UF trustees unanimously back Sasse for school presidency, families lay grief on Cruz, and more

Trustees support Sasse: University of Florida trustees have unanimously chosen U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, to become the school’s 13th president. Florida’s Board of Governors is expected to approve the selection at its meeting Nov. 9-10 in Tampa, and set Sasse’s salary at no more than $1.6 million a year. Sasse was the only finalist recommended by the presidential search committee, a decision that has been criticized for being reached in secret. Sasse’s opposition to same-sex marriage and his views on other LGBTQ issues have also been a target for critics, who spoke against his appointment for 40 minutes at Tuesday’s meeting, and student protestors outside the building. Sasse said he was looking forward “to a period of political celibacy.” His priorities as president, he said, would be to become a “Gator superfan” and a dad, and support academic freedom and tenure. “I want every student to have better in-classroom experiences, better out-of-classroom experiences, better beyond-UF experiences,” he said. “Humans have to get good at talking and not just reducing people to just some single variable.” News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Gainesville Sun. Fresh Take Florida. Florida Phoenix. WCJB. WGFL. Washington Post. Forbes. New York Times.

Around the state: Families of the 17 people murdered by Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz lash out at him in grief and anger at a sentencing hearing Tuesday, Escambia County School Board members ban a coming-of-age novel, Pinellas County school officials are proposing a process to review classroom materials that could be considered controversial, Osceola County teachers flood the school board meeting to ask for raises averaging 8.7 percent, Monroe County School Board members approve a three-year plan to improve graduation rates and cut chronic absenteeism, school bus issues continue to plague Duval schools, Leon’s school superintendent won’t rule out the placement of metal detectors in schools, and the University of South Florida is asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on a case contending the school should refund fees it collected during the pandemic. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Nikolas Cruz is a “monster,” a “murderous bastard” who “should burn in hell,” said family members of the 17 people he shot and killed on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They spoke in court Tuesday during the first day of a two-day hearing that will culminate in Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentencing Cruz to 34 life sentences, one for each person he killed or wounded, without the possibility of parole. Life in prison is the sentence because the jury could not agree unanimously to impose the death penalty. Some of the family members said it was time to end the requirement that juries vote unanimously for death sentences. Others said Cruz got away with murder, that he will suffer in prison, that he was a waste of breath and that he would die forgotten, “a name on a tombstone that no one ever visits,” said Thomas Hixon, whose father Christopher was one of the victims. The hearing resumes today at 1:30 p.m. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press. WPLG. WLRN. WPTV.

Palm Beach: A student was arrested last week at Palm Beach Gardens High School after a loaded gun fell out of their bag, according to school officials. No one was injured or threatened. WPEC.

Duval: School bus delays continue to nag the school district, and officials warned that they are at least weeks away from resolving the issue. “We’re short up to 50 drivers on any given day and that requires us to combine routes and provide schools with service that have the shortest times, maybe 20 minutes so we can then cycle back to the school that’s not covered,” said assistant superintendent Paul Soares. “(They) might be 20 minutes late, but far better than no bus coverage at all.” Student Transportation of America services about 75 percent of the routes, and Soares said the district continues to work with the company on solutions. WJAX.

Lee: Candidates for three school board seats on the ballot Nov. 8 talk about their qualifications, their top priorities for recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, the biggest challenge facing the district and more. Kathy Fanny and Sam Fisher are competing for the District 1 seat, incumbent Debbie Jordan is being challenged by Dan Severson in District 4, and Jada Langford-Fleming and Denise Nystrom square off in District 6. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pinellas: A process for including books in classroom libraries has been proposed by the school district. New rules specify that teachers must review materials that could be considered controversial because they contain violence, profanity, sexual situations, nudity and drug abuse, then expolain why they’re necessary for lessons. A media specialist and another review group would consider the request and make a recommendation to the principal for a final decision. An appeals process is included, but parents who are dissatisfied with the ruling can opt to choose a different book or appeal to a district-level review committee. “Is it a lot of work? Yes. But if you’re passionate about it and you want to do a book, at least it gives a teacher the option,” said school board chair Eileen Long. “Really, it’s for the protection of the teacher.” A board vote is expected later this month. Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: Teachers flooded to Tuesday’s school board meeting to make their pitch for a pay increase averaging 8.7 percent. They contended that the district can afford to give them the raise they need to keep up with the rising cost of living. “Listen, I’m a single parent. I’m not even asking you to send me on a cruise. I’m just asking to be able to pay my bills,” said one teacher. Board members said negotiations would continue, and they hope to make a decision by Dec. 6. WESH. WFTV.

Collier: Six candidates for three school board seats in Tuesday’s election recently answered a variety of questions, including why they’re running for office, what they think of the increasingly partisan turn races have taken this year, school safety, their views on critical race theory, book bans and more. In District 1, incumbent Jory Westberry is being challenged by Jerry Rutherford, while District 3 is a race between incumbent Jen Mitchell and former school board member Kelly Lichter, and incumbent Roy Terry is trying to hold onto his District 5 seat against Tim Moshier. Naples Daily News.

Sarasota: Many district teachers have returned to the routine of school even as their personal lives are still in disarray because of the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, especially in the south part of the county. “It’s my saving grace,” said Sandee Coward, a 59-year-old reading recovery teacher at Atwater Elementary in North Port who is still trying to figure out where she’s going to live. “You get the schedule back in a routine, and the kids are tired of being at home, so they’re happy to see you, and you’re happy to see them.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a 1999 coming-of-age novel by American writer Stephen Chbosky, will be removed from high school libraries because of its sexual content, school board members decided in a 4-1 vote Tuesday. “What is the level of decency in this district? What’s our standard for ensuring good conduct and manners for our students, when I can’t even repeat some of the stuff that is here into this mic, or I wouldn’t because of the values I have,” said board member Kevin Adams. “Our decency standards are not high when we allow this type of inappropriate material … in our district.” WEAR.

Leon: The mother of a student at Godby High School in Tallahassee is calling for metal detectors to be placed at the school after a student was discovered with a gun on campus last week and a 14-year-old boy was arrested with a loaded gun at a football game two weeks earlier. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said other security measures such as fencing and cameras are in place, but that “we will continue to look at other options. Am I saying that metal detectors are off the table? No.” WCTV.

Alachua: About 50 students in the Academy of Fire and EMS at the Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High School in Gainesville are learning how to communicate with people around the globe through the program’s HAM radio station, K4WTL. Academy director Mark Smith said HAM radio is “like a dying hobby,” but that some students are taking to it. “I just love the enthusiasm and constant learning,” he said. “It isn’t a required class or activity, so seeing the students really take a liking to the amateur radio just gives them another interest or hobby.” Mainstreet Daily News.

Monroe: A three-year strategic plan intended to boost student achievement and improve students’ mental health and well-beign has been approved by the school board. “By using these markers for success, it is clear that over the next three years, we can make steady progress toward success.” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. Among the specific goals: Improving the graduation rate from 92 percent to 96 percent by 2025, reducing chronic absenteeism from the current 18 percent to 5 percent, and cutting the number of incidents of drug, tobacco, alcohol and vaping use from 125 to 60. Key West Citizen.

Jackson: Sheriff’s deputies have arrested a man and accused him of pointing a gun at a school bus Tuesday. Troy Hezzie Lamar Summers Jr. has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and more charges are pending, according to deputies. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida is asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on a case contending the school should refund fees it collected during the pandemic because students paid for services they did not receive. Earlier this year, the 2nd District Court of Appeal refused to dismiss a potential class-action lawsuit brought by ValerieMarie Moore. News Service of Florida. Indian River State College will continue to offer free tuition to local 2023 high school graduates, the IRSC Foundation Inc. decided this week. The program, which began this year, is expected to cost about $1.4 million. It has boosted enrollment 9 percent, school officials said. TCPalm. Some central Florida transgender students say their colleges are slow to acknowledge requested changes in gender, name and pronouns because they don’t have formal procedures to follow. Some of those colleges point to uncertainty surrounding federal rules on accommodating students whose identities don’t match the genders on their birth certificates. Lakeland Ledger.

Around the nation: U.S. Education Department officials announced this week they would ease the rules for student loan borrowers to get relief if they have been misled by their colleges or if they put in a decade of work as a public employee. The new rules begin in July, and are separate from the student loan forgiveness program announced by the administration but was put on hold by a federal judge while a legal challenge brought by states led by Republicans is being considered. PBS. Some science teachers in Florida and other states are trying to “sneak in” lessons about climate change because the issue doesn’t appear in the state’s middle or elementary school education standards. “This is the topic of the century,” said Bertha Vazquez, a 7th-grade science teacher in Miami, “and not just because of the potential disasters ahead but because this is the future of the economy.” New York Times.

Opinions on schools: The solutions to the epidemic of failure in America’s schools are simple: There are math and reading policies every state should immediately enact and there are ways parents can contribute. You were called on to step up when Covid kept kids at home. Now you are needed again to help close those learning gaps. Jeb Bush, Wall Street Journal. As a lifelong public school student in Florida, I am terrified that the state is demolishing our right to privacy and right to bodily autonomy, as the state moves to digitize our menstrual dataEliahna McFarlane, Sun-Sentinel. Last week, the Broward County School Board gave Superintendent Vickie Cartwright 90 days to show how she will fix every problem in the school district. Firing her would have been much more disruptive but perhaps far more merciful. Randy Schultz, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff