Leon school reopens today after flooding, Volusia’s financial issues, field trips, Sasquatch and more

Around the state: Godby High School in Tallahassee reopens today after a severe storm caused flooding in 80 percent of the buildings on campus last week, Volusia’s superintendent said using federal pandemic funds for recurring expenses has created financial issues for the district, Pinellas County’s school superintendent is emphasizing field trips as a way to boost student attendance, 24 more book challenges are going before the Hernando school board next month, student loan debt for 21,208 Floridians was canceled Friday by the Biden administration, and the mythical creature Sasquatch has been chosen as the mascot for a K-8 school opening in St. Johns County in the fall. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A Miami Senior High School teacher was arrested last week and accused of sending sexually explicit messages to two of his students. Police said Roger Alaniz, 24, was charged with child abuse with no great bodily harm and offenses against students by authority figures. District officials said Alaniz has been fired. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ.

Broward: A professor at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., came to the rescue when Somerset Academy Middle School in Pembroke Pines found itself without the puppets needed to put on its production of Finding Nemo just 10 days before showtime. Seton Hill packed up the 23 puppets last week and shipped them, and isn’t even charging the usual rental fee. “Putting these really high-quality puppets in the hands of students …was really, really meaningful and a surprising opportunity to happen,” said Seton Hill professor Lisa Leibering. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Hillsborough: The transgender teacher who won the right in court to use whatever pronouns she wants to in school said last week that she is “really thankful to have a small win because it’s certainly not been easy.” Katie Wood, a math teacher at Lennard High School in Ruskin, sued the state over its 2023 law requiring teachers to use pronouns that align with their sex assigned at birth. A judge ruled the law violated Wood’s free speech rights, but the ruling only applies to her. Wood, who’s wanted to be a teacher since she was 8, said she just wants to teach without hiding who she is. “My passion is with kids,” she said. WTSP.

Polk: A new policy governing how book challenges are handled is being considered by the school board. The latest draft more closely aligns the policy with state law by adding references to the law defining prohibited sexual content and allowing challenges to books in both classroom and schoolwide libraries and materials used in classes or for assigned reading. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: The field trip has emerged as an important component in the district’s attempt to improve student attendance. Superintendent Kevin Hendrick has pushed it as a way to give students something to look forward to, and requests have been made that would give the experiences to 15,000 more students than a year ago. “There is power in going off campus,” points out student experience director Kim Hill. Research supports that, suggesting that students who went on the field trips perform better academically, with fewer disciplinary issues and more tolerance for others. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Cape Coral City Council is exploring ways to increase revenues for the Oasis Charter School System and mitigate city subsidies. Council members also expressed an interest in reinstating an exemption to the tax on electric bills, but that money generates about $2.6 million a year for the schools. There are more than 1,000 children on waiting lists for a spot in one of the charter schools. Cape Coral Breeze.

Brevard: A man waiting in a car line to pick up his grandchildren from the Challenger 7 Elementary School in Port St. John accidentally shot and killed himself Friday, according to sheriff’s deputies. The school went into a lockdown, but no one else was injured and deputies are continuing to investigate. WKMG. WOFL. Florida Today. Construction has begun on a new building at MILA Elementary School on Merritt Island. It will have eight classrooms for special education, pre-K and kindergarten students, and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2025. Space Coast Daily.

Volusia: Superintendent Carmen Balgobin said the district’s use of federal funds during the pandemic for recurring expenses has put the school system in the position where it has to reassign up to 200 teachers to new schools or into new jobs. Balgobin took over leadership of the district in May 2022, and said she inherited debt and financial problems. “If you go and ask any superintendent in the state of Florida — 67 to be precise — some of them are elected, some of them are appointed. Not one of those 67 superintendents, including myself, would state to any of you in here that they would want to be placed into a position as which I am in right now,” Balgobin said. The financial pinch also has parents worried about losing arts classes and extracurricular activities. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Johns: Sasquatch has been chosen as the mascot for Lakeside Academy, a K-8 school opening in the fall. A cardboard cutout of the mythical creature has been standing in the woods of the Beacon Lake community for the past four years, and at least one parent appreciates the connection. “I think it’s cool,” said Craig Pivnick, whose daughter will attend the school. “When we first found out about it, everybody kinda always picks a traditional animal or, you know, you never really hear about the Sasquatch. … We thought it … was a perfect fit.” WJAX.

St. Lucie: Four students at Dan McCarty Middle School in Fort Pierce were treated at a hospital Thursday after ingesting gummies that may have contained THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Two students who are suspected of selling the gummies to the students were arrested. TCPalm. WPTV. WPBF. WPEC.

Leon: Godby High School in Tallahassee reopens today after a severe storm last week flooded 80 percent of the buildings on campus, closing the school for two days and causing about $250,000 in damage. “After a lot of hard work, Godby High School has passed all the necessary requirements to be OPEN for school on Monday, April 15, 2024,” the school district posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Thank you to everyone who helped.” Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: The coach of the nationally recognized Buchholz High School math team is leaving the school to start a grade 3-12 private school focusing on competitive academics. Will Frazer said his vision of competition involves students learning to cooperate with each other to shore up each other’s weak points. Mainstreet Daily News. University of Florida officials are proposing a more selective admissions system for the PK Yonge Developmental Research School. Yonge is ranked 38th in the state among high schools, but UF wants to get it into the top 10. Gainesville Sun. Voting ended Friday on the proposal to convert three Newberry public schools into charter schools. Mail-in ballots postmarked by last Friday will be accepted until Tuesday, and the votes will be counted Wednesday morning at a public meeting. WCJB.

Hernando: Twenty-four more books have been challenged by the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty, and the school board will consider the complaints May 7 at a meeting scheduled at the unusual time of 8:30 a.m. Board members defended the change, saying if they start this meeting at the regular time it could go on well past midnight. “By all means, transparency is a huge situation and I do want to be as transparent as we can with anyone,” said board member Shannon Rodriguez. “But this is going to take hours and hours and hours, and unfortunately there’s not enough time in a day to start something at 6 at night and go till 2 in the morning or 3 in the morning.” Suncoast News.

Martin: Former school superintendent John Millay’s bid for a school board seat in this year’s Aug. 20 election ended just two weeks after it began. The decision was made by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Martin County, where Millay works as senior vice president. “After consulting with legal advisors we’ve reached the conclusion that this political campaign unnecessarily complicates the wonderful relationship we enjoy with the Martin County School District,” said Kathryn Parsons, chair of the clubs’ board. “We’re thankful to say that we’ve informed Dr. John Millay … of our determination and he has agreed to withdraw his candidacy for public office.” His departure from the race leaves Sydney Marie Thomas as the sole challenger to District 2 incumbent Marsha Powers. WPTV.

Indian River: Newly appointed school board member Kevin McDonald acknowledges he was picked by Gov. Ron DeSantis because their political views align, and says he plans to listen to parents and to groups representing parents. McDonald’s appointment to replace Brian Barefoot swings the majority to conservatives. TCPalm. A 15-year-old girl was critically injured Friday when she was hit by a car on her way to school near Vero Beach. WPTV.

Colleges and universities: Student loan debt for 21,208 Floridians was canceled Friday by the Biden administration, part of $7.4 billion in student debt forgiven for 277,000 Americans. Since Biden took office, $153 billion in debt incurred by 4.3 million people has been canceled. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Atlantic University has received an undisclosed gift from Craig and Barbara Weiner that it will use to build a 2,000-square-foot Holocaust museum on the Boca Raton campus. The Weiners also established the Craig and Barbara Weiner Holocaust Museum at Nova Southeastern University in Davie with a collection of more than 200 artifacts. WPTV.

Around the nation: U.S. school web filters intended to stop students from accessing obscene or harmful images online are also blocking sites with information that could support their health and safety, according to district records. In Manatee County, for example, neither students nor teachers have access to sex education websites. USA Today.

Opinions on schools: The chaos in the Broward County School District is disorder by design by Gov. DeSantis and his appointed school board members. Steve Bousquet, Sun-Sentinel. By taking a stand against otherwise non-controversial autism awareness events at his school, a Palm Beach County pastor has unwittingly spread compassion for those with autism around the world. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. The law requiring Florida students to take a personal financial literacy course is welcome, but their graduation should not hinge on passing it. Marie Foster-Gnaige, Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff