of the school. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The judge assigned to the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was selected randomly by a computer program that did not take into consideration her experience or the unique complexity of this trial. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, 45, who was appointed in 2012, has never overseen a death penalty trial. She has already acknowledged an error when she dismissed 11 potential jurors before letting the lawyers question them. Jury selection is expected to resume today, after being suspended for two weeks because Cruz’s primary public defender has been out of the courtroom. Associated Press. Students are getting home from Falcon Cove Middle School up to 30 minutes later than usual after the district prohibited school buses from making a left turn coming out of the school. District officials said turning left is unsafe, so buses have to take an alternate route than can double the time it takes for some students to be dropped off near their homes. In a statement, district officials said: “While Broward County Public Schools understands the frustration and inconvenience being experienced by the Falcon Cove Middle School community, the safety of our students is and will always be the main priority. The district asks for families’ patience during the last couple of weeks of school while district, school, and city officials evaluate possible solutions.” WPLG.

Palm Beach: The 33-year-old man who crashed a van through the gates at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach around noon on Friday, attacked a school police officer and then was shot dead by another officer, was a 2007 graduate of the school. Romen Phelps was described by friends as a kind and caring person who loved the school, but had long struggled with mental health issues. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC. Construction has begun to build a new Melaleuca Elementary School in West Palm Beach. The $38 million project will include 35 new classrooms for 710 students. Students will attend classes at Crestwood Middle School until the construction is finished in the summer of 2023. WPBF. Fifty-four county high school seniors were honored with 2022 Pathfinder Scholarship Awards last week. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: High school graduations are returning to their pre-pandemic routine: indoors with air-conditioning. The cost of renting the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena for many of the ceremonies will be about $300,000, compared with the less than $200,000 the district spent when it staged graduations at school football fields. “I’m sure board members will be pleased to know ceremonies are taking place indoors,” Superintendent Diana Greene said recently. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Now that the school district has decided 16 books challenged by the County Citizens Defending Freedom should be returned to age-appropriate school library shelves, the group said if Superintendent Frederick Heid’s plan to allow parents to restrict what their children can read does not “protect the children in Polk County Public Schools or follow Florida statutes regarding the protection of minors from obscene and harmful materials, CCDF-USA will be left with no choice but to proceed with the final step in our process, which is to pursue legal action.” Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board members are expected to choose a new superintendent Tuesday to replace the retiring Michael Grego. The finalists are: Ann Hembrook, a 47-year-old Marion County area superintendent; Kevin Hendrick, 46, the Pinellas district’s chief academic officer who has spent most of his career in the school system; and Michael Ramirez, 49, a deputy superintendent in the Denver school district. Tampa Bay Times. St. Petersburg City Council has given the go-ahead to build a combination middle school and YMCA in the northeast part of the city. The project had been stalled by traffic concerns of residents in the adjacent neighborhood, but a compromise was reached. A fall 2024 opening is projected for the 600-student school and the adjacent, 48,000-square-foot YMCA that will be open to the public. Tampa Bay Times. St. Pete Catalyst. Members of St. Petersburg High School’s Junior Achievement 3DE program recently won the 2022 Home Depot National Case Challenge for its creation of an innovative showroom-type experience based on kitchen products. The 3DE program uses business professionals to provide students with project-based experiences to help them develop entrepreneurial thinking and realistic work experiences. St. Pete Catalyst.

Lee: The school district’s new superintendent, Christopher Bernier, begins work today. “My top priority is my entry plan,” Bernier said. “Right now, I think the goal is to come on board and continue to engage with the community.” He takes over for interim superintendent Ken Savage, who was appointed when Greg Adkins resigned last summer. WINK.

Brevard: Members of the Brevard branch of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty said they wouldn’t be surprised if some of their members and activities were among those investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counterterrorism Division last fall. After allegations of threats and violence against school board members intensified last fall, the FBI was asked by the National School Boards Association to investigate. A whistleblower said those investigations did take place. Ashley Hall, chair of the local Moms for Liberty group, said she’s not surprised. “I would say it just confirms that what we’re doing is right, and we’re not going to stop,” Hall said. Florida Today.

Lake: A school district investigation has concluded that Leesburg High School’s former band director and an ex-guidance counselor violated “standards of ethical conduct” but that there was no evidence they created a cult, as a former student had alleged. Both band director Gabriel Fielder and counselor Lenny Finelli should have been fired, according to the report, but both resigned first. The student alleged that he and Finelli has a sexual relationship, and that Fielder destroyed text messages between the two. Daily Commercial. A former member of the group formed by Fielder, called the Elder Council, talks about her experiences. Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: A school board meeting that ended abruptly May 3 was finished without incident on Friday. Board members approved items from their consent agenda, and 30 people spoke on a range of topics, such as the board’s comments policy, a pending charter school application from Charter Schools USA, and the possible addition of a literacy program. The board meets again Thursday. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. WTVT.

Marion: One of the school board’s two monthly meetings will be held at 9 a.m. in a test to see if the change increases the number of people who attend. Board meetings have been set at 5:30 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Workshop sessions are at 9 a.m. on the Thursdays before the meetings. The test will last from June 28 through Sept. 27, and then the board will decide whether to continue the pilot until mid-November, when the 2023 board meeting schedule is set. Ocala Star-Banner. A complaint has been filed against school board member Don Browning for making racially insensitive remarks recently to a black school employee. According to the complaint from the local chapter of the NAACP, Browning said that “concrete doesn’t cure well in black neighborhoods” and that “if there was a KKK hood sitting on that chair right there and nobody had it on, does it really exist?” Browning said his remarks were not insensitive and that he simply meant the KKK don’t exist any longer. Ocala Star-Banner.

Alachua: A 15-year-old 8th-grader at Fort Clarke Middle School was arrested Friday and accused of having a loaded handgun on campus. Deputies said the gun is the boy’s mother’s, and he took it without her knowledge. WCJB. WGFL. WOFL. Gainesville Sun.

Flagler: Teresa Rizzo, a former district teacher and for the past year the state regional literacy director for the Florida Department of Education, has been chosen to lead the Flagler Education Foundation. Rizzo, 44, succeeds her late husband Joe, who died in March. The foundation is the nonprofit arm of the school district. Flagler Live.

Hernando: The Brooksville City Council has approved rezoning property for a private school that the developer envisions as an IMG-like school. IMG is a sports academy in Bradenton. The first phase would include space for 600 K-12 students, including 140 living in dorms. A second phase would serve up to 800 students. A 2024 opening is expected. Suncoast News.

Colleges and universities: Faculty tenure will change when a new law goes into effect July 1. Professors at the state’s universities will now be subject to review every five years. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the change will prevent professors from “indoctrinating students” in certain ideologies. WUWF. David Yellen, the CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, a research organization at the University of Denver, has been named dean of the University of Miami Law School. The job has been filled temporarily since May 2021, when Anthony Varona was demoted. Miami Herald.

Regional board appointments: Gov. DeSantis has appointed four new members to the Southern Regional Education Board. They are: state Rep. Alex Rizo, who runs a consulting firm specializing in charter school and college preparatory tutoring; Megan Crombie, a teacher and instructional specialist at the Florida State University School; Arthur Keiser, the chancellor and founder of Keiser University and Southeastern College; and G. Devin Stephenson, president and CEO of Northwestern Florida State College. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: In the deepest corners of the right wing, the belief exists that teachers, textbook writers and publishing companies are conspiring to indoctrinate children. It starts with softening students up by talking about feelings. Then their unsuspecting minds can be shaped to believe in climate change, COVID-19 vaccines, evolution and — worst of all — that racism exists. Such kookiness has existed on the fringes of the Republican Party for a long time, and was, for the most part, shunned by mainstream conservatives. But in the Twilight Zone that Florida’s state government has become, this line of thinking is shaping education policy. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff