Florida GOP’s use of education as an issue, school shooting mistrial possible, tax hike vote, and more

The education issue: Florida Republicans have taken a cue from the 2021 Virginia governor’s race and begun to use education, and particularly parents’ rights in education, as a focus in their election campaigns. The decision is putting the state in the national spotlight. “All that Virginia showed, or one of the things that it showed is, yes, parents of all parties care about what’s being taught in the schools,” said David Custin, a Florida consultant and pollster. “It’s already a national focal point. … It is a post-COVID phenomenon. And they (Republicans) are responding.” Miami Herald.

Around the state: A mistrial could be declared today in the sentencing phase of the case against Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, Pasco school officials are preparing a property tax hike to improve employee salaries, books by Toni Morrison and Jodi Picoult will be kept in Polk high schools despite attempts to ban them, the Biden administration said it plans to extend the moratorium on federal student loan payments through Aug. 31, Duval school officials are apologizing for telling a transgender boy that he had to play on the girls soccer team, two Florida teachers are among just 60 in the country to win Milken awards, and a Volusia County teacher was arrested for playing loud music during Florida Standards Assessments testing and then causing a disturbance when he was taken from the classroom. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Four adults were arrested Tuesday when they trespassed onto the campus of Miami Central Senior High School, allegedly to fight a student or students. It’s unclear how the adults got onto the campus, and no weapons were involved, said district spokesperson Elmo Lugo. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR.

Broward: Defense lawyers for the Parkland school shooter have until this morning to decide if they want to ask for a mistrial, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said Tuesday during the second day of jury selection. The trial was halted when defense lawyers objected to Scherer’s dismissal of 11 potential jurors who said they couldn’t follow the law in deciding whether to give Nikolas Cruz the death penalty. Legal experts said even if a mistrial is granted, it probably wouldn’t significantly affect the trial. Attorneys from both sides could start from the beginning this morning, and just two days of jury pre-selection would be lost. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WTVJ. WPTV. A summary of Day 2 of the sentencing trial. Sun Sentinel.

Orange: Video of a Winter Park High School student’s presentation of the history of the 1969 Stonewall Riots has gone viral, with more than 23,000 likes. Will Larkins wore a red dress and pearls during his talk about the riots after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, and said, “LGBTQ American history is not taught in Florida public schools, so I took it upon myself to explain the events of the Stonewall Uprising.” He said he received no backlash from other students or teachers at the school. WESH.

Duval: School district officials are apologizing after a transgender boy who tried out for the Atlantic Coast High boys soccer team was told he would have to try out for the girls team instead. State law prohibits transgender girls from playing on girls  sports teams, but allows transgender boys to play on boys teams. Just before the final round of cuts for the boys team, Zach was sent to the girls JV team, where he played for a couple of weeks before quitting. “I had only positive experiences during my time on the girls team,” Zach said. “But I ended up leaving for personal reasons — I overextended myself — and the feeling that I had invaded a women’s space.” Florida Times-Union. About 43,000 Lenovo laptops and 10,000 hotspots are being made available for district students to borrow, officials have announced. Families will need to apply for the loaners. A federal grant is paying for the program. WJXT.

Polk: Two district book review committees overwhelmingly voted to keep Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes in public high school media centers. Both novels were challenged by Concerned Citizens Defending Freedom, which said the books were “harmful to children” or met the state’s definition of pornography. Sixteen books were flagged by the group.  Lakeland Ledger. About 40 students at Lake Wales High School lost college credits they earned taking dual-enrollment courses from Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga., because the program hadn’t gotten prior approval from the school board, as required by the charter school’s and school district’s rules. Epoch Times.

Pasco: School board members gave Superintendent Kurt Browning the go-ahead to start preparing a special property tax increase referendum for the November ballot that, if approved, would raise pay for teachers and other school workers. The board will decide on the rate at a meeting in two weeks. Board member Colleen Beaudoin is pushing for a rate of $1 per $1,000 in taxable property value. That would generate about $37 million, which could allow teacher salaries to go up by about $4,000 and non-instructional workers’ pay by about $1,700. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: An art teacher at Creekside Middle School in Port Orange was arrested Tuesday on charges of disrupting a school function and disorderly conduct, according to police. Martin Reese was allegedly playing loud music on campus during Florida Standards Assessments testing, apparently to disrupt testing, and refused to turn it off. As he was being escorted to the office, police said, he caused a disturbance and the school was placed on lockdown. “I do think that if this individual was wanting to protest the FSA there are definitely some better ways to go about it,” said teachers union president president Elizabeth Albert. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV.

St. Johns: District officials are proposing to move 140 students from Ocean Palms Elementary and Alice B. Landrum Middle schools to Liberty Pines Academy. Ocean Palms and Landrum are getting overcrowded due to the growth in the Ponte Vedra Beach area. It’s one of three school rezoning proposals now before the school board. Three public meetings will be held before the proposals are voted on by the school board. WJXT.

Sarasota, Hernando: Two Florida teachers are among just 60 U.S. educators receiving Milken Educator Awards on Tuesday from the Milken Family Foundation. Ashley Hernandez, a math teacher at Riverview High School in Sarasota County, and April Crisci, a kindergarten teacher at Westside Elementary School in Hernando County, were each awarded $25,000. Forty-four state teachers have won Milken awards since 1998. WTVT. WWSB. Bay News 9. Florida Department of Education. Construction recently began on the addition of a 14,000-square-foot building that will add 12 classrooms for 130 5th-grade students at Winding Waters K-8 School in Brooksville. The building is expected to open in the fall. Hernando Sun.

St. Lucie: A project to remodel the old St. Anastasia Catholic School in Fort Pierce into the Lindsay School of the Arts performing arts has been halted after the city terminated the performing arts school’s lease on the historic building for failing to meet renovation deadlines. Lindsay owner Cindy Bridges signed a 20-year lease with the city in October 2019, but she said the pandemic changed the costs and timeline. TCPalm.

Alachua: School board members agreed Tuesday to use a $324,850 grant to hire a career counselor and buy two minivans to expand enrollment in Santa Fe College’s career dual-enrollment program. Five of the county’s seven public high schools have six-period days, leaving little time for students to take advantage of the program. And the other two schools are on the other side of the county. Mainstreet Daily News. Four district students are among 11 around the state who have qualified for the U.S. Math Olympiad Competition. WCJB.

Indian River: The Vero Beach City Council has contributed $1 million toward the $7 million needed to build a community park, sports fields and business center at the former Jimmy Graves Sports Complex across from Vero Beach High School. Former city council member Joe Graves bought the property from Indian River County in 2017 and donated it to the school district in 2021 under the condition that the sports stadium built on the site would be named for his son, who died in a 2016 boating accident at the age of 15. Construction could begin in October. The school district will maintain the property and pay associated costs. TCPalm.

Walton: Construction has begun on a 5-foot wide concrete sidewalk that will connect Walton High School, Maude Saunders Elementary School, the WISE Center and the Walton County Vocational School. All are within a mile of each other. “The sidewalk is important,” said district director of facilities Jill Smith. “We have kids walking to the school from the neighborhoods that surround here and this will provide a safe route to each of our schools.” WMBB.

Colleges and universities: The U.S. district judge who denied a request to block “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” from being distributed on college and university campuses said Tuesday that the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law that includes the surveys can proceed. It was filed by the United Faculty of Florida union and other plaintiffs. News Service of Florida. Florida International University has hired a Texas search firm and selected 15 people for a committee to begin the national search for a new president. A pool of candidates could be identified by June. Mark Rosenberg resigned as president Jan. 21, and Ken Jewell has been acting as interim president. Miami Herald.

Top STEM students honored: A hundred Florida high school juniors were honored by the state Tuesday as Sunshine State Scholars for their achievements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subject. Fifteen were awarded one-year scholarships to a state college or university. Florida Department of Education.

Around the nation: The Biden administration said Tuesday it would extend the moratorium on federal student loan payments through Aug. 31. They had been rescheduled to resume May 1. Associated Press. A bipartisan push is being made in the U.S. Senate to provide funding to extend availability of universal school meals through Sept. 30, 2023. Unless Congress accts, the meals waiver program will end June 30. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: We all seek joy in our work, whenever and wherever we can find it. Classical educators seem to find joy often and everywhere as they teach truth, goodness, and the appreciation of beauty. They are the happiest people on Earth. Patrick J. Wolfe, reimaginED. It was already easy to consign state Rep. Anthony Sabatini to the political clown car before he proposed requiring all Florida’s high school kids to take shooting classes. Now, he’s just signaling that his political compass is leading him toward being an even bigger clown. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Why did the Legislature prioritize addressing made-up problems rather than finding solutions for the two severe crises that school districts actually face right now: a looming teacher shortage — one that could result in as many as 9,000 openings — and rising mental health issues among both students and staff members? Sarasota County School Board member Thomas Edwards, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.