Records expungement bill signed, textbook influencer, pay deal, PAC money and more

Around the state: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill allowing juveniles with record of nonviolent offenses to expunge their records, the conservative Collier County activist group Florida Citizens Alliance played a major role in the state’s decision to reject 54 math textbooks, Leon County teachers and school officials finally reach a tentative contract agreement that calls for bonuses and small raises, Republican election strategists are directing political action committee money into Alachua County School Board races, University of Florida researchers say they have discovered that plants can grow using soil brought back to Earth from the moon, and nine Florida high school seniors are among 161 across the country to be chosen for the 58th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A school resource officer who was charged with child abuse three years ago for grabbing a 15-year-old female student and throwing her to the floor at the Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach has been found not guilty. Willard Miller, who was fired by Sheriff Gregory Tony after the incident, said he had no malicious intent and simply used the takedown technique he was trained for after the girl kicked his leg from behind. The girl and her family have filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: Construction has begun on a new middle school in west Boynton Beach. The school will have four buildings, including a three-story building for classrooms and a media center, a one-story art and gymnasium building, and a building for food service and the music program. The projected cost is $56 million and it’s expected to open in the fall of 2023. It will likely pull students from the overcrowded Woodlands and Christa McAuliffe middle schools. WPTV. A non-teaching member of the staff at the Jupiter Christian School has been placed on leave pending an investigation into allegations of “inappropriate” conduct. The nature of the conduct was not disclosed. WPTV.

Duval: Security was heavy Thursday on the campus of Andrew Jackson High School, where a student was wounded in a drive-by shooting Wednesday at 3 p.m. just outside the technology magnet school. The 17-year-old victim is in serious but stable condition. Principal Truitte Moreland said all state and AP testing was postponed, and counselors are available for students. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. The mother of a student at Mandarin Middle School said a teacher repeatedly called her son the N-word and told him that black people are inferior to white people. Aylise Beechem said she plans to sue the school district for racial discrimination. District officials said they can’t comment on pending litigation. WTLV. WJXT.

Polk: Donzell Floyd, a 1966 graduate of the all-black Jewett Junior-Senior High School who became the first president of the former school’s alumni association in the 1980s and for decades led the the organization’s efforts to raise money for student scholarships, died Wednesday at the age of 73. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A $2 million gift from St. Petersburg neurosurgeon Jeffrey Walker will keep the Walker’s Rising Stars student arts competition alive “in perpetuity,” the Pinellas Education Foundation announced Thursday. The program helps Pinellas high school juniors and seniors with their visual and performing art experiences, and awards college scholarships to performers. Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: High school seniors are rushing to sign up for the program Osceola Prosper, which will pay for all 2022 high school graduates in the county to go to Valencia College or the county technical school. The program, which will be financed with $12 million in federal coronavirus relief funds, was approved by the county commission in March. Before that announcement, 689 students had signed up for classes. Since then, another 744 have at least started on applications. The program is limited to 2022 graduates. Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: How two middle school students, a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, ended up in a shootout with sheriff’s deputies last June is a story of a child’s mental health issues and a state’s inability to effectively help her. A lack of funding for treatment often has led to “costly and cruel” alternatives such as invoking the Baker Act to involuntarily commit young people. “Florida is doing this at a rate that is unheard-of in any other place,” said Yasamin Sharifi, who co-wrote a report on the problem last year for the Southern Poverty Law Center. New York Times.

Sarasota: The May 3 school board meeting that was abruptly halted when vice chair Tom Edwards decided that audience disruptions had gotten out of control will reconvene today. The board still has routine business items to approve on its consent agenda. Board chair Jane Goodwin said a public comment period will be held during the meeting, but that speakers who become disruptive will be warned, then removed if they don’t tone it down. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Pine View School principal Stephen Covert said he will review a draft of senior class president Zander Moricz’s graduation speech May 16. Covert has warned Moricz that if he tries to talk about his LGBTQ activism, his microphone will be cut off. Moricz is one of the people suing the state over the newly enacted Parental Rights in Education law. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: If Warrington Middle School in Pensacola does not improve its school grade this year to at least a C, it will close and be reopened as a charter school. Superintendent Tim Smith said the state approved the district’s plan this week. Warrington has received grades of D or F from the state for the past eight years. Last year the district hired an external operator in its final attempt to make improvements. WEAR.

Leon: Teachers and the school district have reached a tentative contract agreement after months of disagreement over pay raises. New teachers will get $378 more a year, while veteran teachers will get an average of just $31. All teachers will get bonuses ranging from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on experience. “We want to make sure money is in the pockets of our teachers as they go into the summer,” said union president Scott Mazur. “It was more than what was originally offered, recognizes the experience of our educators, and is just the beginning of working on what our teachers deserve.” The two sides will begin discussions June 1 on a contract for the 2022-2023 school year. WFSU.

Alachua: Republican strategists are directing political action committee money into local school board races, according to campaign filing reports, even though the races are nonpartisan. Much of the money has gone to Mildred Russell, who is running against former board member Diyonne McGraw for the District 2 seat. McGraw was removed from the board last summer by Gov. DeSantis because she didn’t live in the district she was elected to represent, and DeSantis then appointed Russell to replace her. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Students in the Rutherford High School construction academy are helping Chautauqua Charter School’s mentally challenged students transform an old school bus into a tiny home. Once completed, the bus will sleep six to eight people and will be used to house visitors to Chautauqua. The project will cost about $10,000, and is expected to be completed sometime in the fall. WMBB. WJHG.

Citrus: School board members have approved spending $1.9 million in federal coronavirus relief aid for 775 interactive display panels that will be installed in classrooms next fall. Up to nine iPads and laptops can connect to the panels and share the screen, and the panels can be mounted on top of existing whiteboards. In other action, the board agreed to continue using the LifeStream Mobile Response Team service, which steps in when students are in crisis. School officials credit the service for dropping the number of students committed under the Baker Act from 100 last year to 44 so far this year. Citrus County Chronicle.

Hendry: For the first time in Clewiston High School history, the top three students in the graduating class are African-Americans. Zanaya Tulloch is the valedictorian, Chris’shariea Hardy the salutatorian, and Chassity Stinson ranked third academically. “It is actually something that can’t be put into words, especially in this town, Clewiston you know you don’t see this at all. … To do it with my best friends, my family, and to achieve something so great, so high of an honor is just extraordinary,” said Tulloch. Graduation is today. The three friends will then go off to Florida State University on scholarships. WINK.

Jackson: Cameras will be placed on every school bus in the county by next fall, school board members decided this week. Five cameras will be placed inside each bus, and the front and back of each bus also will get cameras. District officials are using a state grant for the upgrade. WJHG. School board members are giving consideration to a proposal to combine Sneads Elementary and Grand Ridge School into a single K-8 school. District officials said a new building could be built on newly purchased property, or at the site of the current Grand Ridge School. WJHG.

Gadsden: The principal of the Carter-Parramore Academy has been reassigned to the district office while school officials investigate an altercation he had with a male high school student on May 2. A video of the scuffle was posted on Facebook. It shows Willie Jackson pulling a student from a table onto the floor and holding him down with his knee. It’s not clear what happened before the video started, or why Jackson was trying to restrain the student. WTXL. WCTV.

Lafayette: Among the items in the state’s appropriations budget is $400,000 for an electronic access control key system for the school district. WFTX.

Jefferson: The school district, which is reverting to local control after being being run by a charter school company the past five years, is trying to recruit Leon County teachers by offering higher salaries. Principal Jackie Pons, former Leon superintendent, said the average salary in Jefferson is about $50,000, and starting teachers receive $47,500. Leon starts teachers at $44,500, and the average salary is $48,500. WFSU. WTXL.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida researchers say they have discovered that plants can grow using soil brought back to Earth from the moon. The finding suggests longer space trips can be sustained because astronauts could grow their own food. “This is a big step forward to know that you can grow plants,” said Simon Gilroy, a space plant biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The real next step is to go and do it on the surface of the moon.” Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota has won state approval to begin offering bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and exceptional student education, starting this fall. Charlotte Sun. Higher education leaders say the state’s new laws and the increasing cost of living in Florida are driving faculty and students away. Florida Politics. An osteopathic physician with the UF College of Medicine’s anesthesiology department has been put on leave after being accused in a criminal complaint of false imprisonment, robbery by sudden snatching and battery of an administrative assistant. Ahmad Abdul-Rahim, 31, pleaded not guilty. WUFT.

Record expungement: A bill that will allow more first-time juvenile offenders to have their records expunged was signed into law Thursday by Gov. DeSantis. Young people with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies in their past will be eligible when the law takes effect July 1. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Textbook influencers: Among the forces behind the recent state reviews of math textbooks was the Florida Citizens Alliance, which is based in Collier County and has considerable influence among Republican politicians in the state. Keith Flaugh, the group’s founder, said he’s happy the state rejected 54 textbooks that he and others considered full of content exposing children to “dangerous and divisive concepts” such as critical race theory, and noted that “others were pulling on the same oar.” Orlando Sentinel.

Presidential scholars: Nine Florida high school seniors are among 161 across the country to be chosen for the 58th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars. They are: Caroline Luanna Berthin, Design & Architecture Senior High School, Miami; Dylan Epstein-Gross, James S. Rickards High School, Tallahassee; Zoe Goldemberg, Design & Architecture Senior High School, Miami; Sandhya Kumar, Lawton Chiles High School, Tallahassee; Melinda Liu, Palm Harbor University High School, Palm Harbor; Edward Shen, Pine View School, Osprey; Alexander James Stone, West Boca Raton Community High School, Boca Raton; Miles Kai Wang, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, West Palm Beach; and Kailey Rose Worontsoff, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, West Palm Beach. WQCS. WWSB.

Opinions on schools: Wiping out student loan debt is inherently unfair. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff