Sarasota library book freeze, Manatee tightens sporting event security, contracts, and more

Around the state: Sarasota school officials have ordered a freeze on library book purchases and donations until the state provides guidance on how it intends to implement a new law, Manatee school officials will enact a clear bag policy and screen for weapons at many school sporting events, Pinellas teachers walk out of a bargaining session after they said the district offered a 3.25 percent raise, Melbourne police will investigate a reported assault in a middle school bathroom this summer by a transgender student even though the Brevard school district said it didn’t happen, arguments over the admissibility of what brain scans of the Parkland school shooter prove will be held this week in the sentencing trial without the jury present, Lakeland’s mayor resigns as a trustee of a private Christian school after his colleagues say the city’s proclamation of June as LGBTQ Pride Month is at odds with the school’s mission, and school board elections in several districts are previewed. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: Many south Florida teachers said they’re worried that new state laws restricting the way instruction about race and sex can be conducted have built an atmosphere in which teachers are afraid to take risks or approach their jobs creatively. “We’re creating a climate where teachers will do one of three things,” said Laura Leigh Rampey, an advanced math teacher at MAST Academy on Virginia Key in Miami. “They will comply with orders coming from the state, which means leaving out (topics) they shouldn’t be leaving out; they will defy the state and put their jobs at risk; or they’re going to leave the state to teach elsewhere or leave the profession completely.” Schools start Tuesday in Broward County and Wednesday in Miami-Dade. Miami Herald.

Broward: Arguments will be made this week to Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer about the admissibility of brain scans of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz that defense lawyers contend will prove that his lifelong mental and emotional problems were caused by fetal alcohol syndrome. They argue that would be a reason to spare Cruz from the death penalty. The jury will not return to the courtroom until Aug. 22, at the earliest. Associated Press. The school bus tracking app called Here Comes the Bus will finally be available to parents Sept. 15, said school district officials. It was purchased by the district in 2019 but a series of problems has delayed its rollout. Its purpose is to allow parents to track the whereabouts of buses their children ride. Sun-Sentinel.

Orange: School district support employees overwhelmingly approved a contract agreement that gives them raises of at least 6 percent, boosts the minimum wage to $15 an hour and will pay school bus drivers at least $16.65 an hour. The school board approved the contract last month. WFTV. Michael Armbruster, who retired in 2020 after a 33-year career in the school district, is returning as deputy superintendent, incoming superintendent Maria Vazquez announced Friday. Armbruster called it “a chance to make a difference. Education’s gotten a bad rap in the last few decades. It’s been picked at and torn apart, and we’ve just got to create an environment where teachers want to stay there through thick and thin. We can’t fix everything … but we can fix the atmosphere in which they work in.” WKMG. Orange Observer.

Duval: Eight companies and a government agency are finalists in the bidding for the school district’s headquarters property on the south bank of the St. Johns River, according to a memo from the district’s purchasing department. Sixteen bids were received. Among the finalists are Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Related Development LLC and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. The process of selling and relocating was initiated in 2020 after years of discussion. The nearly 5-acre space was appraised in 2019 for about $13 million. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Lakeland’s mayor has resigned from the Lakeland Christian School’s Board of Trustees after 20-plus years of service when some trustees thought his signature on a proclamation observing June as LGBTQ Pride Month was at odds with the school’s mission. Bill Mutz said he decided to resign after a “two and a half hour, sincere, arduous, very reflective and thoughtful meeting” of the trustees July 25. “My responsibility as mayor is to serve all citizens of the city,” said Mutz, whose children attended Lakeland Christian. “My role on the board has a statement of faith attached, personal values I ascribe to. I can do both, I don’t find conflict in that.” Lakeland Now. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: After being offered raises that average out to 3.25 percent, Pinellas teachers union leaders walked out of a bargaining session last week. “I was insulted. I was insulted for all of you,” said union president Nancy Velardi. “They cannot offer the same 3.25 percent in a world where the inflation rate in Tampa Bay is 11.3 percent.” District leaders said the pay raises actually average 4.7 percent, and the package also includes more planning time and higher pay for training time. They said the package teachers wants would cost $65 million, while the district has $18.4 million budgeted for raises for all workers. The next scheduled bargaining session is Aug. 22. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas County District 6 school board candidate Brian Martin talks about his qualifications, platform and priorities. He’s running against Kimberly Works and Stephanie Meyer. Florida Politics. Pinellas County District 3 school board candidate Keesha Benson talks about her qualifications, platform and priorities. She’s running against Dawn Peters and Carl Zimmermann. Florida Politics.

Brevard: Melbourne police said they will investigate a reported assault of a female student by a transgender student in a middle school bathroom over the summer, even though school district officials say it didn’t happen. But after state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, made references on social media to the attack, police assigned two detectives to investigate. Fine also wrote to Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. asking the state to investigate, saying parents had been “stonewalled” by the district when asking for information. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. Palm Bay Magnet High School in Melbourne has started a firefighting and technical education program, and about 100 students are enrolled. “Right now in the fire service industry, in the state of Florida, there’s a retention-recruitment issue,” said Melbourne Fire Chief Chuck Bogle. “And so this is a great start, especially for people that are homegrown talent.” WFTV. Florida Today.

Seminole: A 15-year-old student at Lyman High School was arrested Friday after Longwood Police Department officers found an unloaded gun in his backpack. Officers were called to the school to help with a disturbance between the student and an employee. The boy faces charges of possessing a firearm on school property, resisting an officer without violence and resisting an officer with violence. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV. WESH. A 13-year-old student at Greenwood Lakes Middle School was arrested Friday after allegedly attacking a school resource officer. The boy was charged with battery on an officer and resisting an officer without violence. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

Volusia: The school district still needs teachers and other employees as it opens today, but a new superintendent, upgraded school security, a new school and the state’s new approach to testing are offering hope for a good year. “Every year is full of hope,” said Joseph Becker, who decided in January to leave a full-time job as a restaurant manager and take a lower-paying position as an English teacher at Hinson Middle School. “You get to start again, and this time it’s going to be better.” New Superintendent Carmen Balgobin cited Becker as an example of what it will take to fill teaching jobs. “We all have to be part of the solution if we want to do what’s best for children. That’s how it needs to be,” she said. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV. WKMG.

Manatee: Visitors to school sporting events will be subject to “weapons detection systems” and “wanding,” this school year, district officials announced Friday. “We have seven traditional high schools in Manatee County and all of them have 15 to 20 sports that they play,” said spokesman Michael Barber. “There are a lot of games and not all of these security measures will always be deployed, but we will be stepping up our safety and security measures.” Clear bags that “may easily be searched” also will be required. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA. WWSB.

Collier: Advisory notices have now been placed on 115 books in district schools. The labels were put on books about LGBTQ, racial and sexual issues in the district’s attempt to comply with the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law. “It is also important to note that Collier County Public Schools has not removed any books from our media centers,” the district said in a statement. “Our school district is mindful of and concerned with protecting the rights of all students and employees.” Naples Daily News.

Sarasota: All purchases and donations of library books materials have been frozen until January, district officials have announced. They said the pause is to wait for state guidance on the Parental Rights in Education law, hire three media specialists and give time for curriculum staffers to interpret that guidance when it arrives. Book fairs that have already been scheduled will be held, but those that have not been set must wait until the spring. School board member Shirley Brown questions the decision, saying, “The guidelines (from the state) aren’t even coming out until January, so why are we stopping everything now?” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A political action committee called ABCD has posted two mobile billboards calling District 4 school board candidate Lauren Kunov a liar and baby killer. Kurnov was formerly employed by Planned Parenthood. The signs also urged support for three candidates endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. One of them, Robyn Marinelli, is Kurnov’s opponent in the Aug. 23 primary, and she condemned the billboards. “I am a First Amendment person, but there has to be a line somewhere,” she said. “You can’t discredit someone’s reputation because you don’t like their political party.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Lake: Three candidates are running for the District 2 school board seat in the Aug. 23 primary. Tyler Brandeburg, a 27-year-old insurance advisor, was appointed to the seat earlier this year by Gov. DeSantis. His top priorities are school security and recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers and staff. He’s being challenged by Ludy Lopez, a 52-year-old pastor who wants to expand the school guardian program and fight for equitable state funding for the district, and Jim Miller, 73, a commercial real estate broker who wants to expand school choices for our students in technical certifications, advanced academic programs and dual-enrollment programs to earn college credits while in high school. Daily Commercial. Incumbent Stephanie Luke has two challengers in the District 5 race. Luke, 44, an instructor at the University of Central Florida, wants to expand career and technical options for students and seek equitable state funding for the district. Her challengers are Marie Aliberti, a 65-year-old retired educator and business owner who wants improved school safety protocols and better pay for teachers and staff, and Peter Tarby, a 66-year-old real estate broker who advocates watching district spending closely and getting parents more involved in the education of their children. Daily Commercial.

St. Lucie: Higher pay rates are now in effect for substitute teachers and school support staff. Substitute teachers with at least 60 college credits will be paid $172 a day, up from $160. Subs with a high school diploma will receive $124 a day, up from $80. Sub bus drivers will go from $13 an hour to $16, and school support staff will get raises from $10 an hour to $15. WQCS.

Okaloosa: District 5 school board incumbent Diane Kelley faces Cara Marion in the Aug. 23 primary. Kelley, who has 40 years of experience in education as a teacher and in other roles, and Marion, who is a registered mental health counselor intern and retired Air Force veteran, recently answered questions about the need for new schools, whether greater transparency is needed from the board, and whether changes made during the district’s 2017 abuse allegations go far enough. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Santa Rosa: District 5 is the only school board seat up for election this year that does not include an incumbent. Three candidates are competing to replace Wei Ueberschaer, who is not running for-relection. Scott Peden, who previously served on the board between 2010 and 2018 before losing an election to Ueberschaer, has been in the cable telecommunications business. His top priorities are improving school safety, and teacher salaries and benefits. Gregory Seltzer is a retired university professor of finance who wants to raise teacher pay, and expand vocational training options and training in Internet technology fields. Pete Peters is a retired veteran who worked as a JROTC instructor in Escambia County schools before retiring in 2014. He wants to keep critical race theory from being taught in schools, improve school safety and raise teacher pay. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: Four years after closing because of damage from Hurricane Michael, Oscar Patterson Academy has reopened its doors. The school’s name was changed from Oscar Patterson Magnet Elementary School to Oscar Patterson Academy in August 2021. It opened for students in grades K-2 this year, and will add a grade in each of the next three years. “(Officials) were worried when we were going through the academic struggles,” said principal Charlotte Blue. “We made the progress. Now the community, for three years, has been without a school. So, we are ready to start over again and show the community, work with the community.” Panama City News Herald.

Indian River: Each district school’s resource officer has a safe in his or her office with an AR-15 assault rifle to use in an emergency, said Sheriff Eric Flowers. “If they’re coming at us with an AR-15, we’re gonna return with the same or greater firepower,” he said. Flowers said since the safes for the rifles were installed in schools, officers have not yet had to use them. WPEC.

Colleges and universities: Eight candidates have applied to replace Marshall Criser as chancellow of the state’s university system. Criser said he was stepping down by the end of the year. The leading candidate appears to be Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Estero who announced he would not run for re-election to his state Senate seat. He’s worked for the past 16 years at Florida Gulf Coast University, the last three working on interagency partnerships directly for the president. News Service of Florida. Jessica Chapman has been appointed as Tallahassee Community College’s director of charter schools. She’ll oversee TCC’s sponsorship efforts and the creation of a science, technology, engineering and math focused charter school opening in August 2023. WTXL.

Governor’s campaign: After taking the unusual step of endorsing local school board candidates, and spending his own campaign money to help them, Gov. DeSantis is now going on the road to campaign for them. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: It’s quite possible that the current education reform strategy is working better than we think but is taking time to blossom, and is facing headwinds (especially from the Great Recession) that are about to recede. Michael J. Petrilli, Thomas Fordham Institute. The findings of a survey of University of Florida faculty members are a reminder that reputations are critical to institutions of higher learning, or their ability to attract talent, raise funds and improve their state and communities. Tampa Bay Times. The lack of support, the new laws perpetuating culture wars and claims of defunding our schools are exacerbating challenging times, causing educators to leave the teaching profession. Despite this current state of our politics, I remain optimistic about the future of our profession and our incredible students. Nyree Washington, Miami Herald.