Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069, ESSA, school safety, recess and more

H.B. 7069: According to recently revealed text messages, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, worked behind the scenes to try to kill H.B. 7069, the education bill that provides money for a major expansion of charter schools in Florida. The messages show that Latvala worked with Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, on a plan to derail the bill. Details of the plan were not discussed in the texts, and neither Latvala not Farmer responded to questions about it. Latvala, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, is considering running for governor in 2018. Politico Florida.

ESSA proposal: A coalition of civil rights group is asking the Florida Department of Education to give due consideration to the needs of poor, at-risk children when it submits its federal education accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In a letter, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights says it’s critical that the plan uphold the spirit of the law, which pledges to provide “all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and close educational achievement gaps.” The state has to submit its plan by Sept. 18. Gradebook.

School safety: Pasco County students are now being told to fight back against violent threats at their schools, instead of simply hiding. One of the key messages of the new approach is: “It is okay to do whatever you have to do to get away from Stranger Danger.” Superintendent Kurt Browning says “the decision to defend one’s self or others is a personal decision and will never be required.” But the district wants to give students options, he says, and to empower them “not to be victims.” Gradebook.

Recess rules: After hearing complaints from parents, Pinellas County school officials say they are reconsidering their idea to count student time in math and engineering centers toward the required 20 minutes a day for recess. Shana Rafalski, the county’s executive director for elementary education, acknowledged that “doesn’t necessarily reflect the spirit of (the law). … This probably is out of context in the teaching and learning handbook, and I’ll revisit this,” she says. Gradebook.

Teachers reassigned: Up to 37 Duval County teachers are being reassigned to comply with a state requirement that low-rated teachers be removed from at schools that are under state scrutiny. The teachers are rated as “needs improvement” or “developing” based on their value-added measure scores, a formula that measures actual test scores versus expected scores to help determine how much a teacher has helped students. Florida Times-Union.

More magnet schools: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins wants to increase the number of magnet schools, even though it will add transportation expenses for a district trying to dig out of a financial hole. Eakins believes having magnet choices gets families excited about their schools. “That’s what builds energy around the school systems around the country, where you have that kind of enthusiasm in all corners,” he says. Tampa Bay Times.

Coding robot: Pinellas County will use about 100 “Bee-Bots” in kindergarten classrooms to help teach computer coding basics. The robot guides students to use arrow keys to program movement, which helps teach sequencing, estimation and problem-solving and prepares students for more complex work. Tampa Bay Times.

Contract negotiations: A special magistrate is recommending that Polk County teachers and staff get a 2 percent raise. The district and union went to mediation in March after almost a year of negotiations with little progress. The magistrate’s ruling is nonbinding. The school board gets the recommendation and will make a decision at a future meeting. Lakeland Ledger.

Budget-cutting: Special education teachers in Hillsborough County will be losing their individualized education programs (IEP) assistants as the district continues to look for ways to cut expenses. The move will affect about 60 assistants and save about $1.2 million. Teachers union executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins calls the move “penny-wise and pound foolish. … We have a shortage of ESE teachers and this will make an already tough job more difficult.” Gradebook.

Superintendent’s goals: Testing reform, teacher raises and better security are the top priorities for Brevard County School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn as he begins his third year. Florida Today.

Rezoning ruling: A Pasco County judge declines to issue an injunction against new attendance zones in the west side of the county. She did not rule on the merits of the complaint about the rezoning, which a group of parents allege was done in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law. Gradebook.

Technical education: The Indian River County School Board approves a relocation and expansion of the Technical Center for Career & Adult Education. New programs will be early childhood education, construction, phlebotomy and welding. TCPalm.

Bus stops eliminated: Martin County school officials are eliminating 90 bus stops because they’re within too close to schools. Superintendent Laurie Gaylord says the districts won’t be reimbursed by the state for transportation for those students who live within 2 miles of their schools. About 600 students are affected. WPEC.

School relocation: A site plan rendering shows that a relocated Coral Springs Charter School would take up about a third of the land at Betti Stradling Park. Many city residents oppose the plan, noting that the park was was built by volunteers in the 1990s to keep it from being developed. Sun-Sentinel.

School reopening: Longwood Elementary School, closed by the Seminole County School District in 2011 to save money, has been refurbished and is reopening next week. Orlando Sentinel. The old Orange Ridge Bullock Elementary School building in Bradenton is reopening this week as the Rowlett Middle Academy, a charter school for 6th- and 7th-graders that focuses on the arts, leadership and communication. Bradenton Herald.

District free meal policy: The Clay County School District is now offering free breakfast and lunch to all students at 12 schools. The district also announces that household size and income will determine free or reduced-price meals for students at other schools. Florida Times-Union.

School board elections: Retired school administrator Kathy Ryan is running for the District 3 seat on the Collier County School Board. Ryan, 76, has run for a board seat three times, most recently in 2014 when she lost to current board member Erika Donalds. Naples Daily News.

Survey says: Elbridge Gale Elementary School may be the happiest public school in Palm Beach County, according to a survey of teachers and employees by the district. Fifty-five percent of the employees at the school took the survey, and every one of them gave high marks for leadership, expectations and student conduct. Palm Beach Post.

School fined: The Florida High School Athletic Association reprimands the Providence School of Jacksonville for using ineligible players, and fines the school $11,750. WJXT.

Crime at schools: Four teenagers are arrested and accused of burglarizing St. Michaels Lutheran Church School. Police say laptops, iPads, and other items were stolen. Fort Myers News-Press. Two teenagers are arrested and accused of vandalizing Bartow High School with graffiti, causing about $2,000 in damage. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: Education develops tomorrow’s leaders today. Alan Goch, Sun-Sentinel. While we recognize the good intentions involved in giving away a car to the parent judged to be most active in his or her child’s education, it is troubling that Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd and her team must resort to a contest in an effort to motivate parents to take an interest. Lakeland Ledger. The Brevard County School Board is considering a plan that would drop physics from its standard science sequence in 2018-19. If Brevard’s physics enrollment drops as dramatically as expected, it will provide another downward push on the state’s physics enrollment. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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