Book challenges, no charges for Broward volunteer, new schools, educators honored, and more

Around the state: A challenged book will remain in Pinellas school libraries while six are being removed in Hernando, no charges will be brought against a Broward school volunteer who was ejected from an October school board meeting and arrested, Sarasota’s and Gulf’s school districts name their teacher of the year, a student is expelled and his mother fired from a Broward school after the mother posted social media content criticizing Israel’s “brutality” against Gaza, Escambia’s school board members say they’re interested in appointing the interim superintendent to the job permanently, new schools are planned in Volusia and Lake counties, and a 15-year-old Pasco student died when he was hit by a car as he rode his bicycle to school in Hudson. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A longtime school volunteer won’t face charges after being arrested for battery on a law enforcement officer as she was being escorted out of a school board meeting in October. The decision not to charge Debbie Espinoza came three days after the release of a consultant’s report concluding that the arrest was avoidable and the school police failed to de-escalate tensions during the meeting. District officials had already announced that school police will receive additional training. Sun-Sentinel. The U.S. Department of Education has been asked to investigate the expulsion of a Palestinian-American student from the Pine View School in Parkland after his mother posted pro-Palestinian content on social media. The 15-year-old was expelled and his mother fired from her job as a math tutor at the school after she criticized Israel’s “collective brutality” against Palestinian civilians and children in Gaza. School officials called the comments “hateful and incendiary,” but Maha Almasri said the posts were taken out of a context and her son has been wrongfully treated. CNN. WTVJ. WSVN. WPLG.

Hillsborough: A teacher at Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace was arrested last week and accused of “committing numerous sexual offenses against a juvenile and for possession of child pornography,” according to the sheriff’s office. Deputies said the alleged crimes of James Goff, 56, did not occur on a school campus, and they don’t believe any of his students were victims. District officials said Goff has been suspended pending his termination. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. WTSP. WFTS.

Palm Beach: Boca Raton Middle School teacher Victor Lopez was fired last week by the school board, which rejected a recommendation from a judge that he instead be suspended without pay for 30 days. Lopez was fired in September 2022 for putting at least one student in a chokehold during class, but protested the decision. Board members decided, however, that his previous disciplinary record warranted his dismissal. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A man carrying a gun was arrested Friday after he tried to board a school bus at Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville. He was taken into custody by security when he tried to board the bus, and the gun was found when he was taken into a school bathroom. No one was injured. WJXT.

Polk: Officials at Valleyview Elementary School in Lakeland refused to allow a man to pick up his children after school last week when he appeared to be drinking beer in his car, according to sheriff’s deputies. The 48-year-old man was arrested and charged with driving under the influence with breath-alcohol level of 0.15 or higher and driving with a suspended license. Miami Herald.

Pinellas: A school district book review committee unanimously agreed last week to reject a Moms for Liberty book challenge and keep the novel The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, in middle and high schools. The book tells the story of how the family and friends of a 14-year-old girl cope with her rape and murder. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: District schools begin the 2024-2025 school year Monday, Aug. 12, and finish Friday, May 30, according to the school calendar approved by the school board. Students will have a full week off over Thanksgiving, winter break is Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, and spring break is March 17-21. WINK.

Pasco: A 15-year-old Hudson Academy student was struck and killed by a vehicle last week as he rode his bicycle to school. Myles Farago died when a car driven by a 31-year-old man hit the back of the bike. Troopers said the bike had no lights, the roadway was unlighted and the boy was not wearing a helmet. No charges have been filed against the driver. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. Spectrum News 9.

Volusia: School board members have approved spending $4.725 million for a property in DeBary where an elementary school will be built to replace Enterprise Elementary. Three of the buildings at the current Enterprise school were built before 1973, and five were built in the 1970s. The current school has drainage issues, uneven sidewalks, insufficient stormwater structure and other infrastructure problems, according to a report from an architectural firm. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: Construction has begun on a K-8 school in Minneola that’s expected to open in the fall of 2025 for about 1,200 students and relieve overcrowding at other schools. WFTV.

Sarasota: Ronnique Major, a 5th-grade teacher at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year, and Josette Ortega, a 3rd-grade teacher at Dreamers Academy, was chosen as the district’s innovation teacher of the year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: A woman who handled the payroll at Silver River Mentoring and Instruction, an Ocala school for at-risk children in Marion and Citrus counties, has pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $620,000 from the school between Jan. 11, 2016, and April 10, 2023. Danielle Liles, 41, will have to forefeit the money she stole and could face 200 years in prison. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: Interim superintendent Keith Leonard could soon be hired into the job permanently, school board members agreed Friday. “I’m ready to make a motion to make him the permanent superintendent,” said board member Kevin Adams. “He’s already done a great job, and I’m seeing his work, and I like where he’s going.” Next, the board will evaluate Leonard’s performance at its Jan. 8 meeting, then make a final decision whether to hire him or search for a replacement. WKRG. A federal judge set a hearing Jan. 10 for arguments on a request by the school board to dismiss a challenge to its decision to remove 10 school library books and restrict access to 150 others. News Service of Florida.

Clay: Students living on dirt roads will not be picked up by school buses today because the weekend’s storm has made those roads unsafe, according to school district officials. Parents are being asked to meet the school bus at the nearest paved road or drive their children to school. WJXT. School board members have approved a district tobacco policy from the 1980s that now includes tobacco, nicotine, marijuana and vaping. Use of those products is prohibited on campuses or at school-sanctioned events, and students and employees can’t wear or display personal items depicting tobacco or smoking. Clay Today.

Leon: District schools begin the 2024-2025 school year Monday, Aug. 12, and finish Friday, May 23, according to the school calendar approved by the school board. Students will have a full week off over Thanksgiving, winter break is Dec. 23 through Jan. 7, and spring break is March 10-14. Tallahassee Democrat.

Hernando: Six of eight books recently challenged will be removed from school libraries, school board members have decided. Books that will be taken out of schools are The Hate U Give, Push, Court of Frost and Starlight, Beloved, The Handmaid’s Tale (graphic novel) and The Lovely Bones. Remaining on bookshelves, both on 3-2 votes, are Drama and The Bluest Eye, with its access limited to students in college-level literacy courses and adults. Suncoast News. The board also rejected a plan that would have changed school boundaries and placed zoned students into Nature Coast Technical High School. Overcrowding prompted the proposal, but four of five board members decided sending zoned students to Nature Coast Tech would change its culture. Suncoast News.

Flagler: An agreement to transfer supervision of school board attorney Kristy Gavin to Superintendent LaShakia Moore is in jeopardy because Gavin won’t sign a statement promising not to sue the board. Three members of the board want to fire Gavin without cause if no transfer agreement is reached by the end of the month, which could trigger a lawsuit from the attorney for wrongful termination. “I see a very large lawsuit coming and it’s going to be breach of contract, number one,” said board member Cheryl Massaro, “hostile work environment, wrongful discharge. It’s also going to be age discrimination, sex discrimination and defamation.” The board’s final scheduled meeting of the year is Tuesday. Flagler Live.

Bradford: The weekend storm left several school district bus routes unpassable, according to school officials. Those students who can’t get to school today will be given excused absences. WCJB.

Gulf: Amber Jones, a technology teacher at Port St. Joe High School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year, and secretary Ashley Forehand of Wewahitchka High was selected as school-related employee of the year. Port St. Joe Star.

Colleges and universities: A former registrar for the defunct Palm Beach School of Nursing and two recruiters were found guilty by a federal jury last week of selling fake transcripts and degrees to thousands of students for millions of dollars. Prosecutors said more than 3,500 people paid up to $20,000 each for fake academic credentials. Miami Herald. WPTV. Florida A&M University in Tallahassee has been ranked the top historically black college and university in the nation, according to the ranking and review site FAMU was third among HBCUs in the recent U.S. News & World Report ratings. Tallahassee Democrat.

Around the nation: The Ziegler sex scandal in Sarasota County and a string of election losses are prompting questions about the staying power of Moms for Liberty, the conservative activist group Ziegler cofounded that focuses on educational issues, and the future of education as a political issue for the right. New York Times. Washington Post.

Opinions on schools: Knowing the full range of American history is central to building a better and more just American society. And studying our history needs to start as early as possible. Charles B. Dew, Tampa Bay Times. The majority of Florida’s politicians seem hellbent on dragging the Sunshine State into an abyss of ignorance. It’s time for all of us to say, “Enough.” No more Newspeak. No more lies. No more censorship. No more indoctrination. Afshan Jafar, Anil Kalhan, Emily M.S. Houh and Henry Reichman, Tampa Bay Times. Yes, let’s hold college presidents’ feet to the fire when they bungle on a major issue. And let’s denounce calls for violence wherever they come from. But let’s also focus on the biggest threat to our system of higher education, which is coming not from left-wing student activists but instead from right-wing politicians. Paul Krugman, New York Times. Sarasota school board member Bridget Ziegler is an equal-opportunity hypocrite. Turns out, she’s just as phony when she is not a homophobe. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bridget Ziegler’s refusal to resign her Sarasota school board seat, despite her sexual hypocrisy, is shameless. But clinging to her seat shows that her priorities are not the schools, parents and students of Sarasota County. Francis Patrick White, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff