Cruz defense team rests its case, Rodrigues named chancellor, monkeypox case in school and more

Around the state: Defense attorneys for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz unexpectedly rest their case Wednesday, state Sen. Ray Rodrigues has been named the chancellor for the state’s university system, a case of monkeypox has been reported at an Orange County K-8 school, about 800 teachers and other school employees who have been hired by the Palm Beach County School District are still waiting to be cleared to go to work because of a backlog in the district’s human resources department, Lee and Sarasota school boards approve billion-dollar budgets, and Hillsborough school board members give Superintendent Addison Davis a 22 percent higher rating on his annual evaluation. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Miami-Beach officials are urging principals at schools in the city to celebrate LGBTQ History Month despite the school board voting last week against any recognition. On a 5-1 vote, city commissioners approved a resolution condemning the school board’s decision and encouraging local schools to “acknowledge and teach LGBTQ history within their schools to the fullest extent permitted by law.” Miami Herald. The former owner of a Hialeah day-care center has been sentenced to 21 months in jail and ordered to repay $130,249 in scholarship money she accepted that was meant for low-income students. Lissette Orta, who owned Kids Palace Daycare, was arrested in 2019. An investigation by the Florida Department of Education and Florida Department of Law Enforcement revealed she had submitted applications on behalf of parents, claiming their children were attending the school full-time. She’s been ordered to repay $130,249 to Step Up For Students, which helps administer state scholarships and hosts this blog. reimaginED.

Broward: Defense lawyers for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz surprisingly rested their case Wednesday after calling 20 witnesses in 11 days of testimony. Their decision caught the court off-guard and drew a rebuke from Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who blasted the Public Defender’s Office for not letting her know in advance that no more witnesses would be called. “I have never experienced this level of unprofessionalism in my career. It’s unbelievable,” she said. Prosecutors will now present their rebuttal. After that, jurors will begin deliberations to decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison for Cruz, who shot and killed 17 students and school employees, and wounded 17 others in 2018. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WLRN. WPLG. WTVJ. Summarizing what happened Wednesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Hillsborough: All seven school board members gave Superintendent Addison Davis higher marks on his annual evaluation this year than they did in 2021, improving his total score 22 percent from 174 to 213. Davis, who gave himself a 31 this year after a 27 last year, said he was thrilled with the evaluation, and said, “I have never not had to make a tough decision. But I am glad I get to do it.” Board members noted improvements in the district’s academic performance and financial picture, but said there is still work to be done in controlling spending and with employee relations. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: A case of monkeypox has been reported at the Wedgefield School, a K-8 school in east Orange County, according to the Florida Department of Health. The district was notified Tuesday night, but no information about the individual affected was disclosed. That person has been off campus since Sept. 7 and won’t return until the virus clears up. Monkeypox is spread through skin-to-skin contact and causes flu-like symptoms and rashes that look like blisters. It is rarely fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WESH. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV. WMFE. A 15-year-old student at Winter Park High School was arrested Wednesday and accused of having a handgun in his backpack. Winter Park police said they were tipped about the gun through the Fortify Florida app and during a search found it and a magazine with three bullets. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Palm Beach: About 800 teachers and other school employees who have been hired by the district are still waiting to be cleared to go to work. There’s a backlog in the district’s human resources department holding up the process. Most hires get checked and cleared within 15 days of being hired. But because of the large number hired this year, that process has been taking 26 days. The district hired more than 3,900 employees for this school year: 441 in June, 836 in July and 1,644 in August. WPTV. Only three cities in the United States immerse kindergartners in the Haitian Creole language. One is in Boynton Beach, where Rolling Green Elementary School has started the first dual-language program in the county. Patricia Michel speaks in her heritage language, and class posters and math workbooks use Creole. She said her students speak Creole at home, but in an informal way with no formal instruction of sentence structure or vocabulary. “A lot of them learn and hear Creole at home, but they’re not reading or writing it,” Michel said. “Only one of my students knew the alphabet in Creole before coming to my class.” She said her dream is to see her kindergartners become high school graduates who are fluent in English and Creole in 12 years. Palm Beach Post.

Lee: School board members approved a $2.4 billion budget Wednesday that includes almost $740 million for capital projects, $85 million to service debt and a lower tax rate that will nonetheless generate an extra $122 million because of higher property valuations and new construction. Pine Island Eagle. A Lehigh Acres Middle School student who showed a weapon in the cafeteria during lunch was disarmed and detained, according to an e-mail sent by school officials to parents. No one was injured. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. A 14-year-old Mariner Middle School student was arrested and accused of making a threat against the school on social media. Police said the girl admitted that the Snapchat account where the threat was posted was hers. WINK. WFTX.

Pasco: Valeria Saldivar, 23, was eager to become a kindergarten aide at Trinity Elementary in New Port Richey. But she didn’t last a full day. Parents looked her up on social media, saw that she identified as non-binary queer, used “they” and “them” pronouns, and supported movements such as Black Lives Matter, and began sharing messages that indicated they might show up at the end of the school day to protest her presence. When the principal expressed concern for her safety, Saldivar left and hasn’t returned. It’s just the latest skirmish in a district fight about LGBTQ issues that’s lasted four years. Tampa Bay Times.

Sarasota: School board members approved a $1.4 billion budget this week that is $150 million higher than last year’s and includes 108 new teaching jobs. A million dollars was also set aside for teachers to use for their classrooms. A lower tax rate was more than offset by higher property valuations, increased funding from the state, and enrollment growth of 1,112 to 46,602. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Okaloosa: A 15-year-old Fort Walton Beach High School student has been arrested and accused of threatening to kill another student. Deputies said during a group chat, the boy sent a photo of himself holding a knife and threatening a student. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR. WJHG.

Hernando: School board members this week approved $3-an-hour raises for substitute teachers. Those with associate’s degrees will now be paid $13.50 an hour, and subs with bachelor’s degrees will receive $15 an hour. Hernando County School District.

Colleges and universities: As widely expected, Florida’s Board of Governors on Wednesday chose state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, an administrator at Florida Gulf Coast University and an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis, as the new chancellor of the state university system. The other finalist to replace the outgoing Marshall Criser was Lori Cromwell, chief business officer for Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. The Board of Governor also approved the construction of a student housing and student center complex on the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus. It will be the school’s first dorm when it opens in the fall of 2024. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA.

Education podcasts: Nicole Bradica, a mother of five ranging in age from 2 to 14 years old, has home-schooled her children for the past 11 years but discusses how state scholarships have helped her oldest daughter, and the potential that universal education savings accounts could give families like hers new opportunities to broaden their children’s education. reimaginED.

Around the nation: There was good news and bad news in Wednesday’s release of test scores from Curriculum Associates, which publishes the I-Ready assessments: The percentage of older elementary and middle school students reading on grade level is nearing what it was before the pandemic, but fewer children in lower elementary grades are developing the necessary phonics skills. The 74. The latest conservative push into education politics features national figures supporting candidates for statewide school superintendents’ positions. Politico.

Opinions on schools: Miami-Dade Superintendent Jose Dotres said the district’s decision to bar students from seeing a performance of the Nilo Cruz play Anna of the Tropics because of “content and inappropriateness” has “pained” him. Then why not revisit the issue? Dotres said he doesn’t want to reverse what “my academic team” has decided is inappropriate. That’s not a good enough excuse to keep the status quo. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald.