Handbook scenario sparks anger in Escambia, rezoning stirs anxiety in Broward, and more

Around the state: Escambia school officials are apologizing for an example used in a test from the student handbook for middle- and high-schoolers that referenced a 17-year-old student who sent her boyfriend nude photos that were later shared, leading to her shaming and suicide, the proposed rezoning of up to 500 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward is stirring anxiety among parents, defense attorneys for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz are asking the judge of the sentencing trial to withdraw after she made critical comments about them when they rested their case Wednesday without warning, how two districts are trying to address open teaching jobs, St. Lucie voters are being asked Nov. 8 to renew a 1-mill property tax for schools, and an ethics complaint is filed against a Sarasota school board member. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A student at Miami Northwestern Senior High School was arrested Friday for having a pellet gun at school, according to a school resource officer. The student handed the gun to a classmate during an argument in a math class, and the teacher called security. No one was injured. WPLG.

Broward: School officials said they want to rezone as many as 500 students out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to ease overcrowding. The news has stoked anxiety of parents who live in Parkland but not near the school, and those in northern Coral Springs, who worry they may be the ones excluded. Public meetings are scheduled in October and November. A final decision is expected by March. Sun-Sentinel. Defense attorneys for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz are demanding that Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer remove herslf after she criticized them in court for closing their case Wednesday without warning. The Broward Public Defender’s Office said the judge’s animosity for lead defense lawyer Melisa McNeill “has infected this entire trial.” Scherer is expected to rule on the motion today. Prosecutors are scheduled to begin their rebuttal of the defense’s case Sept. 27. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. WTVJ. WSVN.

Orange: The body of a missing student at K-9 Annunciation Catholic Academy in Altamonte Springs was pulled out of Lake Fairview on Friday night. The boy and four others capsized Thursday around 6 p.m. when a bolt of lightning struck their rowing team boat or nearby. The five are members of the North Orlando Rowing Club. One other student was hospitalized. Orlando Sentinel. CNN. WFTV. WESH.

Polk: A $55.2 million rebuild of Southwest Middle School in Lakeland has begun. When it’s completed in two years, the old school will be demolished. The project is just one of more than 15 underway or being planned. Lakeland Now. Newly elected school board member Rick Nolte has refunded $50 to each of the 10 donors who gave him $100 before the Aug. 23 primary. A recent complaint pointed out that the legal limit is $50. Still unresolved is the $5,200 cash donation he made to his campaign, which also apparently violates Florida law. Nolte said as a first-time political candidate, he didn’t know all the complicated campaign finance laws. Lakeland Now. County high school students who pledge to avoid risky behaviors like drugs and drinking can pick up free homecoming outfits under a program sponsored by InnerAct Alliance and UthMpact. WTVT. Samuel Bennett, a former teacher at Garner Elementary School who was Florida’s teacher of the year in 2006 and one of four finalists for national teacher of the year, died Sept. 7 at the age of 70. He most recently had been a professor at Southeastern University’s College of Education. Polk County School District.

Lee: A 12-year-old Gulf Middle School student was arrested last week and accused of threatening to “shoot up” the school and “blow up” a school bus. The boy admitted saying he would blow up the bus but denied he threatened a shooting at the school, and said he was only joking, according to Cape Coral police. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Seminole: A school resource officer at Spring Lake Elementary School in Altamonte Springs was arrested Friday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and faces 10 charges related to child pornography. Steven Self has been suspended by the Altamont Springs Police Department earlier in the week after his home was searched by FDLE as part of the investigation. An affidavit said that agents found child pornography on Selph’s phone and within a texting app called KIK. The police department said Self has been fired. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Volusia: The district still has 162 openings for teachers, including 141 for classrooms. School officials are trying to fill the gaps by reaching out to retirees, substitute teachers with certifications and military veterans, and developing an apprenticeship program with Daytona State College. “We are just trying to tap into any possible resource, any lead that could go somewhere and start those conversations with people,” said Christy Mahaney, the district’s recruitment and retention coordinator. The results have been mixed. She said many subs like the flexibility of their current schedules, and many retirees aren’t interested in returning to work. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: About 20 military veterans have applied for district teaching jobs under a new program approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Florida now offers veterans without college degrees a five-year teaching certificate if they meet certain eligibility requirements. Those hired will be assigned a veteran mentor teacher for at least two years. Navy vet Brittany Fergerson is one of the 20. She will start as a permanent substitute at Fruitland Park Elementary, where two of her children go to school. “This was a real plus for me,” she said. It’s a plus for the district as well, which still has open teaching positions. Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: An ethics complaint has been filed against school board member Tom Edwards over his financial disclosures from two years ago. In the 2020 form, Edwards listed his school board salary of $40,138 as income while his tax records indicated he earned just $3,643 as a board member. Edwards was elected and seated in November. The complaint contends Edwards intentionally lied on the form. Edwards said it was a mistake often made by first-time elected officials, and that he will work with the Florida Commission on Ethics to fix the issue. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Lucie: County voters are being asked Nov. 8 to renew a 1-mill property tax to help recruit and retain teachers with higher pay, provide additional mental health programs for students, hire school resource officers and preserve arts programs. The term of the tax is four years, and it was first approved in 2019. It’s projected to generate about $25 million a year, and pay teachers an extra annual supplement of between $2,000 and $10,400, depending on experience. TCPalm.

Escambia: School Superintendent Tim Smith has apologized for a test question in the student handbook for middle- and high-school students centering on a scenario in which a 17-year-old girl sent nude photos to her boyfriend that were later shared, leading to her shaming at school and the girl’s eventual suicide. “I would never have guessed that the test would contain such harsh and inappropriate words and scenarios as it did,” said parent Melanie Johnson, whose 11-year-old daughter took the test. Also apologizing was Jeremy Tompkins, the coordinator of student engagement. “It was never the intent of my office or the office of the superintendent to take the right of a parent away. We were simply trying to inform the students of what could happen. And in this we made a mistake.” Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Hernando: School board members recently approved a nearly $475 million budget, an increase of $94.4 million over last year’s spending. Federal relief funds account for more than $53 million of that boost, and almost $15 million more comes from the voter-approved 1-mill tax. That money will be used for school facilities construction, maintenance and repairs. Hernando Sun. Suncoast News.

Charlotte: A recent upsurge in the number of immigrant families coming into the county has prompted the school district to offer free English lessons to parents. There are 525 students in the district’s English language learner program, with many arriving recently from Ukraine and Russia. Classes will be held at the Port Charlotte Town Center mall. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: With the Tallahassee Community College student union undergoing a renovation, school officials have brought in two food trucks with meals from a six-restaurant concept. Completion of the student union in scheduled for December. Tallahassee Democrat.

Board appointments: Seven new members have been appointed to the Florida Education Foundation’s board of directors by Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. Rebecca Matthews has been appointed as the chair, and she is joined on the board by Carlos Alvarez, Marcus Chambers, Steve Crisafulli, Melissa Anne Matz, Scott Ross and Andrea Tovar. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Several national conservative groups endorsed more than 100 school board candidates in fall primaries in Florida and other states, and supported their choices with television ads, brochures, fliers and more urging Republicans to “keep Florida schools free” and to stop Democrats from “indoctrinating” students and “teaching trans-ideology and anti-American critical race theory.” Politico. The effort to ban books in school and other libraries is surging, according to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “It’s both the number of challenges and the kinds of challenges,” she said. “It used to be a parent had learned about a given book and had an issue with it. Now we see campaigns where organizations are compiling lists of books, without necessarily reading or even looking at them.” Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Here’s one thing we all should agree on: Getting as many appropriate books in the hands of as many students as possible so they can learn and prosper, then become productive Americans who can think critically. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm.

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BY NextSteps staff