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New Broward board members sworn in, bathroom policy, school renaming, gator greeting and more

Around the state: Four newly appointed Broward school board members were sworn in Tuesday and one of them was elected board chair, a Hillsborough high school is locking about half its bathrooms to crack down on student misbehavior, Orange County School are considering a proposal to expand mental health resources for students by hiring more social workers and licensed mental health counselors, a Jacksonville Transportation Authority pilot program offering free bus rides to students in 6th grade and up is being made permanent, a drive to rename Andrew Jackson Middle School in Brevard County appears headed for failure, more than two-dozen Bay County teachers have quit since school started, and a nearly 8-foot alligator greets a Polk middle school principal when she arrived for work Tuesday. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Four new school board members appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last week were sworn into office Tuesday. Torey Alston, Manuel Serrano, Ryan Reiter and Kevin Tynan replace Patti Good, Donna Korn, Laurie Rich Levinson and Ann Murray, who were all suspended by DeSantis on the recommendation of the statewide grand jury investigating the Parkland school shooting, and school safety and operations. Alston was elected as the board chair, beating out board holdover Lori Alhadeff, and said, “This is a new board, a reform board. We all bring solid experiences on governing this school district. Yes, our board looks collectively different from just a few days ago.” Alston will be on the board two years to fill out the remaining term of Good, while the other three will only be seated until the November election. The new members said their priorities are improving student achievement and addressing problems identified by the grand jury, including safety issues and the troubled $800 million bond program to renovate schools. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WLRN. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. Suspended board member Donna Korn said Tuesday she will continue her campaign for the District 8 seat in the November runoff election. Florida Politics. Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz struggled with controlling his behavior in middle school, a former school mental health counselor who treated him for two years said during Tuesday’s testimony. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. Summarizing what happened Tuesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Hillsborough: Hillsborough High School officials have eased off a policy that required students to request an adult chaperone every time they need to use the bathroom during classes, but about half the school’s bathrooms remain locked throughout the day. Principal Kevin Gordon enacted the policy to cut down on bad behavior. “Students leave class, whether it’s to vape, whether it’s to fight, whether it’s just to talk with friends and we want to minimize that,” said district spokeswoman Erin Maloney. “So the principal has closed certain bathrooms because there’s simply not enough oversight in certain parts of the building to where we’re confident that students won’t be using the bathrooms for the wrong reason.” WTVT.

Orange: School board members are considering a proposal to expand mental health resources for students by hiring more social workers and licensed mental health counselors. “Certainly after the pandemic, the need is heightened, so in an attempt to address the heightened need we are putting more strategic plans in place to address these needs, K-12 across the district,” said Kimberly Beckler, the district’s director of mental health services. WESH. WFTV. Jackson Chase, a Lake Nona High School senior, was named best performer in an ensemble at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in New York City last summer. Chase was selected to compete for the award based on winning the applause awards at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. WKMG.

Duval: A Jacksonville Transportation Authority pilot program offering free rides for students in middle and high schools, charter and private schools, and colleges is being made permanent. JTA’s board of directors approved the extension for seven days a week, year-round, and for all bus service times. During the pilot program phase that began in January 2022, more than 40,000 students used the service. Florida Times-Union. A day-care center in Jacksonville is being sued by a mother who claims her 1-year-old daughter suffered a split lip, black eye and concussion because of a lack of care. The complaint says Kid City USA – Oakleaf failed to “properly care for, observe, and supervise” the child, “adequately staff classrooms,” or hire qualified employees. WJAX.

Polk: When the principal at Spessard Holland Elementary School arrived at school Tuesday morning, she was greeted by a nearly 8-foot alligator near her parking space. Lacey Golden called the Bartow Police Department, and an officer who used to be a trapper quickly got control of the animal and taped its jaws shut. A district representative issued a statement: “If you’re an alligator trying to enroll in a (Polk County public) school, there’s one obvious choice: Spessard Holland Elementary. Home of the Gators.” WFLA. WTSP. WFTS.

Pinellas: Kevin Hendrick, who was named superintendent in July, has launched a series of town meetings to get input from members of the community about how to make schools better and create more “points of pride.” His focus at Monday’s meeting was on accelerated academics, including gifted and honors courses, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement and dual enrollment. Three more meetings are planned: Sept. 14 at Safety Harbor Middle School, Sept. 15 at Melrose Elementary School and Sept. 19 at Clearwater High. The last one will focus on Spanish-speaking families and their school needs. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School board members unanimously approved a minor revision to the district’s parents’ bill of rights. It says that parents will be notified “if there’s a change in their child’s services or monitoring related to their mental health, emotional health, physical health, or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment.” WINK. A 12-year-old 7th-grader at the Fort Myers Middle Academy was arrested Tuesday for allegedly making a social media threat against the school. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Pasco: Superintendent Kurt Browning has tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating an home. Browning, 61, said his symptoms are mild but said, “I’m not taking this lightly. … I’m looking forward to get back to work full strength as soon as the medical experts say I can.” Creative Loafing.

Brevard: A movement to rename Andrew Jackson Middle School in Titusville appears headed for failure over a lack of interest. A petition started by Oak Park Elementary School teacher Marcus Hochman, who contended Jackson was a bad choice because he owned slaves and conducted a campaign to force native Americans from their lands, elicited only 57 responses and only 11 of those favored a name change. School officials will now make their recommendation to the school board. Florida Today.

Osceola: The school district has been chosen to receive a $2.6 million grant from the Jacob J. Javits Gifted and Talent Students Education Program to support exceptional students. It’s the only recipient in the state and just one of three U.S. school districts selected. The money will be used to find more students who fall into the gifted category, and for teacher training. WFTV.

Manatee: Parrish Charter Academy has announced plans for a 66.000-square-foot building that would include classrooms for grades 3-8, a media center, science center, STEM lab and music and art center, and open in 2023. The academy opened in 2019 with 200 students in grades K-2, and now has 557 enrolled with a waiting list of about 200. School officials envision expanding to the 8th grade during the 2026-2027 school year, but have no plans to add a high school. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: Two members of a charter school board are suing 11 people, accusing them of abuse of power for pushing them out of control of the Mason Classical Academy. Kelly Lichter and David Bolduc charge former employees, a nonprofit that helps determine Florida’s educational curriculum, and Erika Donalds, a former board member and the wife of U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds conspired to take over the school. WINK. An East Naples Middle School student has been arrested and accused of making a threat against the school on social media. Deputies said the threat was not credible. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Bay: More than two-dozen teachers have quit since schools opened three weeks ago, according to district officials. Denise Hinson, president of the teachers union, said she’s been a teacher for 34 years and has never seen so many empty classrooms. WMBB.

Putnam: Three 14-year-old students have been arrested and charged with vandalizing the now-closed Jenkins Middle School in Palatka. Deputies said windows were broken, toilets damaged, sinks overflowing, security cameras broken and damaged, and 17 fire extinguishers discharged. Damages total $100,000, they said. WKMG. WJXT. WTLV.

Sumter: Construction at the new athletic stadium at Wildwood Middle High School is wrapping up just in time for the first home football game Sept. 9. New stadium features include updated lighting, artificial turf, bleachers and a press box, at a cost of $2.9 million. It’s just one of several construction projects just finished or in the works at district schools. Villages Daily Sun.

Opinions on schools: Education reformers face a choice: Stay in the relative comfort zone of public policy, or engage in the messy world of classroom practice, too. If we want to make a real difference for kids, and our country, I vote for the latter. But we are going to have to be thoughtful to find ways of doing so while keeping our coalition together. Michael J. Petrilli, Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Positive change, not political partisanship, is needed for Broward’s schools. Sun-Sentinel. While the loss of the school tax initiative disappoints many, the close margin should be a reminder that Hillsborough voters have a long history of supporting education, and they’ll stand with the school system again when the time is right. Tampa Bay Times. Stifling discussions about critical issues with the governor’s “stop woke” agenda will send many of our best and brightest students out of the state. Suzanne Lynch, Tampa Bay Times. The federal government has embarked on a multiyear program to rebuild the American computer chip industry and re-establish America’s position of scientific leadership. But this program, called the CHIPS Plus Science Act, will succeed only if we improve the opportunities that the nation’s K-12 students have to become scientists and engineers. Paul Cottle, Orlando Sentinel. Let’s turn our focus away from the friction and fractures of the school board election and get behind Sarasota’s teachers. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff