Florida schools roundup: Budgets, open enrollment, security, sex and more

Budget problems: A tiny increase in financial support from the state and more unfunded mandates have Florida school districts scrambling to cope. To make ends meet, some districts are asking voters to approve property and sales tax hikes, while others consider larger class sizes, trimming teaching staffs and making cuts in educational programs and bus services. And raises are out of the question in most districts. “It has become increasingly difficult to provide the level of service with the dwindling resources,” says Martin County Superintendent Laurie Gaylord. Tampa Bay Times.

Open enrollment: It’s the time of year when students can transfer from school to school under the state’s open enrollment law, which allows such transfers to schools that have available slots. But as students are discovering, not all that many schools are accepting transfers. In Orange County, only 36 of the 187 traditional public schools are accepting students from outside their zones. In Seminole, just 15 of the 58 schools are, and in Lake only 6 of the 19 elementary schools are. Last year, only about 1,200 students of the more than 311,000 enrolled in Lake, Orange and Seminole public schools transferred. Orlando Sentinel.

School threat responses: The number of Florida children involuntarily committed for psychiatric observation skyrocketed after the Feb. 14 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Feb. 27, 195 children were taken for observation under the Baker Act, the highest single-day total in at least five years, according to records kept by the University of South Florida. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of children hospitalized under the Baker Act rose by almost 50 percent. Sun-Sentinel. Volusia County has arrested 27 students for making threats against school since the Feb. 14 shootings at Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County, while Lake has arrested five, Osceola and Orange three apiece and Seminole none. Orlando Sentinel.

School security: Sarasota inventor Skip Parish is working with Manatee Technical College to develop a drone that can fly inside a building, receive alerts through software and detect, identify and possibly distract a school shooter. “By engaging in this project, our students hope to make a contribution to school safety, not only here but across the country,” says Doug Wagner, executive director of adult, career and technical education for the Manatee County School District. Tampa Bay Times. The Venice Police Department is putting a work station on the Venice High School campus in August. It’s the first of its kind in Sarasota County. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Volusia County School Superintendent Tom Russell wants the school board to consider hiring retired deputies, beach safety and correctional officers to provide security in schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sex in education: The father of a junior at Westside High School in Duval County is furious that a question on her homework assignment about blood types made reference to a “baby daddy” and “revenge sex.” Omar Austin says, “Those type of questions should be left for reality TV and soap operas, not an eleventh grader’s anatomy class.” School officials say the question was “highly inappropriate and was not part of a district assessment. … Appropriate and corrective action will be taken.” WTLV. Some parents are unhappy that the Pinellas County School District is using a sex-ed curriculum developed by the Christian faith-based group More2Life. The program focuses on abstinence, but the director says religion is not discussed. Students may opt out of the presentations. WFTS.

Teacher’s comments studied: A Marjory Stoneman Douglas history teacher is being investigated for allegedly calling a conservative student “the next Hitler.” Several students say Greg Pittman made the statement about junior Kyle Kashuv, a pro-gun student who recently said he was harassed by school officials and deputies after he posted a photo of himself holding an AR-15 rifle at a gun range. Sun-Sentinel.

Liability cap criticized: Parents of students killed or wounded in the Stoneman Douglas school shooting are angry that state law puts a cap on damages the Broward County School District is liable for to victims. The total cap is $300,000, which would be spread among families of the 17 killed and 17 wounded. “That puts the value of my daughter around $10,000,” says Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime died. “I have a real problem with that.” Sun-Sentinel.

Displaced students: More than 1,800 Puerto Rican students who enrolled in Orange and Osceola county schools after Hurricane Maria have left the districts. School officials believe most have returned to their homes on the island. WMFE. The U.S. Department of Education says it will provide $600 million to Puerto Rico to help schools recover, rebuild and reopen. Orlando Sentinel.

School ordered closed: The Florida Department of Children and Families orders a Miami school, Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami, closed after revelations that it’s associated with a man who’s been arrested by the FBI on sex-trafficking charges. “(The Department of Children and Families) has no tolerance for any activities that put children at risk, including operating an unlicensed child-care facility,” says department spokesman David Frady. Officials also say the school had no state license. Miami New Times.

Charter in trouble: A Palm Beach County charter school that serves the Haitian immigrant community is in danger of closing if it can’t double enrollment soon. The Toussaint L’Ouverture High School for Arts & Social Justice in Lake Worth has just 105 students, and needs at least 200 to pay its bills, according to school officials. Sun-Sentinel.

Testing timetable: The Pasco County School District is considering moving final exams to as late in the school year as possible. “Testing ought to come after all the teaching is done, and teaching ought to go as long as possible,” says district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. Gradebook.

Superintendent finalists: Profiles of the six finalists for the Duval County School District’s superintendent’s job. Florida Times-Union.

New school project: Pasco County school and government officials are preparing a joint-use school/library/park project in the Starkey Ranch subdivision. The school board will be asked this week to approve plans for the K-8 school, which would open in 2021. Gradebook.

Teacher dress code: The Volusia County teachers union says the school district wants to impose a mandatory dress code for teachers, but district officials say they simply want a process for teachers to know they can’t wear clothing such as yoga pants, jeans, sweatpants and revealing necklines. “We are not asking for a uniform,” says district spokeswoman Nancy Wait. “We are looking to address standards.” Other issues in the contract negotiations include pay and lengthening the school day. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Notable deaths: Craig Marsh, who was superintendent of the Nassau County School District from 1976 to 1993, has died at the age of 89. Nassau County Record. Ronald A. Wolk, who founded the publication Education Week in 1981, has died at the age of 86. Education Week.

FHSAA under fire: The Florida High School Athletic Association is planning to disregard advice from its own sports medicine advisory committee to require access to ice tubs for student-athletes participating in summer activities. “It is problematic to our committee,” says Patrick Helma, a chiropractor and sports medicine committee chairman. “It doesn’t appear to be best practices for sports medicine.” Fort Myers News-Press. TCPalm.

High school concussions: Forty-five Duval County public high school football players suffered concussions last season, according to the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program, which works with 12 of the 17 schools in the county. At neighboring St. Johns County’s six public high schools, 103 athletes from all sports teams were treated for concussions during the 2016-17 school year. While many schools have certified fulltime trainers available, others have to rely on coaches spotting the symptoms and taking the appropriate action. Florida Times-Union.

Driver saves students: When a Lee County school bus caught fire Friday, the bus driver acted quickly to safely evacuate the 25 students aboard. “I was just doing my job. I was protecting the kids,” says driver Carmen Chavez. The bus was headed to Challenger Middle School in Cape Coral. Fort Myers News-PressWBBH.

Background check failure: The Sarasota County School District is now acknowledging it did not fully investigate the background of a teacher it hired who was later arrested on a charge of possessing child pornography. Superintendent Todd Bowden says his district did not know about a new Florida Department of Education website that contained a complaint against Quentin Peterson. Peterson was accused of inappropriately touching children as a teacher in Manatee County, resigned, and was hired a few months later in Sarasota. Bowden says his district is changing its background checking procedures. WWSB.

Administrators suing: About a dozen Broward County school principals are suing the school district, alleging that it’s allowing the teachers union to threaten and belittle them and is giving union officials free rein in their schools. Principals say union officials make unannounced school visits, interrupt classes to speak to teachers, and in one case threatened to have an administrator castrated. Union president Anna Fusco denies the charges, saying they come from a few principals who mistreat their teachers. Sun-Sentinel.

Suit to keep student out: Officials at the Donna Klein Jewish Academy just west of Boca Raton are asking for a temporary injunction to bar a former student from the campus. They say the student has threatened the school in profane posts on social media. The hearing is May 9. Palm Beach Post.

Not his first threat: The 19-year-old man accused of shooting and wounding a student at Forest High School in Marion County on April 20 had previously threatened Osceola Middle School in Ocala in 2013. Police say Sky Bouche made the threats on a YouTube video. After an investigation, no charges were filed and school officials referred Bouche for suicidal and violence-risk assessment. Ocala Star-Banner.

Opinions on schools: Brevard County elected officials’ knee-jerk reaction to the Parkland shooting has been to push for more guns in schools. Yet they have ignored or brushed over questions that arise when we have armed employees. Florida Today. If educators are armed statewide, it would increase the incidents of deadly encounters particularly with violence-prone students in volatile venues. Marshall Frank, Florida Today. In response to the Parkland school shooting, state lawmakers were quick to pat themselves on the back for mandating that an armed law enforcement officer be placed in every public school in Florida. It’s too bad they weren’t as eager to accept responsibility for funding it. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The war of words between Marion County School Board member Nancy Stacy and Superintendent Heidi Maier has to stop. Besides being unbecoming and unproductive, it is detracting from getting real work done. Ocala Star-Banner. Our Constitution Revision Commission has discovered a close cosmic relationship between the expansion of civic education in Florida public schools and the subversion of local say-so over new charter schools. Because, you know, there’s so little difference between teaching kids civics and sabotaging local elected school boards. Fred Grimm, Sun-Sentinel. We want our children to listen to parents, teachers, coaches and law enforcement officers, but maybe it is time to listen to our kids because we aren’t doing such a good job when it comes to protecting them. Bonnie Michael, Naples Daily News. Medals for heroism in stopping a school shooter are nice, but money is what we really need. Brad Rogers, Ocala Star-Banner. There’s a fine line between discipline and abuse – especially at the hands of a teacher. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Student enrichment: Neptune Beach Elementary School is raising money to expand a pilot program that has a music therapist working with special-needs students. Florida Times-Union. Violinist Sarah Park, a 5th-grader at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, wins second place in her age group in the American Protege International Music Competition in New York’s Carnegie Hall. Florida Times-Union. A new reading program is showing promising results at Idylwild and Metcalfe elementary schools in Alachua County. Gainesville Sun.

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