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State working on plan to address teacher shortage, Bethune statue unveiled, and more

Around the state: Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said Wednesday that the Florida Department of Education is “putting together a plan” to address the shortage of teachers and other school staff around the state, a statue of Florida educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune was unveiled Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, the University of Central Florida has removed anti-racism statements from several academic department websites, Leon County’s superintendent said he’s disappointed that misinformation is being spread by people who haven’t read the district’s LGBTQ+ guide, a Brevard county commissioner wants to revisit the vote to place a property tax hike request for schools on the November ballot, Marion County commissioners say the school district should pay more for school resource officers during summer sessions, an administrative law judge said the Bay County School District wrongly expelled a disabled high school student for fighting, and testimony in the sentencing trial of the Parkland school shooter begins Monday. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The pretrial hearings have ended in the sentencing trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. Testimony will begin Monday and is expected to last into October. A jury will recommend whether Cruz, who has pleaded guilty to killing 17 students and employees and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, should be sentenced to death or life in prison. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. Summarizing Day 28 of the trial. Sun-Sentinel.

Duval: Revenues from an extra half-cent sales tax have been higher than projected, allowing the district to finish safety upgrades for 42 schools before they open next month. Another 46 schools will get the safety enhancements next year. WJXT.

Brevard: County commissioner John Tobia is looking for a way to have the commission rescind its May 26 vote approving the placement of a referendum to raise school property taxes on the Nov. 8 ballot. Tobia said he’s against asking voters for more money for schools, but also is worried that the increased taxes — about $200 a year for a home with a taxable value of $200,000 — could force landlords to raise rents and further restrict the availability of affordable housing. School board chair Misty Belford said the commission does not have the legal authority to block the referendum. “The county commission’s approval is basically just saying that yes, everything’s in the right format,” she said. “They’re not saying whether they approve or disagree with the millage. They’re simply saying we’ve dotted all of our I’s and crossed all of our T’s.” Florida Today.

Collier: Jeff Cavallo, who has held a variety of jobs for the private Benjamin School in Palm Beach, has been named the new head of the independent, private Village School of Naples’ middle school. Naples Daily News.

Marion: County commissioners said this week that the school district isn’t paying enough for deputies to protect schools during the summer session. “What it looks like we’re paying 30 percent and we’re not going to get that productivity from a deputy. So if we’re doing that I think the school board should pay for the deputy wholeheartedly,” said commissioner Carl Zalak. School board vice chair Allison Campbell said the district is paying its share as established in the new contract the board just approved. WCJB.

Clay: A video of a Clay parent whose microphone was cut off during a school board meeting has become a viral sensation. Bruce Friedman tried to read excerpts to the board from a book from a school library about a sexual assault when his mic was silenced. A school board attorney is heard on the video saying he was concerned pornographic content could be broadcast live on the school district’s YouTube channel. WJXT. The school district received an A grade from the state this year, one of 14 state districts to do so. Eighteen schools received A grades, while 17 got a B and six received a C. Clay Today.

Leon: Changes officials have made to the school district’s LGBTQ+ guide in order to comply with state law have drawn widespread scorn about gay activists, who have insinuated that the district will notify parents if an LGBTQ+ student is in a physical education class or on an overnight trip. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said he’s disappointed that misinformation is being spread by people who haven’t read the guide. “It’s disappointing that some people in our community, in our state and in our country say things just for shock value. Quite simply, these things are not true,” he said. “I called the governor out when the governor was being untruthful, and now I’m calling out people on the other side to say you’re doing the exact same thing our governor was doing months ago.” Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV.

Alachua: Reduced and free meals will no longer be available to all district students, as they were during the pandemic. Seventeen schools are affected by the change in the federal free meal program that requires parents to apply for eligibility. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: An administrative law judge has ruled that the school district wrongly expelled a Rutherford High School student last fall after his involvement in a fight. The boy’s family appealed the expulsion, saying the district had ignored their request for a behavioral evaluation for the boy. He was later diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. WJHG.

Citrus: School board members approved the creation of the new position of behavior technician. Technicians would be available at every school to help train teachers on techniques that can be used to handle misbehaving students. Citrus County Chronicle.

Madison: The school district again received a C grade from the state last week. Two district schools were awarded A grades and two others got a B, the same grades they got in 2019. Two schools dropped from a C in 2019 to a D this year, and one school received an F. Greene Publishing.

Colleges and universities: University of Central Florida officials have removed anti-racism statements from several academic department websites. Some professors are calling the move censorship to appease the state, but UCF spokesman Chad Binette said they were removed because they “could be seen as potentially inconsistent with our commitment to creating a welcoming environment.” Orlando Sentinel. State funding of $3 million for the University of Florida to establish an academic center focused on civics courses was approved at the request of the little-known Council on Public University Reform. The group is represented by Joshua Holdenried, who has a history of working with conservative and religious groups. Miami Herald. Some incoming freshmen at Florida A&M University are trying to find off-campus housing after the school announced its dormitories are full. WCTV. WFSU. WTXL.

Recruiting teachers: The Department of Education is “putting together a plan” to address the shortage of teachers and other school staff, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said Wednesday at the state Board of Education meeting. He said the state will actively recruit teachers from other states, make it easier for teachers to get certified and continue improving salaries. “The competition for quality employees took a step up and we have to raise our game,” Diaz said. Politico Florida.

Education podcasts: Sherry White, a former district middle school teacher who taught near Ocala and now home-schools her 16-year-old daughter Eilise, talks with Step Up For Students senior reporter Lisa Buie about how the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship has helped her family afford helpful educational resources. reimaginED.

Around the nation: The statue of Florida educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune was unveiled Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol. It’s the first statue of an African-American ever placed in Statuary Hall. Bethune, who founded a college in 1904 that later became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, replaces former Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith as one of two representing Florida. The other is of John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air-conditioning. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WKMG. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WMFE. Florida’s newly revised civics curriculum is drawing the interest of other states. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Florida needs a science-literate student population ready to take on current and future challenges and opportunities. So why isn’t our state government making science education a priority? Brandon Haught, Orlando Sentinel. Twenty-two schools in Duval County received a D or F grade from the state. Of those 22 schools, 10 were charter schools, including all four of the schools that were given grades of F. This means that charter schools, which now represent about 20 percent of Duval County public schools, accounted for 45 percent of “failing” school grades. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. School choice policies aren’t the only ways to expand education options and access. Encouraging the proliferation of private, low-cost microschools, hybrid schools and learning pods is an important, and often overlooked, opportunity to offer low- and middle-income families more education options without taxpayer money. Kerry McDonald, Foundation for Economic Freedom.

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BY NextSteps staff