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The B.E.S.T. education - New curriculum standards go back to basics with less testing

SEBRING — The new proposed state curriculum standards calls for less testing and replacing state tests with the the SAT or ACT tests.

Governor Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran recently announced that the Florida Department of Education has completed the review of Florida’s K-12 academic standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics and made recommendations for revisions.

The proposed standards are called “Florida Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.).”

A summary of the assessments for the standards cites five “big wins” for students, parents and teachers:

• Reducing the actual time students and teachers spend on state tests and getting results.

• Reducing unnecessary, duplicative testing.

• Replacing state tests with SAT or ACT — tests that are valued by parents and students.

• Better aligning state tests, via SAT or ACT, to college readiness.

• Requiring that all high school students take the Florida Civics Literacy Test.

Highlands School Board Chair Donna Howerton said the amount of testing has been a huge concern of parents and teachers so she agrees with reducing the testing. She said the challenge comes when making sure what is in place measures accountability and is not just a test.

With the new standards, “I am hoping we are getting back to the basics and just letting out teachers teach as they know best and have a little bit more local control.”

School Board Member Isaac Durrance said from what he has read thus far, it sounds like the state is working toward a good direction in education.

Durrance, who is a former teacher and school administrator, added, “At this point I haven’t seen it or created any curriculum with it, but I feel like we are moving in the right direction.”

The new standards tout “a first in the nation.” Florida’s B. E.S.T. Standards embed civics throughout the kindergarten through 12th grade English language arts standards, with a civic literacy reading list that includes foundational American documents.

“No confusing math,” according to a summary of the standards that brings education back to the basics. Students should be rewarded, not punished, for using the method they understand best.

Students will memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. This allows students to quickly recall these facts so that they can move on to more advanced concepts.

In a press release, DeSantis said,“When I took office, I made a pledge to the citizens of Florida to overhaul our educational standards to remove all vestiges of Common Core and return to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

“I am pleased that this historic task has been completed and we are well on our way to making Florida the best state in the nation for education.”

On Jan. 31, 2019, DeSantis issued Executive Order 19-32, outlining a path for Florida to improve its education system by eliminating Common Core and paving the way for Florida students to receive a world-class education to prepare them for jobs of the future.

Six years ago, former Gov. Rick Scott took aim at the Common Core standards, which were developed by officials in 48 states and have drawn heavy criticism from Republican voters.

The State Board of Education in 2014 adopted what are known as the Florida Standards, a move that involved making changes to Common Core.

The new B.E.S.T. Standards will need approval from the State Board of Education. When adopted, the language-arts curriculum is expected to be updated for the 2021-2022 year, and the math curriculum would be updated for the 2022-2023 year, according to the Department of Education.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

GOP defends Trump as Bolton book adds pressure for witnesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pressure increased Monday on senators to call John Bolton to testify at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial even as defense lawyers brushed past extraordinary new allegations from Trump’s former national security adviser and made legal and historical arguments for acquittal.

The president’s legal team resumed its presentation as Republicans grappled with claims in a forthcoming book from Bolton that undercut a key defense argument — that Trump never tied withholding military aid to Ukraine to his demand the country help investigate political rival Joe Biden.

The attorneys did not make any direct reference to revelations about Bolton’s book draft as they opened arguments, though one did appear to take an oblique swipe.

“We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information,” said attorney Jay Sekulow. “We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all.”

Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation into President Bill Clinton resulted in his impeachment, bemoaned what he said was an “age of impeachment.”

Impeachment, he said, requires both an actual crime and a “genuine national consensus” that the president must go. Neither exists here, Starr said.

Impeachment is “filled with acrimony and divides the country like nothing else,” Starr said, adding, “Those of who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that — and indeed in a personal way.”

Even as defense lawyers laid out their case, it was clear that Bolton’s book has scrambled the debate over whether to seek witnesses. In it, Bolton writes that Trump told him he wanted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid from Ukraine until it helped him with investigations into Biden. Trump’s legal team has repeatedly insisted otherwise, and Trump tweeted on Monday that he never told Bolton such a thing.

Republican senators faced a pivotal moment as they arrived on Capitol Hill to resume Trump’s trial. Democrats are demanding sworn testimony from Bolton and other key witnesses, and pressure is mounting on at least four Republicans to buck GOP leaders and form a bipartisan majority to force the issue.

“John Bolton’s relevance to our decision has become increasingly clear,” GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she has always wanted “the opportunity for witnesses” and the report about Bolton’s book “strengthens the case.”

The push for Bolton to testify did not appear to move Senator Majority Leader McConnell, who told Republicans at a closed lunch Monday they would take stock after the defense team concludes arguments.

“His message is what has been all along: Let’s get through the next step,” said Indiana GOP Sen. Mike Braun exiting the lunch. “That was it. Take a deep breath, and let’s take one step at a time.”

Once the president’s team wraps its arguments no later than Tuesday, senators have 16 hours for questions to both sides.

By Thursday they are expected to hold a vote on whether or not to hear from any other witnesses. Republicans said if Bolton is called they will demand reciprocation, which could mean trying to call Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Trump’s team laid out the broad outlines of its defense in a rare Saturday session, at which they accused House Democrats of using the impeachment case to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and drive Trump from office.

Besides Starr, Monday’s presentation was expected to include appearances by Alan Dershowitz, who will argue that impeachable offenses require criminal-like conduct, and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Democrats, meanwhile, are saying that Trump’s refusal to allow administration officials to testify in the impeachment proceeding only reinforces that the White House is hiding evidence. The White House has had Bolton’s manuscript for about a month, according to a letter from Bolton’s attorney.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: “We’re all staring a White House cover-up in the face.”

Schumer drew on polls that show the public wants to hear from witnesses. “We want the truth,” he said. “So do the American people.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, who is leading the House prosecution team, called Bolton’s account a test for the senators sitting as jurors.

”I don’t know how you can explain that you wanted a search for the truth in this trial and say you don’t want to hear from a witness who had a direct conversation about the central allegation in the articles of impeachment,” Schiff said on CNN.

Four Republicans would have to break ranks to join Democrats to call any witnesses, which would extend the trial, which has been expected to conclude fairly rapidly. The Republicans hold a 53-47 Senate majority.

Bolton’s account was first reported by The New York Times and was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the manuscript on the condition of anonymity. “The Room Where It Happened; A White House Memoir” is to be released March 17.

John Ullyot, a spokesman for the National Security Council that Bolton used to lead, said the manuscript was submitted to the NSC for “pre-publication review” and had been under initial review.

”No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript,” he said.

Trump denied Bolton’s claims in tweets early Monday.

”I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump said. “If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

Trump said people could look at transcripts of his call with Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelinskiy to see there was no pressure for such investigations to get the aid. In that call, Trump asked Zelinskiy to “do us a favor” with the investigations as he was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to the U.S. ally at war with Russia.

Trump falsely claimed Monday that the Democrat-controlled House “never even asked John Bolton to testify.” Democrats did ask Bolton to testify, but he didn’t show up for his deposition. They later declined to subpoena Bolton, as they had others, because he threatened to sue, which could lead to a prolonged court battle.

Schiff said Bolton — known to be a copious notetaker — should also provide documents.

Bolton, who sent this book manuscript to the White House for review, is now enmeshed in a legal dispute with the White House over the manuscript’s use of direct quotes and other material from meetings and foreign leader discussions. That’s according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.

The White House has requested that Bolton remove material it considers classified, the person said, which has the book behind schedule.

Bolton acrimoniously left the White House a day before Trump ultimately released the Ukraine aid on Sept. 11. He has already told lawmakers that he is willing to testify, despite the president’s order barring aides from cooperating in the probe.

Eventual acquittal is likely in a Senate where a two-thirds majority vote would be needed for conviction. Still, the White House sees its Senate presentation this week as an opportunity to counter the allegations, defend the powers of the presidency and prevent Trump from being weakened politically ahead of November’s election.

Trump faces two articles of impeachment. One accuses him of abusing his power by asking Ukraine to investigate while withholding military aid. The other alleges that Trump obstructed Congress by directing aides to not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats argued their side of the impeachment case for three days last week, warning that Trump will persist in abusing his power and endangering American democracy unless Congress intervenes to remove him before the 2020 election.

Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

City of Sebring named in Magnolia foreclosure lawsuit

SEBRING — A Maine bank has filed a complaint for foreclosure of mortgage and security interests and for damages against the Magnolia Retirement Home, Inc., its owners, the City of Sebring and unknown tenants.

The Agency for Healthcare Administration noted numerous deficiencies in denying the renewal of the assisted living facility license for the Magnolia Retirement Home, 149 Magnolia Ave., which is owned by Manuel and Priscilla Domisiw. The facility’s residents were relocated in June.

The Northeast Bank of Maine, represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney Craig Stephen Barnett, filed the foreclosure lawsuit in December.

The Magnolia property was leased under terms from July 1, 1996, the lawsuit complaint noted.

There were a number of subsequent transactions since that date, including a loan and promissory note.

The complaint notes there are exhibits related to the “loan documents” that include: the loan agreement, note, mortgage, assignment of rents, assignments of loan and liens, financing statement and financing statement amendments.

The borrowers defaulted under the terms of the note by failing to pay the monthly payment of principal and interest due on June 5, 2019 or thereafter, according to the complaint.

The complaint states the City of Sebring may claim some interest in the property by virtue of those certain notices of lien and order imposing penalties/lien. The city’s code violation lien, however, is subordinate and inferior to Northeast Bank’s mortgage lien.

The complaint states “defendants John Doe and Jane Doe may be occupying and in possession of the property and may claim some right, title or interest in and to the property by virtue of being in possession of the property as lessees or tenants having an unrecorded rental agreement for the property.”

John and Jane Doe’s interests, if any, are “subordinate, inferior and junior to Northeast Bank’s mortgage lien,” according to the complaint.

A summons was filed Dec. 27 to be served to Sebring Mayor John Shoop.

City Attorney Bob Swaine said Monday that the summons was served on the city and he will be reviewing it.

Forum panel: Gun incidents, mental health not often related

SEBRING — A panel met with residents Monday afternoon to examine issues and dispel some myths concerning possible connections between gun violence and mental health.

The discussion revealed two myths: That gun violence is necessarily tied to mental health or that people who have mental health issues are gun users.

It also revealed that, according to people working with mental health issues and/or law enforcement, the people in the best position to monitor a person for any tendency toward violence are those closest to them.

The unfortunate caveat, however, is that those closest to a person might not realize his or her behavior or mental state is changing. Since it tends to be a gradual process, they might miss key indicators that someone is needing help.

Monday’s panel consisted of, in alphabetical order, Drug Free Highlands CEO Aisha Alayande, Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman and Tri-County Human Services CEO Robert Rihn.

Tri-County organization deals directly with mental health issues, while Drug Free Highlands deals indirectly with them, especially in cases where people “self-medicate.”

The Sheriff’s Office not only has to deal with gun violence incidents or reports of people acting in a dangerous manner, the Highlands County Jail, run by Blackman and over which he was once the captain, often ends up housing people who have mental health issues when they get into trouble with others.

The event was organized by Indivisible Highlands County FL, and housed in the fellowship hall of Emmanuel United Church of Christ on Hope Street off Hammock Road in Sebring.

All three panelists, speaking to a question of whether the problems of guns, mental health and mass shootings was a simple or complex issue, said it was exceedingly complex.

“There is no one solution. It will be a plethora of several different things,” Blackman said. “If it was that simple, we would have already fixed it.”

Alayande also said she had concerns about even the format of the forum, coupling a discussion of guns and mental health.

“Not all with mental health [issues] are gun users,” Alayande said.

Rihn cited a statistic that 37% of United States homes have guns, which means 67% do not. He said only 3% of people who commit mass killings have severe psychotic issues, and then noted that everyone in the room, at some time, had experienced a mental health issue, including depression or anxiety.

Rihn said experiencing such an issue is not a good indicator of someone being likely to be violent with a gun.

One concern raised by gun owners is the “red flag” laws, which Blackman said could fill a three-hour seminar by themselves. He said “risk protection orders” — law enforcement officers call them “RPOs” — were passed as part of Senate Bills 7026 and 7030 after the Parkland school shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. Put simply, he said if someone says, texts, posts, videos or otherwise broadcasts an intention to use a gun against either one’s self or others, and a witness can swear to that, then law enforcement may be able to secure a risk protection order, if a judge agrees. With that order, officers can seize any guns for 14 days, after which the subject of the order has an opportunity to make a case in front of the judge. If the judge finds the concerns to be valid, police keep the guns for a year. If after that year, the suspect party has had no further incidents and can make a case of not being a danger, the guns are returned, Blackman said. If not, they are kept for a second year, but Blackman said they cannot be kept longer than that.

Out of 105,000 residents in the last two years, Blackman’s deputies have served 116 risk protection orders. While he couldn’t recall immediately how many were rescinded, Blackman could tell the Highlands News-Sun that his deputies had responded to 749 mental crisis cases in 2019 and 656 in 2018, for a total of 1,405, meaning the risk protection orders accounted for less than 10%.

Another avenue to protect people from themselves and others, he said, is a Baker Act involuntary commitment to a mental facility for evaluation. It is also temporary, lasting only a couple of days.

Blackman said FBI studies have shown that mass shootings are mostly premeditated, usually with some form of “leakage,” such as a change in behavior or statements toward others. People who see something should say something.

Rihn also cautioned that those closest to someone might see such a gradual change that they don’t realize that person has changed, and have accepted it as a “new normal.”

A few of the audience members had specific safety concerns regarding elderly individuals who have dementia and also have guns. The first question of the afternoon came from a woman who’s father, a U.S. Army veteran, is in that situation. She didn’t know how to approach him about limiting or ending his access to them without risking a confrontation.

“Sometimes life decisions require people to make their loved ones mad,” Blackman said, whether it has to do with gun ownership or a driver’s license. “It’s never easy when you start taking their independence away from them. If they are a part of your family, you need to do that.”

Rihn said intervention, involving several family members talking rationally to that one person works best, whether for substance abuse or other issues. It will involve people getting mad, he said.

“You are not on your own,” Rihn said. “Your family has to be a part of it.”

Alayande also said it would be good to have protocols in place, as a society, for what to do when someone’s cognitive skills have waned yet they have access to guns or other items that could be dangerous. She recalled how Marvin Gaye, the 1960s and early 1980s singer, was killed by his father after a confrontation.

Another question asked how people can comfort or reassure children, given that shootings have taken place in schools. Blackman said both the schools and his agency have victims’ advocates.

Alayande also suggested a Tri-County prevention program called “Strengthening Families.” It provides parenting skills, children’s social skills and family life skills training for high-risk families, including low-income families and those dealing with high levels of stress.