Student absenteeism soars, top court backs state in school case, mental health concerns and more

Around the state: Student absenteeism is up sharply this year in several central Florida school districts and another district blames absenteeism for lower FSA reading scores, the U.S. Supreme Court said Florida may recover some money paid to a Lee County student who suffered a catastrophic injury when she was hit by a truck as she stepped off her school bus in 2008, two districts report increased numbers of students needing mental health help this past school year, a Broward judge refuses to allow defense lawyers withdraw from the Parkland school shooter’s sentencing trial, health insurance premiums are the latest snag in contract talks between Brevard teachers and the district, a lawsuit against the University of Florida over student fees collected during the pandemic will go before an appeals court July 20, and the Duval school district has honored a teacher who has spent 56 years in classrooms. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The public defenders representing Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz asked Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to allow them to withdraw from the case after she decided to move forward with jury selection despite one of the defense lawyers still being absent from court because she is following COVID-19 quarantine recommendations. Scherer denied the request, then denied another defense team request that she remove herself because she’s biased against Cruz. Jury selection is scheduled to continue today. Sun Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. WTVJ. WPTV. Summarizing Day 17 of jury selection in the Parkland school shooter’s sentencing trial. Sun Sentinel. Cypress Bay High School in Weston will receive hundreds of “Stop The Bleed” kits this summer from the nonprofit organization Make Our Schools Safe. Broward school board member Lori Alhadeff started the nonprofit in honor of her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. WPLG. WFOR.

Orange, central Florida: Student absenteeism was up sharply in central Florida school districts this year, and educators worry that will lead to further learning loss already accelerated by the pandemic. In Orange County by February, about 66,800 students, or nearly 34 percent of the district’s enrollment, had missed 18 days or more. In 2018-2019, it was 20 percent. In Lake County, 31 percent of students had missed 18 days or more. In Seminole it was 35 percent. “When they’re missing school, they’re missing instruction,” said Robin Dehlinger, assistant superintendent for elementary education in the Seminole district. “There are a lot of things in place to help, but you have to come.” Orlando Sentinel.

Duval: Sue Hightower was recently honored by the school district for her 56 years as an educator. Hightower has been teaching at Pinewood Elementary School for 40 years, and has been a substitute teacher, teacher and varying exceptionalities specialist since 1966. “I really don’t know what I’d do if I stopped,” she said. “I’m just rolling with it and I don’t know what I’d do if or when I’ll stop rolling.” Florida Times-Union. Duval County is among the largest U.S. school districts that will offer a standalone virtual school in the fall. It expects 2,000 students, compared with a few hundred it had before the pandemic. No live classes will be offered. Chalkbeat.

Lee: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Florida can recover money it paid in a settlement to a 13-year-old district student who suffered catastrophic injuries when she was hit by a truck as she got off her school bus in 2008. The parents of Gianinna Gallardo sued the school board and won a settlement of $800,000 in 2015. Medicaid has paid $862,000 for her initial care and continues to pay her medical expenses. Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which runs the state’s Medicaid program, put a $300,000 lien on Gallardo’s settlement, a move it does routinely under state law to pay for Medicaid expenses. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Education Week. Reuters. A 14-year-old Estero High School students was involuntarily committed under the Baker Act after authorities said they discovered his written plan threatening the school. Deputies said the boy’s “manifesto” included a table of contents listing types of weapons and even body disposal. WINK.

Brevard: Health insurance is the latest point of contention in the ongoing contract discussions between the district and its teachers union. While no figures were publicly announced, union president Anthony Colucci said increases in health insurance premiums would basically wipe out the raises the district has offered. He said because of that, the unspecified pay raise offer from the district is “unacceptable.” Negotiations resume July 11. Florida Today.

Volusia: There’s been an increase in behavioral and emotional disorders for students since the spring of 2020, according to Dr. Michael Westerveld, who practices neuropsychology and psychology at AdventHealth Central Florida. Before the pandemic, about 1 in 6 U.S. students had a behavioral or mental heath diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2022, about half of families said they have concerns about the mental well-being of their children. But Westerveld said at least students now feel more comfortable talking about their problems. “It’s the good, the bad and the ugly. The good is that we’re more open talking about these things,” he said. “Now, the bad is that these kids are having more of these problems. The ugly is the unknown. We don’t know what the long-term effects of this (social isolation due to the pandemic) are going to be. And so that sort of itself creates some anxiety in families.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota: At today’s meeting, school board members are scheduled to discuss an application from Charter Schools USA to open a new K-8 charter school in Wellen Park. If approved, the school would open in the fall of 2023 with about 615 students, and with plans to increase to 765 by its fifth year. In April, Superintendent Brennan Asplen told the board that the district is planning its own K-8 school about a mile away from the proposed charter school. Charlotte Sun.

Escambia: Mental health professionals working with district students said the effects of the pandemic have cause more problems for students than they initially thought. Officials at the Lakeview Center, which provides services to elementary students, said they’ve seen an increase of 30 to 40 percent in the number of students coping with issues such as substance abuse, mental illness and behavior issues. The number of referrals to the Children’s Home Society of Florida, which provides services to middle-schoolers, has jumped from 779 to 1,007. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: For the fifth year in a row, the school district’s 3rd-graders scored below the state average on the Florida Standards Assessments reading exam. Of the 2,248 who took the test, just half scored at or above the passing mark of Level 3. The state average was 53 percent. Last year, 52 percent of Alachua 3rd-graders passed. District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said the biggest factor was learning loss during the pandemic. “One of the things that we have found, which is not a huge surprise, is a very strong correlation between attendance and test scores. The more days the child is in school, the higher their test scores,” she said. Gainesville Sun.

Citrus: School board member Thomas Kennedy and other officials around the state are working with NASA to develop a STEM curriculum that would be available to schools for free. Specific course planning for the Mission One initiative will be discussed at a meeting June 16. Components of the program include a virtual platform with recorded episodes, trips for students to Kennedy Space Center, and Innovation Games held at the end of each school year for southeast U.S. schools with competition in such events as drone racing around KSC. Citrus County Chronicle.

Walton: The son of a community activist is suing the school board, claiming that educators at South Walton High School treated him with open hostility because of one board member’s feud with his father, Alex Osborne. Brandt Osborne claims the district didn’t protect him from the animosity of board member Jason Catalano, South Walton principal Alexis Tibbetts and others, causing him emotional pain, anguish, humiliation, insult, indignity, loss of self-esteem, and inconvenience and hurt. He’s asking for compensatory damages in excess of $30,000. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Colleges and universities: The 1st District Court of Appeal said Monday that it will hear arguments July 20 in a lawsuit against the University of Florida over fees a student paid for time he wasn’t on campus because of the pandemic. The case could be certified as a class-action suit and affect tens of thousands of students. News Service of Florida. Indian River State College in Fort Pierce is offering future teachers lessons in classroom safety. There are about 300 students in the school’s education program. WPTV.

Around the nation: Axon, the company that developed the Taser, has ended plans to develop a Taser-armed drone that could enter classrooms and disable active shooters. The decision was made after a majority of the company’s ethics board resigned over the controversial proposal. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Hawaii has much to teach the mainland about funding equity in education. Since adopting weighted student funding during the 2006-2007 school year, Hawaii doubled or tripled the national average for progress on the four main NAEP examinations. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. How can more details, more facts and more context about our nation’s past do anything but help students form their own opinions about what poor decisions to avoid in the future — as voters, as leaders, as parents, as citizens? Ellen Gillette, TCPalm.

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BY NextSteps staff