Florida schools roundup: Education on trial, bonuses, opting out and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation on trial: Openings arguments are heard in the civil trial accusing Florida of not fulfilling its constitutional mandate to provide a quality education for all public school students. Attorneys for Citizens for Strong Schools argue that the state’s racial achievement gap, emphasis on testing and lack of adequate funding keep it from fulfilling a 1998 constitutional amendment. Attorneys for the Department of Education and the Legislature say the state is a national leader in education and still improving. The nonjury trial in Tallahassee is expected to last five weeks. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. WFSU.

Teacher bonuses: The teacher bonuses program was passed by the Legislature, but it continues to be a subject for debate. Some speculate that a legal challenge could be made if Gov. Rick Scott approves the $49 million program, which was extended for a year. Gradebook. Scott says he’s listening to legislative leaders as he decides whether to approve or veto items in the budget. Tampa Bay Times.

FEA targets: Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, says this year’s legislative elections are an opportunity to change education politics in Tallahassee. Gradebook.

Opting out: While the state says the only excuse acceptable for opting out of the Florida Standards Assessments testing is a medical one, anti-test advocates say there are loopholes. Broward Palm Beach New Times.

Charter schools issues: Florida Virtual Academy at Borward is closing when the school year ends after an audit revealed poor academic performance and allegations of ethical breaches. Also expected to close is the affiliated Florida Virtual Academy at Palm Beach. They are not part of the Florida Virtual School, the longtime state-run online education program. Also recommended for termination is a Lauderdale Lakes charter school, Pathways Academy, which allegedly falsified documents, inflated student enrollment and used state money for personal travel and expenses. Sun-Sentinel. The Ocoee City Commission is expected to decide tonight whether to approve an application from the Renaissance Charter School at Westyn Bay. The Orange County School Board has already approved. Orlando Sentinel.

Notable deaths: Rod Durham, a popular Leon High School drama teacher and star of the TV show Extreme Weight Loss, is found dead in a Fort Lauderdale hotel room. Friends say Durham, 52, died of diabetic shock while on spring break. Tallahassee Democrat.

Assistants chosen: Brevard School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn nominates a chief financial officer and human resources deputy superintendent. The school board must approve. Florida Today.

School closing: Manatee School Superintendent Diana Greene meets with parents to explain why the district is closing Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School. “We can’t get the facility up to standard,” Greene says. Bradenton Herald.

Scrutiny for schools: Four Pasco County schools could be targeted for turnaround plans if their students don’t do well in FSA testing this spring. Hudson, Gulf Highlands, Gulfside and Pasco elementary schools had a D or F grade in 2015. FSA results are expected in June. Gradebook.

School virus: Hundreds of Citrus Cove Elementary School students have been hit by norovirus, a gastrointestinal bug usually associated with outbreaks on cruise ships. Palm Beach Post.

Contract negotiations: Volusia school officials and the teachers union could not reach an agreement on a contract during talks Monday. The sticking point is the district’s call for teachers to pay more for health insurance. The two sides will meet March 30 with a special magistrate, whose recommendation will be go to the school board. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Lake County School District and its 2,000 noninstructional employees are at an impasse over a pay hike. Daily Commercial.

Protester arrested: Jeff Gray, who has carried on a longstanding fight with the St. Johns County School District over public records requests, is arrested on a charge of trespassing at St. Augustine High School. St. Augustine Record.

Islam lesson canned: A worksheet about the Islam religion is removed from the Laurel Hill School in Crestview after a parent complains that other religions were not mentioned. Crestview News Bulletin.

Teacher arrested: David Austin O’Neill, 33, a chorus teacher at Howard Bishop and Lincoln middle schools, is arrested and accused of trying to solicit sex from a 16-year-old girl. Gainesville Sun.

Student trip money stolen: A burglar broke into a safe at La Progresiva Presbyterian School in Miami and stole more than $5,000 intended for class trips. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: The Broward County School Board continues to show its lack of respect for teachers by rejecting a proposal for a salary increase. Sharon Glickman, Sun-Sentinel. The rivalry between public schools and charter schools hurts students. Rick Holmes, Northwest Florida Daily News.

Student enrichment: Delaney Reynolds, a junior at Palmer Trinity, designs “The Sink or Swim Project” to inform about rising sea levels. National Geographic recently recorded one of her presentations and will broadcast it later this year. Miami Herald. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden converts an old school bus into a mobile tissue laboratory that will allow Miami-Dade students to grow their own orchids. Miami Herald. Students across Broward County raise more than $48,000 to send World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., in April to see the memorial erected in their honor. Sun-Sentinel. Astronaut High School’s Environmental Club is adopting a road to keep clean. Florida Today. Manatee High School students hold a mock presidential debate. Bradenton Herald. The Student Government Association at Braden River High School raises $5,000 to help pay medical bills for the son of band director Kendall Carrier. Bradenton Herald. A team from Buchholz High School won its regional competition for the 2016 National Science Bowl and will advance to the National Finals in Washington, D.C., in April. Gainesville Sun. The nonprofit organization Kidz4Kidz is expanding online statewide. The group was started by Maya Sherwood, a seventh-grader, and her brother Luke. a fifth-grader. Northwest Florida Daily News.

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