Another suit against ‘Stop WOKE Act,’ charters get tax funds, navigator program extended and more

Around the state: Two businesses and a workplace consultant who conducts corporate training have filed another lawsuit against the new state law that prohibits instruction about critical race theory in schools or its use in workplace training, Bay County charter schools will begin receiving annual payments from an extra half-cent sales tax approved by voters for school projects, Escambia County’s navigator program that helps students and families find essential services has been extended, a jury is expected to be named Tuesday in the sentencing trial for the Parkland school shooter, a consultant helping Hillsborough schools with rezoning is getting an extra $88,000 to speed up its original timetable to issue a report, Gadsden County is planning to build a $60 million K-8 school that will absorb students from three schools that have infrastructure problems, and a Leon County circuit judge has tossed out a Florida State University student’s suit against the school contending that it should refund some portion of the tuition and fees collected during the pandemic because students were learning remotely. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Jury selection in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is entering its final phase, Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said in court Wednesday. She began screening the final 83 prospective jurors Wednesday and will finish today. When court resumes Tuesday, 12 jurors and eight alternates will have been chosen. Scherer will then begin ruling on motions from both the defense attorneys and prosecutors, and she said opening statements will begin July 6. With nearly 2,000 witnesses scheduled to testify, the trial is expected to last through October. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. WPTV. WTVJ. Summarizing Day 21 of jury selection in the sentencing trial of Cruz, who has admitted killing 17 students and employees and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Sun-Sentinel. Twenty-two candidates are in the running for six school board seats on the Aug. 23 primary ballot, and at least three of those seats will be won by newcomers. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Consultants hired by the district to help with rezoning school boundaries will receive an extra $88,000 over its $478,881 contract to speed up the timetable for completion of their study from a year to eight months, school board members decided this week. The report is now due in January. The New York firm WXY Urban Design was hired by administrators who believe that school boundaries are out of date because of changes in neighborhoods and with more families using school choice to attend schools other than the ones in their attendance zones. The board also approved a four-year contract extension for Superintendent Addison Davis that runs through June 2027. Starting in 2023, Davis will be eligible for annual 4 percent raises in years when the board approves raises for other 12-month employees. Davis is paid $310,000 a year. Tampa Bay Times.

Pinellas: The school district is handing out free wi-fi hotspots that can connect up to 15 devices to students starting July 18. Unlimited high-speed data is also being provided at no cost. St. Pete Catalyst.

Sarasota: School board members voted this week to comply with state law and set a minimum wage for all district employees at $15 an hour. Employees appointed by the district will fall under the new guideline July 1. For others, it begins in October to allow the district to negotiate with the teachers union. Most district employees already make more than the minimum. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: School board members agreed this week to continue the program that puts 32 “navigators” from the Children’s Home Society into 34 schools to help students and their parents tap needed resources such as government assistance, food and clothing. About 19 percent of the district’s students were helped by the program during the 2021-2022 school year, according to district officials. Each of the 32 navigators is being paid $5,359 per month, with the costs being paid with federal coronavirus relief aid. Superintendent Tim Smith said the program has been so successful, he believes it will continue even after federal funding runs out. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: District charter schools will soon be receiving money annually from the extra half-cent sales tax approved by county voters in the 1990s. Until now, charters had to apply to the school board for funding for specific projects. “We petitioned the school board to give us an annual cut of that sales tax revenue and they agreed to do so,” said Palm Bay Education executive director Ron Danzey. The county’s charter schools will receive about $3.5 million a year from tax revenues, which will mostly be used for new construction, technology and school safety. WMBB.

Hernando: School board members have decided to proceed with a lawsuit against county commissioners that asks a court to compel commissioners to place the renewal of an extra half-cent sales tax referendum for schools on the November ballot. The current tax doesn’t expire until 2025, and commissioners voted to put it before voters in November 2024. After the suit was filed earlier this month, the county asked for a delay of 60 to 90 days so the issue could be mediated. School board members voted unanimously against the request. Suncoast News.

Gadsden: The school district is planning to build a $60 million K-8 school that would absorb students from Stewart Street Elementary, George W. Munroe Elementary and James A. Shanks Middle School. It would be built on the grounds of Shanks Middle School, which would be torn down. Superintendent Elijah Key said the new school would solve ongoing infrastructure problems in the other three schools. The district is counting on money from the state for the project, and is asking voters in November to approve adding a half-cent to the sales tax to build new schools and repair aging ones. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: A Florida State University student’s suit against the school contending that it should refund some portion of the tuition and fees collected during the pandemic, when students were learning remotely, has been tossed out of court. Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith rejected the student’s contention that FSU had breached a contract by closing the campus. Smith wrote that at most, the “plaintiff and FSU had an implied contractual relationship, but more is required to defeat sovereign immunity.” Sovereign immunity generally shields state agencies from lawsuits, except in breach-of-contract claims. News Service of Florida.

Another Stop WOKE Act suit: Even as a federal judge is considering a challenge to the law that prohibits the instruction of critical race theory in schools and its use in workplace training, two businesses and a consultant who conduct training have filed suit against it, contending it is “an immediate infringement of plaintiffs’ free speech rights.” The businesses said in the suit that it’s important to address diversity and structural racism in workplaces. News Service of Florida.

Education podcasts: Shawn Peterson, president of Catholic Education Partners, a nonprofit organization based in  Minnesota, talks with Step Up For Students senior writer Lisa Buie about growing up in various learning environments, how his time in government inspired him to join the education choice movement, the benefits of a Catholic education for Catholics as well as non-Catholics, and trends in Catholic education. reimaginED.

Around the nation: The police chief for the Uvalde, Texas, school district has been placed on leave by the school superintendent. Hal Harrell said he acted against Pete Arredondo because the facts of the chief’s actions during a mass shooting May 24 at an elementary school remain unclear. Testimony during a state Senate hearing accused Arredondo of making a series of “terrible decisions” that contributed to the deaths of 19 students and two teachers. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: There aren’t enough mom-and-pop voices involved in the federal government’s advisory council intended to elevate the role of parents and families in the nation’s educational and life challenges. Gwen Samuel, reimaginED.