Florida schools roundup: Tax-free weekend, SAT, early start and more

florida-roundup-logoTax-free weekend: The state’s annual back-to-school, tax-free holiday has been cut back in more ways than one. It’s been compressed from 10 days in 2015 to three days this year, and the maximum you can spend on any one eligible item is $60, down from $100. The tax-break days are Friday through Sunday. Sun-Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. TCPalm. Naples Daily News. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

SAT decline: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing reports fewer and fewer colleges are insisting that high school students take the SAT test. Because of that, the number of students taking the SAT has declined 23 percent in the past 10 years, and the College Board, which administers the test, has lost about $6 million a year in revenues. Sunshine State News.

Early start: When the Legislature passed a law allowing districts to start school earlier, most took advantage. Forty of the state’s 67 districts start Aug. 10 this year. While many parents protested the earlier return as a disruption to their summers, most districts liked the idea of ending the first semester at the holiday break instead of carrying the first semester two weeks into January. Tampa Bay Times.

Discipline gap: Even as Hillsborough school officials work to cut racial disparities in school punishment, the disparities persist. Data from the first year of the district’s new approach show student arrests for minority students are declining. But black students are still disciplined disproportionately. Blacks represent 21 percent of the student body, but 44 percent of the students arrested, 44 percent of days in alternative to out-of-school suspensions, 41 percent of days of in-school suspensions, and 41 percent of days in out-of-school suspensions, according to the report. Gradebook.

Nondiscrimination policy: Brevard school officials are still working on specifics to the recently adopted anti-discrimination policy that now covers sexual orientation and gender identity. School board member Amy Kneessy says the policy is meant to deter harassment, and not change existing bathroom and locker room policies. Florida Today.

Computers for students: More than 70,000 Orange County School District students will receive laptop computers when they return to school. The district is spending $47.7 million for the laptops, better Internet service and system upgrades. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing gains: Fifty-five percent of Palm Beach County’s public school students made significant improvements on their state reading and math tests, which was the best among the state’s largest school districts. Palm Beach Post.

Tax plan details: Palm Beach County school officials say they will soon reveal more details about their plans for the $1.3 billion they would receive if voters approve a 1-cent sales tax increase in November. Many have criticized the district for the lack of detail released so far. Palm Beach Post.

Social media: The dangers of social media are real to Angel Escobar, a senior-to-be at Fort Myers’ Edison High School. She’s seen too many small online slights escalate into violent feuds in her school and neighborhood. So she has a list of things to do and not do on social media. Fort Myers News-Press.

Training criticized: The Pasco County teachers union is criticizing mandatory training ordered for teachers at low-performing schools. The union filed a complaint with the district, and officials say they will remind principals of those schools that attendance by the teachers is important but not required. Gradebook.

Charter school: The Heights Center, which has offered programs for adults and children in a low-income Fort Myers neighborhood, will now be the site of a charter school. The school starts next week with room for up to 36 kindergartners and first-graders, and expects to add grades in each of the next two years. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher opts out: A Pasco County teacher who has drawn complaints for his derogatory comments to students decides to retire rather than continuing to fight those complaints. Language arts teacher Michael Maynard left one high school and moved to another after a controversy last school year, but the complaints continued less than a week into his new assignment at Anclote High School. Gradebook.

Personnel changes: The former deputy superintendent of the Hernando County School District finds a job as an assistant principal at a high school in neighboring Pasco County. Eric Williams left the No. 2 position in Hernando last month. Tampa Bay Times. The Bay County School District is still trying to fill 41 support positions. Panama City News Herald.

Coach accused: Plant High School baseball coach Dennis Braun is accused of pushing pre-high school players to join his Tampa Panthers under-14 AAU team, and pay $2,200 a year to do so, to have any chance of making the Plant team. Braun denies the charges. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: Technology is a nice tool, but my children, all our children, they need teachers. Sue Woltanski, Keynoter. History has shown when the state raises the bar for students on their tests or for schools and districts on the grading formula, grades initially fall, but soon after, they climb back and perform at a higher level than ever. Erika Donalds, Naples Daily News. Cris Adams, who started a school supplies drive in 1997 that became an annual event, is retiring as vice president of community impact at the United Way of St. Lucie County. More than 63,000 packages of supplies and the free backpacks to carry them home were distributed during the drives. Anthony Westbury, TCPalm. Superintendent Tomyn, the Marion County School Board, and parents of Marion County students in our schools, please stop the madness. Stop the testing. James Elmore, Ocala Star Banner. Volusia and Flagler leaders must keep plugging away at the public schools funding issue, persuading minds and cultivating allies in the Legislature. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The truth behind the cause of the “I” school grades in Volusia County is a combination of things. They were not caused by civil disobedience or an organized “opt-out” movement. Eric Holland, Daytona Beach News-Journal. In a time where many teachers are fleeing the career field, the average years of experience in Okaloosa County School District is 14 years. Stacie Smith, Northwest Florida Daily News.

Student enrichment: Kyle Johnson, a senior-to-be in Robinson High School’s International Baccalaureate program, is named one of five winners of the Bank of America Student Leader award, which emphasizes community work and volunteerism. Tampa Bay Times. Foster children are the beneficiaries of a giveaway organized by the Naples charity Friends of Foster Children Forever. The group handed out school uniforms, books, backpacks, school supplies, shoes, dental exams, haircuts and more. Naples Daily News. More than 1,000 backpacks filled with school supplies are handed out to needy children at Marion County’s annual Back to School Bash. Ocala Star Banner. Volunteers work over the week to help repair the vandalism damage done to the Deane Bozeman School in Sand Hills. Panama City News Herald.

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