Class sizes exemption, cameras in classroom, Cruz jury deliberations, Bible challenged, and more

Around the state: St. Johns County School Board members vote for a temporary exemption to the state class sizes requirement as a way to deal with growth, cameras could be going into some classrooms in Leon County, the jury will begin deliberations today in the sentencing trial of the Parkland school shooter, Broward school officials will restart their search for a chief facilities officer after school board members called the latest attempt an “embarrassing failure,” school districts are announcing decisions on makeup days for Hurricane Ian, schools around the state were disrupted Tuesday by false threats, and a challenge to the Bible left the book temporarily restricted in some Escambia County school libraries. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A 9-year-old 4th-grader at Amelia Earhart Elementary School in Hialeah was apprehended Monday when he brought a gun to school. “Miami-Dade Schools Police immediately launched an investigation into the claim and the student was apprehended and will face criminal charges,” the department said in a news release. “As always, we continue to reinforce the importance of reporting suspicious activity through our See Something, Say Something initiative.” WPLG. WSVN.

Broward: A search for a chief facilities officer to oversee the district’s troubled $800 million bond program will start over after school board members called it an “embarrassing failure.” Two board members said they may want to go further and take action against Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, whose mostly positive evaluation discussion was shelved Tuesday by the latest developments. The job of facilities officer has been vacant since 2019, and a statewide grand jury said that lack of leadership has contributed to problems with the bond program, which is years behind schedule and $500 million over budget. Tuesday, Cartwright withdrew her recommendation of Harun Biswas for the jobs. It’s the fourth time in two months that Cartwright has removed a recommendation from the board agenda. “I can absolutely say the process, the people, is an absolute failure,” said board chair Torey Alston. Colleague Daniel Foganholi added, “This is a leadership issue.” Sun-Sentinel. Defense attorneys called Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz mentally ill and brain-damaged, while prosecutors insisted that Cruz killed 17 students and staff in a calculated and purposeful way as both presented closing arguments Tuesday in Cruz’s sentencing trial. Jurors will begin deliberations today to decide whether to sentence him to life in prison or recommend he be put to death. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG.

Central Florida: School districts across central Florida are starting to announce how — or if — they’ll make up class time lost when Hurricane Ian affected the area. So far, Osceola has announced no days will be made up, and Sumter is expected to do likewise at its next school board meeting Oct. 18. WKMG.

Palm Beach: At a special meeting today, school board members will discuss questions female student-athletes are asked about their periods on a Florida High School Athletics Association’s annual pre-participation physical form. The questions, which are marked as optional, ask girls when they had their first and most recent periods, how many they had in the past year, how much time they usually have from the start of one period to another, and their longest time between periods in the past year. Board member Marcia Andrews said she expects to hear Wednesday from Superintendent Michael Burke about what action the district might take to change the forms. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: The school district is hiring an outside law firm to review the findings of the statewide grand jury about the district’s compliance. “This is just about dotting every I, crossing every T and making sure Duval will not be a district as ever being thought of as not reporting this correctly,” said Superintendent Diana Greene. District officials are also creating a position of supervisor of school safety compliance. WJAX. Money raised by the half-cent sales tax approved by voters two years ago is mostly being used for school renovations and school security. But a state law requires districts to share voluntary sales surtax revenue with charter schools for “allowable uses,” and some of those schools are paying rent with their share. “I did want to point out that while the dollars were collected to do to improve the infrastructure of the school and for safety, I did note that some charter schools are using those dollars to pay their rent and I think the public needs to be aware of that,” said school board member Lori Hershey. WJAX.

Polk: School officials are proposing the launch of an air traffic control academy at Bartow Executive Airport as part of the district’s career academy program. The 10-month program would be developed in collaboration with several partners to offer traditional and remote digital air traffic control tower training. Steven Cochran, senior director of district’s Workforce Education Pathways, said there are only two current pathways to an air traffic controller career: through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Academy or with training provided through military service. There’s a national shortage of air traffic controllers because of retirements, the lack of training during the pandemic and the increase in amount of aircraft flying today. Lakeland Ledger.

Volusia: Levels of lead higher than the allowable limit were found in a recent test of water at Sugar Mill Elementary School in Port Orange. Eleven classrooms in six school buildings were affected, according to district officials, but the level of exposure to students and staff is not yet known. School board members have approved spending $350,000 to replace or reline the water pipes. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee, Sarasota: Manatee students won’t have to make up the five school days lost during Hurricane Ian, but three early-release days for high school students Dec. 20-22 will be converted to full school days. The extra 30 minutes in each school day made possible by a voter-approved tax covered the time lost, said district spokesman Mike Barber. Sarasota officials are still trying to decide about makeup days. North-county schools, which reopened Monday, were closed for nine days, and those in the south part of the county will have been out for 13 days by the time they start reopening next Monday. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

St. Johns: School board members approved a resolution to allow the district to temporarily exceed the state limit for class sizes. About 2,000 more students are enrolled this year over last, prompting the resolution that says, in part, “it is impractical, educationally unsound, or disruptive to student learning to continually move and relocate students within a grade level to maintain class size compliance.” State law dictates no more than 18 students per class in pre-K through 3rd grade, 22 students in grades 4-8, and 25 students in Grades 9-12. Starting in November, the district will add up to three new students in pre-K through 3rd-grade classes and five new students to classes in grades 4-12. Board members said the district will develop a plan to be in compliance with state limits by next October. WJXT. WTLV.

Escambia: The Bible is the latest school library book to be challenged in district schools. Its purpose is to  “indoctrinate children in Christianity,” and “promotes sexism, sex, violence, genocide, slavery, rape and beastiality. Includes examples of eating children. Causes Religious Trauma Syndrome,” the challenge alleged. It and 127 other books have been placed on the restricted list by some schools after the challenge, but Superintendent Tim Smith said the restriction for the Bible will be lifted immediately. “The Bible is allowed in schools and has a place in education according to Florida statutes,” he said.

Leon: School board members are considering a new policy that would allow cameras in classrooms if there is a “safety concern.” Recordings of instructional time in a classroom by a student, parent, the public, or media, would remain off-limits. “Sometimes we have situations where things happen in the classroom, and employees are accused of doing things that are simply untrue,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. “I think in isolated situations, cameras in a classroom could help first and foremost protect the students there in the room and then also protect our employees.” New policies are also proposed to comply with new state laws on reviewing instructional materials and challenging content in school textbooks, and on freedom of speech for school staff members in non-instructional settings. Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee Reports.

Santa Rosa: An active duty student at NAS Pensacola was arrested Tuesday and accused of making a bomb threat against a Santa Rosa County school. According to sheriff’s deputies, the call was traced to John Stewart Hawkins, 22, who said “he was going to shoot up a middle school in Pace and then kill himself.” WEAR.

Bay: Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have denied a school district appeal to be reimbursed for $4.8 million spent to repair Merritt Brown Middle School after Hurricane Michael in 2018. The storm blew the school’s roof off and caused water damage. FEMA District officials said they will continue to lobby for the funds. “It’s too great of a dollar amount,” said districrt director of facilities Lee Walters, “We’ve got invoices that we believe back up those expenses. Merritt Brown was obviously one of the more impacted schools by Hurricane Michael. … We’re going to exhaust every opportunity in receiving those funds for the district.” WMBB. WJHG. District officials have decided to join about 1,300 other school districts in a national class-action lawsuit against the e-cigarette company JUUL. District are asking for compensation for expenses incurred dealing with vaping issues in schools. WJHG.

Charlotte: Reopenings have been rescheduled for every school in the county except Port Charlotte Middle. The school suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Ian, including high winds pushing air conditioning units on the school’s roof off their mountings, leaving holes in the building. Superintendent Steve Dionisio said structural engineers “will guide us and will advise whether we can use part of the building.” If not, the district will consider portable classrooms. Dionisio also told school board members this week that some teachers and school bus drivers might not return to their jobs, worsening worker shortages. Charlotte Sun.

Suwannee: Four landscapers from the school district spent much of last week helping Sarasota County clean up campuses by cutting up and clearing debris. “They were a great crew and really in my opinion helped us make it so we could open up today,” Sarasota facility services director Don Hampton said on Monday. “They did a great job for us.” WCTV.

Colleges and universities: Some University of Central Florida students who were flooded out of their apartments during Hurricane Ian have to find new homes and replace all of their belongings. UCF is offering housing options on a first-come-first-served basis to about 700 students who have asked for help. WOFL. Bethune-Cookman University students are starting to return to their dorm rooms this week after being evacuated during the storm. Classes resume Monday. WMFE.

About that Sasse speech: A 2020 high school commencement address given by the probable future president of the University of Florida has caught the attention of many this week. In a seven-minute speech on Zoom, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, talked about murder hornets, rodent psychology, Carole Baskin, upper-body strength and more. During his visit to the UF campus Monday, Sasse acknowledged that parts of the speech fell flat. Tampa Bay Times.

False shooting threats: Threats of active shooters Tuesday prompted lockdowns and police responses at schools across Florida, including in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Law enforcement officials said the calls were false alarms, and they are investigating. Patch. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WLRN. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. WPTV. WOFL. WCJB. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. WWSB. WGFL.

Around the nation: National conservative political action committees are pouring money into local school board elections around the country. In Florida, one of the beneficiaries is Polk County District 7 school board candidate Jill Sessions. Associated Press. Recovering learning losses during the pandemic will cost an estimated $700 billion, according to a paper released Tuesday by the American Educational Research Association. About $190 billion has already been allocated to schools. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Expanding pathways programs, fostering cross-class friendships, and embracing opportunity pluralism are at the heart of the 21st century high school movement. That’s good for young people and current workers, and for American society. Bruno V. Manno, reimaginED. We’d never accept a mayor of a good-sized city being secretly hired by a handful of influential business executives, but Florida is on the verge of deciding to do just that for state university presidencies. Frank D. LoMonte, Palm Beach Post. The University of Florida didn’t get to its ranking as the No. 5 public university in the country by having academics and leaders who play the role of sycophants to politicians. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. Will the hiring of Ben Sasse as University of Florida president lead to the stifling of student activist initiatives and the suppression of academic freedom? There’s no way to be sure at this moment. However, the school’s history combined with Sasse’s views on gay marriage is a cause for concern. Irfan Kovankaya, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff