Schools open today for most state districts, prayer ruling appealed, assault rifles at schools and more

Around the state: Sixty-two of the state’s 67 school districts welcome back students today even as they continue trying to fill open positions for teachers, bus drivers and more, a Tampa Christian school is appealing a judge’s ruling that the denial of its request to broadcast a prayer from a public address system at a football game was not a violation of its First Amendment rights, Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey said his deputies will carry assault rifles and wear tactical uniforms on school campuses this year, starting times will be 10 minutes later for Flagler middle school students because of transportation issues, and school board elections in several districts are previewed. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The district has made significant technology and personnel upgrades over the summer to enhance the safety of students and teachers, chief safety and security officer Jaime Alberti said Tuesday. There are “many cameras throughout our schools, enhancing those cameras from analog to digital and also having additional security measures as you come into the school as you’re entering the schools,” he said. “It’s not just about the technology but also about ensuring that we have the personnel that supports the schools and provides additional security at that school.” The district also has a new behavioral threat assessment team. WSVN. An assistant principal who was arrested in April on a charge of criminal use of public records was arrested again last month, this time on a charge of child neglect with no bodily harm. Robert Herzog, 39, who worked at Cooper City High School, has pleaded not guilty to both charges. He was transferred to a job with no student conduct after the first arrest. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: A Tampa Christian school is appealing a judge’s decision in April that the Florida High School Athletic Association did not violate the school’s First Amendment rights when it refused to allow the school to broadcast a prayer over the public-address system before a football game in 2015. In its appeal, Cambridge Christian School cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Washington state football coach who lost his job after refusing to stop praying on the field after games. News Service of Florida. Schools open today for school districts in the Tampa Bay area, and officials are hoping for a more normal year in which the focus turns from COVID mitigation to students and their education. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange, central Florida: The concern in schools over the COVID pandemic is receding, but the academic year that starts today will have its own challenges, said district officials. Orange County still needs 100 teachers, and Osceola has 230 vacancies. There also aren’t enough bus drivers, which is forcing Orange officials to double up the number of routes for some. The effect of that is that some students will get to school 30 minutes or more earlier, and some will get home 30 minutes or more later in the day. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: The district’s newest school opens today in Boca Raton. Blue Lake Elementary School was built to relieve overcrowding at nearby schools, will welcome 697 students, 53 teachers and other staff. Blue Lake has incorporated new technology, such as moveable, interactive flat screen panels and an enhanced audio system. Construction of the school took just over a year and cost about $23 million. Palm Beach Post.

Lee, Collier: The first day of school in both Lee and Collier counties is today. Here’s everything students and their parents need to know about the new school year, what’s new and plans for each district. Fort Myers News-Press. Naples Daily News.

Brevard: School resource officers will carry assault rifles and wear tactical uniforms on campuses this year to improve security, Sheriff Wayne Ivey announced this week in a Facebook video. “While I pray it never happens, I can assure you that our Brevard County Sheriff’s Office school resource deputies are prepared to win the battle to protect our children and teachers,” he wrote on Facebook. “I firmly believe that if you do not meet violence with violence, you will be violently killed. … We mean business.” WKMG. WOFL. Fifty-three schools still had teaching jobs unfilled at the end of last week, according to district records. One of them, Saturn Elementary School in Cocoa, had 10. The district is offering bonuses for teachers to work at certain schools. Teachers who agree to work at or transfer to Gardendale Separate Day School, a school for students with disabilities, will receive a $5,000 bonus at the end of the school year. Bonuses of $2,000 will be given to teachers at 16 schools, and $1,000 to those at nine others. Florida Today. The latest kerfuffle in district school board campaigns is the placement of negative signs without permission on private property or including the required disclosures. Florida Today.

Seminole: District 5 school board candidate Dana Fernandez has filed a lawsuit that alleges opponent Autumn Garick is ineligible to run because she doesn’t live in the district. Fernandez said Garick changed the address on her voter ID to indicate she lived in Sanford instead of in her “true residence” in Oviedo. According to county records, Garick owns both properties. The property in Sanford is a vacant lot, according to the lawsuit. Garick said she and her husband were trying to build a home on the lot, but it’s been delayed so they’re renting another house in Sanford. WKMG.

Manatee: Three candidates are in the running to replace eight-year District 2 school board member Charlie Kennedy in the Aug. 23 primary. Susan Agruso, a former school superintendent in New York state, said she wants to focus on making sure students are reading at or above grade level. Harold Byrd Jr., a former member of the Bradenton City Council, wants to expand career and technical programs, and raise salaries for teachers and other employees while remaining financially sound. Cindy Spray, who is the vice chair of the school district’s financial oversight committee, wants to eliminate wasteful spending, improve reading performance and protect parental rights. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Johns: A preschool where a former assistant teacher was arrested and charged with molesting a child is being sued by nine families who say their children were molested. Anthony Guadalupe, 18, worked at the Chappell Schools’ Longleaf campus when he was arrested. The lawsuit said the school’s CEO and school director should have been aware of complaints against Guadalupe made by parents. WJXT. WJAX.

Sarasota: The Englewood Sky Academy charter school is reporting a 26 percent enrollment increase and its first waiting list for 6th- and 7th-graders. The surge has allowed the school to hire a new art teacher for all grades and a STEM instructor for 8th-graders. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: A German short-haired pointer K-9 will team with deputies to sniff out guns on campuses this year. Albi, which has been trained to detect guns and gunpowder, is partnering with her handler, Cpl. Erik DeAngelis. Her secondary role will be to engage with students, almost like a therapy dog. “She has the informal capability of being basically like a therapy dog. Once you meet Albi, you fully understand why her personality has been able to reach out to these kids,” said Sheriff Billy Woods. WKMG.

St. Lucie: Superintendent Jon Prince talks about how the district is dealing with staffing shortages, school security and replacing Wayne Gent as the district’s leader. WPEC.

Leon: A late surge in student enrollment from out of state and out of county is causing delays in the school district’s admissions office. “We’re going to do everything that we can to get that child in, look at the documents, make sure they’re in the right grade level at the right school, so that hopefully, they can be in school before the end of the week,” said deputy superintendent Michelle Gayle. “But we do ask for patience and grace. We are working around the clock to get all of this processed.” WCTV. The district still has openings for 31 teachers and 57 other employees as schools reopen today, according to the district’s jobs listings. School bus drivers also are in short supply, which could lead to some problems with late arrivals and departures. And new COVID-19 protocols are being introduced. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: Candidates who are challenging school board incumbents in Districts 1, 2 and 5 said they’re frustrated that those incumbents keep skipping community forums. So in some cases, the challengers are taking their campaign issues to school board meetings for the time set aside for public comments. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: More than half the district’s schools have openings for teachers and other instructional staff, with 53 jobs still unfilled as of Monday afternoon, according to school officials. “Until vacancies can be filled, we will have subs in some positions, who will be provided additional support by the district and their schools,” said district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said in an e-mail. Classes begin today. Gainesville Sun. Eastside High School marching band alumni are planning a protest at a school board meeting over the school’s refusal to reincorporate elements of the traditional black marching style popularized by bands at historically black colleges and universities. They said the school’s refusal is valuing white culture over black culture, to the detriment of Eastside students. WUFT.

Santa Rosa: District 3 school board incumbent Carol Boston is running for a third term in the Aug. 23 primary against Alisabeth Janai Lancaster. Boston said she wants the district to build new schools, expand career and technical education opportunities for students, and continue to improve school security. Lancaster, who retired in 2010 after a 28-year career as a Federal Reserve law enforcement officer, wants the board to better address concerns of parents. She made headlines at a July candidate forum by calling for doctors who prescribe hormone blockers for teens who are transitioning from one gender to another to be hanged. Pensacola News Journal. In her responses to a questionnaire, Boston outlines her top three priorities if re-elected, her plan to close the pandemic learning gap, and implementing new state instructional laws. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: School officials have compiled a list of things parents and students need to know as schools open, including start and end times, new free lunch eligibility rules, dates of school open houses, schools that have posted lists of school supplies needed, the dress code, school bus routes and more. Panama City News Herald.

Hernando: A special school board meeting scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the next step in the board’s effort to get a extra half-cent sales tax placed on a ballot was canceled because a quorum of members were unable to attend due to illness. A new meeting date has not yet been set. Suncoast News. Hernando County School District.

Flagler: Tuesday, the day before schools open, school board members voted unanimously to change the starting times for middle schools from 7:20 to 7:30 a.m. The change was made at the request of the transportation department because “because it was going to be hard for them to make the turnaround with the buses,” said board chair Trevor Tucker. The board also approved changes in the school dress code that “will allow all K-12 students to wear T-shirts with graphic designs, as long as the content is not related to drugs, alcohol, violence, gangs, weapons, sexually suggestive or offensive topics that are deemed inappropriate by administration.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Monroe: A new app will be launched this month or next that is intended to keep parents informed about news out of the school district, Superintendent Theresa Axford said when previewing the school year that begins today. “Parents will be able to go on the app and find out everything that is going on in the district, and also, it will take them to their school’s website. We want to make sure that parents can get all of the information that they need, as quickly as possible,” she said. The district also hopes to roll out its new strategic plan, which focuses on the mission statement, “Working together to inspire excellence to every student, every day.” Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: A $3.6 million grant from the state will allow the University of Florida to hire about 20 new faculty to teach the expanding number of nursing-related courses it will offer this fall. The school’s College of Nursing estimates an enrollment increase in the program of about 15 percent this year over last year, and doubling by 2025. It’s estimated the state will need about 60,000 more nurses in the next 15 years. WCJB. WGFL. Florida Politics. Mainstreet Daily News. Trustees at St. Petersburg College voted Tuesday to reject a special magistrate’s recommendation that adjunct faculty should be paid $150 for canceled courses and receive bonuses of $500 for every semester they taught during the pandemic. The requests led to an impasse in contract negotiations, which was then turned over to a special magistrate for the state’s Public Employee Relations Commission who sided with the adjunct’s union. But trustees dismissed the recommendation, saying they didn’t want to favor adjuncts over fulltime faculty. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: With schools opening soon around the country amid a significant shortage of teachers, many districts are offering signing bonuses of up to $25,000 to lure teachers. School bus driving jobs are also going unfilled, and some districts are offering bonuses in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. The 74.

Opinions on schools: It isn’t politically viable to pursue an agenda of abolishing public education in our current moment (and it may never be so). If free marketeers wish to make a real impact on education in America, they’d do better to embrace educational freedom of all kinds. Advocating incremental change to improve our K-12 education system by empowering parents with educational choices is a much more popular and effective strategy for freeing students from the failing government schooling apparatus. Garion Frankel and Cooper Conway, Washington Examiner.

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BY NextSteps staff