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10th July 2024
The Satanic Temple offers volunteers to Florida schools
Satanists from The Satanic Temple (TST) are offering to serve as volunteer chaplains in Florida schools in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis's push to integrate more religion into the state's public school system. The new Florida law allows volunteer school chaplains to provide support, services, and programs to students. Lucien Greaves, TST co-founder, stated that if a Florida school district introduces a chaplaincy program, TST "will be happy to participate." Greaves criticized DeSantis for falsely claiming that satanic chaplains would not be allowed, highlighting the government's role in dictating religious rights. The law requires school boards to assign duties to volunteer chaplains, inform parents, and conduct background screenings. Despite DeSantis's belief that satanists do not qualify as a religion, TST is recognized as a tax-exempt church. TST has threatened to sue if its members are banned from serving as chaplains. The organization, which does not believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural and promotes critical thinking and scientific understanding.
Florida leads nation in book removals and challenges
The Escambia County School Board is attempting to depose a seven-year-old student as part of a federal lawsuit over book bans. The board argues that it has the right to explore the claims and defenses in the case directly with the students. The lawsuit was filed by PEN America, Penguin Random House, book authors, and parents of students who were denied access to school library books. The plaintiffs have agreed to depositions of older students with limitations and parental supervision, but they draw the line at elementary-age children. Florida has been at the center of book ban controversies, with the state having the highest number of book removals and challenges. The plaintiffs are asking the judge to restore seven of the nearly 200 challenged books that remain restricted in county public schools. The depositions in the case have become heated, with the plaintiffs arguing that it is unnecessary and difficult for a seven-year-old to go through the process. The school board is also seeking to prevent the deposition of its members and superintendent. The board members claim legislative privilege and argue that their actions were legislative in nature. The controversy over book bans in Florida schools continues to unfold.
Nikolas Cruz agrees to donate brain to science in settlement
Florida mass shooter Nikolas Cruz has agreed to donate his brain to science in a "unique" civil settlement reached with one of his victims, according to court papers and experts. Cruz used an AR-15 assault rifle to massacre 17 students and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018. Anthony Borges, a survivor who was shot five times, proposed the unusual stipulation. The settlement agreement also gives Borges the right to Cruz's name for use in movies, books, and other media. Cruz, who is serving life in prison, can't profit from his crime and must obtain permission from Borges prior to giving any interviews. The agreement was hammered out in a Zoom meeting between Borges' father, Cruz, and Borges' lawyer. Borges, suffering from PTSD, didn't feel comfortable joining the discussions. "You could see what a psychopath he is," said Borges' lawyer. "He looked at Rory when we were all done and asked if he could apologize, and Nikolas apologized to him like they had been in a car accident together. It was just very cold and weird."
Privacy, please: Education Dept. gives AI a hall pass with conditions
The U.S. Department of Education has released guidance called "Designing for Education with Artificial Intelligence: An Essential Guide for Developers" to ensure that AI-driven innovations in schools are developed responsibly. The guidance recommends that educators work closely with vendors and tech developers to address the risks associated with AI. It emphasizes the importance of considering privacy, bias, and civil rights when implementing AI tools in schools. The guidance also highlights the need for educators to have the final say in AI recommendations and for developers to design products based on evidence-backed principles. Additionally, the guidance emphasizes the importance of protecting student privacy and being transparent about how AI-powered products are designed. The guidance is intended to shape the thinking of developers and school districts and does not impose any regulatory obligations. The report includes five key recommendations for vendors and educators, including designing with teaching and learning in mind, using evidence-backed principles, mitigating bias, protecting student privacy, and being transparent about product design. The guidance was developed through public listening sessions and input from various stakeholders.
Ed tech use continued to climb through 2023-24
School districts used an average of 2,739 different tools in 2023-24, an 8% jump from the previous year, according to Instructure’s LearnPlatform, an ed tech platform that helps districts research and choose digital learning products. In 2023-24, students accessed 45 different tools compared to 42 in 2022-23, while educators used an average of 49 tools in 2023-24 versus 42 the previous year. Among the 40 ed tech tools most commonly used by districts in 2023-24, 60% focused on individual learners through activities that include studying, creation, research and games. LearnPlatform also said there are signs that artificial intelligence (AI) could continue to drive investments in ed tech. To address privacy concerns, the nonprofit Future of Privacy Forum has created an AI vetting checklist for districts to ensure student data is safeguarded. LearnPlatform also suggests K-12 leaders create clear policies for AI usage that include ethical guidance regarding bias, privacy and transparency. 
How CISA is supporting schools' cyber defenses
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has developed multiple tools and resources in recent years to help schools protect themselves and their vulnerable information from cyberattacks. In an interview with K-12 Dive Trent Frazier, the agency's acting assistant director for stakeholder engagement, discusses how CISA views its role in K-12 cybersecurity, the Biden administration’s push to hold technology companies accountable for cybersecurity, and CISA’s budding partnership with the U.S. Department of Education. He notes in particular that school districts are qualified to use CISA’s free Cyber Hygiene Services, in which the federal agency scans and tests local governments’ vulnerabilities within their external networks or public web applications, adding that to date around 1,500 schools have signed up for the service.
Broward Education Foundation launches annual school supply drive
The Broward Education Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to serving students and teachers in Broward County Public Schools, has announced its annual school supply drive. Last year, the foundation provided over $2m worth of school supplies to under-resourced students in the county. The drive aims to foster equity in education by providing free resources to teachers and students. According to the National Education Association, teachers spend an average of $820 on classroom supplies each year. The foundation also supports teachers by providing classroom supplies. The president and CEO of the foundation emphasized the importance of having the right tools for academic success. Donors can help by placing donation boxes at their workplace, sponsoring a school, or hosting a virtual drive. The foundation has posted a free School Supply Drive Tool Kit on its website to assist with organizing drives. The most needed supplies include backpacks, notebooks, pencils, and markers.
Pasco County School District revises volunteer background check plan
The Pasco County School District has revised its plan to charge people for background checks to volunteer after facing complaints from residents. The district will not rescind the program but has made district funds available to cover the costs for individuals who can't afford the fingerprinting. The program, which took effect on July 1, aims to have continuous monitoring of volunteers. The revisions clarify the difference between volunteers and visitors, with only those having unsupervised time with children or handling money requiring a full background check. The district has received complaints that support for booster club efforts and community partnerships could dry up if everyone is required to go through the new process. Principals can use various funds to pay for the fingerprinting of volunteers. The district sent information explaining the program and the updates to potential volunteers, with over 1,000 people completing the process so far.
Seven Alachua County Public Schools students earn national recognition at FBLA Conference
Seven Alachua County Public Schools students were recognized at the Future Business Leaders of America, Inc. (FBLA) National Leadership Conference in Orlando. The event, which drew over 17,000 students, teachers, and volunteers from across the country, saw students from the Academy of Finance at Buchholz High School, the Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High School, and Eastside High School participate. The conference also featured workshops, an exhibit hall, and speakers on various business topics. FBLA is an education association that prepares students for leadership roles in business.
Student from School of Rock Fort Myers selected for AllStars music program tour
A student from School of Rock Fort Myers has been selected to perform in the School of Rock AllStars music program tour in 2024. The tour will feature School of Rock's most elite musicians, allowing audiences to witness a new generation of musical stars. The AllStars represent the highest level of achievement for School of Rock students, with fewer than 1% chosen each year. Students will have an authentic touring experience, including traveling on a tour bus and performing at famous venues and festivals. The tour also aims to raise awareness for Mental Health, with the AllStar teams working to raise donations for the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.
University of Florida expels students involved in pro-Palestinian protests
The University of Florida has expelled several students involved in pro-Palestinian protests on campus. The new dean of students, Chris Summerlin, overruled the recommendations made by the hearing bodies and decided to expel the students from school for three to four years. The students were among nine people arrested during a demonstration on the university campus. The university suspended some students for three years and others for four years, despite the hearing bodies recommending lesser punishments. The students have submitted appeals to overturn their punishments. The suspensions mean that the students would need to reapply for admission to the university. The court cases of the arrested students are expected to unfold over the summer. The university has not provided a reason for the tougher sanctions.

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