FAU suspends presidential search after pressure from state, black history seminar reset, school board elections, district marketing plan, and more

FAU search suspended: Florida Atlantic University officials have suspended their search for a new president “until further notice” after state officials ordered it shut down because of “anomalies” in the process. Last week, a presidential search committee recommended three finalists for the job, but did not include an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Friday, State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said in a letter that a straw poll in which committee members ranked their top six candidates “may run afoul” of a state law that says no part of any such committee’s meetings can be held “off the record.” He also said “at least one” candidate said he was asked on a form if he was “queer,” “male or transgender male,” and asked his “preferred pronouns,” the candidate said. Rodriguez claimed such questions are “potentially illegal.” State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said the university was being targeted because state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, was not a finalist. Fine said in March that DeSantis’ office had encouraged him to apply, though it is not known if he did. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WPTV.

Around the state: Duval civil rights attorneys are asking a court to move up elections for two school board seats from 2026 to 2024 because the districts were judged to be drawn with “intentional race-based decision-making,” Palm Beach County school officials are reconsidering their marketing plan now that they’re also competing with private schools for students, Flagler school board members will consider Tuesday how to replace the Flagler Youth Orchestra leader who recently resigned after what she called “inexcusable conduct” by some board members, a Broward school board member was appointed to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, and a Seminole County elementary teacher has been honored for helping two young children escape a burning car in May. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School board member Daniel Foganholi was one of three people appointed last week by Gov. DeSantis to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which studies school safety issues and makes recommendations for improvements. Others appointed were Punta Gorda Police Chief Pamela Davis and John Newman, chief of Hillsborough County’s Security and Emergency Management Department. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Politics. Friday was a painful visit to Stoneman Douglas High for two school board members who lost loved ones in the 2018 shooting in the school’s 1200 building. Debbi Hixon, whose husband Chris was the school’s athletic director, described the shooting as being “like a silent movie that plays in my head all the time.” Lori Alhadeff’s daughter Alyssa also died that day. Alhadeff said the sight of her daughter’s blood on the floor of the preserved crime scene was “extremely painful and horrific.” Once visits of family members and victims are completed, the building will be torn down. WPLG. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: County officials are asking residents for feedback on pedestrian and traffic safety near Riverview High School, Webb Middle, Town and Country Elementary, Woodbridge Elementary and Morgan Woods Elementary. “You know what you deal with on a daily basis and what the issues are in your community. They’re the best source of information,” said Bob Campbell, the county’s transportation engineering manager. “Are the cars speeding? Are they paying attention to the stop signs? Are they looking out for kids? They can tell us. Maybe we can work with them and the school principals and law enforcement to come up with an action plan to address the issues they face every day out there.” WFTS.

Palm Beach: The state’s new universal school choice law has the school district rethinking its marketing approach to attract students. Up to now, the district has largely focused on using its website to convince charter school students to return to traditional schools. Now, the campaign also has to persuade parents to forego vouchers, and that public schools are their best choice. “I think we’re going to have to dedicate real resources to this beyond our website,” said Superintendent Michael Burke. “We’ve been competing with charter schools for 20 years. We’ve never competed with private schools.” Board member Marcia Andrews agreed. “We have to put together a plan on how we’re going to get our students back. I know we’re working on marketing and aggressive communication. It’s almost going to have to be a recruiting plan.” Palm Beach County has 180 public schools and 161 private ones. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Civil rights attorneys who forced the redrawing of school board districts are asking a judge to put two board seats that are supposed to be on the 2026 ballot before voters in 2024 instead. A court recently ruled that the 14 city council districts showed signs of “intentional race-based decision-making.” Each of the seven school board seats are formed by combining two council districts. The request for the special election contends there is “immense constitutional harm” in having officeholders picked by voters who were unfairly grouped together. Florida Times-Union.

Lee: An 11-year-old Patriot Elementary School student was found responsible by a judge Friday for making a school shooting threat a year ago. The boy was found delinquent and will be sentenced Aug. 3. His father said his son’s statement was an “ill-conceived joke.” The case made national headlines when Sheriff Carmine Marceno posted a video on Facebook of a deputy walking the then-10-year-old, handcuffed, to a cruiser. Marceno defended that decision, saying, “We’re going to handcuff them, we’re going to post their picture and there’s going to be a perp walk. I don’t care who it is, I don’t care what age it is.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Seminole: An Evans Elementary School teacher has received a life-saving award from the Oviedo Fire Department for helping two young children get to safety when the car they were in caught fire in the parking lot of the Oviedo Mall in May. Suzanne Matos said she saw smoke pouring out of a car and ran to help the children, 4 and 2, get out of the car and away from it. The children’s mother was in the mall. “I’m just blessed that these kids are okay and no one got hurt,” she said. WESH. WOFL. WKMG.

Flagler: School board members will discuss how to replace the Flagler Youth Orchestra director at their meeting Tuesday. Cheryl Tristam resigned the job last week, blaming “reprehensible and inexcusable” conduct from “some” school board members. Board members had questioned why she had access to a district bank account and why the account had not been audited for 18 years. The orchestra was started as a district program in 2005, but Tristam said she “wasn’t really given a whole lot of instruction when this account was set up.” She added that an audit “will reveal procedural missteps – no doubt because the district never trained me according to their procedures – but nothing more.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. Amy Neuenfeldt, the county’s 2021 assistant principal of the year, has been appointed as principal at Wadsworth Elementary School. She replaces Paul Peacock, whose contract was not renewed after an investigation confirmed an employee’s complaint against him. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: Johnson University Florida announced Friday that it was closing its Kissimmee campus, effective June 30, 2024. “Despite strong efforts from the Johnson University Florida faculty and staff, we have been unsuccessful in increasing enrollment significantly and the campus has not made sufficient progress toward its benchmarks,” the school said in a statement on its website. Johnson University had acquired Florida Christian College in 2013 after it lost its accreditation. WFTV. Christian Standard. Gov. DeSantis has appointed five new members to the Florida Gateway College District Board of Trustees. They are: state Rep. Robert Brannan III, R-Macclenny; John Crawford, a principal in the Baker County School District; John Medina, president and chief executive officer of First Federal Bank; Suzanne Norris, executive vice president of Millennium Bank; and Dr. Miguel Tepedino, of North Florida Family Medicine and an adjunct associate clinical professor at the University of Florida. The appointments are subject to the approval of the Florida Senate. Office of the Governor. A New College of Florida student has been charged with battery for allegedly spitting on school trustee Christopher Rufo at a May 15 bill signing at the school. Catherine Harrity called the charge “an attempt to punish me and are a scare tactic to silence and harass students.” Tampa Bay Times.

Black history seminar reset: A seminar to help educators teach students about black history that was postponed has now been rescheduled, but with fewer topics being addressed. The Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force on Friday approved Aug. 7 as the new date for the virtual seminar, and dropped “Contextualizing Emancipation for Students,” “Florida & World War II: The African American Experience” and “Beyond Checking the Boxes: Diving Deeper in African American History.” Some task force members are objecting to the new agenda, saying they feared they were “rubber stamping” something put together by state officials. “We did not necessarily agree with this agenda,” said Bernadette Kelley-Brown, an associate professor of education at Florida A&M University who is an unpaid staff to the board and not a voting member. “We were given this agenda by the Florida Department of Education.” Politico Florida.

Authors on book bans: Two authors explain why they felt compelled to challenge new state laws that ban or restrict certain books from school libraries and classrooms. Tampa Bay Times.

More on test scores: Results from the new standardized Florida Assessment of Student Thinking exams were announced late last month. Fifty percent of students in grades 3-10 scored at grade-level or above in English language arts, and 56 percent of those in grades 3-8 performed at grade-level or above in math. Here are reports from districts around the state. Marion. Nassau, Columbia, Baker, Union, Bradford, Putnam.

Opinions on schools: Kudos to Florida Atlantic University for managing to attract three qualified candidates for president, a far cry from the dreaded political appointment of an inexperienced state legislator who somehow thought himself worthy of serious consideration. Experience counts, especially given the headwinds higher education in Florida now faces. Palm Beach Post. What politicians still fail to grasp is that teaching and learning are profoundly human enterprises. Without a knowledgeable teacher to carefully explain difficult concepts, encourage and motivate students to keep trying, and provide helpful guided feedback, students will flounder. Sally Butzin, Tallahassee Democrat. It’s obviously okay to surround children with talk about sex between men and women, or even dysfunctional sex between men and women. But we can’t give kids the idea in Florida that some people choose to create healthy life partnerships with people of their same sex. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff