Parkland trial begins today, school board politics, LGBTQ guide off website and more

Around the state: Opening statements begin today in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, Gov. Ron DeSantis urges Moms for Liberty to help elect conservative school board members, the Palm Beach County School District has removed its LGBTQ guide from its website for a review, Broward schools is hiring an outside firm to review the district’s dealings with a graduation caps and gowns vendor, a judge rules that the public speaker policy for Brevard school board meetings does not violate the law, the rising costs of “active assault premiums” is driving up the cost of property insurance for the Clay County School District, a federal judge rules that former education commissioner Richard Corcoran won’t have to give a deposition in the lawsuit against the state’s law that requires surveys of “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” be distributed on college and university campuses, and Palm Beach Atlantic University is selling 3 acres of waterfront property to a condo developer for $41.5 million. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: More than four years after 17 students and employees were killed in the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and three months after jury selection started, opening statements and testimony finally begin today in the sentencing trial for Nikolas Cruz. Cruz pleaded guilty last November to the murders and to wounding 17 others. The jury will decide whether to recommend death or life in prison to the judge. The trial is expected to last four to six months and cost millions of dollars. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. The district is hiring an accounting firm based in Atlanta to conduct an audit of how the school district selected graduation caps and gowns vendors in 2016 and 2021. The contract to provide the materials was given exclusively to a company that has had a close relationship for years with district administrators. Sun-Sentinel. A former teacher and football coach at Piper High School had his educator’s license suspended for two years by Florida’s Education Practices Commission for allegedly giving members of his team answers to SAT questions. David Coleman, who quit the job in 2019, denies the charges but said he signed the settlement with the EPC because he didn’t care enough about the job to pay for a lawyer. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: A teacher’s aide at Mulrennan Middle School in Valrico has been arrested and accused of possession and transmission of child pornography. Deputies said they found pornography files on personal electronic devices of Sean Timothy Shafer, 23. A district spokesperson said, “We are both shocked and disgusted by these allegations,” and that Shafer “will not be returning” to his job. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS.

Palm Beach: School officials have removed the guide that spells out best practices for supporting  LGBTQ students and staff from the district’s website. A district spokesperson said the guide is “under review,” but didn’t offer details about what that means. The latest edition of the guide, published in 2021, is more than 100 pages long and offers guidance on federal anti-discrimination laws, anti-bullying policies and ways to support people who are coming out or who are socially transitioning. WLRN.

Polk: A judge has denied a petition from the sheriff’s office to seize the guns of a student under the state’s “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement agencies to ask a court to temporarily take weapons away from people who are considered to be a danger to themselves or others. In this case, the order was requested against a Kathleen High School student who brought a gun to school because, he told deputies, someone was trying to kill him. Judge Ellen Masters, of the 10th Judicial Circuit based in Bartow, wrote that the allegations by the sheriff’s office were “insufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent poses a significant danger of committing personal injury to himself or others by having in his custody or control or by purchasing, possessing or receiving, a firearm or any ammunition.” The sheriff’s office is appealing the decision. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools is looking for volunteer mentors for the Take Stock in Children program, a statewide nonprofit educational mentorship program for low-income and at-risk students, and the Student Advocacy and Mentoring Program, which helps guide students through the application process for both high school and college. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: A federal judge has ruled that the school board’s public speaker policy doesn’t violate the plaintiff’s rights to free speech or right to petition, or the constitution by being too vague or broad. The activist group Moms for Liberty and four parents filed the lawsuit, claiming the policy discriminated against conservative parents who were critical of the board. They are expected to file an amended complaint saying the board applied the policy in a prejudicial manner. One of the plaintiffs, Amy Kneessy, said they will continue to pursue the case. “We’re not letting this stand,” Kneessy said. “We know that this is not going to be settled at this level. And we are certainly moving forward.” Florida Today.

Sarasota: A county proposal to move the Florida House, which was the first green energy demonstration house open to the public in the United States and featured such innovations as LED lighting and solar panels, has been vetoed by the school board, which owns the property the house was built on in 1994. School Superintendent Brennan Asplen said the district is “ardently interested” in keeping the house where it is. Students at Suncoast Technical College do practical training at the house, he said, and students at other schools and colleges also learn there. County officials said they will now consider other options. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: The school district building containing the technical services department caught fire Saturday night. No one was in the building at the time and no one was injured, said district spokesman Kevin Christian. The causes and extent of the damage are still being determined, and the department’s 16 employees will be relocated until the building is repaired. Ocala Star-Banner. WOFL. WFTV.

Clay: Property insurance premiums are up 21 percent this year for the school district, to $1.6 million. One of the reasons cited by the insurance company is the rise in “active assailant premiums.” Other causes are increased litigation, more plaintiff-friendly judgments, increased storm activity, and pandemic losses. WJXT.

Alachua: Santa Fe College is proposing to create a charter school that would offer high school students the opportunity to simultaneously earn their diploma and an associate degree in health sciences and information and technology pathways. Santa Fe College Academy of Science and Technology would be funded through the state’s Building Florida’s Future program and open by August 2023 on the college’s main campus in Gainesville. Gainesville Sun. An increase in student behavior problems and a perception that the district isn’t properly disciplining offenders is the major reason for the teacher shortage in the district, said union president Carmen Ward. The district is still trying to fill 64 teaching jobs. Gainesville Sun.

Okeechobee: Most years, with schools reopening in a month, the school district has about 20 openings for teachers. This year, it’s looking for twice as many. “We’re really struggling right now,” said Superintendent Ken Kenworthy, who has run the district for 12 years. “We’ve always struggled to find good quality teachers, but nothing like we’re experiencing today.” WPEC.

Colleges and universities: Palm Beach Atlantic University, a 3,700-student private Christian school in West Palm Beach, has sold 3 acres on the Intracoastal Waterway for $41.5 million to a developer who plans to building luxury condominiums on the site. “The funds received from the sale of the property will be used to invest in Palm Beach Atlantic University’s growth in student enrollment, academic program development and in overall university enhancement,” said a school spokesperson in a statement. Palm Beach Post.

School board politics: Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking at the first Moms for Liberty summit last weekend in Tampa, renewed his push to elect school board members who support his education initiatives. “I think what’s happened over the last couple years is parents now realize that these are really significant elections. Certain elections, the midterm, who’s running for governor or senator, those are important, don’t get me wrong. But (school boards) probably have a significant impact on families’ lives in a way that some of these other offices may not be able to do,” he said. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix.Tallahassee Democrat. Creative Loafing. Former U.S. education secretary Betsy DeVos, also speaking at the Moms for Liberty summit, called for the elimination of the department she once led. She said all education decisions should be left to state and local boards. Florida Phoenix. Axios. Who are the Moms for Liberty, and why do they have such influence with Florida politicians and school officials? Miami Herald.

Court shields Corcoran: A federal judge has granted the state’s request to exempt former education commissioner Richard Corcoran from giving a deposition in a court challenge to a new law that requires surveys of “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity”be distributed on college and university campuses. The state had argued that the information requested by the plaintiffs can be obtained from other sources. News Service of Florida.

Around the nation: “Egregiously poor decision-making” by law enforcement officials at all levels led to an hour of chaos and inaction before a gunman was finally confronted and killed May 24 at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, according to an investigative report released Sunday. By then, 19 students and two teachers had been murdered. Associated Press. A company is promoting school safety pods as protection against school shooting and extreme weather, at a cost of $15,000 to $30,000 per classroom. Amy Klinger, a school safety expert and the director of programs for the Educator’s School Safety Network, is not a fan. “The problem is that we tend to respond to events, like the tragedy in Uvalde, with a quick solution. Let’s do a quick fix. Let’s buy something really fast,” she said. “And we tend to look at something shiny and go, ‘Hey, let’s buy that thing.’ ” NPR.

Opinions on schools: Funding flexibility and school options, coupled with transparency and a strong focus on early literacy, are the most powerful tools policymakers can use to better serve students and families. They are essential to help America’s K-12 education system recover from the pandemic’s troubling setbacks. Jeb Bush, Miami Herald. When parents, educators and community members join to elect school board candidates who are laser-focused on meeting the needs of the children and parents in their communities, then Florida’s students will have the schools they deserve. FEA president Andrew Spar, Tampa Bay Times. Instead of focusing on critical race theory in schools, politicians should be pushing for students to learn critical thinking skills. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. It’s time we stop laying the blame for poverty at the feet of public-school teachers. It’s time we ensure every family has the resources they need to thrive in our nation. Julie Delegal, Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff