In The News: Labor Day Holiday Travel Could Rise As Gas Prices Fall; Evacuation Lifted After Bomb Threat At Oviedo High School; As Drone Usage Soars In Latin America, So Do Concerns; Dick Cheney Jabs At Hillary Clinton’s Email And Urges Joe Biden To Run; McKinley To Denali: In Alaska, Obama To Rename Tallest U.S. Peak

By on August 31st, 2015 | Last updated: August 31, 2015 at 4:30 pm
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In the News: St. Johns County Officials Offer Free Sandbags To Residents; Wilkerson’s Attorney Requests End To Mental Health Treatment; Scott Walker Criticizes Jeb Bush On Iran Deal; Obama’s Alaska Visit Highlights Global Warming

By and on August 31st, 2015 | Last updated: August 31, 2015 at 11:30 am
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Preserving History Through Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Recipe

By on August 21st, 2015 | Last updated: August 21, 2015 at 11:33 am

The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park exists as a way to remember Florida history… But the workers there are doing something extra to “preserve” memories. WUFT’s Marie Edinger reports.

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After Months of Debate, ‘Bert the Bluff Oak’ Falls To Make Room for Building

By on August 17th, 2015 | Last updated: August 24, 2015 at 8:27 pm

After months of debate, a historic bluff oak tree on the University of Florida’s campus was torn down Saturday.

Bert, a 200-year-old bluff oak tree, has been in jeopardy for two years after plans were created by Grimshaw Architects to renovate and expand the University of Florida’s Nuclear Sciences Building.

When students and staff heard about the plans, they took to social media to challenge the original designs. They christened the tree with the moniker “Bert.”

WUFT News’ Ali Schmitz has more on how people are moving forward after the removal of Bert the Bluff Oak.

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Medical Marijuana Supporters Renew Legalization Efforts With New Petition

By on August 14th, 2015 | Last updated: August 14, 2015 at 6:18 pm

Supporters of medical marijuana legalization went to court houses all over Florida on Friday in an effort to acquire the signatures needed to put the issue on the 2016 ballot.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, said that they need at total of 683,149 signatures.

United for Care, an organization dedicated to legalizing medical marijuana, was responsible for getting the medical marijuana referendum on the ballot in last year’s election, which failed by 2 percent.

“I think this year there’s going to be 2 to 3 million people who come out and vote in a presidential election that didn’t vote in 2014, which was a year that had a historically low turnout,” Pollara said. “And the people that come out and vote in presidential years are by and large folks who are more likely to be supportive of medical marijuana.”

United for Care has currently over 300,000 unverified signatures that will need to be verified by the state to count.

Pollara said supporters who signed the 2014 petition will have to sign again on the current petition to have their signatures count toward the final goal.

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Gainesville Reality Show Set To Air Aug. 20

By on August 12th, 2015 | Last updated: August 12, 2015 at 4:58 pm
CMT’s “Gainesville” docu-series will premiere Aug. 20 at 10 p.m. This “coming of age” show will focus on a group of 20-something year old’s as they try to make it on their own. Photo courtesy of CMT

CMT’s “Gainesville” docu-series will premiere Aug. 20 at 10 p.m. The show will focus on a group of people in their 20s as they try to make it on their own. Photo courtesy of CMT

Country Music Television’s new docu-series “Gainesville” is set to air back-to-back episodes on Aug. 20 at 10 p.m.

The show focuses on a group of seven friends in Gainesville, Fla., as they deal with financial problems, friendships and relationships.

Some locals are concerned about how their city will be portrayed.

Dylan Cone, a psychology major at Santa Fe College, is skeptical about how well the show will depict the city.

“Having a show called Gainesville and having it not accurately represent the city rubs me the wrong way,” Cone said.

On July 30, he created an online petition against the airing of the series, which currently has 1,573 signatures.

Originally from St. Petersburg, Fla., Cone moved to Gainesville last December for school. Though he wasn’t born and raised in Gainesville, he considers it home.

When a friend showed him the sneak peak for the show, he wasn’t happy with what he saw.

“I don’t believe it’s going to show the city in the correct way that I see Gainesville or how the community sees it,” Cone said.

But Nick Burnett, executive producer for Wheels Off Entertainment, said “Gainesville” is not going to be a profile on the city. Instead, it’s about a group of friends, their experiences and how Gainesville is intertwined in their lives.

Burnett said they shot everything in the moment and feels “Gainesville” will be more of a positive reality show.

“I can definitely say it’s not going to be the next Jersey Shore,” Burnett said. “It’s not about people getting drunk and doing stupid things at all.”

This positiveness has to do with the cast themselves being a group of friends that always look out for each other and that can inspire viewers, Burnett said.

Burnett hopes the show will bring positive attention to Gainesville and wants to work with the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce to do other film projects to represent other aspects of the city.

Burnett spent seven years of his life in Gainesville studying for his undergraduate degree and attending law school.

He always had a fondness for Gainesville and saw the show as a great opportunity for the city and a way to return to his alma mater.

Gainesville had the country element that the network was looking for as well as the family values they wanted to represent in the show, Burnett said.

They shot at multiple locations including Gator City Sports Grille, 101 Cantina, Grog House Grill and Diamond Sports Park.

Beth DeSimone, 26, a sports management major at the University of Florida, is the only cast member attending the university. Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., she moved to Ocala, Fla., at age 11 and then moved to Gainesville two years ago.

“If I didn’t go to UF, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life because UF is where I wanted to go,” DeSimone said.

She is the first member of her family to attend college and has paid her tuition on her own working three to four jobs since she was 18.

DeSimone loves having a busy schedule and constantly having to work hard.

“I refuse to live paycheck to paycheck,” DeSimone said. “I refuse to be that person and I also want to give back to my mom and dad at some point in my life.”

Her family is what drives her to never give up.

“My family is number one in my life,” she said.

She describes herself as a guys’ girl and loves everything about sports. Her dream job would be to become a sideline reporter for ESPN.

While filming the pilot episode at Eight Seconds in downtown Gainesville, producers met DeSimone, who was bartending at the time, and thought she would be a good fit. She already knew most of the cast making it easy for everyone to mesh.

Two weeks later, Andreya and Shelby moved into her house and, with permission from DeSimone’s landlord, began filming in August 2014 for four months.

“It’s more real than anything I have seen on T.V.,” DeSimone said.

“I was an open book,” DeSimone added. “I wanted them to have as much of my life as possible.”

In the show, people will see her juggling school, working at Eight Seconds and Buckle at The Oaks Mall, playing softball and interacting with her boyfriend Kenny.

“At times it was overwhelming, I had a full set of classes,” she added. “I’m trying to study…and trying to have fun with my friends at the same time”

DeSimone said there was no fabrication when it came to the storylines for the show. She gave producers her school and work schedule and they worked around that.

With the premiere about two weeks away, Cone has received a lot of support and attention for his petition.

Cone said what he wants most is for the name of the series to be changed. He feels the petition is a way for people to voice their opinions and concerns.

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Two People Dead In Weirsdale Plane Crash

By on August 12th, 2015 | Last updated: August 12, 2015 at 3:39 pm

At least two people are dead after a single-engine aircraft crashed in Weirsdale, Fla. today.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Marion County Fire Rescue arrived to the scene around 9:30 this morning after several neighbors reported seeing a plane go down, according to a video released by the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office and fire rescue conducted the initial investigations on the crash before handing over to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

It’s unknown if anyone else was on the plane.

This is a developing story.

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Bert the Bluff Oak’s Fate Revealed

By and on August 11th, 2015 | Last updated: August 11, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Bert, the 200-year-old bluff oak tree on the University of Florida’s campus, will be torn down sometime in the next week, according to Steve Orlando, senior director of UF media relations.

“UF has a long and solid history when it comes to conservation,” he said. “Our number one mission though is to educate students. Everyone agrees that it’s in the best interest of the students and the building to remove the tree.”

Despite efforts to create a plan that saved as many heritage trees as possible, UF has settled on the design for the expansion of the College of Engineering’s Nuclear Sciences Building and the construction of the NEXUS addition that requires Bert to be removed.

UFMAPScheme W7 Option 2 of the NEXUS building plan will require 36 trees to be removed from the area, including Bert and five other heritage trees.

“It’s the design in which the building works best for what it’s trying to accomplish,” Orlando said. “It doesn’t save all the trees, but it does save some.”

UF President Kent Fuchs and Cammy Abernathy, dean of the college of engineering, ultimately made the decision, he said.

The NEXUS addition budget was approved after being reduced from $25 to $6 million in June. The university would like to begin construction to accommodate the early legislative start date and avoid construction cost increases, according to a letter written by Curtis Reynolds, the vice president for business affairs.

On May 14, a meeting was held to discuss the various design plans presented to the University Lakes, Vegetation and Landscape Committee.

One design interfered with major utility lines on the west side and another would be too close to the Reitz Union, blocking the view of the stadium. The designs were limited by the boundaries of the Campus Master Plan.

The committee considered moving Bert, but decided against it because of the eight-month relocation time and $450,000 cost to drag it’s heavy frame.

According to the letter, the university plans to hire an independent arborist on retainer to consult on future projects that could require significant tree removal.

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UF’s Trans Resource Network Assists Students Through Institutional Collaboration

By on August 10th, 2015 | Last updated: August 10, 2015 at 3:29 pm

In summer 2014, the University of Florida lacked an established line of communication to assist students like Reilly-Owen Clemens, a transgender woman.

As she watched transgender individuals struggle to access essential departmental resources, she wasn’t disheartened. She was inspired to make a change.

The Trans Resource Network was forged and founded by Clemens, a graduate student of women’s studies at UF. The network, launched on June 1, 2015, is a cooperative effort between 17 university departments dedicated to assisting transgender students with services like readiness letters, hormone therapy and updated identification documents. The network also offers a discussion group for transgender students to explore their identities.

The directory includes trained representatives from university departments and organizations such as the Counseling and Wellness Center, Student Legal Services, the Student Health Care Center, the Registrar and the UF Police Department.

A More Visible Transgender Population

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said that transgender people have always a been part of our communities. Celebrity advocates like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner are making transgender issues more prominent, which encourages an invisible population to speak out and be heard.

“Where we’ve seen growth is really in the visibility of trans and gender nonconforming people,” he said. “Particularly our young people who have been forging the way on the front lines of LGBTQ activism.”

There’s no definitive way of knowing how many transgender individuals are in the student population because the social atmosphere and institutional system limit the census, said LB Hannahs, director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs. It’s difficult to alter gender markers and identification documents, and in many cases, people are unsure of how to proceed.

“There’s no institutionalized mechanism for people to say, ‘Hey, I’m trans,’” Hannahs said. “But more and more people are identifying as trans.”

Hannahs also believes that if the university designates itself as a safe space, more people will be comfortable enough to come out.

“It sends a message that this is a special population that we’re focusing on right now,” Hannahs said.

Educating University Staff

Although the departments’ staff’s knowledge level was inconsistent, Clemens knew the services that transgender students required were interconnected. Hannahs’ office now acts as the link between departments.

“Knowing about trans people doesn’t always translate to knowing how to interact with them or to create a culture and a climate that is accepting and affirming,” Hannahs said.

Catherine Seemann, communications coordinator for the SHCC, describes the transition process as very individualized. While some are in the questioning phase, others are seeking gender reassignment surgery. There are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle, she said.

The Counseling and Wellness Center, or a private mental health provider, will assess each patient before providing a transition readiness letter. The SHCC then oversees the patient’s medical care.

“Each team at the Student Health Care Center has a very thick protocol book that we can go by,” she said. “It’s opened up a lot of positive conversations about how we can make their experience the best while they’re here, no matter what identity they choose for themselves.”

The SHCC balances out existing medical conditions with hormone levels, focusing on monitoring the safety of each person. This is the first time many are being properly cared for because of how trans individuals are viewed, Seemann said.

Sgt. Jeffrey Lamb of the UF Police Department facilitates a dialogue between officers and the trans community to avoid misunderstandings and to alleviate issues before they arise.

For example, officers may be confused when a license photo and gender marker is different from the gender being presented. Lamb believes the education the police department is receiving will help these interactions go much smoother.

“A lot of the challenges they face I had never even considered,” he said. “Now if I run into that situation, I’m aware.”

Hannahs believes that training and education will help staff perform better and make UF a safer, more accepting place; but gatekeeping hurdles still remain.

“If we’re looking at institutional policies and practices, it’s a mixed bag,” Hannahs said. “Is it better than a lot of places? Yes. Is it as good as it should be for a top-tier university? No.”

Trans at UF: A Discussion Group

Trans at UF is a discussion group open to transgender, genderqueer and gender nonconformists and their intimate partners. It was founded in 2011 when Hannahs took her position at UF, but has become a part of the network, recently citing more consistent membership at about eight attendees each week.

Eli Mender, a transgender man and graduate student of sociology, has attended the group since its founding and now leads group discussions.

“It’s a safe space for trans people to share whatever they need to,” he said.

The group also engages in social outings, like having lunch or playing cards. Mender believes the gatherings provide emotional support and an opportunity to learn about available resources.

“Some people might be meeting other trans people for the very first time,” he said. “How do you even know if you’re trans if you’ve never met a trans person?”

The Future for Transgender Students

Although separate advocacy efforts exist in each department, the network shares progress reports once every semester. The Trans Resource Network was created to fill a specific need, but Hannahs hopes the university will ultimately work itself out of that need.

Windmeyer said creating a mechanism to streamline institutional care for transgender students is a step in the right direction, and that more campuses should follow suit.

“The most exciting thing about what the campus is doing is that they’re sending a message that the entire campus should be responsible for the safety and academic welfare of a transgender student,” he said.

The University of Florida aims to be inclusive in its non-discrimination policy since 2010, according to Campus Pride’s Trans Policy Clearinghouse. But for classroom interactions and interpersonal relationships, each experience differs. Transgender individuals are still being misgendered often, Hannahs said.

“You can change a policy or a law, but changing the behaviors, hearts and minds of people in creating inclusion is the difficult part,” Windmeyer said. “That takes having trans voices heard.”

Hannahs wants people to understand that calling someone by their name is important, but urges a deeper understanding of the social construction of gender.

“Having a penis doesn’t have to equal boy and having a vagina doesn’t have to equal girl,” Hannahs said. “People have to understand that crux to really understand the trans experience.”

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Parents Use Social Media To Share Experiences With Health Providers

By on August 8th, 2015 | Last updated: August 7, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Children tend to fear the unknown, and visiting the dentist is no different.

Following the voluntary surrender of Jacksonville dentist Dr. Howard Schneider’s license and pending class-action suit after accusations that he mistreated young patients, some parents are worried about leaving children alone in the care of medical professionals. They have taken to cautioning others via social media about their children’s experience with health care providers.

One such post has been particularly active, with 158 responses on Facebook sharing one man’s experience with a Gainesville dentist, and how he disagreed with the practice’s policy.

On May 11, Max Danford, 59, of Archer, Florida, took his 10-year-old grandson, Eli Danford, to visit Dr. Bertram Hughes of Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Gainesville to fill a cavity. He said he was concerned when Hughes’ office staff refused to let him accompany his grandson into the exam room.

“He was nervous, as everyone is when they visit the dentist,” Danford said. “He wanted me to go back with him.”

Danford said Hughes and his staff told him it was office policy not to allow adults in the exam room with children, but he said they did not explain why their policy is this way.

After an exchange of words, according to Danford, Hughes advised him and his grandson to leave the office. The cavity remained unfilled.

Danford turned to Facebook to voice his concerns about his grandson’s visit with Hughes. He posted to a Facebook group called Gainesville Word of Mouth and attracted more than 150 comments, some from parents who had expressed similar concerns with Hughes and other pediatric or family dentists in the area.

Donna Hicks of Gainesville, was among the many parents who commented on Danford’s Facebook post. She wrote that her husband had a similar experience with Hughes’ office.

Hick’s husband, Mike, took their 3-year-old son, Daniel, and 9-year-old daughter, Laila, to Hughes in April 2015 for a regular dental cleaning. This was the first time their son had ever been to see a dentist.

“My son is only 3. He can’t tell me what happened in the room,” Hicks said. “Even in a doctor’s office you are allowed back with your child.”

Danford said he filed a grievance against Hughes with his insurance company, Staywell, on May 12. Liberty Dental Plan, a subcontractor for Staywell, said no such claim had been filed as of July 1. Danford filed a grievance with Staywell again, on July 1, about his dissatisfaction with what he said was the rude treatment he and his grandson received from Hughes and his office staff.

In a letter dated July 8, Staywell said it would review the grievance filed by Danford and respond within 60 days of receiving the request. Danford had not heard from Staywell about the grievance at the time of publishing. The letter went on to say Danford has the right to ask for a Medicaid Fair Hearing.

Hicks said she has not yet filed a claim against Hughes, but plans to do so.

The Florida Department of Health collects any complaints filed against a health care provider. Hughes has no public complaints or disciplinary actions on file, according to the department’s website. Hughes also has no complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau or Florida Board of Dentistry. 

The Florida Board of Dentistry is the state agency that leads investigations surrounding complaints. According to Moore Communications Group Senior Director, Liz Shawen, the Florida Board of Dentistry does not collect data surrounding these complaints because it is not a violation for dentists to not allow parents to be present during their children’s dental exams.

According to the the Florida Department of Health’s fiscal year 2013-2014 annual report, it received 977 complaints against dentists for reasons unknown. This number is the fourth highest number of complaints filed with the department, following medical doctors, certified nursing assistants and registered nurses.

Dr. Hughes, who has practiced dentistry for 25 years, declined to be interviewed for this story, but he did provide comment via e-mail:

“Due to HIPPA concerns we really aren’t able to completely discuss the gentleman’s post,” he wrote. He [Danford] is not telling you the full story, nor did he post a truly accurate account of events. Due to privacy laws, it’s often difficult for healthcare providers to respond to one-sided accounts posted on various sites on the internet.”

No Global Policy

Pediatric dentist and national spokesperson for American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Carlos Bertot, said there is no state or federal guideline that requires any dentist to allow or deny a parent to be present during a procedure; it is up to the individual dentist.

“The primary reason for not allowing the parent back or to be present during the delivery of care is because, in general, children will behave better and be more cooperative in the parent’s absence,” Bertot said.

He said the same can be said about teachers, caregivers and counselors.

However, Bertot said he does allow parents to accompany their children during procedures, if necessary.

After reaching out to a dozen dentist’s offices in North Central Florida, half say they allow parents to be present during routine dental procedures. Two offices said they do not allow parents to be present for reasons including parents getting in the way of the dentist and needing the child’s full attention. The other four offices did not respond.


Dr. Rondre Baluyot, of Oaks Family Dentistry in Gainesville, uses a large room for young patients to accommodate the parents and sometimes an entire family. Hannah Runge/WUFT News

Dr. Rondre Baluyot of Oaks Family Dentistry in Gainesville,  who does allow parents to accompany their children into the exam room, said it’s important for parents to know the dentist has the authority in the exam room. This ensures the procedure goes well. If both the parent and the doctor try to give the child direction, it can confuse the child and prolong the procedure.

“I try to be a partner with the parent,” Baluyot said.

Baluyot offers “happy visits” for his young patients to feel out the atmosphere of the office. The visits are specifically designed to desensitize a first-time dental patient and lessen their fear of the dentist.

He is known for his character voices, a technique he uses to keep the visits fun and relaxing for his young patients. Baluyot’s office staff will, on occasion, dress up as Disney characters, such as Frozen’s Elsa.

Dr. Julie Russo, president of the Florida Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, said pediatric dentists have two additional years of training and are specially trained in behavior management techniques. The techniques vary and are used to help children cope during their dental visits.

“All patients are different and one method may work well for one child, by may not work with another. Once a parent chooses a pediatric dentist for their child, office policies and procedures should be discussed prior to the first dental appointment,” Russo said.

According to the AAPD’s Guideline on Behavior Guidance for the Pediatric Dental Patient, “Relationship and communication problems between parents and doctors, such as perceived lack of care or not taking enough time to explain a procedure, have played a prominent role in the initiation of malpractice actions.” The guideline also states, “Occasionally, the presence of a parent has a negative effect on the communication between the child and the dentist. Each practitioner has the responsibility to determine communication and support methods that best optimize treatment.”

Bertot said parents should trust their instincts and if something doesn’t sit well with them; they should seek out another dentist.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the patient and what is best for that patient.”

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