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Teacher shortage a ‘myth’? I see it every day | Opinion

South Florida Local News - 14 hours 45 min ago

The Florida Education Association estimates there are over 5,000 teacher vacancies in Florida public schools, which represents a critical shortage. Incredibly, officials at Florida’s Department of Education (FDOE) dispute the shortage as a “myth” created by the teacher’s union to create a fake problem. A recent column by the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Mark Lane mocked the deniers by sarcastically quoting them as saying, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Pay no attention to that substitute teacher wandering the halls trying to find the right classroom.”

That made me laugh because I am that substitute teacher.

I began working as a substitute three months ago, and I often find myself rushing through a seemingly endless maze of long hallways, breathlessly trying to find the right classroom before the tardy bell rings.

It’s apparent the FDOE would prefer you not to know I exist, but I won’t give them that satisfaction. As that substitute teacher “wandering the halls,” I can tell you that, by denying the existence of a teacher shortage, it’s the FDOE that’s propagating a myth.

Arthur Harley

Here’s the truth: The teacher shortage is shockingly real and disastrously damaging.

I see it every day.

I see it every time I visit the website that lists the available subbing assignments in Broward County. There are hundreds of them, especially for special needs students, many of which go unfilled. That alone is clear evidence of a shortage.

But that’s only the beginning.

As a roving substitute, I often work at two or three different schools each week. I have walked into many front offices in the morning to find personnel scrambling to fill vacancies due to illness, family emergencies, meetings with teachers or parents and other reasons. It’s not unusual for me and other subs to sit in these offices waiting for up to an hour before finally being assigned as the staff hustle to identify where the deficiencies are and how best to fill them.

These offices are often beehives of activity with people running in and out from all directions. Staff members are usually on their phones, walkie-talkies or both simultaneously, giving and receiving updates and trading suggestions.

And the staffing challenges don’t end when the morning does.

One day, I had to leave school in the early afternoon, and there was no teacher to relieve me. Eventually, a security guard ended up taking my class to the cafeteria. I later found out there have been times when multiple classes were taken to the cafeteria, the library or the gym because there was no one to watch over them. As a result, the students lose valuable time in the classroom.

I had another assignment in which the regular teacher went on leave, and then, to further complicate matters, the replacement teacher had to leave unexpectedly. Soon after, parents began contacting the school complaining that there were no grades being posted online and the kids were complaining they weren’t learning anything.

And therein lies the most damaging effect of this shortage.

In the frantic rush to find anyone to occupy the classroom, what gets lost in the shuffle is the children’s education. That’s all. Schools are so absorbed in assigning placeholders for the day that the curriculum and the need for the children to be consistently taught and tested are compromised.

Yes, there is a teacher shortage, and the primary victims of it are the children.

Teacher pay is a critical factor in this. According to the National Education Association, out of the 50 states, Florida ranks an abysmal 48th in teacher pay. The Broward County Teachers Union is stalled in a months-long negotiation over teacher salaries with the Broward County School Board. The board is offering what the union describes as a “meager 1.7%” increase, while the union is asking for 7% to 9%.

At one recent school board meeting, dozens of teachers described how they struggle to make ends meet, even to the point of applying for food stamps. It’s no wonder they have fled in droves to pursue better opportunities in recent years.

We need to pay teachers enough to attract qualified and competent people into the teaching profession rather than inducing them to flee from it. I have always been an advocate of improving teacher pay, but now that I have experienced a fraction of the challenges they face, I can personally attest they deserve it.

If we don’t fix this, our children and our future will bear the damage. And that damage is being done as we speak.

I see it every day.

Arthur Harley is a Margate resident. Contact him at arthurharley@currently.com.

Homebuyers are perfect fraud targets. Here’s how to protect your info | Opinion

South Florida Local News - 14 hours 45 min ago

You’ve saved up for years for a down payment on your dream home. You’ve taken all the right steps: researched neighborhoods, created your list of “must-haves,” and enlisted the help of a real estate agent to guide you through the process.

But just as you’re getting ready to make an offer, you make a shocking discovery. Your credit score has dropped precipitously — and taken with it your chances of securing a mortgage.

In recent years, thousands of prospective homebuyers have become victims of identity theft or had their personal data stolen. The Federal Trade Commission reported 1.1 million cases of identity theft and more than 2.3 million cases of fraud in 2022 alone.

Lamont Breland is principal broker of The Breland Group in Louisville, Ky. (Courtesy)

When personal data falls into the wrong hands, it can be used to open new lines of credit in a victim’s name and run up large bills that go unpaid. These new credit inquiries and outstanding debts can tarnish even the most pristine credit reports. Fully restoring credit can take seven years or more.

In 2018, Marriott suffered a data breach that exposed the sensitive data of over half a billion customers, including home addresses and passport numbers. A few years later, cybercriminals breached LinkedIn’s database, exposing the personal information of 700 million users.

Real estate fraud is also on the rise. Last year, real estate and rental fraud cost victims over $396 million — an 86% increase from 2020. From a fraudster’s perspective, the real estate industry is a natural target. Homebuyers and renters typically share everything from their Social Security number to their mother’s maiden name when shopping for housing.

The good news is that there are a number of strategies individuals can use to keep their personal data from falling into the wrong hands.

Something as simple as swapping an eight-character password for a common phrase — up to 100 characters — can be easier for you to remember while making your data more challenging for cyber criminals to crack.

In addition, and perhaps most consequentially for home buyers and sellers, several states have enacted laws to protect consumer data that is held, processed and controlled by businesses.

At least 11 states have enacted a comprehensive data privacy law. These laws generally address a variety of consumer rights and business obligations, including a consumer’s right to correct or delete personal information held by a business, to opt out of the sale of personal information to third parties, and to request the deletion of their personal data. Such laws also prohibit businesses from discriminating against a consumer who decides to exercise these rights.

Several states have enacted other laws that require businesses to either dispose of personal information or provide notification of security breaches involving personal information.

Another best practice for homebuyers and sellers is to review the privacy policies of the brokerages they use. Generally, these policies will address the collection, use and sharing of personal information; types of personal information that can be collected, used and shared; and rights to access, change or delete personal information. Many current privacy policies also have subheadings that make content easier for consumers to navigate and digest.

The National Association of Realtors offers a wealth of resources on data security and privacy, including its Data Security and Privacy Toolkit, which can equip real estate professionals with the latest information on current laws as well as policies and best practices for securing consumer data.

Finally, if you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of fraud or identity theft, don’t wait to act. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission through IdentityTheft.gov and ask the major credit reporting agencies to freeze your accounts and issue a fraud alert. In addition, contact the fraud department of any business or organization where you maintain financial accounts, especially your bank.

Cybercrime is a constant threat in the digital age. But a few simple, proactive steps can go a long way toward keeping your data safe.

Lamont Breland is principal broker of The Breland Group in Louisville, Ky., and 2024 chair of the National Association of Realtors’ Safety Advisory Committee.

Broward cities concerned New River tunnel-bridge dispute will delay commuter rail buildout

South Florida Local News - 14 hours 51 min ago

From Hallandale to Deerfield Beach, local political leaders are becoming nervous about the potential delays in the development of the proposed Broward Commuter Rail service that would operate along the Florida East Coast Railway line.

The immediate chief hurdle: a new rail crossing at downtown Fort Lauderdale’s New River. Mayor Dean Trantalis and business interests that support him want a tunnel. Broward County commissioners and other local leaders favor a bridge.

The next window for a funding application to Washington opens in February and the county is nowhere near the point where it can submit one. If no agreement is reached, some fear that hundreds of millions of dollars will be lost.

Gregory Stuart is executive director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, which works with 31 local governments and municipalities to coordinate transportation policies across the county. It’s responsible for deciding how to collaboratively apply for and spend federal money on projects.

In a recent interview, Stuart told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that time is of the essence for submitting an application to Washington for federal funding. The window for 2024 opens in February.

“I think the county is going to move forward with a selection for a crossing,” he said. “There is lots of time to have a discussion. But we are running out of time to make things happen.”

Lagging behind?

“The thing is we don’t even have engineering drawings,” Stuart said. “It would be highly unusual for the federal government to hand over $1 billion or $2 billion for a project that has no design.”

“If they don’t understand this, there might be a problem,” he added.

For example, the application by Brightline that last week produced a $3 billion federal grant for its “Brightline West” high-speed rail project between Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Los Angeles area, took up to 4,000 pages and years of work. A New River tunnel would likely cost $3 billion to build, according to a consultant’s study. Each of three bridge options is under $1 billion.

The national competition for rail grants is stiff. Last week, the Biden Administration announced $8.2 billion for 10 major passenger rail projects across the country, including “Brightline West.” The money is from a pool of $66 billion allocated for rail from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which runs through 2026.

A Brightline train passes over the bridge over the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 7. The lack of a political consensus for how a Broward County- sponsored commuter line would cross the river has resulted in a plan to start the project on the south side so that service would initially run between a location near BrowardHealth Medical Center and Aventura in northern Miami-Dade County. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

The New River debate, however, continues.

At a joint city-county workshop last Tuesday, Trantalis stuck to his insistence on the need for a tunnel, and vowed to push ahead with another study to examine the cost and design of a tunnel.

This came after a consulting firm called Whitehouse looked at three bridge alternatives and a tunnel and laid out the costs and other findings.

The mayor reiterated his arguments that a bridge would stifle progress, divide the city between east and west, and again pose waterway traffic problems for marine interests.

Local business interests supported by the Downtown Development Authority agree with the mayor.

“The investment pipeline we established moving forward would be negatively impacted by vertical infrastructure that would cut the town into two,” Jenni Morejon, president and CEO of the Downtown Development Authority, said in an interview. “It’s those connections for pedestrians and the public spaces would be impacted, as well as the usability of real estate next to a tall bridge. Downtown Fort Lauderdale is a very compact downtown, unlike big cities like Miami and Jacksonville, which are spread out.”

But county commissioners, citing the cost and lengthy time it would take to build an underground passage beneath the river, recently opted 9-0 for a bridge. Three of five city commissioners have agreed.

“We have a consensus among the Broward Commission that we favor a bridge,” said County Mayor Nan Rich at last week’s workshop. “We have to move forward as cities north and south are building housing and projects expecting rail service.”

Added Lamar Fisher, the immediate past mayor: “Broward has promised that a commuter rail will serve the south and north communities. Time is of the essence. We want to work together, but this is a county project.”

Restiveness among cities

While the county and the Fort Lauderdale mayor have publicly aired their differences, Broward cities on both sides of the New River have made their concerns known about the economic consequences of delaying a decision on the river crossing.

Collectively, they have green-lighted the construction of hundreds of millions of dollars in transit-oriented projects in their respective downtowns, where new residential and commercial developments are either on the rise or on the drawing boards.

Their actions were largely prompted by the emergence of Brightline, the higher-speed rail line that now operates between Miami and Orlando along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor, with stops in Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.

Brightline’s momentum, along with a surge of inbound population to South Florida from the Northeast and elsewhere around the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, gave a new impetus for the Florida Department of Transportation to update a two-decade-old idea to establish a “Coastal Link” rail line from Miami to Jupiter, with station stops among a number of cities in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Since January 2021, the state transportation department and Broward County Transit have evaluated alternatives for a separate and distinct commuter rail along the FEC rail corridor from Aventura in Miami-Dade County into Broward. That evaluation, according to a recent FDOT newsletter, “is a direct result of a previous study known as the ‘Coastal Link’ that evaluated 85 miles of commuter rail in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.”

In August 2022, the County Commission adopted the Broward Commuter Rail South plan to extend commuter rail service on the FEC corridor north from Aventura, a distance of 11.5 miles. The project is, in effect, an initial step to move commuter rail north of Miami-Dade, which has allocated millions to build multiple stations for a commuter line between Aventura and downtown Miami.

For Broward South, the FDOT has recommended station stops for Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and a location near Broward Health just south of the New River.

Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun SentinelA Florida Department of Transportation map shows the extent of a proposed Broward Coastal Rail Link commuter system. Broward County has given its blessing to a southern segment between Aventura and a point south of the New River in Fort Lauderdale.

But the makeup of a more efficient New River crossing has remained a political flashpoint between Fort Lauderdale and county, even though most agree that the decades-old drawbridge now in service is insufficient to accommodate trains operated by Brightline, the Florida East Coast Railway freight line and the proposed commuter rail line.

Ahead of last week’s city-county workshop, mayors whose cities not only desire, but now expect, commuter rail service in their towns checked in with letters expressing a sense of urgency to resolve the river crossing issue and expedite the commuter project.

”It is time to move forward,” Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy told the Sun Sentinel on Friday, “Every study has shown the tunnel concept is incredibly expensive and the ratio of expense to ridership wouldn’t help the application score in the federal review process. The money is not unlimited with the federal government.”

The “BCR South” project, Levy said, “is moving forward as the first segment of Broward Commuter Rail. BCR South has already received funding support, by the county and state, and our city for the station.”

“We are moving forward with the FTA (Federal Transit Administration), and our regional partners, in Miami-Dade, FEC (Florida East Coast) and Brightline,” he added.

But to the north of the river, cities such as Oakland Park, Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach are getting restive over the river crossing debate. All three have been recommended for coastal link station stops by the FDOT. None is in line for a Brightline stop in the future.

“We, as a region, have been planning for Coastal Link for well over a decade. Individual cities have created zoning districts and acquired land, all with the idea that we would eventually have commuter rail running along the eastern corridor in our County,” wrote Pompano Beach Mayor Rex Hardin.

“Better transit opportunities is a vital step to improve the housing affordability in all of our cities, which is critically important,” he said. “However, the issue of how to cross the New River has languished for too long and is impeding progress towards a new way to travel for Broward County residents and visitors. Numerous studies have shown that the most economical crossing alternative is a bridge. Some folks may desire a tunnel of some sort but the extra costs involved make that idea simply not feasible.

“With all due respect for the City of Fort Lauderdale,” Hardin added, “this is not a City matter, it is a regional matter. If the City of Fort Lauderdale were willing to pay the extra expense for a tunnel then we would have already been moving forward on the project. That has not happened so far.”

Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz wrote that the pace at which the Broward commuter project is moving “should be embarrassing to us all.”

“The vision of the Coastal Link project cannot be achieved without commuter rail services spanning from downtown Miami to West Palm Beach,” he said. “The need for Broward County to move forward on this project in its entirety is now. We as elected officials and community leaders owe that to our residents and business community and I implore you to resolve the New River Crossing issue expeditiously.”

A poster displaying the new livery for Tri-Rail trains is displayed during a news conference at the Tri-Rail station in West Palm Beach last summer. The line says it would like to be considered as the future operator of the coastal commuter rail service now on the drawing boards. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel) Potential ridership there for the taking

Whenever it is that the entirety of the project is built, there appears to be little doubt that the ridership will be there when the trains start rolling.

Although South Florida commuters and other travelers have long-standing love affairs with their cars, evidence is rising that many are weary of increasingly congested streets and highways, and are willing to rely more on rail.

Brightline, since its start-up in 2018, has compiled annual passenger numbers that exceed a million people when excluding the hiatus it took due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And last week, Tri-Rail, the publicly subsidized, three-decade-old commuter line which uses the state-owned rail corridor west of I-95 between the West Palm Beach area and Miami International Airport, announced a surge in passenger traffic for 2023.

“We are in a very unique situation here,” David Dech, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the overseer of Tri-Rail, said in an interview Friday. “Brightline has stirred so much excitement for rail. When is the last time you’ve heard about normal everyday people being excited about riding the train? You’ve got extended ridership on (the Tri-Rail) side and we think we have a good story to tell. From being a lifetime railroader, this is a first for me.”

He said Tri-Rail is “routinely seeing days of over 14,000 riders a day.”

That’s short of the pre-COVID daily ridership of 15,000, Dech said, but in a year, “I think we’re blowing that number away.’

Dech added that Tri-Rail would entertain an invitation to be the operator of the coastal commuter line.

“That is a decision that is going to be made in Broward County and in Miami-Dade,” he said. “We have very a good partnership with them but it’s going to be made by the people owning and operating this. We’ll see what happens. If we are not the operator, we are still a partner.”

Ask Amy: High-schooler wants distance from former friend

South Florida Local News - 15 hours 15 min ago

Dear Amy: I’m a girl in 11th grade.

In my freshman year, I made friends with “Ruby.”

Over time I came to understand that I needed to end the friendship due to Ruby’s troubling behavior toward others and with me.

Now, two years later, I have a new friend, “Sammie,” who is also friends with Ruby.

I only hang out with Sammie when Ruby is not present.

On several occasions when I was talking with Sammie, Ruby joined the conversation.

I was cordial, but I tried to limit my contact.

Now, when I see Ruby in the hall at school, Ruby waves enthusiastically and calls my name excitedly.

I don’t want any contact with Ruby. I don’t want any association with this person’s bad actions, including occasionally being violent.

I don’t want to confront Ruby to say I’m not interested in friendship, but Ruby keeps making attempts, suggesting renewing the friendship.

How can I gently distance myself from Ruby without causing conflict or hurting this person’s feelings?

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— Desperate for Distance

Dear Desperate: I think that you should continue along the careful course you’ve already set. Be polite, non-committal, and avoidant.

Ruby might have changed somewhat during the many months you’ve successfully been distant, and while you should stay open to that possibility, you should not hang out with someone — anyone — who makes you uncomfortable.

If Ruby confronts you about your distance, you might say something like, “I’m just hanging back, like usual.”

Don’t let yourself be drawn in. You don’t need to answer loaded questions. Just be quiet and polite.

You don’t seem to have discussed Ruby with “Sammie” in any depth, and I also think this is wise, although I caution you that if Ruby hasn’t really changed, Sammie might be drawn into a friendship drama-triangle with Ruby at one point, Sammie at another, and you at the third.

You might wonder if Sammie is making the right choice regarding a friendship with this challenging person, but that friendship decision should be up to Sammie.

All of this is a reminder of what a social mine-field high school can be, but you seem well-equipped to handle these challenges.

If you were in my class, I’d give you extra-credit for being both sensitive and smart.

Dear Amy: I am in my mid-30s. Over the last 10 years, my life has changed significantly.

I’m married now and my husband and I have two children.

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with looking way down the road.

I used to be this very adventurous person. I was more or less up for anything. I’d describe myself as almost daring and unconventional.

Yesterday my husband and I had a lengthy (and I mean lengthy) conversation about granite countertops.

Our kids are three and five years old. Our world revolves around them, other families with children their ages, our jobs, and our house.

I find myself wondering what happened to us and wondering how we can fix it.

— Safe but not Sound

Dear Safe: First of all, even though you are deep into the wooliest part of your family life, you possess enough perspective to remember your earlier self with fondness — and you want to reclaim access to that person and those feelings.

Some people dive into the granite conversation, and they stay there, forever, locked into choices and actions that are ultimately superficial.

My first suggestion is that you might consider the perspective that raising children at this stage is actually loaded with tiny adventures and some big challenges. You and your husband are scaling small mountains every day.

Second, I think that you two should leave your children, and your home environment, for a weekend. Two whole days.

While away, you should rest, relax, and make a determination to look at your larger life-goals. Reach for the sky and write down your list.

You want more adventure: what are some ways you can get that as individuals, as a couple, and as a family?

How can you raise your children to be free, brave, and bold souls?

When you’re young, adventure has a way of finding you.

When you’re older, you have to deliberately seek it. I hope you will.

Dear Amy: I thought your advice to “Wondering” was completely hysterical. Wondering was concerned about her boyfriend’s super-close relationship to his sister. You interpreted this as a “threat.”

Give me a break!

— Dismayed

Dear Dismayed: “Wondering” already felt threatened by the relationship, and then the sister seemed to deliver an actual threat. I thought it was wisest to walk away.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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ASK IRA: Does Heat rotation retain same hierarchy when all are healthy?

South Florida Local News - 15 hours 40 min ago

Q: Once Tyler Herro is back into the starting lineup, we have a bench that includes Duncan Robinson, Caleb Martin, Josh Richardson, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Kevin Love, who have all earned rotation minutes and frankly make our team better. Is the solution for Erik Spoelstra and the Heat to go 10 deep on a nightly basis? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to go 10 deep and keep the minutes down, especially for the older members of this roster? – Carlos, West Park.

A: First, let’s not assume who will necessarily go to the bench when Tyler Herro returns. The spacing Duncan Robinson provides cannot necessarily be replicated. Plus, I’m not necessarily sure there will be a season-long commitment to Haywood Highsmith as starting power forward. In fact, if Jimmy Butler is willing, there could be a case for Jimmy moving to power forward to accommodate Tyler and Duncan in the starting lineup. But, yes, there are at least 10 puzzle pieces that Erik Spoelstra could put into play. It also could be a case where Haywood goes from starter to a diminished role. So, we wait.

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Q: Ira, I am amazed at the lack of patience some of your readers have with the development of Nikola Jovic. Especially when in the same mailbag you have another question about how far Duncan Robinson has come this season. As an avid fan of “Ask Ira” and the Heat, I have watched the incremental improvements from Bam Adebayo. It was frustrating at times, as you could see Bam improve over each season but in small steps. Look at what he is now and there will be more. Duncan Robinson’s improvement is very evident this year, as you saw small bits of his expanded offensive game late last year. You can say that with Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and many others. The Heat develop talent and it takes more than a season and a half. Niko is a good offensive player and has been asked to improve his defense and primarily his rebounding. That seems to be what he is focusing on. I agree with Jimmy Butler that as Niko develops, we will see a very strong core of Bam, Tyler Herro, Caleb Martin (hopefully), Niko and others to be named. I would appreciate your thoughts. – Mike, San Diego.

A: I think context is needed here. The question in question was about Nikola Jovic and this season. And at the moment, it is difficult to envision a definitive rotation role for Nikola, based on the proven depth. Could he grow into something? That certainly is the hope, as Jimmy Butler has expressed. But beyond an extensive amount of injuries, there does not appear to be an immediate path to minutes. And even with the injuries, Erik Spoelstra elected to go eight deep rather than play Nikola in Friday night’s loss to the Cavaliers. But, again, it doesn’t mean that development is stunted just because a player isn’t given game minutes.

Q: Tell me they’re not going to lose to the Hornets or Bulls this week. That should be four wins. – Ethan.

A: I can’t tell you that, because the Hornets have been playing better since the return of Miles Bridges, who became eligible after the last time the Heat played Charlotte, and the Bulls have regained their stride amid the absence of Zach LaVine. Plus it’s difficult to take two in a row against any opponent, with the Heat playing the Hornets on Monday and Wednesday, and then the Bulls on Thursday and Saturday.

Time for a permanent cease fire in Gaza | Letters to the editor

South Florida Local News - 15 hours 45 min ago

I write this letter with a profound sense of urgency and a heart weighed down by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The relentless violence and loss of innocent lives demand immediate attention and decisive action from Congress. As members of this compassionate community, we cannot remain silent in the face of such suffering.

Images of destruction, stories of families torn apart, and the pervasive fear that grips the people of Gaza have left an indelible mark on our collective consciences. Regardless of geographical boundaries, we are bound by our shared humanity. Now Congress must rise above political differences and champion the cause of peace.

Our elected representatives must understand the urgency of establishing a permanent cease fire in Gaza. This isn’t just a political matter; it’s a moral imperative. The toll on innocent lives, the trauma experienced by children and the destruction of homes and infrastructure demand a robust and immediate response. We, as a community, must implore Congress to prioritize diplomacy, engage with international partners, and work tirelessly toward a lasting resolution.

I call on the Sun Sentinel to be a powerful advocate for our collective plea. Your platform can galvanize our community to action, encouraging individuals to reach out to members of Congress and demand concrete steps toward a cease fire. In the spirit of humanity and compassion, let our voices echo through the halls of Congress, urging our elected officials to champion the peace we so desperately need. Together we can be a force for change, standing in solidarity with the people of Gaza and working toward a future free from the shadows of conflict.

Pauline Case, Fort Lauderdale

Violence against women

We thought violence against women and girls couldn’t get worse. Then Oct. 7 occurred. It will live in our gut forever, and like the horror of Sept. 11, some atrocities were filmed.

I was astonished that women’s organizations and the United Nations made little comment about the sexual violence perpetuated against innocents. Savagery, brutality, decapitations and murder, and yet silence, maybe from fear. Voices from members of the National Organization for Women are speaking out. We knew that rapes would probably occur, but the terrorists planned “to dirty the victims” with cruelty, as they called it. Bodies of women and children were found stripped and bloodied from sexual violence.

Justice in court is rare, especially for women living everyday lives. We are always on the alert for danger, now that we see video in the media. Perhaps women and their organizations were silent because they have been personally affected by sexual violence, or they were not believed and thus got little help. We are always seeking funding from Congress. Our cries are often ignored or action is postponed. There are still too few medical facilities to assist victims of sexual violence, even in affluent communities in Florida.

Sheila Jaffe, Boca Raton

The writer is president of the Palm Beach County National Organization for Women chapter

For free trade schools

The timing is perfect. The devastating interruptions in the education of our youth as the result of COVID, coupled with huge increases in the need for skilled workers brought on by the massive influx of new people flocking to our state, has produced the perfect opportunity for Gov. Ron DeSantis to open free trade schools across Florida to provide many disenfranchised young people with opportunity while fulfilling the critical needs of construction, restaurant, landscaping, retail and hospitality businesses.

Hopefully, we learned from The National Youth Administration (NYA) of FDR’s New Deal during America’s Great Depression and DeSantis will establish free trade schools with no-nonsense courses leading to certification in landscaping, basic carpentry, masonry, plumbing and electrical work and computer science. It would provide many young people a route to productive jobs with a future.

Robert Fox, Lake Worth Beach

Casey DeSantis invited outsiders to caucus in Iowa. The state party said no.

South Florida Local News - 17 hours 48 min ago

Casey DeSantis, the wife of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, drew criticism Saturday from the rival campaign of former President Donald Trump for seeking to recruit out-of-state supporters to participate in the nation’s first Republican nominating contest.

The backlash came a day after Casey DeSantis, during a Fox News appearance with her husband, urged supporters from elsewhere to “descend upon the state of Iowa to be a part of the caucus.”

“You do not have to be a resident of Iowa to be able to participate in the caucus,” said Casey DeSantis, who has been a key player in her husband’s campaign and was specifically addressing mothers and grandmothers who support him.

But the call to action is at odds with caucus rules, according to the Republican Party of Iowa, which hours later said that nonresidents were barred from caucusing.

“Remember: you must be a legal resident of Iowa and the precinct you live in and bring photo ID with you to participate in the #iacaucus!” the party wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Trump’s campaign on Saturday accused the DeSantis campaign of spreading misinformation about the caucuses, which will be held Jan. 15. It suggested that the move was part of a broader scheme to change the outcome in the state, where polls show that Trump, the Republican front-runner, has a significant lead.

“The Trump campaign strongly condemns their dirty and illegal tactics and implores all Trump supporters to be aware of the DeSantises’ openly stated plot to rig the caucus through fraud,” the campaign said in a statement.

In an email Saturday, Andrew Romeo, a spokesperson for the DeSantis campaign, drew attention to comments made later Friday by Casey DeSantis on X, attempting to clarify her earlier remarks.

“While voting in the Iowa caucus is limited to registered voters in Iowa, there is a way for others to participate,” she wrote.

Her husband also addressed the controversy while speaking to reporters Friday in Iowa.

“While voting in the Iowa caucus is limited to registered voters in Iowa, there is a way for others to participate,” he said. “They even let people go and speak on behalf of candidates, and they have all these precincts, so you may have people who really can speak strongly about our leadership that are going to come.”

The Trump campaign continued to seize upon Casey DeSantis’ remarks Saturday, calling on Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has endorsed the Florida governor and snubbed Trump, to clarify the caucus eligibility rules. It also demanded that Reynolds disavow the tactics promoted by .Casey DeSantis as “flagrantly wrong that could further disenfranchise caucusgoers.”

A spokesperson for Reynolds did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Richard, Samuel lead way for UF men’s basketball in victory over Richmond

South Florida Local News - Sat, 12/09/2023 - 20:36

SUNRISE — Will Richard scored 19 of his 21 points after halftime, Tyrese Samuel added a double-double, and Florida defeated Richmond 87-76 at the Orange Bowl Classic doubleheader on Saturday.

Samuel scored 18 points and gathered 14 rebounds for Florida (6-3). Zyon Pullin scored 14 points off the bench and Riley Kugel added 11. Micah Handlogten grabbed 10 rebounds.

“Just a huge win for us, one that I’m really, really happy about,” Gators coach Todd Golden said, “and am really proud of our group for the way we came out. I thought we did a great job of competing for 40 minutes.”

Back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers from Richard helped give Florida a 62-46 lead at the under-12 timeout in the second half, but Richmond bounced right back. The Spiders got a jumper and a 3-pointer from Neal Quinn and Dji Bailey’s layup got Richmond within 62-53.

Richard delivered a three-point play to help the Gators go back ahead by double digits and the Spiders got within single digits just twice more in the final eight minutes, the second coming on a 3-pointer from Mikkel Tyne that made it 74-66 with 5:51 to go. But Pullin hit a 3 for Florida and the Gators held Richmond to one field goal until Tyne hit another 3-pointer with eight seconds left.

The starters dominated the stat sheet for Richmond (5-5). Quinn had 17 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds; Isaiah Bigelow had 17 points and 7 rebounds; Tyne hit five 3s and scored 16 points; Jordan King had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists; and Bailey had 6 steals.

In the first half, consecutive 3s by Jason Roche had Richmond within a point at 18-17 just inside the 10-minute mark. Three-pointers by Handlogten and Pullin a few minutes later helped Florida go up by eight, then a five-point stretch by Kugel gave the Gators a 36-25 advantage. The Gators went on to lead 40-30 at the half.

Florida plays East Carolina in the Florida Tip-Off on Thursday in Lakeland. Richmond has a home game against Charlotte on Saturday.


Miguel’s season-high 20 points power USF past FSU

South Florida Local News - Sat, 12/09/2023 - 20:32

SUNRISE — Selton Miguel scored a season-high 20 points and South Florida beat Florida State 88-72 at the Orange Bowl Classic, handing the Seminoles their third straight loss Saturday afternoon.

The win snapped a string of three straight losses and gave the Bulls their 13th win in the 35-game history with Florida State.

Miguel, who came into the game as South Florida’s leading scorer at 12.7 points per game, hit 3 of 5 from distance and the Bulls hit 12 of 23 (52.2%) from long range, rolling to a 38-24 lead at the break by knocking down six 3-pointers despite not scoring over the final 2:40 of the half.

Jose Placer and Kasean Pryor each hit 3-pointers in the first three minutes to help stake the Bulls to an 8-0 lead, but the Seminoles rallied and cut the deficit to 12-11. Chris Youngblood and Placer each hit 3-pointers to put South Florida up 36-21 with just over three minutes left in the half.

Youngblood hit 3 of 5 from distance and finished with 18 points for South Florida (3-4), which had lost to Maine, Hofstra and UMass before facing the Seminoles. South Florida shot 26 of 61 (42.6%) from the field and converted 24 of 32 at the line.

Jamir Watkins scored 15 points to lead Florida State (4-4). Baba Miller had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Josh Nickelberry added 10 points off the bench.

The game marked the third time Florida State and South Florida faced each other in the Orange Bowl Classic, with the Seminoles winning both previous meetings.

Florida State plays host to SMU Saturday. South Florida plays host to Arkansas-Pine Bluff Tuesday.

Five ways to fix Florida’s broken Legislature | Editorial

South Florida Local News - Sat, 12/09/2023 - 05:00

The people of Florida deserve a Legislature that’s responsive to their concerns and puts them ahead of what the rich and well-connected want. We have neither.

A vital public institution, the Legislature has lost its way. But with courage and thoughtful change, it can be restored to a measure of the respect it once enjoyed decades ago.

Serving in the Legislature is a grueling and demanding job, and many who seek its coveted 160 positions are dedicated and have good intentions. But the system itself has a dehumanizing effect, with its excessive petty partisanship, a single-minded obsession with raising money and a tightly controlled, top-down power pyramid where a handful of leaders make most decisions, often guided by entrenched staff members and lobbyists.

myfloridahouse.govRep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, is policy director of the 35-member House Democratic Caucus.

“We’re pretending that the members are running things here,” said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, a Boca Raton Democrat. “They’re not.”

Throw in lopsided Republican supermajorities in both chambers and a governor who regards the legislative branch as a puppet but never a partner, and the results are clear — and damning.

With the 2024 session about to begin in Tallahassee, we offer five specific reform proposals that lawmakers should consider.

Modify term limits. The eight-year limit on terms, approved by voters in 1992, has had devastating impacts, stripping the Legislature of much institutional knowledge, reducing competitive elections and making staffers and lobbyists more powerful. It’s time for the Legislature to declare term limits an abject failure, and ask voters to extend term limits to 12 years or, short of that, to extend House members’ terms from two to four years in the hope that it will reduce the constant drive to raise money. Republicans proposed a 12-year term limit in 2005, but lost their nerve. “Eight is enough” has done more than enough damage.

End PC madness. “PC” doesn’t mean “politically correct” in Tallahassee; it stands for “political committee.” A corrupting loophole in state campaign finance law allows legislators and candidates to control PCs that are not bound by the $1,000 limit on contributions to campaigns. Any donation of any size is legal, and the system is dominated more than ever by the moneyed interests where individual contributions of $250 or $500 are virtually meaningless. Some lawmakers control multiple PCs, while others feed at this toxic trough long after they leave office, spending money on meals, travel, pollsters and consultants.

Respect people more. Legislative leaders should insist that committee meetings allow for meaningful public participation, including remote testimony. After COVID, we live in a “Zoom” world, in a state where the Capitol is much closer to Atlanta than to Miami or Fort Lauderdale. People in Florida drive hundreds of miles at their own expense to be told dismissively to “wrap up,” in a minute or less. It’s an insult to them and to democracy. No wonder Capitol protests are louder and more frequent. It’s the only way people can be heard.

Stop the surprises. End the Republican majority’s practice of springing massive bills and rewrites of bills on the public hours before key votes. This stokes suspicions, reduces thoughtful discussion and breeds public cynicism. Hundreds of examples of this abominable practice abound (which also went on when Democrats were in charge decades ago). In the 2021 session, House Republicans filed a rewrite of a major elections bill (SB 90) around 2 o’clock in the morning — after the Senate passed it. “Outrageous,” said the League of Women Voters, and we agree.

Rep. Ingoglia filed a strike-all measure at 1:33 a.m., hours after the Senate passed the election law overhaul bill (#SB90). It will be heard today on the House floor.

Outrageous. Another attempt to make voting more difficult and suppress votes.https://t.co/JxejMZqhgV

— LWV of Florida (@LWVFlorida) April 27, 2021

Flatten the pyramid. Too much power is in too few hands. The Legislature used to be a place where committee chairs held real power; not any more. No idea gets very far unless it’s blessed by “the fourth floor,” where the presiding officers work. Acts of independence bring swift retribution and punishment, as former Sen. Jeff Brandes learned the hard way two years ago. Lawmakers apologize to each other for voting against their bills; it’s their duty to vote their consciences. So much top-down control creates a climate of fear and conformity. It’s an old problem that former Republican Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Orlando criticized years ago in a scathing Orlando Sentinel essay. Things have gotten worse, and rank-and-file legislators should rebel more. Together, they have more clout than they think.

We also call on Democrats to challenge the status quo at every turn, and to do it thoughtfully with the best interests of Floridians in mind — not to score political points.

The problems outlined here didn’t happen overnight. We watched for years as Democrats behaved arrogantly, kowtowing to lobbyists and passing massive, loosely related, unread bills known as “trains,” in the dead of night. Along the way, some of the Legislature’s worst practices have become institutionalized, leaving Floridians with a broken legislative system.

Republicans have all the power. It’s up to them to fix this.

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, editorial writer Martin Dyckman and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at letters@sun-sentinel.com.

ASK IRA: Is it depth or desperation that is driving Spoelstra’s Heat approach?

South Florida Local News - Sat, 12/09/2023 - 04:05

Q: Ira, Erik Spoelstra has spoken for weeks about his depth. But Friday he only played eight and it became clear that Josh Richardson wore down and maybe even Jaime Jaquez Jr. had to force it. – Phil.

A: But depth is only depth when a team is whole. Without Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Haywood Highsmith, the depth can be forced to do more than desired. On one hand, Kevin Love certainly stepped up after Orlando Robinson faltered. But there also was a point when Josh Richardson asked out, the load excessive on a night Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson struggled. Factor in Bam, Tyler and Haywood and the equation changes. As it was, Erik Spoelstra kept it to an eight-man rotation with the following two days off. So Friday wasn’t as much about depth as desperation. And too many of the eight simply didn’t provide enough. But it is getting to a point where you would like to see it whole.

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Q: I realize that there was a lid on the heat basket Friday and Cleveland was playing good defense, but I’m worried that Jimmy Butler has hurt himself again. His shot was flat and it was not getting any lift whatsoever. – Roland, Borrego Springs, Calif.

A: But he also is being defended more and more with size, and I think that was a factor, as well. That is something Jimmy Butler has overcome before and something I would expect him to be able to overcome again. It did, however, from the start, look on Friday that Jimmy’s tank was low on energy.

Q: During last week’s national broadcast, the Heat’s mascot Burnie presented commentator Shaquille O’Neal with a Heat Culture jersey. I don’t think it was happenstance that the presenter was the anonymous, faceless mascot given Shaq’s lack of embrace of Heat culture. Your thoughts?  – Michael, Hollywood.

A: Wow. That seems like a bit of a reach. Shaquille O’Neal has been thoroughly embraced by the Heat in recent years, particularly with the team’s marking through Carnival and Shaq’s endorsements. Yes, there was a rough patch. Then Shaq’s Jersey was retired and all forgotten.

‘We’re depressed and saddened’: Fort Lauderdale beachfront restaurant Park & Ocean to close amid concessionaire shake-up

South Florida Local News - Sat, 12/09/2023 - 04:00

There’s a new concessionaire in town at Fort Lauderdale’s Hugh Taylor Birch State Park — and park tenants have been worrying its arrival will threaten their existence there.

The first casualty: Beachfront restaurant Park & Ocean.

The picturesque hangout is scheduled to permanently close Dec. 26 after 6 1/2 years in business, owner Steven Dapuzzo told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Thursday. The dog-friendly eatery, nestled in a lush grove of tropical hammocks, held a sunny allure for park dwellers and beachgoers, serving up smoked fish dip, conch fritters, salads and burgers along with local craft beer, live music and patio games.

Dapuzzo said he received the “disappointing” news that it must close on Thursday afternoon from ExplorUS, a Kansas-based park concessionaire that won a state bid in November to assume park operations starting Dec. 28.

“It sucks. It’s such a great spot. I thought it would be there for 30 years,” Dapuzzo said. “We’re depressed and saddened by it, but there’s a lot of people we want to say goodbye to.”

Once it closes, Dapuzzo said Park & Ocean’s eight longtime employees would relocate to The House on the River and Wild Thyme Oceanside Eatery, two Fort Lauderdale restaurants owned by Dapuzzo’s Society 8 Hospitality Group.

ExplorUS operates dozens of park properties in 17 states, mostly in the Midwest, West Coast and in Hawaii, according to its website. It will replace Birch State Park’s current concessionaire, BG Parks, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed.

Even so, the state declined to provide a copy of its new concessionaire agreement because a contract hasn’t officially been signed yet, said Nikki Clifton, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. That agreement to pick ExplorUS came after what she called a “competitive” bidding process that was “ranked by a panel of independent evaluators,” she added.

The state had hired BG in 2015 to program visitor services such as concessions, kayak and paddleboard rentals, weddings and private-event rentals. Along with Park & Ocean, BG also operates park restaurants Blue Marlin Fish House at Oleta River State Park in North Miami Beach and Whiskey Creek Hideout at Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Dania Beach.

In a statement, Clifton declined to explain why the state sought a new concessionaire in the first place. But Birch State Park’s profit-and-loss balance sheets paint a glaring picture of stagnating profits since 2017, the earliest year figures were available online.

(Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel)The dog-friendly Park & Ocean in Fort Lauderdale has been serving up smoked fish dip, conch fritters, salads and burgers along with local craft beer, live music and patio games. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

From 2017 to 2022, the gross sales BG Parks made from rentals, tours, events, food and beverage, retail and concessions totaled $10.7 million, according to state records updated in May. Even so, after expenses, it resulted in a net loss of $19,342 over the same period.

ExplorUS CEO Frank Pikus told the Sun Sentinel that its new 10-year concessionaire agreement should be finalized and signed this month, letting the company revamp the 175-acre Birch State Park’s lone restaurant, equipment rentals and aging buildings, which “must be brought up to modern codes,” he said.

The 182-seat Park & Ocean must go, he adds, because Dapuzzo’s Society 8 Hospitality Group was brought on as a BG subcontractor in 2017.

“We’ll have a different brand, and we’ll have our own menu,” said Pikus, whose company has a history of turning around underperforming park concessions. “Any (restaurant) that was associated with (the previous concessionaire) won’t be there anymore.”

Dapuzzo, for his part, said ExplorUS’ decision to shut Park & Ocean down “leaves a bruise” for the park’s dining options.

“We were never commercialized,” Dapuzzo said. “We offer fresh food, local brews and appeal to the local communities. I can only conclude that BG didn’t get its contract renewed because they’re a local company competing against a big national brand.”

He said Park & Ocean’s joint bid with BG Parks was rejected despite offering to kick up a higher commission, or percentage of annual profits it shares with the state agency. (Dapuzzo paid 13% in 2022, per state records.)

High on ExplorUS’ priority list is renovating the park’s Glenn F. Bates Garden Center, home to the almost century-old organization Fort Lauderdale Garden Club. Pikus, the company’s CEO, said the garden club can stay and isn’t planning to evict it.

“We’re excited with the opportunity to work with the garden club to continue using the building and to uplift some of the facilities,” Pikus said. “They have some exciting initiatives that are also core to our mission.”

ExplorUS’ intentions weren’t clear to club president Sharon Bogard until this week. Her nonprofit hosts meetings, fundraisers for student horticulture camps, garden shows and special events at the garden center. Once the club’s 156 members heard about a new concessionaire, they raised fears about being pushed out of the home base they’ve used for 75 years.

Amid this confusion, in late November, Bogard said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection — the club’s landlord — ordered the nonprofit to clear out equipment and books from the center for “long-overdue renovations.”

“At first, we weren’t sure how we’d function moving forward. But (ExplorUS) have assured us that we will have a home, but at what cost, we don’t know,” said Bogard, adding that she hopes the club can negotiate a new lease with ExplorUS.

The club’s lease agreement with the Florida agency expired in December 2022 and “we’ve been operating on good faith unofficially ever since,” Bogard said.

Pikus said a new lease agreement with the garden club would be ironed out over the coming weeks, although he declined to offer a specific timetable. He said the garden center is “dated” and lacks ADA-compliant wheelchair ramps, bathrooms and amenities like WiFi. His company plans to renovate the building into a moneymaker, throwing private events and weddings when the garden club isn’t using it.

Santos never should have been in Congress | Letters to the editor

South Florida Local News - Sat, 12/09/2023 - 04:00

I write in response to the news article posted on Dec. 1 by Associated Press reporter Kevin Freking, entitled “House expels New York Rep. George Santos. It’s just the sixth expulsion in the chamber’s history.”

Santos should not have been permitted to be a member of Congress. As the writer noted, Santos is accused of fraud, embezzlement and lying about nearly every aspect of his life. He didn’t do this only during his campaign. He was lying and manipulating well before that, and I feel like there is no way Congress did not have the ability to perform an extensive background check that would have flagged and exposed his past lies before being given such a big, powerful platform.

Not only would a background check save time and embarrassment, it would have left room for more important issues. But instead, so many are covering this topic due to its outrageous nature and shock value, which translates to entertainment. It is appalling that the U.S. House of Representatives and the Republican Party don’t have productive safeguards to combat the audacity of candidates who have participated in criminal activity. Light must be shed on the requirements to become a member of Congress, because it clearly is not strict enough. It is highly concerning that the same people making our laws are the ones who break them.

Jade Ogando, Boca Raton

Distressed and heartbroken

I live in West Palm Beach and I am a mother of four. In my household, we feel strongly about what’s happening in Gaza and the West Bank. After a brief pause in fighting that saw hostages released and desperately needed humanitarian aid flow into Gaza, war and violence have returned unabated in Israel and Palestine.

The lives of millions of civilians and the remaining hostages are again under threat. It need not be this way. There was positive momentum building toward a permanent cease fire, something everyone must agree is urgently needed. The negotiations, aid deliveries and release of hostages show the power of dialogue. More war is not the answer, and there is no military solution to the crisis.

I believe that violence is the language of the inarticulate. Why are our elected officials so silent?

Zoha Hopps, West Palm Beach

A war on education

Of course there is a war on education by the Republican Party in Florida.

It’s being waged on two fronts. The first is a tax break for the wealthy when they take the state’s $9,500 and put it towards their kid’s annual tuition of $20,000, while bleeding the public schools of money. These wealthy families were sending their kids to private schools regardless of what the state did. If you’re wealthy and they sent three kids to private school before vouchers, you now have a nearly $30,000 tax break a year.

Second, the Republican Party pursues indoctrination through every educational avenue it can reach. That’s their answer to consistently losing the national popular vote. The Republican position on losing the national vote is this: It’s not their message, it’s school and media liberal indoctrination. God forbid that the Republican Party would ever look in the mirror for an answer to its diminishing popularity. Trump has promised them he will restore their God-given right to minority Christian rule, even if it means tearing up the Constitution to do it.

Don Whisman, Stuart

No tunnel confidence

For an answer to Fort Lauderdale’s bridge-versus-tunnel debate, just look to the never-ending and relatively miniscule Henry E. Kinney Tunnel project for the answer.

With the ongoing construction, it seems that the tiny tunnel downtown will never get finished, so I don’t see how doing a much bigger and more complicated tunnel project could even be a sane choice.

I much prefer tunnels, but I have zero confidence in getting one done remotely on time or budget.

Kevin Schoeler, Fort Lauderdale

Winderman’s view: Heat can’t keep it clean and blew it in loss to Cavs

South Florida Local News - Fri, 12/08/2023 - 20:28

Observations and other notes of interest from Friday night’s 111-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers:

— You can survive absences of Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, even Haywood Highsmith when you are at your sharpest.

— The Heat weren’t at their sharpest Friday night.

— Not with 16 turnovers through the first three periods.

— Yes, there will be nights when Jimmy Butler is off.

— When Duncan Robinson can’t make a shot.

— When the defense lapses.

— But when you keep it clean, you have a chance in those circumstances.

— The Heat didn’t keep it clean.

— They worked blew.

— And paid with their third loss in their last four home games.

— With Adebayo and Highsmith again out (and Herro still out), the Heat again opened with Orlando Robinson, Caleb Martin,Butler, Duncan Robinson and Kyle Lowry.

— The Heat had entered with 14 lineups in their first 21 games.

— No change this time.

— Maybe next time.

— Back available for the Heat was guard RJ Hampton, after being sidelined with knee pain, but he was inactive.

— Coach Erik Spoelstra said the plan eventually is G League game minutes.

— “He’s going to stay here for a little bit more, and then we’d like to get him going to Sioux Falls and play in some games and then we’ll take it from there,” Spoelstra said. “But his progress has been really good. He was able to do a practice last week with us and a lot of work here while we were gone.”

— Also inactive were Herro, Adebayo, Highsmith and Dru Smith (knee).

— Kevin Love was first off the Heat bench, after Orlando Robinson was called for a pair of early fouls.

— Josh Richardson and Jaime Jaquez Jr. then followed off the Heat bench.

— With the Heat with the following two days off, Spoelstra kept the rotation to a tight eight.

— That meant no Jamal Cain, Thomas Bryant or Nikola Jovic.

— Friday meant a return by former Heat guard Max Strus, who left in free agency for the Cavaliers.

— Strus was introduced last among Cleveland’s starters, to a warm ovation.

— Spoelstra was asked about the unusual paths Duncan Robinson and Strus took to the Heat as one-time teammates.

—  “You have to be inspired by each of their stories,” Spoelstra said. “That’s so uncommon. Both of them to take the paths that they did. So many young kids get discouraged. But if you have a goal and a vision and you are relentless with your fortitude, it shows you that crazy things can happen, even if you start out going to a prep school like Duncan did, and then go D3. Or like Max, D3. And then they both found their way to division-one programs and had to come through this league without being drafted.”

— But Spoelstra said it wasn’t a case of both being the same.

— “They’re different players,” Spoelstra said. “I think it’s easy to say they’re the same player. They’re not. They each bring different things and it was fun to see that dynamic.”

— Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff had praise pregame for the Heat approach.

— “I’m one of the biggest fans,” he said. “I just think that it allows you to have sustained success. It allows you to hold people to a standard, whether it’s summer league, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a game. There’s accountability and there’s a vision that you can constantly attack.”

— He added, “Last year, their ability to make it to the Finals speaks on it and stands on it. And they don’t waver from it — up, down, championship years, whatever it may be, they’re the same. And as a fan of sport and son of a coach and coaching now myself, that’s all you want, is you want to be able to go to war, knowing that you can coach or you can play with absolute freedom. Because it doesn’t matter what anybody else says, or the outside world says about you, as long as you are doing things that are right of your environmental culture, you can just go be the best version of yourself.”

Shorthanded Heat stumble to the finish in 111-99 loss to Cavaliers

South Florida Local News - Fri, 12/08/2023 - 20:26

MIAMI — Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Haywood Highsmith again were out. This time, it also was as if Jimmy Butler wasn’t there.

For the Miami Heat, even after an early 16-point lead Friday night at Kaseya Center, that was too much to overcome.

So no traction after Wednesday night’s road victory over the Toronto Raptors. Instead, a 111-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers that dropped the record to 12-10.

“We were bobbling, mis-dribbling, careless with the ball right out the gate,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of a night the Heat committed 18 turnovers. “And that just kind of sets the tone, gets you disjointed, gets everybody out of rhythm.”

While the Heat again had to deal with a reworked rotation, it wasn’t as if the Cavaliers were whole, with Cleveland lacking forward Evan Mobley due to knee soreness.

In a game that turned sloppy and choppy for the Heat after a solid start, Butler never found a rhythm, closing 5 of 15 from the field, with 16 points. Teammate Duncan Robinson was even worse, at 0 for 7 from the field, including 0 for 6 on 3-pointers, with six turnovers and four fouls.

Josh Richardson compensated early, with all 17 of his points coming in the first half. The Heat also got 17 points from Kyle Lowry, 14 points from Jaime Jaquez Jr.  and 14 points and a season-high 12 rebounds from Kevin Love, but it wasn’t enough to offset the 26 points Cleveland got from Donovan Mitchell and the 18 from Darius Garland.

“For us to get back, it just takes some concentration and some will to keep fighting to get better,” Lowry said. “It’s a good game for us to learn long term.”

Five Degrees of Heat from Friday night’s game:

1. Game flow: The Heat had a 15-0 first-quarter run and went into the second period up 25-17, after Cleveland’s lowest-scoring quarter of the season. Cleveland then put together a 15-0 run of their own in the second period, to take a 53-52 lead into halftime.

From there, Cleveland opened the third quarter on a 13-0 run, including 11 points by Mitchell, to eventually go up 16, before taking an 88-75 lead into the fourth.

The Cavaliers would go up 18 early in the fourth, before a Love 3-pointer drew the Heat within 98-88 with 6:37 to play. But that also is what the rally stalled.

“It was just too much for us to overcome there at the end,” Love said.

2. Rich start: Richardson opened 4 of 4 on 3-pointers, with his fourth forcing a Cavaliers timeout with 8:57 left in the second period and the Heat up 39-23.

Richardson’s previous high for 3-pointers in a game this season had been three.

Richardson was up to 17 points by halftime, at 5 of 6 on 3-pointers at that stage.

Later, Richardson, fined $2,000 earlier in the day for an uncalled flopping violation in Wednesday night’s victory over the Toronto Raptors, was called for a flopping technical foul in the third period.

“I do think all three of my flopping calls were terrible,” Richardson said of those cited against him this season. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe I need to start running people over.”

Richardson then cooled from there, closing 6 of 11 from the field, 5 of 7 on 3-pointers.

3. Inside story: The Heat deficits weren’t for a lack of hustle.

In the third period, Caleb Martin caught Garland in transition for an impressive chase-down block that led to a Butler dunk on the other end.

Then, later in the third, 6-foot-6 Jaquez blocked a dunk attempt by 6-11 Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen at the rim.

But there also were the negatives of the 18 turnovers and being outrebounded 51-37.

“These are painful lessons when you lose home games like this, even when you have double-digit leads,” Spoelstra said.

4. Early Love: With Orlando Robinson, who again started in place of Adebayo, forced to the bench with 7:11 to play in the first period with his second foul, Love entered and began launching a series of long outlet passes.

Love closed the first quarter with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. From there, he moved on to his season high in rebounds.

The Cavaliers gave Love a buyout last February after he fell out of their rotation.

5. Strus vs. Heat: Max Strus made his first appearance at Kaseya Center since leaving as a free agent in the offseason.

Strus opened defensively on Duncan Robinson, whom he has credited as a mentor. The Heat opened with Lowry on Strus.

Strus closed 4 of 17 from the field, including 2 of 11 on 3-pointers, for 11 points, also with seven rebounds.

Strus entered averaging career-highs this season in points (14.5), rebounds (5.5), assists (4.1), steals (1.00), blocks (0.62) and minutes (35.), having signed with Cleveland in the offseason.

Bobrovsky makes 26 saves as Panthers top Penguins 3-1

South Florida Local News - Fri, 12/08/2023 - 19:45

SUNRISE — Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 26 shots, Eetu Luostarinen got the go-ahead goal in the third period and the Florida Panthers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Friday night.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson also scored a goal and Anton Lundell had two assists for the Panthers, who have won three of their last four games. Aleksander Barkov got an empty-netter to seal the win for Florida.

Former Panthers forward Reilly Smith scored for Pittsburgh, which has dropped a season-high four straight to fall to 11-12-4. Tristan Jarry stopped 31 shots for the Penguins.

Up 2-1 with 2:39 left and dominating the third period — shots were 12-2 Florida in that frame to that point — Lundell was called for hooking, giving Pittsburgh a golden opportunity. The Penguins hadn’t scored in any of their last 36 power plays spanning 14 games since Nov. 11, the worst drought in franchise history.

It started as a 5-on-4, became a 6-on-4 when Jarry went to the bench — and the Penguins came up empty, again. The Panthers killed it off, the 37th consecutive failed power play for Pittsburgh, and Barkov scored with 26.7 seconds left.

Florida got its first lead of the night with 13:50 left when the puck bounced into the slot off a faceoff and Luostarinen batted it past Jarry to make it 2-1.

Sidney Crosby had a chance to tie it for Pittsburgh less than a minute later, stealing a clearing pass deep in the Florida end and skating from Bobrovsky’s left toward the net. But Bobrovsky came off the line to narrow the angle and Crosby was denied, preserving the one-goal edge.

The teams paid tribute pregame to Patric Hornqvist, who won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins in his 15-year NHL career and ended that run with three seasons with the Panthers. He retired after last season and is now a part of the Panthers’ front-office staff as scouting and development consultant.

“He just worked so hard and he brought out the best in everybody,” said Crosby, the Penguins’ captain who took part in the pregame ceremony alongside Barkov and Hornqvist’s family. “He expected a lot of himself but he also just earned every single thing that he accomplished in his career.”


Panthers: Visit Columbus on Sunday afternoon to start a season-high five-game road trip.

Penguins: Host Arizona on Tuesday night, Pittsburgh’s only home game in a two-week span.

Former Florida Panther Patric Hornqvist, center, looks on as Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) shake hands after a ceremonial puck drop Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Sunrise. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Jury orders Florida to pay $15 million to Volusia girl tortured by parents

South Florida Local News - Fri, 12/08/2023 - 17:55

The Florida Department of Children and Families must pay $15 million to a Volusia County girl for failing to protect her from horrific abuse at the hands of her mother and stepfather, a jury decided late Friday in a stunning rebuke of the state agency.

The department failed to investigate complaints that the mother was using drugs and endangering the girl, who was younger than 2 at the time and suffered “catastrophic” permanent injuries from severe abuse and neglect, according to a suit filed in Volusia County court.

Now 8, the child is “completely dependent on others for all aspects of her daily functioning,” according to a press release from the Kelley Kronenberg law firm, which represented her. She is identified by her initials, H.H., in the complaint.

The award is among the largest in state history for this kind of case, according to the firm. The jury’s verdict speaks to “the sheer magnitude and severity” of the girl’s injuries, attorney Stacie Schmerling said in the release.

“Our fight is to ensure that she will be able to live at home with her adoptive family and have the care, dignity, and resources that she deserves for the rest of her life,” Schmerling said in the press release. “Now that the jury has spoken, we are hopeful that DCF and Florida’s leaders will respect the jury’s decision and now fight with us to help H.H.”

A spokeswoman for DCF couldn’t be reached for comment Friday evening.

The department received a report through its abuse hotline about H.H. and her brother in May 2017, according to the complaint. The caller said they were concerned about drug activity in the home and poor living conditions. In addition, the stepfather, who lived in the home and was a caregiver to H.H., had a criminal history that included arrests for violent crimes, the complaint says.

DCF’s hotline received a second, similar complaint the following month that also alleged the parents were not supervising the children. However, state investigators failed to take any action to prevent the neglect and physical abuse of H.H., at the hands of her mother and stepfather, who were addicted to drugs.

DCF knew of the stepfather’s criminal history that included charges related to drugs, alcohol, battery on a police officer and knew that he was on probation only seven months earlier, according to the suit.

In September 2017, H.H.’s mother brought her to the emergency room, saying she had difficulty waking the child that morning, according to the complaint. The child spent 109 days in the hospital.

H.H. had suffered horrific injuries including traumatic brain injury due to repeated head trauma. She suffers today from severe cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, epilepsy, ineffective airway clearance, restrictive lung disease, and sleep apnea. She requires a feeding tube and is unable to walk or talk.

Law enforcement found drugs, paraphernalia, firearms, ammunition, burglary tools and a pillowcase stained with blood in the hotel where the family was living, according to the complaint. The mother’s cell phone contained several images and videos depicting her daughter’s torture and text messages she exchanged with the girl’s stepfather describing their abuse of the girl.

The girl’s mother was convicted in a separate, criminal proceeding of three counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of child neglect causing great bodily harm and was sentenced to 40 years in prison, according to the complaint. The stepfather was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, aggravated child abuse and child abuse and neglect causing great bodily harm and sentenced to 25 years in prison.


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