Primary election today, Cruz defense opens, Broward bond program ripped, and more

Around the state: School board seats are on the ballot in nearly every district in the state and several districts have school tax issues for primary election voters to consider today, more than 2 million votes have been cast early, attorneys for the Parkland school shooter open their defense by contending he “was poisoned in the womb” by a mother who abused alcohol and drugs, the statewide grand jury that investigated the school shooting also criticized the Broward school district for mismanaging its $800 million bond program, a Palm Beach County teacher is being fired after six investigations into misconduct over the past eight years, an appeals court rules that a civil lawsuit can continue against an Osceola school resource officer who allegedly used excessive force to subdue a student in 2015, response to the state’s survey of intellectual freedom on college campuses has been meager, and seven schools in Monroe County now have “zen” rooms for teachers and other staff. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Two Miami Edison Senior High School students were arrested last week and accused of having a gun on campus. School resource officers said they were alerted to the weapon by a tip from “a member of the school community.” WPLG.

Broward: In her opening statement Monday, an attorney defending Parkland school shooter Niklas Cruz said his “prenatal vitamins consisted of Colt 45, Cisco Bum Wine, crack cocaine and cigarettes.” Defense lawyer Melisa McNeill said Cruz was a victim of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. “Nikolas was poisoned in the womb. He was brain-damaged,” she said. Since Cruz has already admitted to killing 17 students and employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, his attorneys are trying to convince a jury to sentence him to life in prison instead of death. Cruz’s half-sister Danielle Woodard also testified Monday that their mother drank and used crack cocaine while she was pregnant with Cruz. The defense continues today, and is expected to take several weeks to present its case. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WTVJ. WSVN. Summarizing what happened Monday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. The statewide grand jury that recommended the removal of four current school board members for “neglect of duty” is also critical of the school district for its mismanagement of an $800 million bond program to repair schools. Its report concluded that the district’s estimates to repair or replace roofs were “absurdly low,” that overly stringest inspection standards led to years of delays, that it had favored roofing vendors, and that it failed to properly maintain school roofs. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG.

Hillsborough: The co-owner and director of a day-care center in Odessa has been arrested and accused of child abuse. Deputies said Rong Liu, 51, “forcefully pushed and pulled the head and neck” of a boy while trying to put him down for a nap June 20 at Children’s Land of Imagination Academy. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT.

Palm Beach: Eight years and at least six investigations after an elementary school teacher told a colleague that “there is so much pressure here I’m going to be up in a tower in a clown suit with a rifle,” she’s been fired. Diane Baumann had been accused in 2014, 2019, 2020 (twice), 2021 and again this year of inappropriate behavior, including cursing students. The latest came in February, when a 3rd-grader said, “She told me I can jump off a cliff and kill myself.” Baumann has denied all the allegations. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Two charter schools opened Monday in Jacksonville, both by Texas-based IDEA Public School. About 500 students in grades K-2 and 6th grade are enrolled in each of the schools, IDEA Bassett and IDEA River Bluff. Each is scheduled to add two grades a year until they have kindergarten through 12th grade students by 2028. WJXT. A former district teacher of the year will not be prosecuted after being arrested in 2021 for allegedly striking a student in the face. Prosecutors said charges were dropped against Caroline Lee, who was teaching at Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts, after they determined that it would have been “extremely difficult” for the teacher to have hit the significantly taller student in the face. WJXT.

Pinellas: District 2 school board incumbent Lisa Cane talks about her qualifications, platform and priorities. She’s running against Brad DeCorte and Bronson Oudshoff in today’s primary. Florida Politics. District 7 school board candidate Maria Solanki talks about her qualifications, platform and priorities. She’s running against incumbent Caprice Edmond. Florida Politics.

Pasco: A 12-year-old student at Chasco Middle School has been charged after firing an airsoft gun several times into a backpack in the cafeteria Monday, according to sheriff’s deputies. No one was injured, and the student was charged with disruption of a school function, deputies said. WFLA. WTSP.

Osceola: A federal appeals court has ruled that a civil lawuit can proceed against a former school resource officer at Kissimmee Middle School who allegedly used excessive force when he slammed a student to the floor in 2015. The panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district judge’s ruling that former officer Mario Badia was entitled to immunity from allegations of excessive force and battery. WKMG. News Service of Florida. A 5-year-old student who recently got off at the wrong school bus stop was found about an hour later at a friend’s house. Superintendent Debra Pace said the incident is being investigated. WOFL.

Monroe: Seven schools in the district now have “zen” rooms where teachers and aides can take a relaxing, quiet break during a stressful school day. The wellness rooms have comfortable recliners, low lighting, electric candles and more. “A place to recharge between classes,” the school district described in a Facebook post. “They will enjoy a zen-like experience.” Miami Herald.

Holmes: An after-school program that lost federal funding will continue in October with the use of federal coronavirus relief funds, said Superintendent Buddy Brown. The WINGS After-School Program has helped elementary and middle school students for the past 20 years. “There are only so many hours in the given school day. The afternoon program gave us another hour, hour and a half to provide some extra support,” said Brown. “District-wide, we were probably servicing about 500 kids at the most at any given time.” WJHG.

Colleges and universities: Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott has proposed a bill that would put “institutions on the hook for student debt” by tying schools to the debt of their students. “For far too long, state and federal leaders have taken a misguided and failed approach to managing public institutions of higher education,” said Scott. “The result of their decades of failed policy and mismanagement is millions of Americans with mountains of student debt racked up earning degrees that haven’t prepared them for good, high-paying job in the real world.” Politico. Stetson University smashed its record for fund-raising in a year, with about $52.2 million last year. The previous record of $29 million was set in 2018. “We don’t have state funding, so gifts like this make us what we are,” said Krista Bofill, vice president of development and alumni engagement. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Intellectual freedom surveys: Only about 2 percent of Florida’s college students filled out the voluntary free speech survey schools were required by the state to distribute. A majority of the 8,835 students who responded said they believed their schools were liberal-leaning. More university employees responded to the survey, but the return rate was still just 9.4 percent. More than 3,700 said they “have felt intimidated to share my ideas or political opinions because they were different from those of my colleagues,” compared with almost 4,000 who disagreed. The state Board of Education will discuss the survey at Friday’s meeting. Politico Florida.

Around the nation: The president of the American Federation of Teachers union, Randi Weingarten, has apologized for retweeting a false list of banned books in Florida. “I should have double checked before I retweeted this list. My bad. Looks like some of the books weren’t banned,” she said in a followup tweet. Washington Examiner.

Opinions on schools: The coming public school enrollment decline will force many districts to either close a number of schools between now and 2030 or be financially hamstring by keeping low-enrollment schools open. School boards have not exactly covered themselves in glory dealing with under-utilized school space to date, and the issue will become increasingly urgent. Some innovative approaches may be needed. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Removal of school board members should be done by the people of Broward County, not by a governor with a highly partisan agenda to seize control of our schools and impose his will on independently elected boards. Sun-Sentinel.