Hillsborough 7th-grader Bruhat Soma wins national spelling bee, NIL for high-schoolers, and more

Top speller again from Florida: Bruhat Soma, a 12-year-old 7th-grader at Turner/Bartels K-8 in Hillsborough County, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. After 14 rounds, Soma and Faizan Zaki of Dallas were the last two standing and the competition proceeded to a tiebreaker, which Soma won after spelling 29 words correctly in 90 seconds against 20 by Zaki. In 2022, Soma tied for 163rd place, and last year, when Dev Shah of Largo won the championship, Soma finished tied for 74th. Fellow Floridians Velvizhi Sethirayar of Orange County finished tied for ninth place, Claire Smith of Volusia tied for 17th place, and Nicasio David of Lee, Sree Vidya Siliveri of St. Johns, Amara Chepuri of Manatee and Jordin Oremosu of Hillsborough all tied for 60th place. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. NPR. WFLA. Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Around the state: Demolition of the Broward school building where 17 students and employees died in a 2018 shooting will begin June 13 or 14, the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board meets Tuesday to decide whether to allow student-athletes to be compensated, Orange’s school board won’t declare June as Pride Month for the first time in three years, Sarasota city officials decide they don’t have the authority to restrict construction activities on a piece of property owned by New College of Florida, and the number of bullying reports in Escambia schools doubled from the 2021-2022 to the 2022-2023 school year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Demolition of the 1200 Building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 students and employees were killed and 17 others wounded by a gunman in 2018, will begin either June 13 or 14, said a district spokesman. The specific date and times “will be provided soon,” he said. Demolition will be done mechanically instead of by implosion, will take several weeks and cost $339,000. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Orange: For the first time in three years, the school district will not declare June as Pride Month. Instead, it will be Pulse Remembrance Month. A district spokesperson said proclamations for Pulse Remembrance and LGBTQ+ Awareness and History Month were similar enough that they’ve been separated, and the school board will consider marking LGBTQ+ Awareness and History Month in October. WFTV.

Palm Beach: A Lantana school recently devised a new method to keep students separated from their phones during classes. Palm Beach Maritime Academy Secondary Campus requires students in grades 6 through 12 to place their phones in a school-issued pouch that is then locked until the end of the school day. “It’s just this simple. You take your phone (and) you can also fit your AirPods and your smartwatch in there and you close it,” said principal Dionne Kay Stone. WPEC.

Polk: School officials are asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit charging that the district is violating state law and its own policies in the way it handled book challenges. The case was brought by the conservative political group Polk County Citizens Defending Freedom and its lawyer, former state legislator Anthony Sabatini. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Twenty-one schools, or about 1 in every 5 in the school district, will have a new principal when they reopen in the fall. Thursday, school board members approved appointments for 14 schools, with another seven still to be announced. Most of the moves came about because of retirements and resignations. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: A lawsuit brought by school board member Jennifer Jenkins against colleague Matt Susin for allegedly withholding public records about redistricting that pushed her out of her district has drawn support from the deposition of a county staff member. Christopher Davis, an administrative aide to County Commissioner John Tobia, said Susin and Tobia did withhold the records long enough for Jenkins not to be able to seek re-election. Both deny that claim. Florida Today.

Volusia: Sheriff Mike Chitwood said Thursday that the 70-year-old woman whose vehicle struck and killed a 10-year-old girl as she rode her bike to Sugarmill Elementary School in Port Orange on May 24 was driving faster than the posted 5 mph limit and failed to come to a complete stop. “This young girl lost her life because somebody couldn’t follow the rules,” Chitwood said. ShaoLan Kamaly was entering a crosswalk when she was struck. No charges have yet been filed. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG.

Escambia: The number of bullying reports in district schools in the 2022-2023  academic year more than doubled over the previous year, from 54 to 112, according to the Florida Department of Education. Kerry Coots, the district’s director of alternative education, says the numbers may be misleading. “We would define bullying as a repeated incident that happens over a period of time,” Coots said. “A one-time name calling as you’re walking down the hallway, or an accidental push or shove walking down the hallway can be blown out of proportion at times, but we certainly want to address that.” WEAR.

Okaloosa: Three administrators have been appointed to new positions with the school district. Robert McElroy Jr. has been named director of maintenance, Ryan Gore is the new director of transportation, and Judy Peacock has been appointed director of exceptional student education. Okaloosa County School District. A children’s book written 40 years ago by a 2nd-grade teacher at Bluewater Elementary School in Niceville has finally been published. Stephanie Lafitte’s story sat in the attic of her parent’s home until her father died in 2022. Lafitte then shopped it to publishers, and a Pittsburgh company agreed to publish My Prize Puppy. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: Each district school has released its list of top graduates. Gainesville Sun.

Putnam: A graduation ceremony for Putnam Virtual School students was held Thursday. High school graduations began May 23, and conclude Saturday. All were or will be livestreamed. Palatka Daily News. Putnam County School District.

Monroe: A graduation ceremony was recently held for Key West High School. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Sarasota city officials have acknowledged that they do not have the authority to restrict construction activities on a piece of property owned by New College of Florida. School officials have been removing trees and plants on the property to make room for athletic fields. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Partial remains of a late University of West Florida physics professor has been shot into space as part of the Enterprise Flight that lifted off from Cape Canaveral in January. The remains of Jim Marsh, who retired in 2008 and died in 2022, are in one of 234 flight capsules aboard that will orbit the sun endlessly once the Enterprise Flight ends in two years. Pensacola News Journal. One of the famous Robert Indiana sculptures “LOVE” will soon be located on the campus of the University of Tampa. Tampa Bay Times. Florida students owe $105.4 billion in student loan debt, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That’s the third-most in the country, behind California and Texas. USA Today Florida Network.

Sports changes on deck: High school sports in the state could change in several  ways after Tuesday’s meeting of the Florida High School Athletic Association. The group’s board of directors is expected to vote on proposals to allow student-athletes to be compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses, add an optional shot clock for basketball playoffs, and create an open division for all team sports. Florida is one of 20 states that does not now allow NIL deals for players, but has been working on a proposal for months and the board is expected to pass the measure. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: After failing to have a real, honest dialogue with parents and other stakeholders, the Broward County School Board is back to Square 1 on school closures. Sun Sentinel. New College of Florida students do not deserve to be treated once again as pawns by politicians seeking to score political points. They did indeed complete their programs of study, and they did indeed graduate. As New College’s latest alums, they should be supported and guided – not torn down. Six professors from New College of Florida.

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BY NextSteps staff

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