Site of 2018 Parkland school shooting to be demolished, school book challenges, 11,000 Florida teachers get civics bonuses, and more

Around the state: The Broward school building where 17 students and staff members were murdered in 2018 will soon be demolished, Pinellas schools will go ahead with a review of 87 books despite a letter of protest from their authors, Orange school officials are rejecting several literature classics because they contain sexual content that may violate state law, Hernando school board members override a book review committee’s recommendation and remove a book from an elementary school library, more than 11,000 Florida teachers receive $3,000 apiece from the state for completing training on civics instruction, the deposit of paychecks for 1,537 Monroe school employees was delayed Friday by a technicality, and the University of Florida plans to spend $400 million to renovate its 90-year-old football stadium. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Now that the trials of the gunman who murdered 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and the school resource officer charged with child neglect for taking cover instead of confronting the shooter are over, the 1200 building where the massacre took place will be torn down. “It’s time for the building to go. It’s absolutely time,” said Eric Garner, who teaches broadcast journalism and film at Stoneman Douglas. “It is a daily reminder.” A court had ordered the building to be preserved in case the jury would be allowed to tour the site. With the trials over, the judge is expected to issue another order releasing the building back to the school district. That’s likely to happen this month, according to district officials, but the work isn’t expected to be completed before the new school year begins Aug. 21. Before the building is razed, beginning today, some family members, victims and survivors of the 2018 shootings will visit it in “strictly private” sessions, said a spokeswoman for the state attorney. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR.

Orange: Several classic novels have been rejected by school district officials at least temporarily because they contain sexual content that could violate state law. Among them are A Room With a View, Madame Bovary, the poem Paradise Lost, The Color Purple, Catch-22, Brave New World and The Kite Runner. The list of approved books is not yet final and some that were initially rejected, such as The Scarlet Letter and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, have subsequently been approved though restricted to certain grade levels. Some teachers expressed shock at books targeted for being potentially objectionable. “The last thing I would have expected to be rejected is Milton,” said an English teacher who noted that John Milton’s Paradise Lost, published in 1667, is considered a “cornerstone of Western literature.” Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: A Lake Worth High School math teacher who is being fired for comparing students’ skin tones to different types of coffees had been investigated multiple times in Broward County before he was hired by Palm Beach County school officials in August 2020. Palm Beach officials said they knew Cary Altschuler had been disciplined by the state for making “inappropriate and sometimes sexual comments to female students,” but did not look into the details and hired him anyway. In a statement issued Friday, district officials said procedures have been implemented since Altschuler was hired to notify supervisors of “known previous employment concerns.” Altschuler’s firing is effective Aug. 25. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Demolition of Highlands Elementary School in Jacksonville has begun, district officials announced Monday. The new school is expected to open in the fall of 2024, and until then students will attend Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Funding comes from the half-cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2020. WJXT. A science teacher at the Duval Charter School of Mandarin has been arrested and accused of lewd or lascivious conduct. Police said Kenneth Alexander Gordon, 69, touched a female student’s buttocks, talked about a porn site in class, and asked girls if they liked boys’ “private parts.” He’s been fired by school officials. WTLV.

Polk: Lakeland city commissioners have approved the creation of a Youth Council of 15 high school students this fall to advise them about issues concerning young people, studying the concerns, then making possible suggestions to the commission for action. Each of the six commissioners and the mayor will nominate two students to be members of the student council, and anyone can nominate a third student. “The goal is to see what the youth in our city feel about our city services and what we provide,” Commissioner Stephanie Madden said. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: District officials said they will not reconsider plans to review 87 school books despite a call from the books’ authors and three anti-censorship organizations to do so. The district said it is following the state’s guidance to “err on the side of caution” when deciding what books should be available. But a letter from the authors and three organizations states, “Erring on the side of caution should never mean censoring the voices of marginalized creators and promoting a discriminatory effect on what books are made available to the community.” The reviews are scheduled July 10 and 11, and Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said, “We’re reading the books before we put them in the library. I’m not going to apologize for that.” Tampa Bay Times.

Southwest Florida: School districts in southwest Florida are feeling the financial effects of higher property insurance premiums. Lee County, which suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Ian last September, will pay $12 million more this year for insurance. The bill for Collier County schools jumped from $6.7 million to $10.7 million, and Charlotte schools’ costs went up 75 percent. “Every homeowner in this state is being impacted by those costs, and as a large property owner and physical facilities owner, we’re being impacted as well,” said Lee Superintendent Christopher Bernier. WBBH.

Brevard: About 75 protesters chanted “Stop banning books!” last week in a rally outside the school district offices. Awake Brevard Action Alliance organized the rally, which was scheduled before the second book review committee meeting Friday. But the school board canceled that meeting, citing “threatening” and “insulting” comments and social media posts made against members of the committee. “This rally is to let the BPS school board know that the public is here, we are concerned and we will not be silent,” said parent Kelly Kervin. Florida Today.

Manatee: New Superintendent Jason Wysong was sworn in Monday, replacing the retiring Cynthia Saunders. Wyson, who had been the deputy superintendent in Seminole County schools, said one of his top priorities is maintaining the district’s reputation as a place where parents feel like their voices are heard. “As a parent myself, I never take for granted that each family has a choice to make … I want to hear when they think we don’t make the mark, when we can do better,” he said. Bradenton Herald. WFLA. WWSB. WTSP.

Alachua: Simon Johnson, the first tenured black professor at the University of Florida’s College of Education and cofounder of the charter Caring and Sharing Learning School in Gainesville, died Sunday. He was 95. WCJB.

Bay: Students at 27 of the county’s 42 public schools will receive free breakfasts and lunches during the 2023-2024 school year as part of a federal program for low-income children. Families whose children attend the 27 schools will not be required to submit paperwork proving income. WFSU.

Santa Rosa: Fourteen school library books have been formally challenged, and 10 have been removed from one or more schools, according to Superintendent Karen Barber. Half the challenges were filed by Escambia County teacher Vicki Baggett, and the other half by Mariya Calkins, the chair of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty. In a note to families, Barber explained the new state law, the district’s review process and wrote that the district is dedicated to “providing appropriate materials to our students. In both classroom and school libraries, the goal is to foster a love of reading in our students – not to expose them to inappropriate content.” Pensacola News Journal. WKRG.

Hernando: School board members recently voted 3-2 to remove Louis Sachar’s book Marvin Redpost: Is He a Girl? from the Pine Grove Elementary School library. The book was challenged by Mary Mazzuco, who said, “The writer causes doubt in ‘THE SELF’ of this boy’s subconscious. Which now causes the young reader to start questioning their own identity. The writer creates the false narrative that somehow being a boy is a bad thing and being a girl is a good thing. … This is all subliminal messaging to cause doubt, this is part and parcel of the ‘woke agenda’ also known as cancel culture, gaslighting, totalitarianism.” Board members Gus Guadagnino, Shannon Rodriguez and Mark Johnson voted to override the review committee’s recommendation that the book be kept in the school library with no restrictions. “It is gender identity, and it’s in an elementary school,” said Rodriguez. Suncoast News.

Flagler: Three cases highlight the disparities in the way school district officials handle discipline when disabled students assault school staff. A 17-year-old was criminally charged and is being tried as an adult in the most recent case and faces up to 30 years in prison. Charges were much less severe in the other cases. Flagler Live. Longtime teacher and coach Bob Nocella, who retired after 26 years with the district at Wadsworth Elementary School, Flagler Palm Coast High, Belle Terre Elementary, Matanzas High, and as the leader of Flagler Technical Institute, died in late June. He was 72. Flagler Live.

Monroe: A bank’s limits on the amount of money that can direct-deposited caused the school district to miss its payroll Friday for 1,537 employees. “Please accept my apologies for the delay in posting your June 30 paycheck,” Superintendent Theresa Axford wrote in an e-mail to employees. “We had to increase our wire limit for this payroll from $2.5 million to $3.5 million. This is our biggest payroll of the year, and we were caught by the limits placed on us by our financial institution.” School board member John Dick said, “I am very concerned about those that didn’t get their checks and may have missed payments and other commitments. But I believe we corrected it by the end of the day. Our people had to do some quick paperwork, and I think everybody got paid by Friday afternoon.” Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida plans to spend $400 million to renovate its 90-year-old football stadium. The concourse, entry gates, seating, concessions, restrooms, video boards and sound systems will be upgraded, according to school officials. WUFT. WKMG. Glen McDonald has been selected as the new president at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City. McDonald, who had been vice president of strategic initiatives and economic development, succeeds John Holdnak, who retired last year. WJHG. Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed five new trustees to the Florida SouthWestern State College board: Kristina Heuser, a Naples attorney; Eviana Martin, a Fort Myers attorney; Lisa Metcalfe Swinto, the southwest Florida regional director of Associated Builders & Contractors Gulf Coast chapter in Cape Coral; Denise Murphy, the general manager of Stock Development Associates in Naples; and Tyler Patak, a North Fort Myers architect. WGCU.

Teacher bonuses: More than 11,000 Florida teachers have earned $3,000 bonuses from the state for completing 50 hours of online civics training offered by the Florida Department of Education. The Civics Seal of Excellence is part of a program started in January that is aimed at providing teachers with information to help students learn about the “founding principles of our nation,” said Gov. DeSantis. WPTV. Florida’s Voice.

More on test scores: First-round results from the new standardized Florida Assessment of Student Thinking exams were announced last week. Fifty percent of students in grades 3-10 scored at grade-level or above in English language arts, and 56 percent of those in grades 3-8 performed at grade-level or above in math. Here are some reports from districts around the state. WTVJ. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville Today. WJXT. Charlotte Sun. Daytona Beach News-Journal. TCPalm. Martin County School District. WFTS. WTVJ. WPTV. Tallahassee Democrat. WJXT.

Around the nation: The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Biden administration’s plan to erase $400 billion in student loan debt. Justices said the proposal required the approval of Congress. Associated Press. New York Times. Politico. Pensacola News Journal. The 74. Education Week. Chalkbeat. What happens if students who have loans just don’t pay? Associated Press. Republicans are counting on education to be a decisive factor in the 2024 elections. Axios. Moms for Liberty officials said at a conference last weekend that they will start endorsing school board and superintendent candidates. Associated Press. Tiffany Justice, a cofounder of Moms for Liberty, said “parents absolutely should be concerned about the fact that they can’t trust their schools.” Education Week. A survey discloses that one-third of U.S. teachers said they plan to quit their jobs in the next two years. The reasons they give include pay, safety and new laws targeting members of the LGBTQ community. WMFE.

Opinions on schools: For the sake of our students’ success and to be good stewards of our tax dollars, our elected officials in Tallahassee need to make accountability in vouchers a priority in education. Tampa Bay Times. Florida is not taking a leap into the great unknown of education choice, using an untested vehicle to explore dangerous depths. It has decades of experience and proven results to continue guiding it at the forefront of providing families more options for their children’s education. Scott Kent, Tampa Bay Times. If I were a school board member or school superintendent, I would run every challenged school book title by state officials — to ask them whether they believe it violates state law — before banning it. What kind of whackadoo state wouldn’t answer questions about what’s legal and what’s not, unless confusion and chaos was the point? Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. In 1999, Florida embarked on the same journey away from race-based admissions quotas upon which the entire nation is now about to embark after last week’s Supreme Court ruling. A quick survey of Florida’s most respected colleges and universities, seeking answers on how the court ruling might impact their admissions practices, yielded an almost universally identical answer: it won’t. Brian Burgess, The Capitolist. Libs, you’re on notice: The Mommies are now in charge. “Liberty” now means what we say it means. History is what we say it is. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff