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Sunday, May 19, 2024

UF doctoral candidate finds freedom of speech restricted in schools

A UF doctoral candidate found school faculty and staff have greater restrictions on their First Amendment rights.

For two years, Jesse Gates, the assistant principal at W.D. Hartley Elementary School in St. Augustine, researched how teachers can understand what their free-speech rights are in regards to social media. He said he studied the First Amendment’s laws relating to public speech versus private speech and speech as an employee.

Gates said public employees’ freedom of speech is not fully protected by the Supreme Court, which is why school districts around the state have started creating social-media policies.

"As public employees, we are limited as to what we can or cannot say," he said.

Gates said his research shows there is very little a teacher can post on social media that can’t legally get him or her fired.

The Alachua County School Board adopted a social-media policy in 2012, wrote ACSB member April Griffin in an email. It advises staff to not communicate with currently enrolled students because the communication could appear inappropriate.

Gates said a lack of policy isn’t to blame when teachers communicate inappropriately with students over social media.

"In my research, the ethics are the real thing that teachers need to follow," he said.

Jen Cheveallier, 31, an eighth grade English teacher at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, said she has a Facebook but only accepts students’ friend request after they have graduated from her school.

Gates said the courts have given school districts leeway in determining what social media interaction with students is appropriate.

"It’s more of a philosophical discussion," Gates said. "There’s law and then there’s practical life."

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- Ashley Martin 


Researcher develops software to simplify shapes in nature

A UF research technician developed free computer software that makes studying honeybees easier.

Tomas Bustamante, who works at the UF Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab, created the program, called MorphoMetric, which makes it easier for people to study morphology. Morphology is the analysis of the shape and the structure of living things, he said.

Because it is designed to be user-friendly, Bustamante, 25, said even children can use it to understand why the shapes of different animals are important. For example, the shape of a honeybee’s wings affects how it flies, he said.

The software collects measurements from images it captures, and then it organizes the data in a cohesive and simple way.

Bustamante started his research a year and a half ago, and the final software product is projected to take another six months to develop.

Currently, the prototype can only be used on honeybees. He said he will need more time to turn it into something that has a more general application.

Bustamante said MorphoMetric will be a useful educational tool and it could help people in biology and morphology fields understand how to better preserve the environment.

"You need to know what is there before you know what to do with it," he said.

The team of researchers is accepting donations for the project at

- Rachel Howard 

Drug protects against eye disorder

A UF professor found that it may be possible to delay age-related vision loss.

Alfred Lewin, a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, and other UF Health researchers found a drug that improves eyesight in mice with macular degeneration and helps to protect human retinal cells.

Macular degeneration is an eye disorder that slowly destroys sharp, central vision and makes it difficult to see fine details and read, Lewin said.

Lewin said this eye disorder affects 10 percent of people older than 65 and can lead to depression.

"What happens is old folks retire, have time on their hands, but can’t read books, watch TV or even recognize their grandchildren," Lewin said. "It’s terrible."

Lewin said UF researchers originally tested an injected drug on mice that was meant to fight Lou Gherig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Instead, Lewin said they found the drug worked to fight macular degeneration, not ALS.

Lewin said he has been working on this research for more than four years, and it should be published in the next few months.

"Hopefully in about five years, the oral drug will be on the market," Lewin said.

- Sara Perlman 

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