More school districts closing as Hurricane Ian begins approach to Florida, Cruz trial, and more

Ian inches closer to impact: At least 28 school districts and about two-dozen colleges and universities around the state have announced they are closing this week due to the projected impacts of Hurricane Ian. This morning, Ian is expected to cross the western end of Cuba and strengthen as it approaches the Florida peninsula. Projected paths show it nearing the Tampa Bay area Wednesday and then heading in a more northerly direction. “When I look at this storm, I feel like I felt when Andrew was approaching Miami and when Katrina was approaching New Orleans,” said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist for Yale Climate Connections and a former hurricane hunter. “We have a potential historic catastrophe in the making.” State residents are being urged to make storm preparations, follow local weather reports and check the Twitter ( and Instagram ( accounts of the Florida Department of Education for information. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. WINK. WFTX. Suncoast News. Miami Herald. Key West Citizen. Florida Keys Weekly. WLRN. Ocala Star-Banner. Orlando Sentinel. Citrus County Chronicle. WFTV. WMFE. WESH. WGFL. WCJB. Tallahassee Democrat. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. Charlotte Sun. Charlotte Sun. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland Now. Daily Commercial. Mainstreet Daily News. Tallahassee Democrat. WPTV. TCPalm. Weather Tiger. WSVN. WTVJ. WKMG. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV. WJHG.

Around the state: Prosecutors in Broward begin to rebut the defense case today in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, three finalists are chosen for the Florida Gulf Coast University president’s job, seven Hernando students are hospitalized after drinking an unknown substance Monday at school, charges are dropped against a man arrested at a Miami-Dade County School Board meeting in July, a former accounting manager at the University of South Florida is sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzling nearly $13 million from the school, and a Catholic high school is returning to Key West for the first time since 1986. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities.

Miami-Dade: Charges have been dropped against a man who was arrested at a July 20 Miami-Dade County School Board meeting. Caleb Freestone was preparing to speak in support of the district’s comprehensive health textbooks during the public comments portion of the meeting when several women opposed to the curriculum began shouting at board members. In the chaos, one of them accused Freestone of being associated with antifa. Freestone was arrested and spent the night in jail, charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing after a warning and resisting an arrest without violence. Prosecutors dropped the case earlier this month. WLRN.

Broward: Prosecutors begin their rebuttal today of the defense case in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. Defense attorneys portrayed Cruz, now 23, as damaged before birth because of fetal alcohol syndrome. Prosecutors will try to counter that with evidence that Cruz long planned the attack and knew exactly what he was doing. At stake is whether Cruz is sentenced to death for the murders of 17 students and employees, or given life in prison. Associated Press. WPLG.

Lee: Nearly 600 books have been banned from Florida school libraries and classrooms, according to the group Florida Freedom to Read project. Another free speech and literary organization, PEN America, has identified 30 books in Lee County libraries that are banned or are being reviewed. Fort Myers News-Press.

Hernando: Seven students from Grace Education Academy in Spring Hill were hospitalized Monday after drinking an unknown substance. Deputies said they all fell ill after sharing a water bottle around 1 p.m. All seven are in stable condition. WFLA. WFTS,

Monroe: For the first time since 1986, students in Key West will soon have the opportunity to attend a Catholic high school. The Basilica School of St. Mary Star of the Sea, which is a preK-9 school, has plans to construct a 15,000-square-foot high school building by the spring of 2024, and add a grade each year, said principal Robert Wright. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Three finalists have been chosen for the job as president of Florida Gulf Coast University. They are: Robert Gregerson, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and previously the dean of FGCU’s College of Arts and Sciences; Tod Laursen, acting president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute; and Susana Rivera-Mills, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Ball State University since 2018. The finalists will be interviewed Oct. 17. News Service of Florida. Florida State University researchers have received a $4.9 million grant to have gay men ages 18-29 go into HIV clinics to rate their experience and the services they were given. That information will then be used to improving training for health-care providers so young adults feel more comfortable about visiting testing sites and HIV clinics. Tallahassee Democrat. Miami Dade College and the University of Miami have announced a partnership to get more underserved students from MDC into the Medical Scholars summer program as a way to try to diversify the field of medical practitioners. Miami Herald. Ralph Puglisi, the former University of South Florida accounting manager who embezzled nearly $13 million from the school, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday. Puglisi, 60, had pleaded guilty to spending the money on adult websites, vacations, real estate, wedding costs and more. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: A lack of qualified candidates is the biggest barrier to addressing the teacher shortage, according to a survey of public school leaders by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. Those leaders said the most understaffed positions are special education teachers, transportation and custodial staff, mental health professionals and general elementary school teachers. Politico.

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BY NextSteps staff