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Duval teacher shortage means bigger class sizes, punishment over photo upheld, budgets and more

Around the state: Duval schools will increase class sizes and move certified teachers who are working in leadership and other district jobs into classrooms because of the teacher shortage, the Martin County School Board affirms the punishment of six middle school students who were photographed holding signs that spelled a racial slur, a Hendry County elementary school principal has been suspended for three months for paddling a student in 2021, jurors in the Parkland school shooting trial hear testimony about the gunman’s online searches months before the 2018 attack, Collier County School Board members vote unanimously to accept math textbooks despite objections from some parents, tentative budgets were approved by three more school boards, and some Pasco parents voice concerns about the safety of their children because of the district’s decision to eliminate courtesy busing. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: About seven months before Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, he searched the Internet for information on how to become a school shooter, how long police take to respond and a map to the school, a Broward detective testified Wednesday during Cruz’s sentencing trial. Cruz also made inflammatory comments online, including “It makes me happy to see people die” with a smiley face emoji, and “I want parents to suffer.” Jurors also heard testimony from another deputy who described being attacked by Cruz in the county jail on Nov. 13, 2018. Testimony resumes Monday. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ. WPEC. Summarizing what happened Wednesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Eighty-year-old lead prosecutor Mike Satz is meticulously building the case against Cruz. Miami Herald. An appeals court decided Wednesday that it would not reconsider its earlier ruling that cleared the way for the release of the final report by a statewide grand jury that investigated school safety after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High. News Service of Florida.

Hillsborough: More than 170 schools have gotten federal approval to offer free meals to all students. District officials said the decision covers more than 127,000 students, or about 84 percent of the all students. Schools not included in the program will still provide free breakfasts to students. WFLA. WTSP. Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa has filed suit against President Biden, the U.S. Agriculture Department, and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried over a new federal rule requiring schools to follow federal Title IX guidance in order to be eligible for funding to feed low-income children. That policy adds sexual orientation and gender identity to Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in education. Washington Times. A middle school teacher who was arrested in March on a domestic battery charge was arrested again Tuesday and charged with tampering with a witness and violation of pretrial release. Officers said Richard Pokorny, 56, who teaches science at Greco Middle School, was intoxicated when he confronted the victim in their home in Pinellas County. WFLA.

Orange: A program that requires county high school student-athletes to have a heart screening is being expanded to include band members and Junior ROTC. Evan Ernst, executive director of the nonprofit organization Who We Play For, said the free screenings detected life-threatening heart conditions in 50 children during the past school year. WFTV.

Duval: Superintendent Diana Greene said in an e-mail to employees this week that the district will deal with the teacher shortage by increasing class sizes and having certified teachers who are working in leadership and professional support roles adjust their schedules to cover classrooms. The district has 500 open teaching jobs. “This challenge isn’t new,” said Greene. “It became particularly acute last school year. This year, like last year, we are prepared to respond as needed to achieve the primary goal of giving our students the best learning experience possible even within these extraordinary constraints.” WTLV.

Polk: School board candidate Sara Jones will be investigated by the Florida Bar after missing a court hearing set because she failed to pay a court filing fee required when making an appeal for a client. Jones called the matter an unintentional series of mistakes. “I take responsibility for the mistakes that I and my staff made,” Jones said in an e-mail. “It is my responsibility to supervise and manage my staff. … I’m glad that my former client’s interests were not harmed by my mistake; and I’ll take and remedial action that the Bar deems necessary.” Jones is running against Justin Sharpless for the open District 6 school board seat. Lakeland Ledger. James Dunn Jr., who is managing campaigns for school board candidates Terry Clark and Jill Sessions, has yet to pay a judgment of $21,300 issued by a Texas court in December for services paid for but not provided by Dunn’s companies. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: The hiring of Jennifer Cupid-McCoy as deputy superintendent and Michael Ramirez as chief of staff was approved Wednesday by the school board. The role of deputy superintendent is a new position. Cupid-McCoy will supervise school improvement, student achievement and accountability for outcomes. She comes to the district after a 33-year career with Orange County schools. WFTX. District 6 board member Betsy Vaughn proposed Wednesday that the district change the names of prom queen and king to prom royalty. “I think saying prom king and queen is outdated and it’s sexist,” she said. The board took no action on the proposal. WBBH.

Pasco: Some parents expressed concern to school board members this week over the safety of their children who will no longer be eligible for a bus ride to school. District officials eliminated “courtesy” busing for children who live less than 2 miles from their schools because of a shortage of bus drivers. That leaves about 3,000 students to find other transportation or walk to school. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School officials and the teachers union said Wednesday they’ve come to a tentative agreement on several contract issues. Teachers will receive either $2,000 or $3,000 bonuses, depending on the schools where they work, $5,000 bonuses will be paid to teachers at Gardendale Separate Day School, and $300 put in a flexible spending account will be part of the health insurance package for every employee. District officials also said they have offered teachers 4.15 percent raises. Negotiations continue Friday. WFTV.

Seminole: Ten candidates are running for three school board seats in the Aug. 23 primary. In District 1, incumbent Kristine Kraus is being challenged by Deborah Bauer, who teaches history part-time at Valencia College. In District 2, four people are running to replace incumbent Karen Almond, who chose not to run again: Pastor Sean Cooper, attorney Kelley Davis, realtor James Evans and engineer-turned-stay-at-home dad Eric Monte. There are also four candidates for the District 5 seat that was held by the departing Tina Calderone: Former teacher Dana Fernandez, education theater company owner Autumn Garick, police sergeant Joshua Memminger and teacher Agar Quiñones-Aristone. Orlando Sentinel.

Collier: School board members unanimously agreed Wednesday to use math textbooks that some parents have objected to. Those objections included a reference to global warming in a college-prep algebra text and the use of human population growth in a calculus textbook. WFTX.

Sarasota: A tentative budget of $1.35 billion was approved this week by school board members. That’s nearly $400 million higher than last year’s spending even though the millage rate was dropped, because property values are up 27.3 percent in the past year. A final vote will be taken by the board at its Sept. 13 meeting. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: Edmond Fordham, a longtime teacher and administrator in county schools and a local civil rights pioneer, died July 19 at the age of 94. A week before his death, the school district named an early-learning academy in his honor. Fordham Early Learning Academy, a school for 4- and 5-year-olds in voluntary pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in northwest Ocala, opens next month. Ocala Star-Banner. Preschool owner Sarah James and business owner Taylor Smith face off in the Aug. 23 for the District 5 seat on the school board. Kelly King, the two-term incumbent, decided against running for re-election. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: Superintendent Tim Smith said the combination of high student absenteeism, disciplinary issues and an influx of new teachers contributed to the D grade Warrington Middle School received from the state this year. It was the ninth straight year the school has had a grade below a C, resulting in the state ordering the transition of Warrington from a traditional public school into a charter school in the fall of 2023. WEAR.

Leon: School board members have approved a tentative budget of $641 million, an increase of about $77 million over last year’s. The budget lowers the millage rate for taxpayers, but will still generate more revenue because property values are up 9.5 percent. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV. WTXL. The school district will use state funds to hire more mental health providers to try to meet the needs of a growing number of students who need the services they offer. But the increase still won’t meet the demand, said Tonja Fitzgerald, director of support and mental health services. She said district data show an increase in anxiety among all students, and the number who were involuntarily committed under the Baker Act has gone up over the past four years. Tallahassee Democrat.

Martin: School board members decided Wednesday to uphold the punishment doled out to six Hidden Oaks Middle School students who were disciplined after posing for a photo in which they were holding letters that spelled out a racial slur. All were referred to an alternative school for a year and must complete a program promoting accountability and behavioral change. The students had appealed the punishment, and a public disciplinary hearing was held before the school board. TCPalm. WPTV.

Citrus: A tentative budget of $317.4 million was approved this week by school board members. The final budget hearing is Monday, Sept. 12. The board also approved an agreement with the sheriff’s office that cuts the number of school crossing guard positions from 19 to 9. Citrus County Chronicle.

Hendry: An elementary school principal’s educator certificate has been suspended for three months for paddling a Central Elementary School student in 2021. A Florida judge determined that Melissa Carter violated state statutes, and corporal punishment also is banned in the district. Carter will also be on probation for two years and be required to take anger management counseling. WBBH.

Colleges and universities: University of Central Florida students say they are having trouble finding places to live. UCF has about 60,000 undergraduates but beds on campus for just 7,500 students. Priority is given to incoming freshmen, but they’re also finding themselves on a waitlist that is declining slowly. More than 320 are still without rooms. WESH.

Textbook firm resists: A textbook company that was subpoenaed by the state is asking a judge to modify the request because it says fulfilling it will mean going through millions of e-mails and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The subpoena to Savvas Learning Company LLC is part of an investigation into the company’s pricing of school instructional materials. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College in Michigan, a small Christian, uber-conservative, liberal-bashing and politically connected institution, has the ear of Gov. Ron DeSantis. That should scare everyone. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

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BY NextSteps staff