Parkland school shooter’s trial begins, diversity surveys can be distributed at colleges, and more

Around the state: Jury selection begins today in the sentencing trial for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, a federal judge has declined to block the state from distributing surveys to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on college and university campuses, a St. Johns County high school teacher whose shirt contained the message “Protect Trans Kids” was ordered by the principal to change, two books with transgender characters have been removed from Palm Beach County classrooms and school libraries, many Pasco County school employees will have more money withheld from their paychecks because of an error made by district employees, and a Florida state representative is calling for a marksmanship course to be required in all high schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Jury selection begins today in the sentencing trial for admitted Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. It’s expected to take up to two months to seat a jury of 12, with eight alternates, from a pool of about 1,500, and another four months to complete testimony. Cruz, now 23, who pleaded guilty in October to killing 17 students and employees of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, and wounding 17 others, will either be sentenced to death or life in prison. A unanimous vote is needed to impose the death penalty. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press.

Palm Beach: Two children’s books that have transgender characters describing their differences have been taken out of school classrooms and libraries. I Am Jazz and Call Me Max were ordered removed by Superintendent Michael Burke so they can be reviewed to see if they’re in compliance with the state’s new Parental Rights in Education bill that takes effect July 1. “The district does intend to fully comply with the law,” Burke said. “I don’t feel like compliance with the law and welcoming students are mutually exclusive. We can do both.” I Am Jazz, which tells the story of former Broward County student Jazz Jennings, is one of the 10 most challenged books in America, according to the American Library Association. Palm Beach Post. County traffic engineers said their study shows that no traffic light is needed at the intersection where two Royal Palm Beach High School students were hit and killed by a vehicle March 22 and two others were injured. No change in the 40 mph speed limit is unnecessary, the engineers also said. WPEC. WPTV.

Duval: For many U.S. school districts, the pandemic forced a reimagining of field trips. In Duval and other districts, that’s meant finding ways to have the experience without the risks associated with COVID-19, such as having speakers visit schools to make presentations and streaming them live to students in other schools. “We knew that we needed to pivot in response to the pandemic to make sure our students still had access to real-world, enriching experiences even if it may be through a computer screen,” said Paula Renfro, the district’s chief academic officer. “There is no substitute for live, in-person experiences, but these virtual opportunities are viable options for both our children and our partners when logistical realities make traditional field enrichment experiences challenging.” Florida Times-Union. The seven Andrew Jackson High School students who were hospitalized last week after suffering “medical emergencies” during an awards ceremony at Naval Air Station Jacksonville are home and will be okay, principal Truitte Moreland said in a message to parents. He said the cause of the incident is still unknown. WTLV.

Pinellas: A 5th-grade teacher at Melrose Elementary School in St. Petersburg who has been offering after-school dance instruction to students since 2019 said she wanted them to have the experience without straining their family’s finances. Natalie El Amrani applies for grants and dips into her own pocket to cover the expenses for costumes and competitions for the group, which she calls Cultural Expressions. Many of the dancers have Caribbean backgrounds, and El Amrani said, “In my dance group, we explore different black cultures.” Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: School officials said the district made a mistake in calculating federal tax withholding for about 8,000 employees, and will take $30 to $70 more from each paychecks to reimburse the IRS. “For some people, it has much more of an impact than others. … I know that that is a burden. So we’re sorry that the mistake was made,” said district spokesman Steve Hegarty, who added that he didn’t know how it happened. WFTS. A culinary teacher at Marchman Technical College in New Port Richey has been arrested and accused of inappropriate behavior with students. Authorities said Raymond Webb, 41, faces a felony charge of lewd conduct by an authority figure as well as a misdemeanor battery charge following allegations from two students. One said Webb slapped her on the backside, and another said he placed her in a chokehold. Webb was placed on administrative leave. WTVT.

Osceola: An attorney for the runner who was punched and knocked down by another athlete during a race at the Tohopekaliga Tiger Invitational in Kissimmee last month said a deputy’s statement that he did not want to press charges is false. “The family of the victim did want to press charges for this vicious attack and assault caught on video and witnessed by hundreds of people,” said attorney Nathan Carter. “The OCSD deputy told the family that if (my client) pressed charges then he would also be arrested for battery. Only because of this threat did the family choose not to press charges.” Carter said the runner is considering filing a lawsuit. TMZ. Daily Mail.

Volusia: Superintendent Scott Fritz, who announced last week that he would not seek an extension to his contract that expires in December, has written a letter to parents outlining the district’s accomplishments during his two-plus years in the job. Among them were higher accreditation scores and graduation rates, improved mental health services during the pandemic and increased college or career readiness for students. “In three decades of public education, serving as your superintendent has been my greatest professional pleasure,” Fritz wrote in the letter. In an interview, he said he didn’t want to talk about his decision to leave because, he said, “I’m trying to leave on a high note.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Chad Choate, who was appointed to the District 4 seat on the school board by Gov. Ron DeSantis eight months ago, has filed papers to run for a full term. Choate replaced Scott Hopes, who resigned to take a job as county administrator. Garin C. Hoover is also a candidate. Florida Politics.

St. Johns: A teacher at Tocoi Creek High School was asked to remove a T-shirt last week that carried the words “Protect Trans Kids” after a parent complained to the principal. District spokeswoman Christina Upchurch said the teacher wore the shirt to class Tuesday. A parent sent a photo to principal Jay Willets, who “immediately” asked the teacher to change it. According to district policy, employees can’t wear apparel “that display a written message of any kind, except for names, logos and slogans related to a district school, the district, or school or district-related organizations, events or activities.” No disciplinary action was taken against the teacher. St. Augustine Record. WTLV. One of newest members of the Florida Board of Education was quick to praise the “mama bear” mother who alerted the principal. “Unacceptable teacher attire + Parent Complaint to School = Shirt is Gone,” Esther Byrd wrote on Twitter. Florida Politics. A home-schooled 8th-grader who lives in St. Johns County won the First Coast Spelling Bee in Jacksonville last weekend to qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. Sam Evans moved from south Florida five months ago but missed the county spelling bee. Union County then invited him to enter its competition, which he won to qualify for the regional championship. WJXT.

Nassau: School board members are going forward with a bid to buy a 10-acre property beside Yulee Elementary School even as they acknowledge that it isn’t enough to address the expected enrollment growth. Board attorney Brett Steger said 2,200 more students are expected from proposed developments in the Yulee area. Florida Politics.

Colleges and universities: A federal judge has declined to block the state from distributing surveys to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on college and university campuses. The surveys are going out today. Opponents contended that the survey was a violation of the First Amendment, but Judge Mark Walker said there was virtually no precedent of a court halting distribution of an anonymous and voluntary survey. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Some University of Florida students recently protested the school’s removal of a plaque labeling a library study room as the Karl Marx room. UF officials said the March 10 decision was triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Students believe UF removed the plaque after criticism from conservatives. Tampa Bay Times. With revenues up and enrollment stabilizing, Bethune-Cookman University officials say they are now working on what the college offers and how it will be delivered. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Fitting in financial literacy: School districts are awaiting guidance from the Florida Department of Education on how they can fit a new semester course in personal financial literacy and money management into their schedules. A new state law makes the half-credit course a requirement for graduation, starting for incoming freshmen in the fall of 2023. “The concern among superintendents is not with the financial literacy requirement, it’s with a continuing drop in the number of electives,” says Bill Montford, the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “When it gets to the school level, principals have to say, well, what will we not be teaching?” WFSU. Gainesville Sun.

Marksmanship course proposed: Marksmanship would be a required high school course in Florida under a proposal by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills. Sabatini is also running for U.S. House District 7 seat being vacated by Democrat Stephanie Murphy. WTLV.

Scholarships for cops’ kids: Gov. DeSantis signed a bill Friday that among other things, makes children of police officers eligible for state scholarships to attend private schools and offers other financial incentives to recruit police officers. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: A 12-year-old student shot by a classmate last week in a Greenville, S.C., middle school is the youngest student to be killed in a school since 2018, according to records kept by the online publication Education Week. It reported that there have been 21 school shootings in the first three months of 2022. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: It is far past time that school leaders stop trying to block children from accessing the best education possible and instead support families seeking the best school for their children. David Struhs, Tallahassee Democrat. A possible upside of the law making it easier to ban books from school libraries is that banning books usually backfires, leading more people to read the censored books. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun. The crush of being a teacher in Florida is real. Kara Macsuga, Palm Beach Post. What does the Seminole County School District do when it is the top-ranked school district in the state in preparing students for college STEM majors? Apparently, the answer is that it works harder at it. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.