Solar eclipse offers a celestial lesson today, legislator named president at State College of Florida, and more

Around the state: The state’s schools have made their preparations for this afternoon’s solar eclipse and experts say the state has a 45 percent to 75 percent chance of a “maximum partial eclipse,” a state representative has been named president of State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, Pinellas’ superintendent is asking the school board to approve several key appointments to replace retiring administrators, a teacher who resigned in lieu of being fired in Pasco for disparaging students is now accused of doing the same in Citrus, and a University of Florida pre-med student is accused of murdering his mother, a 2nd-grade teacher in Polk County, on Saturday because “she got on his nerves.” Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A former math teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale has been arrested and accused of having a romantic relationship with a 17-year-old student he was tutoring. Andrew Fierle, 43, was fired in June 2021 after the girl’s parents complained to school officials, according to an Archdiocese of Miami spokesperson. His teacher certificate was also suspended by the state for three years. WPLG. WTVJ. WFOR.

Tampa Bay area: School districts are taking many of the same precautions as most districts around the state: keeping students indoors in the afternoon from the beginning of the eclipse until the end, canceling outdoor activities, warning students not to look at the sun during dismissal, and allowing students excused absences if they stay home. Hillsborough will also dismiss schools one hour early, and Pinellas students can experience the eclipse with their classes with teachers present and wearing the proper eyeglasses. WFLA.

Orange: Starting today, parents whose children are absent from school will be notified by school officials early in the day and also later if they miss the entire day. Until now, teachers had until 3 p.m. to report class attendance and parents were only notified at the end of the day. Now teachers are being encouraged to report immediately. The change in policy was prompted by the February disappearance of Madeline Soto in Osceola County. She never made it to her school, but her mother didn’t hear about it until 6 p.m. that night. Madeline’s body was found about 10 days later. WFTV.

Palm Beach, south Florida: Precautions to protect students during the solar eclipse vary by district. In Palm Beach County, middle school students will be allowed to watch with supervision, but there won’t be any excused absences. Martin students also won’t be given excused absences, but won’t be allowed outdoors during the eclipse. St. Lucie and Okeechobee students can be excused early to watch with their families. WPBF.

Duval: Members of the Atlantic Beach community are rallying to try to get their elementary school off the district’s list of schools being considered for closure. They will attend today’s city commission meeting to show their displeasure, and Wednesday’s town hall meeting being held by the school district to discuss possible closures as a way to trim a $1.4 billion budget deficit. WJXT.

Polk: District students can receive excused absences today if parents want to supervise their viewing of this afternoon’s solar eclipse, school officials said Friday. All outdoor activities, such as athletic practices, band rehearsals and after-school care programs, will also be moved indoors indoors between 1:15 and 4:30 p.m. as a precaution. School dismissal times are unchanged. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland Now. A 46-year-old 2nd-grade teacher at Ben Hill Griffin Elementary School in Frostproof was stabbed to death in her home Saturday, according to the sheriff’s office. Elvia Espinoza was stabbed by her son, 21-year-old University of Florida pre-med student Emmanuel Espinoza, who was arriving at his mother’s house for a family gathering for a grandparent, deputies said. He told deputies he’d wanted to kill his mother “for many, many years because she got on my nerves,” according to the arrest report. Lakeland Ledger. WOFL. WFLA. WFTS. WTVT.

Pinellas: Several key members of the district’s administrative team are retiring soon, and Superintendent Kevin Hendrick is asking the school board Tuesday to approve his recommendations for replacements. Gary Jeppesen, most recently chief operating officer and chief finance officer for MiCamp Solutions of Arizona, is Hendrick’s pick to succeed retiring chief finance officer Kevin Smith. Donnika Jones, the district’s chief transformation officer, would replace Dan Evans as chief academic officer and Fairmount Park Elementary School principal LaKisha Lawson would become chief transformation officer. Campbell Park Elementary principal Kathleen Young-Parker would become minority achievement officer, replacing Lewis Brinson, and Northeast High School assistant principal Marc Allison would follow Al Bennett as the district’s athletic director. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Outdoor school-related activities will be moved indoors today because of the eclipse, and athletic games and practices will not start until after 4:30 p.m., according to school officials. Parents are required to sign permission slips to allow their children to join their classes in watching the eclipse “if all safety protocols are followed,” the district said in a statement. Florida Today. An informal luncheon Friday between the school board and Brevard’s legislative delegation presumably to discuss such topics as school vouchers and deregulation bills got testy and political when board member Jennifer Jenkins went off on state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who declined an invitation to attend the meeting. Jenkins and Fine have been involved in a high-profile and bitter feud. Thursday, Fine made negative comments about Jenkins on his Facebook page. Friday, Jenkins fired back: “I don’t know if any of you have daughters, but I would like you to think about that — how this supposed representative of Brevard County attacks a young woman, the mother of a young daughter, relentlessly. It’s disgusting, and I can assure you, he will be held accountable.” Florida Today. High school graduations will be held May 20 through May 25, district officials have announced. Three will be held at the King Center, and the rest on school campuses. Space Coast Daily.

Alachua: Outdoor activities are being canceled today between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. because of the solar eclipse, district officials said last week. All after-school programs, physical education classes and band and sports practice, and other activities will be held indoors or postponed. Absences and early checkouts will also be excused with a parent’s permission. Gainesville Sun.

Citrus: Safety concerns prompted school officials to keep students inside during today’s eclipse. Outdoor activities between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. have been moved indoors or postponed, and bus drivers will remind students to avoid looking directly at the sun on their way home. WFTS. A former Pasco County teacher who was placed on probation by the state for belittling students and subsequently retired in 2016  after being told he would be fired is now being accused of similar behavior at Lecanto High School in Citrus. Michael Maynard, 70, landed a job at Lecanto in 2022. A year and a half later Citrus officials began disciplinary proceedings against Maynard, who said he resigned rather than deal with “celebrating quizzes with scores of 4 out of 15, Moms for Liberty banning books, finding drug paraphernalia in my classroom, out of control absenteeism, living under the threat of empowered students and working long hours for little pay.” Tampa Bay Times.

Flagler: The school board, county commission, sheriff and the city of Bunnell are being sued by a community activist over the agencies’ recent agreement on use of the Carver Center. Eric Josey said the purpose of the deal was to “replace the pre-existing youth programs of the school district, without cause, and institute the youth programs of the Flagler Sheriff’s favored local Police Athletic League, a discrete, privately owned organization…” Flagler Live.

Levy: District officials are asking parents not to send solar viewing glasses to school with their children, and will move all outdoor activities inside from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. today during the solar eclipse. And because school dismissals will happen during the eclipse, students are being warned not to look at the sun on the way home. Levy Citizen.

Colleges and universities: State Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, was chosen Friday at the next president of State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, by school trustees. He will replace Carol Probstfeld, who is retiring July 1. Gregory is the second legislator named to a state college presidency in the past year. Last June, South Florida State College trustees selected Fred Hawkins, then a Republican representative from St. Cloud, as president. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said the Nashville college has “been thinking for a while about a potential second campus, and it became clear that South Florida, and West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, would be a great location.” Last week, Vanderbilt announced that it intended to build a graduate computer science and artificial intelligence campus in downtown West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: The teacher shortage is not a challenge that can be ignored. It is a societal issue that demands a collective response. By encouraging recent graduates, veterans, and professionals from across a host of fields and backgrounds to consider the vocation of teaching, we can alleviate the shortage and infuse our schools with a wealth of expertise, passion, and diverse perspectives. Jonathan Austin Peacock, Pensacola News Journal. There is a toxic cocktail of factors at work that are not just complicating the now-$3.9 billion rebuilding-and-consolidation Duval schools plan but that are also clouding the future of public education in Jacksonville and in Florida. Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union. Regardless of the merits of DEI or anti-racism teachings, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican policymakers have abandoned free speech principles by prohibiting specific viewpoints in academia and the workplace. Jacob Mchangama, Fort Myers News-Press. Universities should break the rigid SAT/ACT testing monopoly and welcome standardized tests that reflect the breadth and diversity of America’s educational landscape. Jennifer Frey, The Hill. If the eclipse or some other event sparks your student’s interest in a science or engineering career, give your student the gift of good advice – particularly about taking challenging math and science courses in high school. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff