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Brevard considers arming teachers and other staff, Collier superintendent fined, school busing costs, new schools, teacher pay raises, and more

Around the state: Brevard’s school board is considering a proposal to expand the district’s school guardian program by arming teachers and other employees, Collier County’s superintendent is fined $1,000 for an ethics violation, Broward’s superintendent has ordered an outside review to determine if a police detective acted properly when he arrested a longtime district volunter at last week’s school board meeting, enrollment is up slightly in Palm Beach County schools, St. Johns County will open five new K-8 schools in the next three years to accommodate enrollment growth, the St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River school districts all report spending millions more on school bus transportation than they receive from the state, a contract agreement calling for 4 percent-plus raises for Citrus County educators was approved by the school board, and an argument between two Osceola County students over a toy on a school bus escalated when their mothers boarded the bus and got into a fistfight. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The employee at Atlantis Academy in Kendall who allegedly left a gun in a classroom this week has been arrested and fired, according to law enforcement and school officials. Nicholas Roman, 21, was charged with possession of a firearm on school property. School director TeriAnn Mann said Roman had previously been reprimanded for having a knife at school. Atlantis Academy is a special education private school for “students with learning differences and various abilities.” WPLG. WSVN.

Broward: An outside review has been ordered by Superintendent Peter Licata to determine if a police detective acted properly when he arrested a longtime district volunter at last week’s school board meeting. Debbie Espinoza, 61, was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer and disrupting a school board meeting after a dispute with another person over the proposed sex education curriculum. Some school board members said the arrest was an overreaction by detective John Mastrianni. Sun-Sentinel. School board member Brenda Fam committeed no ethics violation when she inadvertently touched an 18-year-old student’s buttocks as she lost her balance and began to fall last December. The Commission on Ethics concluded that “wrongful intent necessary for a violation is not present.” Sun-Sentinel. Gulfstream Academy of Hallandale Beach K-8 principal Carlton Campbell died Wednesday when he suffered a medical incident while driving and crashed his vehicle. Campbell, 57, worked in the district for more than three decades. Sun-Sentinel. WSVN.

Hillsborough: A school bus driver has been arrested after an incident last week in Tampa. Police said they responded to a disturbance reported by bus driver Alpheria Wright, 59. He said a parent had boarded the bus and wouldn’t leave, and they began arguing. The incident upset children on the bus and their parents who were standing outside, and the parents yelled to the children to get off the bus. Wright told police he was concerned about the children and wouldn’t let them leave, so some opened the rear emergency door and began getting off. Wright pulled away, and several students exited as the bus was moving. Wright drove to the school, where he was met by officers. But he wouldn’t let them on the bus, and was arrested for obstructing an officer without violence. WTSP.

Central Florida: United Cerebral Palsy of Central Florida, which operates eight charter schools in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, is the only organization in the state to receive a U.S. Department of Education grant to help it recruit and retain new teachers. UCP will receive more than $2 million. WMFE.

Palm Beach: School enrollment is up by 682 students this year, to 187,693, district officials announced this week. Even though enrollment was up slightly, it fell short of projections by 526 students. Officials reported that seven elementary, two middle and nine high schools are at or above full capacity, and that rezoning to fill the newly opened Dr. Joaquin Garcia High helped cut back on overcrowding at four schools. Palm Beach Post. WPEC.

Lee: A former clinical assistant at Estero High School pleaded not guilty this month to a charge of lewd behavior by a person 18 years or older. Police said Yuriria Del Carmen Angeles-Sanchez, 21, had sexual contact with a 15-year-old Estero High student earlier this year. She was suspended and her contract expired in June, said district spokesman Rob Spicker. Her next court date is Dec. 27. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: A second “suspicious mail item” was discovered Wednesday at Land O’Lakes High School, which was closed Tuesday after another package of an unknown substance was found in the mail. It was determined to be nonhazardous, and the school reopened Wednesday. The second mailing, which was discovered after students had left for the day, contained the same substance as the first, according to police. The school is expected to be open today. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Brevard: School board chair Matt Susin boasted this week that the district is tops in the state for school safety, and now the board is also considering a proposal to expand the guardian program by allowing teachers and other school employees to carry guns on campuses. Board member Megan Wright, who proposed the expansion, said districts that allowed employees to be armed “were doing security very, very well.” Colleague Katye Campbell urged the board to move ahead cautiously, considering the community’s negative reaction when the guardian program was first introduced in 2018. “I just want to clarify, because I remember all the misconceptions from five years ago,” Campbell said. “It has to be voluntary. Two, not everybody who volunteers qualifies. Not everyone who is qualified is eligible … (or) completes the training, they have to go through the mental health training, they have to do all those things.” Superintendent Mark Rendell said he would have staff research how other districts are handling their guardian programs and report back to the board. Florida Today. WKMG. WESH.

Osceola: An argument between two Mills Creek Elementary School students over a toy on a school bus escalated when their mothers boarded the bus, intervened, and got into a fistfight. “The parents of the two students took it upon themselves to insert themselves into a harmless dispute between children and made it about themselves, turning the innocent dispute into a violent physical altercation that made both the children and staff members on board the school bus run towards the back of the bus and cower in fear,” deputies said in their report. Both were charged with disturbing a school function and fighting in a public place to the terror of others. WFTV. Miami Herald.

Volusia: Edith I. Starke Elementary School in DeLand will be replaced by a new building, school members decided this week. Starke will stay open while a new building will be constructed on the north end of the campus. It’s expected to cost more than $35 million, seat 650 students and open in August 2025. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A former district teacher has pleaded no contest to lewd and lascivious molestation and unlawful sexual activity with a minor, and faces up to 180 years in prison. Arin Hankerd, 43, had sexual relations with a 15-year-old student at Atlantic High School earlier this year and inappropriately touched a 17-year-old student when he taught at Mainland High School in 2020. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: Superintendent Leslie Ricciardelli has been fined $1,000 by the Florida Commission on Ethics for failing to report her leased Mercedes as required by state law. Ricciardelli said she didn’t know she had to report the car as intangible property, and agreed to a settlement that included the fine and the submission of a corrected statement of financial interests for 2021. “This is a classic example of why not to fill out your financial disclosure form on the last day and in haste,” said Ricciardelli’s attorney Mark Herron. Naples Daily News.

St. Johns: Two more K-8 schools will be built in the northern part of the county and open in the fall of 2026, district officials told the school board this week. Two other K-8 schools are scheduled to open next fall in the Shearwater and Beacon Lake neighborhoods, and another K-8 in RiverTown is expected to welcome students in the fall of 2025. The county’s population continues to grow and school enrollment is up 2.8 percent this year, to 51,500 students. District officials said they’ll also need to hire 200 teachers a year. WJXT.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: School bus transportation costs continue to soar, with the St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River school districts all spending millions more than they receive from the state. “The cost of traveling per mile has gone up triple fold” because of higher fuel prices, insurance premiums and bus driver salaries, said St. Lucie County transportation director Jacunti Prince. St. Lucie faces a $16.6 million deficit this year, because the district spends $28.4 million but gets only $11.8 million from the Florida Department of Education. In the 2021-2022 school year, St. Lucie spent $17.3 million more than it got from the state, while Martin spent $6.2 million and received $3.3 million from the state, and Indian River spent $6.3 million and received $2.6 million. St. Lucie has hired a consultant for $205,000 to recommend ways to cut costs. “The current (transportation) model is untenable financially,” Superintendent Jon Prince said. “We can’t continue to do that, as our growth continues to accelerate.” TCPalm.

Citrus: Pay raises for teachers, administrators and other district employees were approved this week by the school board. Starting teacher pay was raised $2,100, to $50,000, and returning staff with at least one year of service will receive a raise of  $2,200 or 4.3 percent, whichever is greater. School and district administrators will receive a 4.25 percent raise. The raises are retroactive to July 1. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: A hearing is scheduled Nov. 8 on the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the state has discriminated against historically black Florida A&M University. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle dismissed the case in June but allowed the plaintiffs to revise and refile it. News Service of Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed five new trustees to the 13-member Florida Polytechnic University board, including two critics of campus diversity programs and the governor’s former deputy chief of staff. Each must be approved by the state Senate. Lakeland Ledger. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Axios. Tampa Bay Times. Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota has been named the top college in the world for motion graphics instruction by the Australian awards and mentoring platform The Rookies. Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Around the nation: As the appeal of school vouchers spreads, the demand for them is exceeding the money allotted in several states. “It busts the budget because it’s taking on as a public expense what’s previously been a private cost,” said Josh Cowen, an education policy professor at Michigan State University. Associated Press. Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is proposing paying teachers $10,000 a year to carry guns in schools. He said he modeled the plan on a Texas proposal that would have paid teachers $25,000 a year to carry weapons in classrooms. It did not pass. Associated Press. Children’s book publisher Scholastic is reversing an earlier decision to separate some books about race, gender and sexuality at school book fairs. It said criticism of that decision from authors, educators and parents convinced it to backtrack. New York Times. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Florida is anything but “free” as it works to cripple teachers unions. Annette Taddeo, Miami Herald. Mark Bauerlein is a New College trustee who should be removed after reposting a comment on X about Vice President Kamala Harris that is so vile and vulgar it cannot be repeated in a family newspaper. Not only does it disparage the office of the vice president, it is highly offensive to women everywhere. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff