State rests case in Parkland trial after jury tours school, random searches, lesson reviews and more

Around the state: The state rests its case in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz after the jury visited the school Thursday, Polk middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons when schools reopen, Leon County teachers’ supplemental materials used in lessons will be reviewed by administrators for references to potentially controversial subjects, Hillsborough teachers and the district remains at odds over pay raises vs. bonuses after a bargaining session Thursday, Okaloosa County’s superintendent apologizes after the district released unredacted information about a student to a school board member, 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:

Broward: Prosecutors rested their case Thursday in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, after jurors toured the scene of the crime and a final group of family members testified about the impact to their lives from the deaths of their loved ones. Anne Ramsay, whose 17-year-old daughter Helena died at the hands of Cruz on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said Valentine’s Day used to be a day of celebration for her family because it was also the birthday of Helena’s father Vinnie Ramsay. “That day will never be a celebration and can never be the same for him, and now is filled with pain, as is every day,” Anne Ramsay said. “We both miss our brave, beautiful and one-of-a-kind, selfless daughter.” Jurors will recommend the death penalty or life in prison for Cruz, who is 23. The court is now in recess until Aug. 22. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. Summarizing what happened Thursday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: A bargaining session Thursday got the school district and teachers union no closer to a contract agreement. The issue is that teachers want raises, and the districts is offering bonuses. “We’re really not that far apart,” employee relations manager Danielle Shotwell said. “We’re far apart on one piece of this, in my opinion. That is, how it’s being paid.” Union president Rob Kriete points to the $134 million increase in funding to the district from the state. “And the district can’t find $26 million to pay its employees what they’re owed for the last two years?” he asked. “I don’t buy it.” The district said the extra funding is going toward mounting expenses. An impasse in negotiations was declared last week, but the sides will meet again Sept. 7. Tampa Bay Times.

Polk: Middle and high school students will face random searches for weapons this school year, Superintendent Frederick Heid has announced. Metal detector wands will be used during screening, and bags and purses could be searched. “Schools will vary the screening location on campus, the time when the screening takes place and the frequency of a screening,” according to the district. “For instance, a school might select every fifth student who enters the main building upon arrival in the morning.” WFLA. WTSP. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee, Collier: Schools open Wednesday for the nearly 100,000 Lee County School District students, 6,000 teachers and other school employees, and about 48,000 students and 3,615 teachers in the Collier school district. Here are some facts and figures about both school systems. Fort Myers News-Press. Naples Daily News. Collier school officials are waiting to hear from the state if they’re required to notify parents that their child is dating someone of the same sex. If the state’s answer is yes, Superintendent Kamela Patton said the district will likely comply. WINK. WFTX.

Pasco: District 3 school board incumbent Cynthia Armstrong is being challenged by Matt Geiger in the Aug. 23 primary in a contest between educators. Armstrong wants to expand technical education opportunities and access to accelerated academic courses to all students, and focus on early education literacy. Geiger is calling for better pay for non-administrative employees, restoring parental rights in their children’s education and responsible spending with no new taxes. Suncoast News.

Sarasota: Rickey Thomas, a longtime teacher and boys basketball coach at Booker High School in Sarasota, has died at the age of 69. He was also a community leader as president of the Sarasota-Manatee NAACP chapter, and was the first black man to serve in the city’s administration, as facilities director. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: A University of West Florida student is challenging District 1 school board incumbent Kevin Adams, who joined the board in 2016. Connor Mann, who is also an intern for a county commissioner, said his top goal is correcting the teacher shortage with higher salaries and fewer restrictions on hiring. Adams worked for the Department of Defense for 38 years. His priorities include addressing the learning losses during the pandemic and handling “the chronic misbehavior of students a lot better.” Adams also answered questions about why he’s running for office, his top priorities, closing the learning gap caused by the pandemic, and more, while Mann did not return the questionnaire. Pensacola News Journal. District 2 school board incumbent Paul Fetsko, a retired school administrator, has two primary challengers in the Aug. 23 primary: Ray Guillory, who has worked in worked in the restaurant management business and with unions; and Kells Hetherington, a former journalist who is now in the process of obtaining a license to become a certified public accountant. FetskoGuillory and Hetherington talk about why they’re running for office, their top priorities, closing the learning gap caused by the pandemic, and implementing new state laws on education. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: A review process is being established in the school district to help teachers stay in compliance with new state laws governing teaching about race, history and sex. Teachers are being asked to submit supplemental materials dealing with potentially controversial subjects that aren’t in the state-approved textbooks for review. “We don’t want principals to be caught off guard, and we want to provide some protection to classroom teachers,” said assistant superintendent Billy Epting. Tallahassee Democrat. Laurie Cox, Susan Hodges and Alex Stemle, the candidates competing Aug. 23 to replace departing District 4 school board member DeeDee Rasmussen, answer questions about what they want to accomplish if elected, the role of schools in students’ lives, and more. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: Superintendent Marcus Chambers is apologizing to District 5 school board candidate Cara Marion for releasing unredacted information about her daughter to her opponent, incumbent Diane Kelley, who held information up during an interview with a TV station. Marion is asking the school district to answer why Kelley was able to get that report, and has also filed complaints with the First Judicial Circuit’s State Attorney’s Office and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. District spokesman Steve Horton said there was no wrondoing. “In accordance with school board policy 06-13 and §1012.31, Florida Statutes, personnel files are open to inspection at all times by board members in the exercise of their duties,” he said.  Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: Current and former District 2 school board members square off this fall. Diyonne McGraw was elected to the seat in 2020 but removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis when it was discovered that she didn’t live in the district. DeSantis then appointed Mildred Russell, 73, to the seat. McGraw, 53, said she wants to close the achievement gap, increase workforce development for students and improve reading skills. Russell, 73, also lists closing the achievement gap as a top priority, and wants to see an expansion of the district’s voluntary prekindergarten program, which is now in 11 schools. Gainesville Sun.

Flagler: District 4 incumbent Trevor Tucker is facing Christy Chong in the Aug. 23 primary. Tucker, 46, who owns a pest control company, has been a board member for 12 years. He wants to see improvements in the district’s program for serving students with special learning needs, said he is “favored toward” the new law that bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity to K-3 students, and advocates more sharply prioritized spending. Chong, 39, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, said she decided to run because she thinks “parents need to be more involved in our education system.” She said she favors parental rights, school choice and curriculum transparency, wants the district to get better at retaining employees, and believes it also has to address school capacity and growth. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Okeechobee: Superintendent Ken Kenworthy talks about how the district is handling learning losses caused by COVID-19, staffing shortages and the community’s reaction to the district’s decision to allow teachers to be armed in classrooms. WPEC.

Colleges and universities: State College of Florida’s plans to build a campus in Parrish are being revisited after being put on pause during the pandemic. A three-phase approach is planned, with completion of the first phase up to 10 years away. It includes 60,000 square feet of classrooms and offices and a 40,000-square-foot multi-purpose building, entrance and parking. The projected cost for Phase 1 is $35 million. Bradenton Herald.

Around the nation: A new survey shows that more than a third of U.S. students finished the last school year below grade level. Some progress has been made to close the learning gap caused by the pandemic, but staffing shortages, failure to institute “high-dosage” tutoring and ongoing mentral health struggles for students are limiting that progress. The 74.

Opinions on schools: School systems in Florida are at the forefront when it comes to ensuring students have access to mental health care. Many Florida counties have made a significant investment in making virtual care accessible, enabling students to meet with a therapist virtually. Arthur Cooksey, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff