Grand jury report urges that some Broward board members be removed, arming teachers, and more

Around the state: A report from a statewide grand jury investigating the Parkland school shooting, school safety and corruption in the Broward school district is recommending that some school board members be removed from office by the governor, Flagler County School Board members say they would consider arming teachers and other employees under the state’s guardian program, incoming Volusia Superintendent Carmen Balgobin makes dozens of administrative appointments, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Stop WOKE Act gets its first legal test Tuesday in Tallahassee, a member of the Marion school board accuses his colleagues of bullying him, and Marion Hammer, the longtime Florida lobbyist for the National Rifle Association who pushed for the state’s stand your ground bill and opposed “red flag” gun laws and imposing a minimum age for gun purchases after the Parkland school shooting in 2018, has announced her retirement after 44 years. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Some school board members should be removed from office by Gov. DeSantis, concludes a report from the statewide grand jury investigating the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and safety and security issues in state schools. Parts of the report were made public last week when an appeals court rejected a bid from some people named in it to have it repressed. Which school board members should be removed, and why, was not detailed in the grand jury report, which was completed in April 2021 but has been sealed until a final order is issued in the courts. The grand jury also looked into corruption in the school district, and has issued indictments against three former school officials: superintendent Robert Runcie for perjury, technology chief Tony Hunter for bid-rigging and bribery, and general counsel Barbara Myrick for illegally disclosing grand jury information. All have pleaded not guilty. Sun-Sentinel.

Lee: A teacher’s petition calling for changes in the way the state awards professional teaching certificates is drawing support from the school board. District chemistry teacher Samantha Zukowski wants to extend the three-year window teachers with bachelor’s degrees have to earn their professional teaching certificate. Teachers who haven’t earned the certificate in those three years must be let go, according to the state. “If you are doing all the things that we (teachers) already have checks for in place, let’s give them an extension as long as they are working at it and chipping away at it, let’s keep them in the classroom,” said Zukowski. WFTX.

Volusia: Incoming superintendent Carmen Balgobin is wasting no time putting together an administrative team. Rachel Hazel, who was the director of human resources before being named interim superintendent, will become the deputy superintendent of teaching, leading and learning when Balgobin officially starts her job July 1. Other key appointments are Earl Johnson, principal at Seabreeze High School, who was named chief operating officer with oversight of transportation, maintenance, purchasing and facilities; Matthew Kuhn as chief information officer; Melissa A. Brown as the director of budget; and Julio Nazario-Valle as assistant superintendent of elementary curriculum and instruction. Balgobin also appointed 32 principals and assistant principals. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota: A Venice elementary school teacher has just had a book released that details how COVID-19 affected reading proficiencies among the state’s 3rd-graders. Only 53 percent scored at a Level 3 on the standardized tests this spring, which is the minimum needed to pass. Lisa Richardson, who is a supporter of virtual learning, would like to see it expanded. “Our infrastructures are now ready to handle distance education, between online platforms, Internet access and one-to-one devices that we now have in our school systems,” she said. “So we need to look at a way to be able to capitalize on that and to use those resources.” She proposes that colleges teach prospective teachers online best practices. WUSF.

Marion: School board member Don Browning has filed a complaint against his colleagues and board attorney Jeremy Powers, charging that they have ganged up on him to “put forward a myth that I am improperly unprepared.” Browning, 79, said he is a victim of “ageism,” and said in the written complain, “I will not be abused and bullied and publicly humiliated multiple times per meeting. Look at the last eight months of meetings and this has happened over 100 times.” District officials said they have no jurisdiction to investigate Browning’s complaint, and that it should be filed with the school board and/or Gov. DeSantis. Ocala Star-Banner.

Flagler: School board members have agreed to consider joining the state’s guardian program, which could lead to some teachers and other school employees being armed in schools. Any decision would not affect the district’s agreement with the sheriff’s office that places a deputy at each of the four elementary schools and two middle schools, and two at the two high schools. Board members Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright support the guardian program, and colleague Cheryl Massaro has said arming civilians is an option if Sheriff Rick Staly agrees, trains the guardians and sets the parameters of their duties. Flagler Live. WFTV.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida’s accreditor said this week that its investigation of the school shows it has taken the steps necessary to protect academic freedom in the past five months, complied with its principles and acted with integrity. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools began the investigation in November after reading stories about the school banning professors from testifying in legal cases against the state because it determined it wasn’t in the best interests of the school. Gainesville Sun. Tampa Bay Times. An accreditation agency has decided to end the probation it imposed last summer on Florida Memorial University in Miami. The school, the only historically black university or college in south Florida, cut programs and staff and improved its financial position enough to re-earn its standing. Miami Herald. GJ de Vreede has been named interim dean of the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business while the school conducts a nationwide search for a new dean. Former dean Moez Limayem was recently named the president at the University of North Florida. Tampa Bay Times. USF is creating a security institute that will advise governments and businesses on ways to protect infrastructure. Leading the program will be Kenneth McKenzie, a retired Marine Corps general and the former chief of U.S. Central Command headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Tampa Bay Times.

Stop WOKE hearing: The “Stop WOKE Act” promoted by Gov. DeSantis and approved by the Legislature, which would restrict race-based teaching and training in schools, universities and workplaces and more, gets its first legal test Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee. The challenge, brought by a group of plaintiffs that includes two high school teachers, a professor at the University of Central Florida and a soon-to-be kindergartner from Nassau County, centers around free speech issues. “It’s intended to chill speech,” said Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney for the  Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which has sided with Florida Republicans in the past on campus speech issues. “The entire point of the new law is to set out certain categories or concepts that the state disdains and says you can’t introduce.” USA Today Florida Network.

Reflections of choice director: Dakeyan Chá Dré Graham, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education for two years before recently resigning to pursue other opportunities, talks about the challenges, his message that choice can be a powerful tool, and the importance of not losing sight of doing what is best for students. reimaginED.

Around the nation: How will President Biden’s order meant to protect transgender and non-binary children from state laws that strip them of protection and inclusion affect recently passed Florida laws and the students affected by those laws? USA Today. Sun-Sentinel. Nearly all approaches to school safety has included calls to harden schools against attacks by upgrading doors and windows, using metal detectors and limiting points of entry. But has that approach stopped school shootings? NPR.

Opinions on schools: The modestly rising number of people passing the state’s teacher certification exams on the first attempt in some of the subjects with the greatest shortages, such as math 6-12, chemistry, biology and earth/space science, is good news. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. For too long, our public schools have been saddled with not only having to meet educational needs but hit with the additional burden of providing social and economic remedies. James F. Lawrence, Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff