Students testify in Cruz trial, measuring test time, district smoking policy ended and more

Around the state: Students and teachers give gripping testimony Tuesday in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, a new law changing the way Florida tests students also requires districts to measure the time spent testing, Escambia’s school district is dropping its policy against hiring smokers because of the shortage of workers, Miami-Dade school board members will decide today whether to put two challenged sex education books in classrooms, some Lee County parents say a proposal to ask LGBTQ students how “out” they are is discriminatory and will create a registry, some Pasco supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis are taking issue with a school board candidate he endorsed, and private school enrollment in Florida rebounds after declining during the pandemic. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board members are expected to decide today whether two sex education textbooks will be allowed in school classrooms. Critics said the books have inappropriate material for middle school children, including information about abortion, emergency contraception, natural birth control methods like withdrawal, gender identity and sexual orientation. WPLG.

Broward: Students who were wounded in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their teachers testified Tuesday about being wounded, hiding for their lives and seeing classmates murdered and injured by Nikolas Cruz. One of the students, Daniela Menescal, recalled feeling a sharp pain in her back as she tried to hide behind a TV. “I looked down and saw my white pants were full of blood,” she testified. “That’s when I realize it was probably not a drill.” Jurors also were shown a gruesome video that followed Cruz as he crouched and fired at anyone he saw in the halls and classrooms. It was the second day of testimony in the sentencing trial for Cruz, who has admitted the crimes and will be sentenced to death or life in prison. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. WPTV. WPEC. Summarizing what happened Tuesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz, 23. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Pasco: Some county voters who support Gov. DeSantis’ education initiatives don’t feel the same way about a local school board candidate he endorsed last week. Al Hernandez, a regional Humana executive competing for the Pasco District 1 school board seat, and 15 other school board candidates around the stare were endorsed by the governor in the Aug. 23 primary. DeSantis said all 16 pro-parent candidates would “combat the woke agenda from infiltrating public schools.” But critics of the choice said they believe DeSantis is wading into a local political situation he doesn’t understand, pointing to questions about Hernandez’s residence, and said they prefer the blunt-talking aircraft parts manufacturer Steve Meisman. Tampa Bay Times. Evan Markowitz, the principal of Athenian Academy of Technology and the Arts in New Port Richey, talks about the steps the charter school took to improve from a D grade from the state in 2016 to A grades in 2019 and 2022. WUSF.

Osceola: Ten district school buses on rural routes will get new, better-lighted placards and stop arms in a pilot program to improve safety. Results of the trial will determine if other buses will also get the new equipment. “You can read them at 300 feet, which is a football field, and you can see them from 1,000 feet. Our current lights on the bus are only good for about 200 feet,” said Arby Creach, district transportation director. WESH.

Lee: District officials are considering a draft document that asks students how public they are about their gender and parents to come up with a plan if their child is outed. Critics said the forms will create a registry and are discriminatory. District officials said they are simply trying to keep students safe. WBBH.

Lake: One school board seat that was supposed to be up for election this fall has already been filled. Marc Dodd was re-elected to the District 3 seat for a third term when no one filed to run against him. In an interview, Dodd talks about his top priorities and the biggest issues facing the board. Daily Commercial.

Marion: Fourteen of the district’s 51 schools will have new principals when classes resume next month. Three of the replacements are for retiring principals Mike Kelly of Marion Technical College, David Ellers of North Marion Middle School, and Elizabeth Brown of Forest High School. All the appointments took effect July 1. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: The school board has suspended a district policy against employees smoking in an effort to attract more workers. Since 2011, all employees have had to prove they’re not tobacco users by passing a tobacco/nicotine test, and they must remain tobacco-free through their employment. This week, board members decided to suspend the policy, at least for the next 18 months. “I will tell you it’s a tough decision because we want to promote good health for our employees,” said Superintendent Tim Smith. “It’s one that was really wrestled with but the labor shortage is such, we just feel like we have to try everything we can.” WEAR.

Martin: School board members approved a proposal to change how they spend money raised by a special property tax. A higher percentage of the revenue would go to mental health and school safety initiatives, and stipends for teachers who work in after-school activities such as sports and clubs would be cut by an average of 6 percent. The tax, first approved by voters in 2018, is up for renewal on the Aug. 23 primary ballot. TCPalm. School officials said families whose children attend certain schools must apply to receive free or reduced-price meals during the coming school year because of changes in the federal meal program. Otherwise they’ll be charged for breakfasts and lunches. Students who attend J.D. Parker Elementary School, Pinewood Elementary, Port Salerno School, Warfield Elementary, Indiantown Middle, Willoughby Learning Center and Spectrum Academy will still receive free meals regardless of family income. WPTV.

Alachua: For the 14th time in the last 15 years, the Buchholz High School math team has won the National Mu Alpha Theta Competition. It was held in Alexandria, Va., last Friday. Students competed in subjects such as analytic geometry, logs and exponents, open probability and combinatorics, and calculus. Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: Student scores in the Florida Standards Assessments math and language arts tests for students in grades 3-10 declined slightly in 2022 compared to 2019, and also lagged behind the state average, school officials said. “The data reflects what we already knew. The challenge of maintaining continuity and consistency of instruction throughout the pandemic had a direct impact on outcomes,” said Superintendent John Stratton. “Now, we turn our focus to next year and developing our action plan that will recover learning loss and maintain our on-time graduation goal for students.” Suncoast News.

Jefferson: The Jefferson-Somerset Charter School District received a grade of “incomplete” from the state because fewer than 90 percent of its students took the Florida Standards Assessments end-of-year tests. It joined Hendry County as the only districts that received incompletes. The Jefferson elementary school received a D grade, the same as it got in 2019. The middle school got a D, down from a C. The high school, which got a C in 2019, was given an incomplete grade this year. The district returns to local control this fall after five years of operation by Somerset. ECB Publishing.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida Student Senate has voted to install vending machines dispensing the morning after pill around the campus. The vote is nonbinding on the university. WCJB. Florida Atlantic University will begin offering a master’s degree in supply chain management when classes begin in the fall. Courses will train students in such issues as shipping, transportation and sourcing. WPEC. Nicholas Allard has been named the founding dean for the Jacksonville University College of Law. He has been a professor of law emeritus at Brooklyn Law School, where he has also been the dean from 2012 to 2018 and as president from 2014 to 2018. The school will have an initial class of 20. Jacksonville Daily Record.

Student testing rules: School districts would be required to estimate how much testing time students undergo as part of the rules being established for a law that changes the assessment process. Districts would have to project the range and median number of minutes that students in K-5 are tested on both statewide and local exams. They would also have to calculate the  instruction time for all testing. Florida’s Board of Education will meet Aug. 17 to consider the proposal. Politico Florida.

Projects being revisited: Almost 750 proposals have been filed by legislators to compete for $80 million available in the state budget through the Local Support Grants program. The 747 projects filed total $634.5 million, and had been vetoed by Gov. DeSantis last month. Among the projects are dozens that are education-related. News Service of Florida.

Education proposals: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist outlined his education platform this week, including allocating $5.5 billion for teacher salaries and changing their health-care options, raising per-student spending, reinstating the education commissioner’s position to an elected one, and more. Crist faces Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the Democratic primary Aug. 23, with the winner taking on Republican Gov. DeSantis on Nov. 8. Florida Phoenix.

Private school enrollment: Florida’s private school enrollment rebounded in the 2021-2022 school year after a sharp decline during the pandemic, according to the latest report from the state Department of Education. After dropping 33,500 students last year, private schools added more than 51,000 in the year just completed and now total 416,084. That’s a growth rate of 14.2 percent, compared to the 1.5 percent gain recorded by public schools. reimaginED.

Around the nation: U.S. students showed some improvements in NWEA testing in 2021-2022, but scores remain below pre-pandemic performance, according to the latest report by the nonprofit testing provider. Researchers said the data suggest it could take three to five years to fully recover. K-12 Dive. The 74. Chalkbeat. The number of U.S. students completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid is up 4.6 percent from July 1, 2021, through July 1, 2022. About 52.1 percent of 2022’s senior class filed applications, up over the two previous year but still below the 53.8 percent in 2019. National College Attainment Network.

Opinions on schools: Twenty years ago, then-Gov. Jeb Bush led educational reforms that established a strong foundation for success in Florida. Now, to continue building on that achievement, we must become more competitive in guaranteeing educational freedom. That means adopting universal education savings accounts. Skylar Zander, Tallahassee Democrat. Math textbooks really aren’t indoctrinating students, but that doesn’t mean they don’t fall short in other ways. Tiffini Pruit-Britton and Candace Walkington, Education Week.