Florida schools roundup: School safety, budget, education bills and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

School safety bills: The Florida House Appropriations Committee rejects a proposal to ban the sale and possession of about 200 types of semi-automatic rifles, and approves a school safety bill that calls for arming teachers in schools if district superintendents or school boards approve. The goal of the school marshal program is to put 10 armed teachers in every school. The bill also would put a resource officer in every school, raise the age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, impose a three-day waiting period for purchasing guns, improve mental health counseling, make public school buildings safer and give police broader powers to seize guns from people who threaten themselves or others. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar bill. Sun-SentinelTampa Bay TimesPolitico Florida. Palm Beach Post. GateHouse. Tallahassee Democrat. The Legislature’s proposed gun reform bills have plenty of loopholes. Tampa Bay Times. Gov. Rick Scott provides further details about his $500 million plan to improve school safety. WQAM. WFLA.

Budget deal: The Florida Senate and House agree on a bill that would cut taxes by $80 million this year, and appear close to agreeing on an overall state budget. Specific budget details will be negotiated in conference committees. The most contentious issue in the tax cut talks had been the amount local property taxpayers pay for public education. The rate is tied to property values, which are rising. The Senate wanted to keep the tax rates the same, which would bring in more money, while the House considers that a tax increase. The compromise exempts new construction from being counted. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida.

Education bills: Last week, the Senate Education Committee removed a provision from the massive education bill that would decertify public employees  unions that drop below 50 percent membership of represented workers. Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee put the provision back into the bill. It  exempts first responders, leaving teachers unions as the biggest target. Gradebook. Politico FloridaredefinED. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. News Service of Florida. The autonomous public schools provision in the education bills continue to be tweaked. redefinED.

Cruz’s plan, and a jam: School shooting investigators reportedly believe that the death toll in the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School could have been much higher. Sources say Nikolas Cruz had planned to use a third-floor stairwell at the school to shoot at students as they ran from the building, but the glass in the window withstood 16 shots. Cruz then reportedly tried to reload his AR-15 but it jammed, so he abandoned it and fled the building with other students. He still had 150 rounds of ammunition when he escaped, the sources say. WQAM. Miami Herald. A timeline of Cruz’s troubled path through the Broward County school system. Sun-Sentinel.

Students return: Students return to Stoneman Douglas High School today, two weeks after the shooting that left 17 dead. “Remember our focus is on emotional readiness and comfort, not curriculum, so there is no need for backpacks,” principal Ty Thompson tweeted. “Come ready to start the healing process.” Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. The Pinellas County School District joins at least 14 other districts in sending psychologists, counselors and social workers to help students returning to Stoneman Douglas. Gradeboook.

Other developments: A poll taken since the shooting shows about 70 percent of Florida residents want more restrictions on guns, and 56 percent do not want to arm teachers. Sun-Sentinel. In the two weeks since the school shooting in Parkland, the Florida Retirement System Pension Plan has made almost $179,000 from its stock holdings with four companies that make guns or ammunition. Tampa Bay Business Journal. A panel of Broward County community leaders will help decide how to distribute the $3 million-plus that has been donated so far for the victims of the school shooting. Sun-Sentinel. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says Obama-era “no arrest” policies enacted to help keep students out of the criminal justice system whenever possible may have contributed to Nikolas Cruz’s being free to kill 17 people this month at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Breitbart News. Pasco County school officials are telling principals not to punish students who engage in peaceful protests against school violence. Gradebook.

School security, threats: Districts around the state continue to work on plans to improve school safety. Sun-SentinelSun-SentinelMiami Herald. Gradebook. Pensacola News Journal. Florida Today. TCPalm. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News. Panama City News Herald. St. Augustine Record. WFLA. Districts around the state continue to deal with threats to schools. Here are some of them. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. Orlando Sentinel. Gainesville Sun.

Desegregation agreement: The U.S. Justice Department reaches an agreement with the Jackson County School District that could have the district free from federal oversight by 2020. The district has agreed to continued oversight in the areas of recruitment, hiring and promotion, and within-school segregation related to student discipline. U.S. Department of Justice.

Outside company hired: The Pinellas County School Board approves the hiring of Learning Sciences International to operate three persistently low-performing schools if their grades from the state fall below a C this year. The West Palm Beach company would take over Fairmount and Lakewood elementary schools and Azalea Middle School. The contract calls for a payment of $624,000 next year for each school that doesn’t get a C grade. If the schools do improve to a C, LSI would be paid $498,000 to make one school a “model” school, and $198,000 for support to the other two. Tampa Bay Times.

Tax hike for raises? Four of the five Martin County School Board members back a proposal to raise its portion of the property tax rate to give raises for teachers and for school construction. TCPalm.

Prepaid tuition deadline: Today is the deadline to set up a Florida Prepaid College Plan. Here’s the website. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: Erin del Castillo is named principal at Riverview High School in Sarasota County. Castillo, who is currently the principal at Venice Elementary School, starts July 1. She replaces Paul Burns, who took a job with the Florida Department of Education. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Principals honored: Ten Lee County school principals are among those honored by the Fort Myers News-Press as persons of the year for their work during Hurricane Irma. Fort Myers News-Press.

School board elections: Sales consultant Darlene Alvarez is running for the Collier County School Board seat currently held by Roy Terry. Mary Ellen Cash is also a candidate. Naples Daily News.

Lawsuit possibility: The Santa Rosa County School District is preparing for a potential lawsuit from the family of three girls who were molested by their Gulf Breeze Elementary School substitute teacher in 2016. Pensacola News Journal.

Charter fraud trial: Two men are on trial in Escambia County for allegedly stealing money from 15 charter schools around the state. Prosecutors are accusing Steven Kunkemoeller, the owner of School Warehouse Inc., and Marcus May, the founder of Newpoint Education Partners, of taking hundreds of thousands of state and county dollars for their personal use. The trial is expected to last two weeks. WEAR.

Employee arrested: A Highlands County School District teacher and coach is arrested and accused of  lewd and lascivious behavior against a child between the ages of 12 to 16. Deputies say Kevin Dewberry, 44, committed the acts through a sports program at Avon Park Middle School. WTSPWFLA.

Teacher’s aide removed: A Freeport High School teacher’s aide has been put on leave while the Walton County School District investigates allegations of abuse against her. Kelly Woodworth is alleged to have flipped over a desk while a special-needs student was seated in it. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Rick Scott should make it clear that the Legislature’s plan to arm teachers makes its baby-step bill something he cannot sign. Sun-Sentinel. Where was the Legislature on the issue of school security before the shootings in Parkland? Randy Schultz, Sun-Sentinel. Florida lawmakers are acting like they’re finally doing something about gun violence, but their plan falls far short of the steps needed to help prevent mass shootings. Gainesville Sun. The idea of arming teachers to stop mass school shootings earns an F grade. Tim Walters, Florida Today. As a radiologist, I have now seen devastating damage of high-velocity AR-15 gunshot wounds firsthand, and it’s clear to me that the AR-15 or other high-velocity weapons, especially when outfitted with a high-capacity magazine, have no place in a civilian’s gun cabinet. Heather Sher, Atlantic. Only political drunks arm teachers and deny the need to ban assault weapons. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. What has become increasingly clear is that inequality of outcome in education is related to inequality of input. Dr. Elaine Heffner, Northwest Florida Daily News.

Student enrichment: Nine Spruce Creek High School students develop an app that will allow people to send text messages during emergencies even when there’s no cell phone service. The idea won the students first place and $20,000 in the Nationwide Ford STEAM High School Community Challenge. Daytona Beach News-Journal. For the sixth straight year, the Santa Rosa County School District is named a gold medal district in the Florida Healthy School District awards. Only 14 of the state’s 67 school districts won gold level distinction. Northwest Florida Daily News.

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