Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069 lawsuit, evaluations, charters and more

H.B. 7069 suit: The Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school boards vote unanimously to join other districts in suing the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. Broward, Lee, Bay, St. Lucie and Volusia counties also have agreed to join a common lawsuit, and another 10-12 are reportedly considering joining. The districts are unhappy that they have to share local property taxes with charter schools, but have limited authority over those schools. Some board members and board attorneys also say the law violates the state constitution’s rule limiting bills to a single subject. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. WLRN.

District ends use of VAM: The Citrus County School Board eliminates the use of the state’s value-added measure (VAM) in evaluating teachers. VAM is a complicated formula that takes into consideration students’ expected test scores vs. actual scores. Citrus is one of the first districts in the state to end the use of VAM. The district’s method will use student improvement, but also allows consideration of students who are doing well academically even if their test scores aren’t as high as the state expects. Gradebook.

Charters to Florida: The recent $33 million sale of two Florida charter schools to buyers from Oregon was the second part of a seven-school, $100 million deal, says an official from the Colliers International Education Services Group. Achikam Yogev, senior vice president of the company, says he expects more deals to follow. He says the new education law that provides money for charter schools to move into areas with persistently low-performing schools is an indication that state leaders strongly support the charter school industry, making it a solid investment. Bisnow.

Back to school: In calls and text to parents, Hillsborough County school officials are warnings that buses could be up to two and a half hours late today, the first day of the school for the district, and maybe even into next week. Gradebook. Many districts around Florida start school today or Monday. Orlando Sentinel. Fort Myers News-Press. Lakeland Ledger. Bradenton Herald. Ocala Star-Banner. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Port St. Joe Star. WTVTWFLA. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

School recess: The Pinellas County School District issues recess guidelines to all its elementary schools, including possible activities for outside and inside free time. The memo doesn’t eliminate math and engineering centers as options for recess, an idea that drew criticism, but adds others that may be considered. How schools provide 100 minutes a week of “supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess” for K-5 students is a decision left to principals. Gradebook. In Martin County, school board members approve starting most elementary schools 10 minutes earlier to make time for recess. TCPalm. Some school districts are still struggling to find a way to fit 20 minutes of recess into a school day. TCPalm.

School impact fees: A plan to cut school impact fees on new construction draws criticism at a joint meeting of the St. Johns County School Board and county commission. Neither agency is expected to make a decision soon. St. Augustine Record. School impact fees on new construction in Clay County won’t be collected until the electricity is turned on, the school board decided this week. Previously, fees were due when the building permit was filed. Clay Today.

Eclipse watching: Palm Beach County school officials will allow students to see the solar eclipse Aug. 21 as long as they’re wearing special glasses. The decision reversed an earlier email to principals to keep all students indoors during the eclipse, which should start around 2:40 p.m. and end around 4 p.m. The memo sent to school leaders reads, in part: “Schools can participate in a principal-approved ‘structured eclipse observation activity’ using appropriate eyewear. Principals must approve these activities prior to August 21, and must ensure every safety precaution is taken for eclipse-related lessons.” Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

School visits: State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, files a bill that would allow state legislators to visit any school campus any time, and forbid school officials from restricting the time or the scope of the visit. The bill would expand a 2017 measure that gives school board and charter board members unrestricted access to schools. School officials have traditionally opposed such unscheduled visits as a distraction. Gradebook.

New discipline plan: The Brevard County School District is changing its approach to discipline this year to bring consistency to the process and ensure fair and equal punishment in all schools. The plan defines five levels of offenses by students, and principals are encouraged to take a less punitive approach to the minor ones. Florida Today.

Truants targeted: The Citrus County School District reaches an agreement with Youth and Family Alternatives Inc. on a program to intervene with students who are habitually truant. Citrus County Chronicle.

School resource officers: School officials and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office meet to reflect on their 36-year partnership of placing deputies in schools. Tallahassee Democrat.

Schools at risk: Hawthorne Middle/High School is under the gun. After receiving grades of D and F from the state since 2011, the school could be closed if it can’t bring its grade up to a C this year. The new education law sets a change process for schools that receive D or F grades three straight years. Schools that don’t improve have the options of closing, assigning students to another school and closely monitoring their progress, or hiring an outside company – such as a charter school – to operate the school. Gainesville Sun. Students at Maude Saunders Elementary School in DeFuniak Springs will have an extra half-hour of school every day to work on their reading. The school got a D grade from the state last year, which put it among the lowest-performing 300 in the state and requires it to offer an extra hour of reading every day. The school already had set aside 30 minutes a day for reading. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bus driver shortage: The Manatee County School District is still looking for 10 to 20 school bus drivers. Bradenton Herald.

School properties: The Volusia County School Board agrees to sell a 46-acre property in Deltona. The land was bought in 2003 for $375,000, and is being sold for $450,000. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Monroe County School District notifies the Marathon City Council that there is no room for a community pool in the plan to develop the land adjacent to Marathon High School. Keynoter.

Teacher arrested: A social studies teacher at Oakleaf High School in Orange Park is arrested and accused of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Police say a female student told them she had sex a handful of times with Francesco Franzese, 25. He has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Ex-employee charged: A former electrical foreman for the Miami-Dade County School District is charged with accepting more than $60,000 in bribes from a district vendor between 2013 and 2015. Authorities say Andres Barroso, 52, colluded to ensure that the vendor always had the lowest bid, and falsified invoices. Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: Teachers from Jinks Middle School tour Panama City to visit students in their neighborhoods. Panama City News-Herald. Neighborhood signs are posted around Panama City to honor students at Merritt Brown Middle School who scored the highest level on the Florida Standards Assessments tests. Panama City News-Herald.

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