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Small conservative college’s big impact, confusion over new laws, school board races, and more

Around the state: A small Michigan college is having an outsized impact on Florida education policy, new laws that went into effect Friday continue to cause confusion and generate controversy, a Polk school board member is asking for an investigation after a text message sent to voters incorrectly said she was under criminal investigation, two Brevard school board members say school consolidation should be under consideration, a Manatee elementary school is preparing to launch a curriculum focusing on environmental education, a Sarasota County man is asking a court to order the removal of “sexually explicit materials” from schools. five members of the Florida Board of Governors meet July 12 as a committee to search for candidates to replace the chancellor of the state university system, and more school districts are reporting how their grades 3-10 students did on the Florida Standards Assessments test in the spring. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The 12 jurors and 10 alternates who will recommend the death penalty or life in prison for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz will have to manage the stress of the four-month trial without outside help. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer is expected to order jurors not to discuss the evidence they see with anyone outside the jury room, including members of the clergy and therapists. And once the trial ends, the jurors won’t be provided with counseling either. Only Massachusetts and federal courts offer and post-trial assistance. Associated Press. In a motion filed last Friday, prosecutors in the trial contend that even Cruz’s defense psychologist doesn’t believe his contention that he heard voices telling him to kill people. WTVJ. One of the four candidates for the District 6 seat on the school board is withdrawing. Merick Lewin, who owns an advertising company, said he “underestimated the time that would be taken away from my family and the time I still need to devote to my businesses and employees” in making the decision. The remaining candidates in the race to replace outgoing board member Laurie Rich Levinson are John Canter, Brenda Fam and Steven Julian. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: A music teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Tampa who also owns a music school has been nominated for a Grammy award. Ernesta Chicklowski, known as “Mrs. Chick” to her students, was nominated for the music educator award. Ten finalists will be selected and the winner will be be announced in September. Chicklowski said she was surprised by the nomination, and said her goal is “to use music as a creative tool just to get (students) to communicate, with me, with each other. I want to help them learn not just to like themselves, but to love themselves.” WFTS.

Palm Beach: Karen Brill, first elected to the District 3 school board seat in 2010 and an advocate for students with disabilities and Holocaust education programs, is being challenged in the August primary by three candidates who embrace the parental rights movement and oppose health mandates and instruction in certain sensitive subjects: Connor Frontera, a law clerk and tutor; Bailey K. Lashells, who owns a photography business; and Kristen Marie Stevenson, a stay-at-home with four children. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote Aug. 23, the two highest finishers move on to the runoff Nov. 8. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The school district is still looking to fill 400 teaching openings, and across the state about 9,500 teaching and support positions are still open, according to the Florida Education Association teachers union. WJXT.

Polk: An anonymous text message has been sent to voters alleging that District 7 school board member Lisa Miller is the subject of a criminal investigation. But representatives from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office for the 10th Judicial Circuit and the Lakeland Police Department said that neither Miller nor her husband is under criminal investigation. Miller, who is a candidate for re-election in the Aug. 23 primary, is asking the state attorney to investigate. Her opponents, Dell Quary and Jill Sessions, deny they are behind the texts. Lakeland Ledger. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have made endorsements in school board elections. Lakeland Ledger. James Dunn Jr., who is managing campaigns for three board candidates, served 33 months in a Texas prison after pleading guilty in 2008 to submitting fraudulent claims against the government. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: Ongoing financial problems for the school district have led at least two school board members to broach the subject of school consolidation. Board chair Misty Belford and colleague Katye Campbell both suggested during a candidate debate last week that some small community schools could be shuttered. “I really cringe to talk about (consolidating schools), but I think as a community we have to,” Belford said. “We have approximately 20 more schools in Brevard County than Seminole County to serve approximately the same number of students. … Each of those schools costs us approximately $1 million per year to run.” Florida Today. Monthly active-shooter drills are a required part of the district school experience and are widely supported by students’ parents and the community. But little is known about the effectiveness of the drills in preparing students for a worst-case scenario, or the potential harmful effects on children. “The goal of these is not to traumatize or scare children,” said district spokesman Russell Bruhn. “The goal is to make them feel confident about what they can do and follow directions to get to safety or to remain safe.” Florida Today.

Manatee: Anna Maria Elementary School is partnering with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to incorporate a curriculum focusing on environmental education and helping students learn about oceanic ecosystems. Marine life instruction will be worked into core subjects like math, reading and art, and an old computer room will be transformed into an aquarium with four different ecosystems. “They will learn about the ecology in Florida, not just the salt water, but our fresh water, our Everglades. It’s all connected,” said principal Michael Masiello. WWSB.

Sarasota: An Englewood man is asking a county court to order the removal of “sexually explicit materials” from the school district. Robert Louis Craft, who described himself as a “a natural person, free resident, free citizen (and) taxpayer,” wrote, “The (board) has repeatedly ignored the public outcry for the removal and censorship of explicitly sexual materials from public schools. The people have been met by public officers/agents committing specific acts of willful and wanton reckless disregard of the law.” Patch.

Alachua: The school district has named two directors and appointed principals for 10 schools. The new director of educational equity and outreach is Dakeyan Graham, who for the past two years has been executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice/School Improvement with the Florida Department of Education. LaTroy Strappy, former principal of Lincoln Middle School, has been named the district’s director of school choice. Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: United Way’s 16th annual collection of school supplies for teachers begins Thursday at eight Publix stores and continues through July 15. In past years, collections were picked up by school buses. This year, because of the staffer shortage, no buses are available for the drive.  Suncoast News.

Hamilton: School officials were relieved when the U.S. Congress recently approved the extension of the free meals program for children through summer and the next school year. But they warned that the last-second approval of the scaled-down program will mean an interruption in service, which is critical in a county with the highest rate of hungry kids in Florida, according to the No Kid Hungry organization. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: Five members of the Florida Board of Governors meet July 12 as a committee to search for candidates to replace Marshall Criser, chancellor of the state university system who announced last week that would leave the job in December. Board chair Brian Lamb said the committee “will perform a thorough search and ultimately recommend a highly qualified candidate to the Board of Governors.” News Service of Florida. The University of South Florida St. Petersburg welcomed a new regional chancellor Friday. One of the first projects Christian Hardigree will tackle is resurrecting and reworking the Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching facility project. The Legislature allocated $75 million of the $80 million needed, but Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the bill, though he apparently signaled to school officials that if it’s resubmitted next year, the state will be “supportive.” St. Pete Catalyst.

Confusion over new laws: Controversy and confusion continue over new Florida education laws that went into effect Friday. The Parental Rights in Education law, which bans classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity for K-3 students and allows only “age-appropriate” instruction on the topics for older students, also drew a rebuke Friday from the Biden administration. Officials called the law “shameful” and homophobic, and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement that said, “The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights.” Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. WPLG. Axios.

Small college, big impact: A small conservative college in Michigan has had an outsized impact on the course of education policy in Florida. Hillsdale College has influenced the state’s rejection of math textbooks, the fights against critical race theory and gender identity, and initiatives that include boosting civics education, school vouchers and charter schools. Gov. DeSantis, who has declared war on what he calls “woke-ism” embedded in academic institutions, has often praised the college. “I mean how many places, other than Hillsdale, are actually standing for truth, excellence and to produce people who will be leaders? … When I get people who submit resumes, quite frankly if I got one from Yale, I would be negatively disposed to that individual unless they showed some type of significant counter to the prevailing narrative,” said DeSantis, who graduated from Yale. “If I get someone from Hillsdale, I know they have the foundations necessary to be able to be helpful in pursuing conservative policies.” Miami Herald.

FSA test results: More reports from school districts on how their students in grades 3-10 did on the Florida Standards Assessments math and language arts exams in the spring. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Lakeland Now. TCPalm. Northwest Florida Daily News. St. Augustine Record. Ponte Vedra Recorder. Naples Daily News. Citrus County Chronicle. Suncoast News. WUSF. WMBB. Florida Department of Education.

Opinions on schools: The still-secret statewide grand jury report hovers over the Broward County School District like a storm cloud rolling in from the Everglades at a time when four seats are contested and voters are asked to extend and raise a small property tax for higher teacher salaries and better school security and mental health. Steve Bousquet, Sun-Sentinel. The University of Florida’s medical school and child-abuse program has done it again with a questionable hire of a pediatrician who left her last two jobs in clouds of controversy. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Fewer than half of Florida’s 5th and 8th graders “passed” the Florida’s Statewide Science Assessment. And nobody really cares. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. School board elections should be about the students, not politics. Rhoda T. London, Florida Times-Union. The rollout of these electric school buses can also provide remarkable new opportunities to support clean energy utilization and disaster resilience. Mary Linn and Mary Dipboye, Orlando Sentinel. Avoiding conversations about race ensures that racism flourishes, creates inhospitable educational contexts and contributes to a deficient learning experience for all students. We need dialogue that is committed to centering the voices of those who live marginalized and racialized realities and for whom schooling has failed to meet their interests, needs and aspirations. Racism needs to be addressed if we are going to flourish as a society. Carl E. James and Vidya Shah, Flagler Live.

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BY NextSteps staff