Florida schools roundup: Board member investigated, web trackers and more

Board member investigated: Brevard County School Board member Andy Ziegler is under investigation for allegedly retaliating against a district employee who had accused him of sexually harassing her last year. The investigation has been going on for about six months, and is being done by the same Tallahassee law firm that cleared Ziegler on the initial accusation. According to documents, the district’s director of human resources, Carol Tolx, says she is being “continually harangued” by Ziegler because of her 2017 sexual harassment complaint. Ziegler has denied all charges. Tolx’s retaliation accusation centers on an exchange she had with Ziegler at a school board meeting in January in which Ziegler called her analysis of a proposed contract with a company to provide substitute teachers “fictitious” and “fraudulent.” Florida Today.

Website trackers: The Pinellas County School District’s website, like that of many U.S. schools’, is embedded with tracking scripts that install bits of computer code into a user’s browser to track their movements on the Internet. The trackers were found last winter by Douglas Levin, an expert on educational technology. He let the district know, and was told by officials that they would be removed. Last month Levin checked again and found 22 trackers still embedded. Most trackers collect information used to improve websites, but some are used to buy and sell personal data or for targeting advertising. New York Times.

Politics and education: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham spent six years as the chief negotiator for the Leon County School District, where her “let’s make everyone happy” approach made her popular among colleagues and even those on the other side of the bargaining table. But the flip side of that philosophy created a stir when she had to handle a report from a teacher who claimed her principal, with whom she’d had a relationship, retaliated against her and harassed her after the relationship ended. Tampa Bay Times.

Seeking ‘gifted’ diversity: Palm Beach County school officials say they are making headway in increasing the number of minority students in gifted programs, but acknowledge they are years away from having the representation match the percentage of minority students in the district. Palm Beach Post.

School security: Some central Florida school districts are still trying to hire resource officers to guard schools with just a few days left until students return. All say they will be covered when school starts, but some may have to use regular deputies until the hires are made. WKMG. Jacksonville sheriff’s deputies agree to provide security for charter schools until they can train school employees to take over. WJAX. More than 300 south Florida resource officers are undergoing condensed training to provide security when schools open Aug. 20. WSVN.

Cruz hearing today: A circuit judge will be asked today to withhold a Broward County School District report on accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s educational records. Cruz’s attorney say release of the records will jeopardize his right to a fair trial. Several media organizations are arguing that the report should be released under the state’s public records laws. Associated Press. Sun-Sentinel.

School budgets: The Bay County School Board approves a $387.4 million budget that includes a slightly lower tax rate but no change in property tax revenue due to higher values and new construction. The budget is up $11.4 million over last year’s, partly due to state mandates on security. Panama City News Herald.

Study of school policies: A study of policies in Florida schools meant to help improve academic performance for both advantaged and disadvantaged students indicates that the practices may help one set of students while harming the other. Twelve policies and practices were studied by Northwestern researchers, and in seven cases, the policies are associated with different outcomes for advantaged versus disadvantaged students. Brookings Institution.

Private school enrollment: The number of private school K-8 students has fallen from a 15 percent share of all students in the late 1950s to about 9 percent in 2015, according to a new study by Richard Murnane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The report also details the shift in private education from religious schools to nonsectarian ones, and indicates the number of middle-class students attending private schools has declined by half. redefinED.

Back-to-school preparations: Security measures, starting times, teacher vacancies, water problems and more are topics in this back-to-school podcast. Gradebook. Here’s why some school districts, including Flagler’s, have their first day of school on a Friday. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Things for Duval students and their parents to know about going back to school. WJAX.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The state’s annual back-to-school tax holiday is today through Sunday. Clothes and school supplies are tax-exempt, but electronics are not. Here’s a complete list of tax-free items from the state. Associated Press. Miami HeraldPalm Beach Post. Naples Daily News. Tampa Bay TimesSpace Coast Daily. Florida Today. TCPalm. News Service of Florida. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Gainesville Sun. Florida Politics. WFLA.

New school design: Bay County School Board members get a preview of the proposed design for a new elementary school that will be built in Panama City Beach. The two-story, C-shaped building, will be home to K-5 students. Panama City News Herald.

New district website: The Palm Beach County School District has a new website that students and parents can use to check grades, assignments, grade point average, absences and more. The Student Information System Gateway, known as SIS, was tested at nine schools last year. Sun-Sentinel.

Bus drivers needed: The Citrus County School District still needs at least 15 school bus drivers to cover all the district’s routes when school starts Aug. 13. Citrus County Chronicle.

Teacher loses license: A Spanish teacher at the Plumosa School of the Arts in Delray Beach loses his teaching license for talking with 5th-grade students about his sex life and about “sexual topics in a manner inconsistent with training and engaged in inappropriate conduct,” according to state officials. Carlos Pena says he was simply answering students’ questions and correcting misinformation they got from social media. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: The Palm Beach County School District is considering streamlining its school-naming policy to allow wealthy, living individuals to have schools named after them in exchange for a “significant contribution.” Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. The Sarasota County School Board is considering giving up the right to fire the superintendent “without cause.” Eliminating this clause in the contract would be bad governance, bad process, bad for our teachers and taxpayers and, most of all, bad for our children. Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: A science project by three 8th-grade students from Renaissance Charter School at Tradition is on its way to the International Space Station. The experiment, proposed by Shivani Chaube, Danielle Hoppas and Alexis Mulholland, will test the effects of zero gravity on sea monkeys, also known as brine shrimp. TCPalm. A grant allows Warrington Middle School in Pensacola to create a music lab with 24 student pianos and one for the teacher. Pensacola News Journal.

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