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In battle of South Florida heavyweights, Chaminade-Madonna holds off Miami Central to stay undefeated

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 22:23

Chaminade-Madonna had its high-powered offense on display in the first half and they stepped up on defense in the second half to make a statement against four-time defending state champion Miami Central, winning 31-28 in front of a national televised audience on Thursday night.

Senior quarterback Cedrick Bailey passed for four touchdowns in the first half and senior Curtis Janvier recorded two interceptions in the second half as the Lions remained unbeaten in a highly anticipated contest between two nationally ranked teams at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami.

Chaminade-Madonna (5-0) played in their fifth straight game against a nationally ranked team to begin the season. The Lions previously defeated St. Frances Academy (Maryland), Cardinal Gibbons, Bergen Catholic (New Jersey) and American Heritage. Chaminade-Madonna has won 20 consecutive regular season games dating back to 2021.

“It means a lot to represent Broward County,” Chaminade-Madonna coach Dameon Jones said. “We have played a tough schedule and we knew it was going to be a battle. I am proud of our team and the way we have played. We are showing that it’s now our time.”

Miami Central (1-2) entered the contest as the No. 4-ranked team nationally by MaxPreps while Chaminade-Madonna was ranked at No. 5. Chaminade-Madonna also entered the game as high as No. 3 in the High School Football America 300 national rankings. The battle between the two powerhouse schools was televised on ESPN2.

Bailey, a North Carolina State commit, finished with 301 passing yards and four touchdowns. He had 266 passing yards in the first half.

“He has been big for us all year,” Jones said. “He is a great leader and a winner.”

Chaminade-Madonna five-star receiver and Ohio State commit Jeremiah Smith delivered once again for the Lions as he scored two touchdowns in the first half.

The start of the game was delayed by 1 hour, 45 minutes due to lightning. The two teams were locked in a 14-14 tie at the end of the first quarter. Chaminade-Madonna had a 31-21 advantage at halftime. The Lions led 31-28 at the end of the third quarter. The Lions were held scoreless in the second half, but their defense created two turnovers and secured the victory.

“I am so proud of our defense and our coaches,” Jones said. “We did a great job of making big plays.”

Chaminade-Madonna made a defensive stand in the fourth quarter after Miami Central had moved the ball inside the 5-yard line. The Lions defense recorded a sack on third down. The Rockets missed a 26-yard field goal attempt with 7:31 left in the fourth.

The Lions attempted a fake punt at midfield on their next possession, but a holding penalty negated a first-down run. They were forced to punt and the Rockets took over at their own 23 with 4:16 remaining.

The Rockets converted on fourth-and-3 at their own 42 after a 4-yard completion. Senior defensive end Bryce Stringer recorded a sack on the next play, which resulted in an 8-yard loss for the Rockets. The Lions committed a pass interference penalty on third down.

The Lions defense stepped up as University of Miami commit Zaquan Patterson deflected a pass in the air and Janvier recorded the interception in the middle of the field with 1:13 left to help seal the victory. Janvier, a FAU commit, also had an interception in the third quarter.

The Rockets attempted a Hail Mary toward the end zone on the final play of the game and the Lions defense knocked it down for an incomplete pass.

The Lions made a statement with an 11-play, 99-yard scoring drive to open the game. Bailey fired a 28-yard scoring pass to junior wide receiver Kyle Washington in the right corner of the end zone with 7:59 left in the first quarter.

The Rockets responded as sophomore running back Jayden Ford raced up the middle for a 13-yard score with 5:24 left in the first.

The Lions answered back and marched downfield as Bailey connected with Smith for an 8-yard
touchdown with 2:19 left.

Miami Central senior JC Evans rushed for an 8-yard touchdown to tie the score with 1:08 remaining in the opening period.

The Lions converted on fourth-and-9 at the Rockets 35 after University of Miami commit Joshisa Trader made a one-handed catch for a 17-yard gain. Senior kicker Andrew Abu-Akel drilled a 38-yard field goal to give the Lions a 17-14 advantage with 11:05 left in the first half.

The Rockets jumped ahead for the first time on their next possession. Senior quarterback Antonio Smith launched a 30-yard scoring pass to senior wide receiver and Florida State commit Lawayne McCoy to make it 21-17 with 9:40 left in the second quarter.

The Lions regained the lead as Smith made a spectacular one-handed catch for an 18-yard touchdown with 6:00 left in the first half.
Bailey connected with sophomore Denairius Gray over the middle in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 31-21 with 1:53 left in the first half.

Miami Central junior running back King Davis rushed for a 3-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the second half to cut the deficit to 31-28 with 7:08 left in the third quarter.  Janvier stepped up with an interception at the Lions 25 later in the third quarter. Miami Central junior Amari Wallace recorded an interception on the ensuing drive.

Chaminade-Madonna has won two straight state titles and reached the state championship game in seven consecutive seasons. Miami Central, which has won four consecutive state championships, had a 26-game win streak snapped by Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) earlier in the season.

High school football week 5 scoreboard

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 17:49


Chaminade-Madonna 31, Miami Central 28

Pahokee 34, Palm Beach Gardens 18

Palm Beach Central 37, Park Vista 7

Benjamin 24, Jensen Beach 0

Boynton Beach at West Boca Raton, ppd.


Archbishop McCarthy at American Heritage-Delray

Boyd Anderson at Deerfield Beach

Coconut Creek at Blanche Ely

Dr. Krop at South Broward

McArthur at Piper

Northeast at Coral Springs

North Broward Prep at St. Andrew’s

North Miami at Calvary Christian Academy

Nova at Cypress Bay

Pembroke Pines Charter at West Broward

Pine Crest at Westminster Academy

Somerset Key at Boca Raton Christian

Somerset Prep at Somerset Academy Silver Palms

St. John Paul II at Avant Garde Academy

Stoneman Douglas at Monarch

Taravella at Western

Treasure Coast at St. Thomas Aquinas

Atlantic at Cardinal Newman

Boca Raton at Olympic Heights

Dwyer at Glades Central

Gulliver Prep at King’s Academy

John I. Leonard at Suncoast

Lake Highland Prep at Berean Christian

Lake Worth at Forest Hill

Oxbridge Academy at Glades Day

Palm Beach Lakes at Centennial

Royal Palm Beach at Santaluces

Spanish River at Dr. Joaquín García

St. Edward’s at Jupiter Christian


Miramar at Dillard

General Daily Insight for September 22, 2023

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 17:26
General Daily Insight for September 22, 2023

What starts out as a potentially confusing day shouldn’t end that way. The Moon in adventurous Sagittarius begins with a conflicting square to mystical Neptune in Pisces and the Sun in Virgo, which could make it difficult to know how to proceed with any modicum of productivity. We should be able to organize ourselves once the Moon enters Capricorn at 4:20 pm EDT, bringing with it a sense of purpose. A lunar sextile to Saturn will help us make the most of what’s available.


March 21 – April 19

Your ambitions are burning extremely brightly, Aries. The Moon is marching into your 10th House of Career, so take a deep breath and let your inner conviction drive you onward! You’ve got extra strength invigorating your search for recognition and success. This house also rules mentorship, so it could be a good idea to ask a respected authority figure for some words of wisdom. They may know just the thing to help you work smarter, not harder — don’t hesitate to ask for advice!


April 20 – May 20

It’s a good day to break out of any ruts. Your sign can occasionally be guilty of falling into patterns a little too easily, but it’s time to change up the program as the Moon enters your 9th House of Expansion. Do something to bring a little novelty to your life, something that makes you feel adventurous and anything but predictable! If an opportunity arrives that seems outside your usual comfort zone, trust that the universe is sending it your way for a reason.


May 21 – June 20

Taking everything with a pinch of salt will make life much easier for you at present. The energy around you is prone to weighing on your mind as the Moon enters your extreme 8th house, but just because things feel that way doesn’t mean you need to let them overwhelm you. If testing moments arrive, do what you must do to keep your head above water. It’s okay — the cosmos isn’t sending you anything you can’t handle. Maintain a level approach.


June 21 – July 22

Whether you double up or double down, it’d be hard to go wrong with a plus-one by your side today. The Moon is moving into your 7th House of Partnerships, encouraging you to face the hardships of life as one of a team. Whether you’ve got a hectic day or nothing much to do, you’ll probably find it much more exciting with someone special by your side. There are no requirements about who this person is, as long as you enjoy yourselves.


July 23 – August 22

You can get on a very efficient track at the moment! Your 6th House of Routine is taking center stage as the Moon arrives there, motivating you to clean up your act and do whatever you need to be at your best. If you’ve been indulging in unhealthy habits, consider this your cosmic green light to get back on the bandwagon and pursue your best self. Whether it’s eating healthier, getting more exercise, or sleeping better, the Moon will push you in the right direction.


August 23 – September 22

A spark of fun is exactly what the doctor ordered. The Moon is dancing into your 5th House of Pleasure, so you can leave as many responsibilities behind as possible — instead, focus all your energy on enjoying yourself. Since this house is more about what you want than what others want, you may choose to fly solo in your search for satisfaction. Still, if other people are what brings you bliss, then round up the gang for whatever activities suit your fancy.


September 23 – October 22

Your roots are calling out for attention. Specifically, your personal history is highlighted as the Moon moves into your 4th House of Foundations, prompting you to ask yourself where you’ve been and where you’re going. By looking at what has come before — family history, personal battles, the journeys of your ancestors — you can gain a better sense and understanding of where you should head. Spend some time with those thoughts, and let them propel you forward to your next big adventure.


October 23 – November 21

It’s the perfect day to get out and say bonjour to people. You’re likely in the mood to explore your little town or big city or wherever you find yourself as the Moon zips into your 3rd House of Local Involvement. This transit wants to help you feel like a part of something, and that your voice is being heard and put to good use. If you’ve been sitting on an idea or important conversation, consider this your cue to finally dive in.


November 22 – December 21

You may feel the sudden urge to flash your cash around. There’s an emphasis on material security as the Moon arrives in your 2nd House of Wealth, so if something special catches your eye, it could be almost impossible to deny yourself a little treat. Make an effort to avoid anything frivolous by valuing quality over quantity, but as long as you don’t break the bank, then a small splurge probably won’t hurt. Then again, saving your money would hurt even less!


December 22 – January 19

It’s time to check in with yourself, Capricorn. The Moon is entering your personal 1st house, deepening your sense of clarity around your soul’s needs and desires. If you’ve been focused on everyone else or feeling dazed, this is your moment to snap out of it and return to center. You are so capable, but if you don’t tend to your internal requirements, you risk burning out as you chase after your goals. Make sure your needs are being met.


January 20 – February 18

The world is taking a turn for the fantastic! It’s easy to look at things with rose-colored glasses as the Moon arrives in your dreamy 12th house, so don’t worry too much about maintaining a strict sense of reality. Your intuition is especially heightened during this transit, so tune out all the outside noise and focus on what your mind and body are telling you. If you listen carefully, you may find lots to enjoy — but if you ignore them, you’ll feel adrift.


February 19 – March 20

You, Pisces, can truly be part of something larger than yourself. The Moon is entering your 11th House of Global Community, reminding you that no one person is an island! Humanity is stronger together than apart. This same sector deals with humanitarian efforts, so consider rounding up a few people to organize some community service, be it a clothing drive, food donation, or even a night of picking up trash in your area. A little bit of altruism will go a long way.

NSU president to step down in 2025. His successor is already set.

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 16:52

After more than a decade of serving as Nova Southeastern University’s president and CEO, Dr. George Hanbury will step down in January 2025, when Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Harry Moon will take over.

NSU’s Board of Trustees finalized and approved the succession plan at its Thursday meeting. Board members unanimously voted for Moon to become the seventh president and CEO, and the change will take effect Jan. 1, 2025, the university said in a news release.

Before Hanbury became president in 2010 and CEO in 2011, he served as the university’s executive vice president and COO for 12 years. He will continue to serve the university after stepping down, as chancellor and creator of a new Institute of Citizenship, Leadership, and International Affairs, the university said.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported in 2016 that the university had a goal for 2020, called Vision 2020, to be recognized by then for its excellence in innovation, teaching, research and service. Hanbury said Thursday night that NSU successfully met all aspects of that goal, and despite the pandemic, focused on Vision 2025, which includes the goal for NSU to be designated a preeminent research university.

Hanbury has been with the private university since 1998. He said he has known the end of his contract was approaching in January 2025 and has long kept that in mind with every new leadership hire, always searching for a mentee who could become a successor.

“It helps with stability, and the organization and the university and continuity, and when you help to create a single shared vision that everyone is in, it’s not dependent upon one individual, it’s dependent on culture,” Hanbury said.

Under Hanbury’s leadership, NSU became one of 59 universities nationwide to be designated a “high research activity” and a community-engaged university by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. NSU also became the third university to have two medical schools, and he oversaw the building of the $50 million NSU Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center, which opened in 2012.

“Somebody needs to be able to carry on the culture” within the university, Hanbury said, which is why he recommended an internal successor rather than a national search.

There will be a national search to fill Moon’s role, and current Chancellor Ray Ferrero Jr., the university’s fifth president, will be become president emeritus, the university said.

Moon, who is also the COO of NSU Health, became the COO and executive vice president in 2018. He held multiple executive positions for Cleveland Clinic Florida before his career at NSU and has a lengthy background in health care.

From 1997 to 2003, Moon served as the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Cleveland Clinic Florida. Before becoming Cleveland Clinic Florida CEO, Moon was a staff physician, a Cleveland Clinic Florida Board of Governors member and a member of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Board of Trustees.

“Where the university is at this point in time, I think some of the skills that I bring to the table, particularly in the health care part of the enterprise, it’s very much worth doing,” Moon said Thursday night of assuming the new role.

NSU’s Vision 2025 includes raising a total of $1 billion in outside research funding and philanthropic contributions since the 2010 fiscal year, of which the university has reached 87% of that goal, the news release said. Working toward the 2025 goal, the university has also earned specialized accreditation in medicine and business programs and a partnership with HCA Florida to create a teaching hospital near the NSU Fort Lauderdale campus.

Moon said another goal is to be designated an R1 university, a classification by the Carnegie Foundation for top universities with “very high research activity.” The only private university in Florida currently with that designation is the University of Miami, while the other five are public. NSU is currently one of five universities statewide to be ranked an R2 university, meaning high research activity.

“What we can accomplish in the next period of time, I think can be very important to the university, to the community and the state,” Moon said.

Information from Sun Sentinel archives was used in this report. 

Steve Geller is running for Broward sheriff. It’s not the Steve Geller you’ve heard of.

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 14:51

Steve Geller, a candidate with a well known name in the county, announced Thursday that he’s running for Broward Sheriff.

The newly announced candidate isn’t that Steve Geller.

Rather he’s the doppelganger of County Commissioner Steve Geller, who has won many primaries and general elections in Broward County since his first, in 1988.

“I think he’s got a good name,” said Geller (the commissioner.) He is “Steven A. Geller” on his campaign paperwork.

“I think we’re both doing our names very proud,” said Geller (the candidate for sheriff). He is “Steven Andrew Geller” on his paperwork.


Geller (the freshly minted candidate) brings decades of law enforcement experience — he started with the Plantation Police Department in 1991 — to his first-ever run for office, in which he’s challenging Sheriff Gregory Tony in the August 2024 Democratic primary.

Candidates don’t qualify for the Aug. 20, 2024, primary ballot until next spring. The paperwork he filed Thursday allows him to raise and spend money as a candidate. So far, Tony is running, as is David Howard, who also has a law enforcement background.

Broward is so overwhelmingly Democratic that winning the August primary is tantamount to winning the office. (In the last two elections, the Democratic candidate finished 40 points ahead of the Republican.)

“I am ready and eager to lead the Broward County Sheriff’s office into the future: the era of safety, accountability and trust. My campaign is built on the foundation of strong ethics and morals. As a lifelong advocate for justice and fairness I have dedicated my career to upholding the law and protecting the rights of all citizens,” Geller said Thursday outside the Broward County Governmental Center, immediately after he filed paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections Office.

“The principles of integrity, transparency and respect for human rights should guide all of law enforcement, ” he said. “I am committed to building a sheriff’s office that enforces the law, that fosters positive relationships in the community, an agency that helps those in their darkest hour.”

At the Plantation Police Department, Geller was a patrol officer, school resource officer at South Plantation High School, and a major case detective and a captain supervising a range of units. After retiring from the Police Department, he went to work as a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2020.

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His last day at FDLE was Sept. 5. Geller said the agency determined he couldn’t continue in the job while running for sheriff.

As sheriff, he said he would emphasize proactive policing, intelligence-led investigations, community partnerships, and improved transparency and communication, and better training and supervision of deputies, firefighters, and 911 dispatchers.

“I’ve been there at night doing night patrols while people were sleeping, keeping people safe. I’ve done crisis response team roles in which I’ve been there for people who are going through mental health crises. I’ve served in many different capacities in law enforcement. I would put my attributes and my accomplishments up against anybody else,” he said.

Geller, 55, said he is a lifelong Democrat. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and a master’s in public administration from Florida Atlantic University. He and his wife live in Weston, and they have two adult children.

Steve Geller is cheered by family and friends as he announces his candidacy for Broward County sheriff on Thursday at the Governmental Center in Fort Lauderdale. He’s not the well-known elected official Steve Geller who will also be running for office in 2024. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel) Tony and Israel

The sheriff is the highest-profile, most powerful elected official in Broward County — and the sheriffs have often been highly controversial.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Tony in January 2019 at the same time he suspended then-Sheriff Scott Israel. Tony was elected to a full term the next year.

During the 2020 campaign, and since, Tony faced scrutiny for not divulging to DeSantis and on police applications that he shot and killed an 18-year-old man in 1993 when he was a teenager living in a tough neighborhood in Philadelphia. Tony said it was self-defense for which he was absolved of responsibility.

In proceedings that are pending, the Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause to pursue a case into Tony, finding that there were lies and omissions on forms that led him to his first police job in Coral Springs.

Based on the publicly known facts, Geller said DeSantis should suspend Tony. “Yes, I believe based on everything that I do know that, yes, he should be suspended.”

When DeSantis suspended Israel, a decision upheld by the Florida Senate, he cited incompetence and neglect of duty in connection with the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre and the 2017 shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Geller said DeSantis shouldn’t have suspended Israel.

“I believe Sheriff Israel, if he were to be removed, it should have been by the public and the public only. I believe that the government intervention at that point was not necessary. I believe the community members should have made that decision,” he said.

The Geller name

The other Geller has been elected to the state House of Representatives, the state Senate, where he served as Democratic Party leader, and twice to the County Commission — usually winning by double digits. If he’s reelected next year, term limits would prevent him from running again.

The Geller who’s currently in elected office said he’s seen the other Geller at functions where “he introduced himself as, ‘Hi, I’m the other Steve Geller.”

If a Democrat challenges the commissioner in the August 2024 primary, both Gellers will be on the ballot at the same time.

“If I get an opponent, it could certainly have an effect on both of our races,” Geller said. “Nothing I could do to prevent it. He didn’t ask me, ‘Do you mind if I run?’ I don’t think he needs permission to use my name when it’s his name.”

With a few exceptions involving a few incumbents who he’s known for years and aren’t likely to have serious opposition, the commissioner isn’t making any primary endorsements — including in the sheriff’s race — until he knows if he’s going to have a contested primary of his own next year.

The sheriff candidate said having the same last name as the commissioner “will definitely be an asset to me. But I believe that it’s up to me to be sure that I make my own name for myself and that I differentiate the position that I’m running for so that an uneducated voter will know that there are two of us.”

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com and can be found @browardpolitics on Facebook, Threads.net and Post.news.


Book bans surged across the US in 2023. Florida was the blueprint.

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 14:44

The number of books banned in school districts across the U.S. reached a peak this year, a new report says, with Florida leading the way in more ways than one.

The state topped the country in the number of books banned alone, representing 40% of the country’s total cases, with over 1,400 books removed from libraries in the 2022-23 school year, according to a report issued on Thursday by PEN America, a free speech advocacy group. Across the country, over 3,000 books were removed.

But Florida’s influence also extends far beyond the number of books it has banned — the state’s conservative advocacy groups and legislation have helped pave the way for the rest of the country to follow suit.

“Florida is not an anomaly,” said Kasey Meehan, the lead author of the report, titled “The Mounting Pressure to Censor: The Drivers Behind Book Bans,” and the Freedom to Read Program Director at PEN America. “It’s almost like an incubator.”

A map provided by PEN America showing the total instances of book bans by state, from July 2022 to June 2023 Florida’s influence

One common theme emerged as researchers studied the success of book bans: The combined presence of conservative advocacy groups and state legislation.

Florida serves as an example of how those forces work together, as state laws allow for and respond to activist groups who challenge books on a local level. A school district’s proximity to a local chapter of such a group is associated with a greater number of bans, according to the report.

Its release comes days after the most recent effort by local chapters of one of the most prominent groups, Moms for Liberty, to recite explicit sections of books at school board meetings this week in Broward and Seminole counties with the goal of having them removed under a new state law, HB 1069. The law, in part, requires school boards to ban books from libraries if their language cannot be read aloud at a board meeting

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The group has close ties to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the law in May. Earlier this month, he appointed one of the organization’s co-founders to the state Commission on Ethics.

Both Florida’s legislation and its advocacy surrounding books have served as an example for the rest of the country. Emerging in 2020 during the pandemic, Moms for Liberty now has close to 300 chapters in 44 states. Other states have used Florida’s legislation such as HB 1557, which went into effect in July 2022 and was dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as a template, the report says.

“You can see the way in which similar tactics and strategies from groups in Florida are being applied in other states and other school districts,” Meehan said, “as well as the ways in which language and legislation are being copycatted.”

Books removed often discussed race, had minority or LGBT characters

The subject matter found within the banned books can be broken down into a few main themes: Violence and physical abuse in close to half of the books banned this year, topping the list, followed by books that discussed the health and wellbeing of students, and those that included sexual experiences between characters.

Close to a third of the banned books had characters who were minorities or discussed themes of race and racism, according to the report, like “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, both banned in Broward schools.

And nearly a third of the banned books had characters who were LGBT.

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Groups like Moms for Liberty have argued that the removal of books from schools does not constitute a ban; rather, it places the power in the hands of parents.

“We’re not banning books, these books are not going to be banned from a parent deciding whether their child is going to read this or not,” Corie Pinero, the chair of the Broward chapter of Moms for Liberty, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Most public libraries, these books are going to be available, and on Amazon, so if a parent decides their child is mature enough, they can go to the public library and check them out for free or purchase them.”

Oftentimes LGBT themes are considered pornographic, the PEN America report said, relying on “discriminatory tropes” that associate the community with sexuality.

Pinero argued that children should not read books with sexual content and included sexual orientation in that list.

“Children do not have the mental capacity and maturity to handle these contexts, rape, incest, homosexuality, heterosexuality,” she said. “So that’s really the issue we have.”

Book bans in South Florida

At least 1,406 book ban cases occurred in Florida during this school year, the report says, though the number of books no longer on shelves likely surpasses that.

South Florida has seen 43 cases during that time, according to PEN America’s index of book bans, with the greatest number in Palm Beach County at 23 books, followed by Broward with 12 and Miami-Dade with eight. Those numbers are far fewer than some districts, like Escambia in Florida’s Panhandle, which saw over 200. But they still reflect the influence of new state legislation that makes book challenges easier.

The numbers include books removed during the course of an ongoing investigation, which represent the majority of cases. Even though those books could return to the shelves, the process could take months or years, Meehan said, so PEN America counts those as bans.

The Florida Department of Education recently released its own data on book challenges, with lower numbers, counting 12 objections but only three removals in Broward, six objections and no removals in Palm Beach, and five objections and no removals in Miami-Dade.

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Though the book ban movement appears widespread, it doesn’t necessarily reflect public opinion. Many of the bans can be traced back to one activist group, and in some cases, one or two people.

The report cites a Tampa Bay Times article from August which found that two people had brought about the challenging of hundreds of books across Florida; meanwhile, a Washington Post article said that 11 people were connected to 60% of over 1,000 challenges.

Surveys of the general public, meanwhile, have found that most Americans do not support book bans; a May poll found that 65% of Americans oppose book bans by school boards, 69% opposing bans by lawmakers.

A small group of people are having “an outsized influence in getting books off library shelves,” Meehan said, while state legislation like Florida’s “empowers that small group of local actors in getting those books removed.”

Pinero disagreed. Moms for Liberty has a chapter in almost every county in Florida, she said, and over 100,000 members, “and we started just over two years ago.”

She’s hoping the group will continue to expand. Already, several chapters have opened in California, she said, the state “actually one of our most active.”

The PEN America report found that states that lean Democrat have fewer bans, while Republican-leaning states have the majority, accounting for 88% of book removals. But even in more liberal districts like Broward, the proximity of local chapters of conservative advocacy groups and state legislation still leads to book removals.

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“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican district, you have nearly the same prevalence of some of the larger national groups that have chapters or local affiliates that have been driving for book bans,” Meehan said.

Contributing to the number of books taken off of shelves and placed under review is the vagueness of existing laws that Meehan says leads to confusion and overcompliance. School districts were told to “err on the side of caution” when it comes to removing books, she said.

Some districts removed books based on HB 1557, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law; now, court motions have revealed that the law was meant to cover classroom instruction, not libraries.

She thinks Florida’s school districts could respond to some of those challenges by asking the state for more explicit guidance about what books must be removed. It’s possible the state could decide to explicitly ban books based on HB 1557, but Meehan thinks officials wouldn’t want to.

“I don’t know if you want to be the state that’s prohibiting books in libraries,” she said. “That’s undemocratic, it’s quite authoritarian. So to already have these types of prohibitions on instruction being challenged, but to extend that to a school’s public library collection, is a bit dystopian.”

Just as the number of bans does not necessarily reflect public opinion, it also does not necessarily represent the extent of the censorship itself. There are places in Florida where entire classroom libraries have been emptied under the new legislation, Meehan said. There’s no way to count all of the books lost.

The PEN America report also does not account for the other ways in which new legislation and challenges have already begun to limit the diversity of books districts are purchasing now or in the future.

“There are many ways in which the censorship movement we’re watching is playing out,” Meehan said, “some of which we can count, some which is likely beyond our counting.”

Florida families say school vouchers are unpaid, causing major disruption

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 14:35

Danielle Underwood is at wit’s end over the state-funded school voucher for her daughter, Aryana.

“I checked my (balance) an hour ago,” Underwood said Thursday afternoon. “It was zero.”

That meant her daughter’s small private school for students with special needs hadn’t received its first quarter installment for her voucher, despite it being due by law within 10 days of Sept. 1.

“They have not gotten their first quarter funding yet for any of their students,” said Underwood, a former Hernando County parent activist who lives in Palm Beach County. “The school is faced with closing its doors. … We’ve never had this problem before.”

It’s a situation being played out across Florida, as private schools and families scramble to make ends meet amid the growing pains of the state’s expanded voucher program. Lawmakers lifted the eligibility requirements for the system, leading to a doubling of participation this fall to more than 400,000 children.

The disruption appears to have affected thousands of students, while parents and school officials say they have been unable to get answers from those in charge of the $4 billion voucher system.

“This year it’s been the worst,” said Maria Preston, who runs Diverse Abilities Center in Fort Lauderdale.

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Preston said representatives from about 150 private schools held a Zoom conference call late Wednesday to discuss how to deal with the lack of funding.

Some have tapped into personal funds to pay their bills, she said, while one spoke of getting an eviction notice.

At her school, which serves about 50 children with intense therapeutic needs, some services have been canceled because they can’t pay the providers — despite the requirements of student individual education plans.

“That’s illegal,” Preston said, adding that she had sent a complaint to the federal Office of Civil Rights regarding the situation.

Calling Step Up For Students, the organization that manages about 98% of all vouchers, and the Florida Department of Education has made no difference. Parents have posted on social media examples of generic responses they’ve received from Step Up, many of which suggest they call for more specifics.

“When you call them, you’re on hold four, six, eight hours,” Underwood said.

And if they do say something, it’s usually along the lines of “it’s coming,” she said.

When asked about late payments to schools a week ago, Scott Kent of Step Up For Students told the Tampa Bay Times that funding was not late.

“All Unique Abilities scholarship funds for which we have received funding from the Florida Department of Education have been applied to eligible student accounts, with the exception of about 5% where additional verifications are being made,” Kent said via email on Sept. 14, referring to the voucher program for students with disabilities. “As we announced on our website and in social media, some portions of our system will be unavailable for a couple of days while scholarship funds are processed for scholarships other than the Unique Abilities students.”

A week later, families and schools said Step Up keeps extending the deadlines.

Kent deferred all questions Thursday to the state Department of Education.

Department spokesperson Cailey Myers did not provide specifics on why some schools and parents have yet to see their voucher money six weeks into the academic year.

”It remains important that the Department of Education, as well as Step Up For Students, conducts its due diligence and exercise the proper controls to ensure that taxpayer funds are expended both expeditiously and appropriately,” Myers said via email.

The situation has caught the attention of some state lawmakers, including Rep. Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat who opposed the expansion.

Nixon said she and others predicted problems would occur because of the major growth, but that shouldn’t be the focus now.

“We are trying to help the parents of these kids,” Nixon said, noting she has gotten calls from many families, many of whom are lower income and minority.

She said answers have been few and far between. Into the void have surfaced rumors, including that the scholarship funding organizations ran out of money or that they’re sitting on cash to collect the interest.

“It’s a mess,” Nixon said.

For parents like Underwood, it’s a scary proposition. Many signed contracts with their schools putting themselves on the hook to pay tuition they can’t necessarily afford if the vouchers don’t arrive.

They also count on their schools to provide services that district schools often can’t.

“We don’t know what to do,” Underwood said.

Preston said the private school operators are organizing to press for action.

“We’re about to converge on Tampa Bay soon if things don’t get better,” she said, referring to the home of Step Up officials such as president Doug Tuthill. “And Mr. Tuthill can’t hide.”

©2023 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

State football leaving Fort Lauderdale as FHSAA announces all title games will be held in Tallahassee

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 14:09

After contesting the state’s larger-classification football championships the past two years at Fort Lauderdale’s DRV PNK Stadium, the FHSAA announced that it would be returning to Tallahassee, with Florida A&M’s Ken Riley Field at Bragg Memorial Stadium the host of all nine games from Dec. 7-9.

In 2020, all the state championship games also were hosted in Tallahassee, though at Florida State University.

St. Thomas Aquinas and Miami Central are each gunning for a state-record fifth consecutive state championship, with the first title of those runs being won in Daytona Beach, and then followed by FSU and the past two in Broward County.

Last year, the new FHSAA football classifications of 2M (Miami Central), 3S (Lake Wales), 3M (St. Thomas Aquinas), 4S (Lakeland) and 4M (Miami Columbus) had champs crowned at Inter Miami CF’s stadium.

The recent movement since 2019 follows a decade of consistency when all of the then-eight title matchups were played in Orlando, a natural central location, from 2007-18.

There have never been nine Florida state championship games held at the same site, much less on a single weekend. Before 2020, the most recent time Tallahassee had hosted the large-school title games had been in 2002

Since the FHSAA began playing title matchups at predetermined sites in 1989, Miami-Dade County has hosted for all classes in two years (2005-06), and Broward has hosted five of the classifications the past two years.

The games times haven’t been announced, though it would be reasonable for there to be three games a day in the 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. windows on Thursday, Dec. 7 through Saturday, Dec. 9.

Tallahassee is in the Eastern time zone.

Coastal storm moves north, but still sends rain to South Florida into the weekend

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 14:06

It’s going to be wet over the next several days in South Florida: The rain will be intermittent, but possibly intense at times.

The primary factor in the hit-or-miss soggy weather is a low off Florida’s east coast that is expected to form into a tropical storm while it nears the coast of North Carolina starting Friday. The storm has a trajectory that will take it into North Carolina, Virginia and possibly Delaware, prompting tropical storm warnings in all those states, and storm surge forecasts that sent 3 feet of surge well into Chesapeake Bay.

Though the system is moving north, it will continue to send wet weather toward our region for the next several days, said National Weather Service Miami meteorologist Donal Herrigan on Thursday.

Just over 1 inch of rainfall was recorded Thursday at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and about 1.5 inches at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, according to NWS Miami preliminary data.

Evening thunderstorms on Thursday in southern Broward County were capable of creating funnel clouds, possible hail and gusty winds. The rainfall caused a flood warning to briefly go  into effect, including Pembroke Pines and Sawgrass Mills, about 6:30 p.m. Wind gusts between 42 and 70 mph were recorded about that time in several parts of the county.

The weather service said that the total rainfall over Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the region would be from 1 to 2 inches. The bursts of rain will be staggered by drier air moving in from the northwest.

In a worst-case-scenario prediction, NWS Miami said rainfall amounts through Saturday could be between 2 and 3 inches in Palm Beach County, 1.5 to 2 inches in Broward and 2 to 3 inches in Miami-Dade.

Intense rainfall could produce some nuisance flooding, Herrigan said.

In a release Thursday afternoon, the weather service said strong north to northeast winds and swells are expected to bring deteriorating beach and boating conditions to the waters off Palm Beach and Broward counties beginning late Friday and lasting over the weekend. Forecasters anticipate rough surf, waves of 4 to 6 feet, and dangerous rip currents.

Forecasters said that temperatures will reach the mid-80s to lower-90s. Temperatures could drop to the 70s overnight.

Harrigan said heat indices will be slightly lower as a front from the north moves in, lowering humidity. Rain chances will drop a bit Saturday as well. Tropical moisture will return Sunday and Monday, however, increasing the odds of heavy rains.

Go Long for Luke flag football fundraiser promotes autism acceptance

South Florida Local News - Thu, 09/21/2023 - 13:43

The eighth annual Go Long for Luke flag football charity fundraiser recently took place at Caloosa Park in Boynton Beach to raise awareness for individuals with autism and to create opportunities for the community to get involved and support the cause.

The fundraiser happened in Boynton Beach for the first time with over 250 people as well as a DJ and food truck. The event attracted children and teens from sixth through 12th grade to participate in flag football and promote the acceptance of all individuals with autism.

The Go Long for Luke nonprofit organization was created in 2013. Sophie Greenfield’s twin brother, Luke, has faced ongoing challenges with autism, a neurological and developmental disorder that affects brain function and the ability to interact and communicate with others. Sophie, at age 9, was inspired to start the charitable organization with Cole and Jesse Faller after meeting them at an integrated after-school program at East Hills School in  Roslyn, New York.

The Go Long for Luke flag football fundraiser has raised awareness for individuals with autism created by the Greenfield family, from left, Sophie, Sandi, Luke and Scott. (Sophie Greenfield/Courtesy)

“I thought the program in elementary school would be a fun way to meet other kids and help kids with disabilities,” Sophie said. “We have a big special needs community where we used to live. Cole and Jesse instantly made a connection with Luke and he loved them. We wanted to create an event for Luke.  We wanted to do it in the fall and Luke loves football. We had to organize the first event quickly and it exceeded our expectations. We were able to get more people and raise more money each year.”

The charitable organization previously held seven flag football fundraisers, including four events in Roslyn and three in Atlanta to provide a platform for children to advocate and raise awareness for other children with autism. Sophie’s parents, Sandi and Scott, recently relocated with Luke to Boca Raton. Sophie, now 19, attends the University of Miami.

“We are here and ready to make an impact on the South Florida community,” Sophie said. “We have bigger plans and want to expand our network and continue to make connections to help individuals with autism and special needs. We are looking for support and donations to affect change.”

The Go Long for Luke nonprofit organization was created in 2013. Sophie Greenfield’s twin brother, Luke, has faced ongoing challenges with autism. (Sophie Greenfield/Courtesy)

The proceeds from the flag football fundraiser in Boynton Beach will be donated toward Els for Autism, a foundation established in 2009 that serves families and offers in-person programs and services at The Els Center of Excellence campus in Jupiter. Ernie Els, a professional golfer, has a son, Ben, who is impacted by autism spectrum disorder.

“We wanted to contribute and support Els For Autism and their foundation,” Sophie said. “They have a great program and we want to partner with them in the future.”

As children with autism reach age 21 and transition out of school, they are faced with limited options for support. Go Long for Luke has partnered with Delray Beach residents Josh and Nicole Ruderman in a mission to construct a group home for individuals with autism. Josh and Nicole have a daughter, Alex, who is on the autism spectrum. Luke and Alex previously were classmates and became friends in Roslyn.

The Greenfield and Ruderman families are determined with their shared pursuit of creating opportunities and providing support for individuals with autism. They purchased a lot in Jupiter in 2022 to build a future group home for both genders, which will be designed for age 22 and older. They envision the property to be about 6,500 square feet with seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms and it will incorporate a daily recreational program. The individuals will have the opportunity to participate in several activities, including interacting with each other on an outside basketball court and playground as well as learning with computer programs and puzzles. They anticipate the group home will be ready by 2027.

“Luke and Alex have very similar interests,” Sophie said. “We always envisioned doing something together with their family. This is our No. 1 priority and it’s going to take time to raise the funds needed so we can build this group home for boys and girls with autism who age out of school.”

The Go Long for Luke flag football fundraiser has been held in New York, Georgia and Florida. (Espouse Productions/Courtesy)

Luke, who is limited in his speech, enjoys technology and loves being on the computer and iPad. He enjoys learning and watching programs, including “Dora & Diego” and “Sesame Street.” He also enjoys sports, including playing basketball and football with his family.

“Luke can say a few words in his vocabulary and he has a good routine,” Sophie said. “He is very good at typing to communicate with us. It’s amazing because he is so fast at typing. He is perfect at writing, spelling and with his punctuation. He understands and comprehends so many different languages. He loves to film videos on his phone and iPad. He has a big passion for filmmaking. It’s something he would love to do.”

Visit golongforluke.org.

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