Florida schools roundup: Waiting for aid, blaming the abused, displaced and more

Still waiting for aid: Thirteen years after Hurricane Ivan hit Florida, the Escambia County School District is still waiting to hear about claims it filed with FEMA. The district’s not alone. A review of claims shows that dozens are still pending from Ivan, Katrina and other storms that have affected the state and its schools since 1999. The majority are from 2004 and 2005, when eight hurricanes hit the state from multiple directions. Associated Press.

Blaming the abused: A review of abuse cases filed against the Palm Beach County School Board in the past few years has a common denominator: In its defense, the school district has always fully or partly blamed the abuse victims. In one case the victim was 6 years old. In another, 7. In three others, the children were 9. The strategy of assigning the person who brought the suit at least part of the blame has been used by Conroy Simberg, a Hollywood law firm that represents the district to try to reduce the damages the district has to pay, not to assign blame to the victims, says Dale Friedman, an attorney with Conroy Simberg. Several board members say the tactic is outrageous and want to ban it. The board will vote this week on a proposed settlement of more than $3.5 million for four abuse victims. Sun-Sentinel.

Displaced students: Florida school districts are asking both the federal and state governments for aid to accommodate the thousands of students displaced by hurricanes and expected to enroll in state K-12 schools. But they are pessimistic. Orange County Public Schools spokesman Scott Howat says the odds of getting additional state money are zero unless the Legislature intervenes. The state says districts must see an enrollment influx of at least 5 percent to qualify, and individual schools must see a 25 percent growth. Nearly 30,000 people have arrived just from Puerto Rico, according to a spokesperson in Gov. Rick Scott’s office. The 74. Education Week. NPR. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Free meals extended: Lee, Collier and Monroe counties will continue to offer free meals at schools through Nov. 30. The free meals began after Hurricane Irma swept through the state. The three districts have 191 schools and 138,000 students. Fort Myers News-Press.

Housing for teachers: A Monroe County School Board member is calling on the district to build 20 two-bedroom concrete homes for teachers near the Sugarloaf School. Andy Griffiths says the homes would cost about $112,700, and help address the affordable housing crisis in the county. The school board also says it wants to make up 7.5 days of the 13 to 18 days missed because of Hurricane Irma. Keynoter.

Financial literacy: The Florida Legislature will once again consider a bill requiring high school students to take and pass a financial literacy course in order to graduate. The bill was filed by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, and a House version was filed by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Resource officers return: Santa Rosa County middle schools will have resource officers for the first time in almost a decade. A boost in the budget allows the sheriff’s department to add 19 positions, including two deputies for middle schools who should be in place in five or six months. They were removed in 2008 as part of the department’s budget cuts. Pensacola News Journal.

Desegregation battle: The Indian River County School District and the NAACP are no closer to resolution over a federal desegregation order than they were 30 years ago. The district says it has made progress toward creating racially balanced schools that are taught by diverse staffs to make an equitable education system for minority students, and wants out from under the order. The NAACP disagrees, and wants more oversight. No court date has been set to hear the district’s request. TCPalm.

Limited choice seats: Even with 310 school choice programs at 117 Palm Beach County schools, there are almost two students expected to compete for every seat. School officials say the number of school choice seats is up again this year, but the demand also continues to grow. There are about 22,000 students competing for about 12,000 spots. Palm Beach Post.

Child abuse investigations: Four more Okaloosa County School District employees are placed on administrative leave pending the results of child abuse investigations. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School command center: The Marion County School District has gathered all of its curriculum administrators at a single location to improve communication and efficiency and, ultimately, student test scores and school grades. The new setup at an old high school library is called District East. Ocala Star-Banner.

Construction delays: Hurricane Irma and the generally wet weather in Volusia County have delayed construction on two new schools by about 19 days. Both projects are funded through the voter-approved half-cent sales tax. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Board relationships: Two Polk County School Board members are feuding over a school principal who was accused but cleared of sexual misbehavior charges. Billy Townsend has called on fellow board member Tim Harris to resign after Harris expressed support for Tenoroc High School principal Jason Looney, who at the time was the subject of a district investigation. Harris denies he was trying to influence witnesses in the investigation. Lakeland Ledger. Sarasota County School Board members hash out their disagreements during a training session, and express hope they’ll be able to work together more collegially. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student dispersal: About 1,900 students in Boynton Beach and its suburbs will be reassigned to new schools next year, and for two of those schools the question of which students are arriving is an important issue. Congress and Carver middle schools, both with heavy black enrollment, get significant grant money from the federal government to beef up their magnet programs in order to cut back black enrollment by 3 percent a year. The goal is to diversify the schools. But school officials worry that transfers of black students from the closing Odyssey Middle School could threaten those grants. Palm Beach Post.

School librarians: Sarasota County is one of just two large districts in the state with no media specialists. They were dropped from elementary schools in 2009 and from middle schools in 2013. Media specialists were replaced by aides, but researchers say such cutbacks in staffing have a negative impact on lower-income and minority students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teachers transferred: After a visit from state evaluators, a Hernando County elementary school transfers five teachers who had low value-added model (VAM) evaluation scores. Moton has been one of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools the past two years, prompting a state-supervised school turnaround plan. Gradebook.

Turnaround schools: Two D-rated charter schools outline their plans for improvement to the Hillsborough County School Board. The Community Charter School of Excellence is trying to stabilize the teaching ranks, increase training for teachers, focus on writing and provide electronic devices to each student. The Woodmont Charter School has hired a new principal with a background in turning around struggling schools, and plans to start an after-school tutoring program and introduce new behavioral methods to cut down on suspensions. Gradebook.

Administrator honored: The Villages Elementary School principal David Bordenkircher is named the Florida Elementary Music Educators Association’s elementary administrator of the year. Daily Commercial.

District sued: A federal lawsuit claims that a Palm Beach County teacher forced a 9-year-old autistic boy to stand in front of his classmates while they voted on whether he was “annoying.” The suit accuses Marsh Pointe Elementary School 4th grade teacher Julie Salvatoriello of violating federal bans on discrimination against the disabled. Neither Salvatoriello nor school district officials would comment. Palm Beach Post.

Harassment allegations: Harassment accusations have been made by several women against a Choctawhatchee High School employee, and Okaloosa School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson is borrowing an investigator from the Escambia district to look into the allegations. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Coach accused: Heritage High School’s varsity cheerleading coach is fired after she’s accused of allowing members of the squad to drink alcohol in her home during a squad sleepover. Kristy King denies the charges, and says they were made by her “soon-to-be ex-husband.” WFTV.

School threats: Three threats to Panhandle schools in the past three weeks have school officials closely watching social media. “We take threats very seriously and we’re pouring our resources into educating students about it, and we’ll bend over backwards to make sure our students are safe,” says Jason Weeks, Santa Rosa County School District director of high schools. Pensacola News Journal.

Dress code violation: The Okaloosa County School District is considering convening a committee to update the school dress code. The mother of an 11-year-old girl who was sent home for wearing shorts over leggings has requested that the “sexually biased, dated, gender insensitive and body shaming” policy be updated. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: We have a teacher shortage, not only in Florida, but across the nation. The Lee County School District is offering a solution to this problem. We are asking our legislators to fund a pilot program to address teacher recruitment and retention that would allow teachers to earn promotions and raises while remaining in the classroom. Lee County School Board member Chris Patricca, Fort Myers News-Press. The new Hillsborough County bell times would improve the learning environment for students, give teachers more room to plan and make more efficient use of public school resources. Tampa Bay Times. Instead of venting anonymously online or storming into the next school board meeting to scream about how personally upsetting the new school times are to you, put on your big-person pants. That might be helpful for your children to see. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. There is a need for better financial literacy among our high school students. But is another legislatively required course for graduation the best way to serve it? Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. Lee County legislators must find a way to address the lack of funding for schools at all levels. Fort Myers News-Press. Every great teacher sees something in our kids, maybe something we ourselves don’t even see. A potential for greatness, an ability to succeed. And they’ve made it their job — their mission, really — to coax it out of our children. Gil Smart, TCPalm.

Student enrichment: Fort Myers High School student Sarah Brown writes the names of almost 1,000 victims of mass shootings in chalk on a sidewalk at Centennial Park. She says she wants to bring attention to the “staggering” number of people killed in shootings where four or more people died. Fort Myers News-Press. The Binks Forest Elementary School PTA raises almost $12,000 to help provide each student at the school with a laptop. Palm Beach Post. A “natural” playground is installed at the Little Saints Early Learning Center at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Fort Myers. Natural playgrounds integrate equipment into nature, like hanging swings from an oak tree. Fort Myers News-Press. A handful of classrooms at Merritt Brown Middle School in Panama City are trying out flexible seating, and teachers say the response has been enthusiastic. Panama City News Herald. Fifteen Lake County schools are given Five Star School awards by the Florida Department of Education. Daily Commercial.

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