Emotional day of school shooting testimony, school tax holiday, civic academies and more

Around the state: Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was described by a prosecutor on the first day of testimony as cold and calculated while he murdered 17 people in 2018, the back-to-school tax holiday on certain items begins July 25 and extends through Aug. 7, the state has awarded $6.5 million in grants to three colleges to start civic academies, Collier school officials are planning to build affordable housing for employees on unused property, Lake County voters are being asked to extend the special tax for school safety, and Okeechobee school officials are rekeying the locks in every district classroom so law enforcement can respond more quickly during an emergency. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: In his opening statement Monday, prosecutor Mike Satz described Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz as cold and calculated as he methodically shot and killed 17 students and employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, and wounded 17 others. “The murders, all 17, were heinous, atrocious and cruel,” Satz said. “All 17 were cold, calculated and premeditated.” Several survivors also testified, describing thunderous gunfire and pleas for help from victims. It was the first day of testimony in Cruz’s sentencing trial, which will determine whether he will be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison. The trial is expected to last four to six months. Defense attorneys asked for a 45-day delay in the trial because a key witness will be unavailable due to a medical condition. Judge Elizabeth Scherer did not rule Monday on the request. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. WLRN. Politico Florida. Summarizing what happened Monday in the sentencing trial of Cruz, 23. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Remembering the 17 students and staff killed in Cruz’s assault. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Twenty students are enrolled in the Acton affiliate Apollo Academy when it opens for business Aug. 10. The private school emphasizes autonomous education and independent problem-solving. “So many people are rooting for us in a really fun way,” said school founder Beth Ann Valavanis. “We’re so excited with the growth of Tampa and all the families moving here, and we are excited they’ll have an option that’s different from traditional school.” reimaginED.

Central Florida: Four central Florida school districts are still looking for teachers. Orange County said it has 426 open positions, though 84 are in the process of being filled. Brevard needs 194 teachers, Lake 103 and Seminole is short by 17 elementary teachers, 12 for middle schools and 12 for high schools. WFTV.

Polk: Two school board candidate forums scheduled Monday and Thursday at the James P. Austin Community Center in Lake Wales will now be held virtually instead. Both will be broadcast through Facebook Live at https://facebook.com/mclaughlinmid.. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: District 2 school board member Lisa Cane is being challenged from the right and the left in her bid for a second term. Even though Cane has supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education initiatives, opponent Bronson Oudshoff said she isn’t conservative enough. The third opponent in the race is Brad DeCorte, a teacher at Tarpon Springs Middle School who opposes DeSantis’ “anti-woke” laws, calling them a “distraction.” The primary election is Aug. 23. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers advance to the runoff Nov. 8. Tampa Bay Times. A Largo preschool teacher has been arrested and accused of child abuse. Deputies said Rebecca Bird, 62, who works at Aldersgate Christian Learning Center, was seen on video abusing a 2-year-old student. WFLA. WTSP.

Lee: The school district has been declared eligible to participate in the federal Community Eligibility Program, and will be able to offer free breakfasts and lunches to every district student during the 2022-2023 school year. WFTX. WBBH.

Volusia: The journey from a schoolgirl in Venezuela to the superintendent’s job in the Volusia County School District was made possible by Carmen Balgobin’s father’s “firm, firm belief that a good and strong education is your ticket in life to success,” she said. Balgobin is a former deputy superintendent who left her job as interim superintendent in March for a job in Broward County, but was then hired by the Volusia school board to replace Scott Fritz. She started July 1, and said her immediate goal is to have no schools that are graded D or F by the state. “Currently we have about 43 percent of our schools rated A or B. I would like to see that percentage much, much, much higher,” she said. “And I would want us to be an A district.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. Four challengers are trying to unseat District 1 school board incumbent Jamie Haynes: Al Bouie, a former district administrator and teacher; Georgann Carnicella, who has a social-services background; Ginny-Beth Joiner, now a businesswoman after working as a teacher and university administrator; and Jaclyn Carrell, a mother who opposed mask mandates and was once charged with trespassing for refusing to wear one at a school board meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: School officials are considering a plan to build affordable housing for school district teachers and staff on an unused 35-acre property beside Manatee Elementary School in Naples. The plan could allow for four housing units per acre. “This is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed because it impacts not only our ability to retain our teachers, but also to recruit,” said Brian Williams, the district’s associate general counsel. Gulfshore Business. WINK.

Lake: Voters will be asked in November to extend the school safety tax that was first approved in 2018. The tax raised $21.2 million in 2021 that schools used on mental health services for students, such as hiring nurses, psychologists, social workers and mental health liaisons, offsetting the costs of school resource officers and security personnel, and more. Daily Commercial.

Leon: Norman Norton, an assistant wrestling coach at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, died Sunday from injuries incurred in a motorcycle accident. He was 35. “He was always excited about what we were doing and he just had crazy energy all the time, and it’s contagious,” said Lincoln head coach Mike Crowder. “He’s so excited and over the top all the time. … It’s just unconscionable. It’s just hard, man.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: School officials still have about 125 district positions to fill. Openings remain for teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, clerical staff and some administrative positions. WJHG.

Okeechobee: School officials are having the locks on every classroom door in the district’s 10 schools rekeyed so that one key can open every door. “You could be saving students’ lives. We saw that with Uvalde (Texas). Time is critical and our law enforcement is going to respond so we’re gonna make sure we’ve eliminated all barriers for them to be able to respond quickly,” said Dylan Tedders, assistant superintendent of administrative services. WPEC.

Jackson: School officials hired 10 teachers in the past week, but still have 15 openings less than a month before schools reopen. The district also is looking to fill 10 bus driver positions and five or six bus monitor positions. WCTV. WJHG. The school district improved from a C to a B in this year’s school grades handed out by the state. WCTV. WJHG.

DeSoto: Candidates for the school board agreed at a recent community forum that supporting teachers is essential for recruitment and retention. In District 1, Jami Schueneman and Kimberly Shaver are candidates for the seat being vacated by Danny Via. In District 2, Mary Kay Burns and Sharon T. Goodman are running to replace Judy Kirkpatrick, who resigned in March because of health issues. Kelly Mercer and David Woodrum are competing for the District 5 seat. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: Civic academies are being launched at Florida State College at Jacksonville, Polk State College and Broward College with a $6.5 million grant from the state. The goal is to develop a national model for preparing students for public service and careers in government. “So what these are going to do, they’re actually going to partner with our local school districts. Students can enter the program as early as 9th grade, and over the course of the next six years from high school to the state college, they will be provided the knowledge base and the tools to potentially have a career in public service,” said Gov. DeSantis. WJXT. WPEC. WJAX. WKMG. Florida Phoenix. Florida Times-Union. Eight teachers from high schools with large numbers of low-income students in Alachua, Broward, Collier, Marion, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Johns counties are attending a workshop next week at the University of Florida’s Thompson Earth Systems Institute to learn about improving disease resistance in crops. News Service of Florida.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The back-to-school tax holiday begins July 25 and ends Aug. 7. During that time, families can buy clothing, footwear and accessories selling for $100 or less per item; personal computers and related accessories purchased for noncommercial home or personal use with a sales price of $1,500 or less; school supplies selling for $50 or less per item; and learning aids and jigsaw puzzles with a sales price of $30 or less. Gainesville Sun. WEAR.

Education podcasts: Keith Jacobs, the assistant director for external affairs at Step Up For Students who spent 14 years as an educator in both traditional public schools and public charter schools, talks with Blautism Education about his experience as father to two sons, one on the autism spectrum and one gifted, and the challenges all parents face in finding the best educational environments for their children. reimaginED.

Around the nation: A federal judge in Tennessee has issued a preliminary injunction blocking the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from enforcing the anti-discrimination executive order issued by the Biden administration in January 2021. The ruling was issued after in a lawsuit filed by attorneys general in 20 states. Florida Phoenix. Dallas students in grades 6-12 will be required to wear only clear backpacks to school in the fall. The decision was made using a parent and student survey and school committees, almost two months after 21 people were killed in a shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school. NPR.

Opinions on schools: The best way for American families to reform the public education system is to protect their own children and grandchildren from it. Exit is the most powerful form of voice, and an engine of public school improvement. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Andres Perez-Reinaldo, head football coach at Steinbrenner High School in Lutz, has made returning shopping carts at grocery stores a pivotal part of his plan to build character in his players. Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times.