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Florida 8th-grader wins national spelling bee, cameras on school buses, superintendent shuffle, and more

Florida student wins spelling bee: Dev Shah, a 14-year-old 8th-grader at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo, spelled “psammophile” to win the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. Shah was one of 11 finalists, and won the championship by spelling schistorrhachis in Round 9, identifying someone who engages in chiromancy as a person who tells fortunes using lines on the palm of the hand in Round 10, and spelling aegagrus, rommack, tolsester, bathypitotmeter and psammophile in rounds 11 through 15. The Pinellas County student placed 51st in the 2019 bee and 76th in 2021. He wins $50,000, a medal and a trophy, and became just the third Floridian to win the bee, following Wendy Guey of West Palm Beach in 1996 and Nupur Lala of Tampa in 1999. Tampa Bay Times. Associated Press. CNN. Washington Post. New York Times. NPR. USA Today. Fox News. Fort Myers News-Press. Scripps. WFLA. WTSP. Spectrum News 9. Scripps National Spelling Bee.

School bus-passers beware: Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Thursday that gives school districts the authority to install cameras on school buses to detect drivers who pass stopped  buses illegally. Drivers who are caught on the cameras could be fined as much as $225. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Superintendent shuffle: The upheaval in public education since the pandemic has led to a stunning stream of departures of school superintendents from Florida districts. In the past four years, 61 of the state’s 67 school districts have changed leaders. “It’s one of the most serious issues in terms of public education that Florida faces,” said Bill Montford, a former state senator who leads the state superintendents association. “Could you imagine if you had 61 new sheriffs in Florida in the last four years, what kind of impact that would have on law enforcement?” Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, which often helps districts search for new leaders, added, “Education is in a state of transition, and the most obvious single visual demonstration of change is a new superintendent.” Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: The University of South Florida and the University of Miami have been invited to join the Association of American Universities group of top-tier research schools, Seminole County school officials are offering parents and students refunds or reprints of a high school yearbook that include two pages of LGBTQ+ material, the chair of the state Republican Party calls Sarasota County schools “ground zero for conservative education,” Clay school board members approve a policy prohibiting transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity, the opening of a new elementary school in Bradford County has been delayed until after Thanksgiving, and New College of Florida trustees have chosen a banyan tree as the school mascot. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in North Miami was arrested Thursday and accused of grabbing the buttocks of two female students, 11 and 12. Police said Carlos Ramirez, 51, was charged with lewd and lascivious molestation and remains in custody. Archdiocese officials said Ramirez, who has taught at the school since 2016, has been placed on administrative leave. Miami Herald. WPLG. WFOR.

Broward: A judge ruled Thursday that the jury deciding the negligence case against a former Broward deputy who took cover instead of confronting the gunman in the 2018 Parkland school shooting will not be permitted to visit the scene where 17 people were murdered or stand where Scot Peterson was during the shooting. Broward Circuit Judge Martin Fein said the visit was unnecessary. Jury selection resumes Monday. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG.

Seminole: District officials have told parents and students who complained about two pages of LGBTQ+ material in the Lyman High School yearbook that they can get refunds or a reprinted yearbook without the pages. Yearbook adviser Danielle Pomeranz said she disagrees with the decision to remove the content. “It is unbelievably unacceptable,” she said. “The county is giving into the bigotry and being very cowardly by offering this as an option.” But Jessica Tillman, chair of the local Moms for Liberty group, argued that “they shouldn’t have any sexual definitions in a yearbook. This is a yearbook that goes to every student as young as 14.” Orlando Sentinel.

Lake: An employee at Leesburg High School was arrested earlier this week after getting into a fight at a Weirsdale restaurant. Police said Daniel McCaw, 45, was asked to leave because he was “out of control and attacking people,” police said. He then grabbed a baby out of the arms of another young person and pushed the person backward and punched him. McCaw reportedly grabbed a woman by the back of her head and shoving her forward into the wall, then punched a restaurant employee in the head. District officials said they are investigating. WOFL. WKMG.

Sarasota: Gov. DeSantis’ culture wars on education have made this well-to-do community “ground zero for conservative education,” in the words of Christian Ziegler, the chair of the Florida Republican Party. His wife, Bridget Ziegler, is the school board chair of the A-rated school district, has been instrumental in the rise of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty and helped draft the state’s “parental bills of rights,” which was used to create a law that largely bans classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. DeSantis also engineered a conservative takeover and makeover of the previously liberal New College of Florida, where students had a hand in setting their coursework and got evaluations instead of grades. Vanity Fair.

Clay: School board members approved a new policy Thursday on bathroom use that brings the district in line with state law. Transgender students will be prohibited from using bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms that align with their gender identity. WTLV. Eight administrators will take new roles in the district after their appointments by Superintendent David Broskie. Among them are Jennifer Collins, who will become supervisor of school improvement and leadership development, Kyle Seymour as the new budget supervisor, and coordinator of health benefits Tori Phillips. Five others were appointed to positions as principals. Clay Today.

Bradford: The opening of the new Bradford Elementary School has been delayed, district officials have announced. Construction won’t be finished until sometime in September, and students won’t begin classes there until after the Thanksgiving break. A delay in getting an electrical part is behind the decision. An open house is scheduled at the school Nov. 16, with Nov. 27 as the first day for students. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida and the University of Miami have realized a longtime goal of being invited to join the Association of American Universities group of top-tier research schools. The University of Florida had been the only state school in the group. Schools are evaluated on certain criteria, such as the quality of education programs and the amount of competitive research financing, as well as faculty publications, awards and memberships in the national academies. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. A federal judge has asked Florida A&M University students to make some changes in their lawsuit accusing the state and the Board of Governors of underfunding the school and treating it unequally with other universities. The suit asks for $1.3 billion. WTXL. WCTV. New College of Florida trustees have approved 5 percent raises for faculty members and other employees. Those making $100,000 or more will be capped at $5,000 raises. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. New College trustees also approved a new nickname for the school. The Mighty Banyans will replace the Null Set. The mascot is a brown, fierce-looking banyan tree with “arm” branches flexing its muscles, Null Set brackets as eyebrows and a leafy hairdo. WUSF. Tampa Bay Times. Dr. Daniel Van Durme, the chief medical officer at Florida State University’s College of Medicine, died Tuesday from injuries incurred in a motorcycle accident April 20. He was 61. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV.

High school graduations: High schools around the state are holding graduation ceremonies. Here are reports and photos from some of them. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Florida Keys Weekly. Florida Keys Weekly. Florida Keys Weekly.

Opinions on schools: School choice can help address mental health challenges students face. Mallori Wigent, reimaginED. Just as a car wreck commands attention, the ugliness of right-wing culture-warring on display in deep-red Hernando County often transfixes the news media. But another story is beckoning: Ordinary parents everywhere and their elected representatives are responding, and declaring that they’ve had enough. Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, Washington Post. I think we should all be aware of the cost to our society, and particularly to our children, if we don’t honestly teach the history of the institution of slavery in the United States. Charles B. Dew, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff