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Pasco teachers arrested for cheating on test, four-day school week idea, college rankings and more

Around the state: Three Pasco County teachers are arrested by the FDLE for allegedly giving their agricultural students information about tests so they could collect bonuses from the state, Hillsborough’s superintendent saying the district might consider a four-day school week to attract teachers, two suspended Broward school board members used $120,000 in taxpayer funds for legal fees to try to delay the released of the statewide grand jury report that led to their suspensions, a federal judge rules that a UCF professor’s challenge of the Stop WOKE Act can continue, a legislative panel approves $175 million in spending on 230 local projects, Citrus school board members will consider improving pay for employees and substitute teachers, and the University of Florida maintained its No. 5 ranking among public universities in the U.S. News & World Report ratings issued today. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School board members are questioning $120,000 spent in legal fees at the direction of two former members who were trying to delay the release of a statewide grand jury report on their actions before and after the 2018 Parkland school shooting. Ann Murray and Donna Korn were able to persuade a judge to remove some paragraphs from the report and delay its release by 16 months. But it was finally made public Aug. 19, and a few days later Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended them and two other board members for what the grand jury called their “failed decisions on school safety.” At least one board member said the district should try to recover the money from Murray and Korn. Sun-Sentinel. An 11-year-old Margate Middle School student is in custody after allegedly having a pellet gun at school. Police said he’s being charged with possession of a weapon on school property and possession of a pellet gun, which is illegal under age 16. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Superintendent Addison Davis said the district might consider a four-day school week as a way to address the ongoing teacher shortage. There are still about 300 teaching jobs open. “I know this is a really radical suggestion, potentially looking at a four-day week for the school year,” Davis said. “That is a way for us to become competitive when you work four days, and then you have an extended weekend, or you have the fifth day to be able to be engaged in professional learning.” Union president Rob Kriete said the idea is something teachers would consider. “We have to be as creative as possible in this district,” he said. “We have to find every possible way to meet (students’ and teachers’) needs and if that means changing the scheduling and traditionally how we do the work that we do, we’re all for it. We’re open to it.” WTVT. An English teacher at Carrollwood Day School in Tampa has been arrested and charged with sexual battery of a student. Deputies said Jamie Melton, 42, “engaged in sexual relations” with a student this month. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS.

Orange: An assistant track coach at West Orange High School has been arrested in a Polk County Sheriff’s Office human-trafficking operation for allegedly soliciting sex. Deputies said John Layton, 26, answered an online escort ad and agreed to pay $40 for a sex act. When he arrived, wearing a school track and field shirt, he was arrested. District officials said Layton resigned from his non-faculty coaching job on Sept. 8. West Orange Observer.

Palm Beach: No books will be purchased or accepted as donations into school libraries without parents getting a chance to review them if a proposed district policy is approved Nov. 30 by the school district. The policy is intended to get the district in compliance with a new state law that requires input from “community stakeholders” before schools can add books to collections. Purchases and donations at school book fairs will be held for 72 hours to allow for community input, and all others will be held for two weeks to allow reviews. A board meeting is set Oct. 12 for further discussion and public comment. Palm Beach Post.

Pinellas: The district is the first in the state to adopt the Tom Brady fitness playbook, named the TB12 Method, integrating it into the health and wellness curriculum at four high schools and six middle schools. TB12 incorporates muscle pliability, movement, nutrition, hydration and mental fitness into more traditional physical education classes. “For us to be able to get a peek into what (Brady’s) been doing to help him play so long, I think it’s great,” Tiffany Williams, a teacher at Pinellas Park Middle School, said about the 45-year-old quarterback who started his 23rd season in the NFL on Sunday. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Lee: County voters will be asked Nov. 8 if they want the job of superintendent to continue to be an appointed one or switch to an elected position. Superintendents have been appointed by school boards since the 1970s. The drive to switch was approved by the Legislature after being pushed by state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, who called for greater accountability of the superintendent to parents. WBBH. Two EpiPens are now available at every Lee County school that can be used on students who have a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Lee Health has issued the district a memo of understanding that is essentially a prescription to use the pens in an emergency. “Previously we could only treat a student with epinephrine if they had a prescription from their doctor and provided the EpiPen,” said district spokesman Rob Spicker. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: Three Hudson High School teachers have been arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and charged with helping agriculture students pass certification tests so they could earn bonuses from the state. FDLE agents said Robert Herrington, 38, Harold Martin III, 47, and Kathleen Troutman, 31, took the tests and then made study copies from them for students, and sometimes gave students answers during testing. All were charged with scheming to defraud. Herrington and Troutman resigned their jobs, and Martin is on unpaid leave. “Plain and simple, this was a cheating scandal. Greed and cheating,” said FDLE special agent in charge Mark Brutnell. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WTSP. News Service of Florida. Suncoast News.

Volusia: Daytona Beach police said they will file charges against several students who made a false threat Friday against Mainland High School, and will also recommend that the school expel them. “No threat existed,” said a police spokesperson, who called it a “cruel prank.” The threat interrupted school operations for several hours. WOFL. WFTV. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WESH.

Sarasota: School board member Bridget Ziegler announced last week that she has joined a leadership group that trains conservatives on running for school board seats and how to do the job if elected. Ziegler joined the political nonprofit Leadership Institute, and will teach about “core structures and operational, high-level aspects that would be applicable to all school board members in the state of Florida,” she said. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The results of the Aug. 23 election have not yet had an effect on the partisan rhetoric at school board meetings. Last week, residents lined up to speak at the meeting about issues ranging from the election results to the inability of parents to opt-out of a state-mandated program about character. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: A 15-year-old Godby High School student was arrested Friday and accused of having a loaded gun and marijuana in his backpack. A teacher who “detected the odor of marijuana coming from a 15-year-old student and escorted him to an administrator’s office,” according to deputies, who discovered the loaded gun and 12 grams of marijuana in the subsequent search. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Hernando: Allegations that a substitute teacher inappropriately touched a student at Winding Waters K-8 school in Weeki Wachee were dismissed by sheriff’s deputies last week. An investigation found that the sub was never near the student who filed the complaint, according to sheriff’s spokesman Michael Terry, and no other students corroborated the student’s account. The student who made the allegation was issued a juvenile civil citation for filing a false report. Hernando Sun.

Charlotte: A budget of $467 million was approved last week by school board members. It’s about $22.3 million higher than last year’s and includes 39 new positions. Millage rates declined, but rising property values will offset the drop and yield more income. Superintendent Steve Dionisio said enrollment is up by 316 students this year, and that the property tax initiative that was approved four years ago and is on the ballot again in November will produce $27.3 million. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: The school board will consider raising pay for employees and substitute teachers at today’s meeting. Returning teachers will make a minimum of $47,900 a year if the agreement is approved, while administrators would get raises of 3.5 percent and all non-union support personnel would be paid at least $15 an hour. Short-term substitute teachers would make between $120 and $140 a day, and long-term subs would be paid between $165 and $180 a day. Citrus County Chronicle. An allegation that a school bus driver slapped a 5-year-old student for singing loudly on a bus heading to Forest Ridge Elementary School on Aug. 31 is being investigated by the district, the sheriff and the Department of Children and Families. School officials told the mother of the girl that the driver has been removed from the job during the investigation. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: School board members decided last week to not pursue the possibility of arming employees or civilians as part of the state’s guardian program for this school year. But they will revisit the issue next year. The decision was prompted by the limited time the sheriff’s department had to fill out and file a “very, very detailed application” for grants needed to fund training for guardians, said school safety specialist Tommy Wooleyhan. Flagler Live.

Levy: Deputies arrested a 15-year-old student for allegedly striking a school employee during a fight at Chiefland Middle-High School. The employee was trying to break up the fight. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida kept its No. 5 ranking among the best public universities in the United States in the latest rankings from U.S. News & World Report, while Florida State University maintained its No. 19 ranking and the University of South Florida moved up to No. 42 in public universities and No. 97 among all schools. The University of Central Florida improved three spots to No. 64 among public universities, and Florida A&M University is rated seventh among public and private historically black colleges and universities and No. 103 among all public schools. Rankings are based on academic quality, graduation rates, tuition costs and other factors. Tampa Bay Times. Tallahassee Democrat.

Law challenge proceeds: A federal judge ruled last week that a University of Central Florida professor’s legal challenge of the state’s Stop WOKE Act can proceed. In doing so, chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker rejected the state’s assertion that Robert Cassanello, an associate professor of history at UCF, did not have legal standing to challenge the law that puts restrictions on how race can be used in classrooms and in workplace training. News Service of Florida.

Spending approved: The Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved spending $175 million on more than 230 local projects around the state. Among them are $15 million to build a facility for the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation program at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, $13.5 million for Pasco agriculture charter school Academy at the Farm, more than $7.2 million for a gymnasium at Tinker Elementary in Tampa, $400,000 for the Li’l Abner Foundation’s after-school program in Miami-Dade County, and more. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: The principles of free expression seem like the closest thing to truth that we can achieve. That’s why I’m standing up against the Stop WOKE Act. Sam Rechek, Tampa Bay Times. Non-partisanship is all but gone from what’s supposed to be an apolitical body, the local school board. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. If an assigned school anywhere in the country is not meeting a child’s needs, parents should point to Florida and ask their lawmakers, “Why can’t we have more options, too?” Jonathan Butcher and Jason Bedrick, Orlando Sentinel. Any school that receives taxpayer money should have to hire real teachers, prove they’re actually educating students and be willing to serve everyone. And if you want to open up a school that has dropouts as teachers and teaches students to shun their gay peers, well, you can. But you should do it on your own dime. Not the public’s. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Education freedom is a movement to support children, not broken school systems. Sylvie Légère and Denisha Merriweather, Houston Style Magazine.

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BY NextSteps staff