Florida schools roundup: Return to Parkland, security problems and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Return to Stoneman Douglas: The first day of school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland was bittersweet for students who lived through the massacre Feb. 14, with student emotions mixed with hope for the future but weighted by the grief of the past. “That’s something I’ve been wrestling with,” said 14-year-old sophomore Alexa Goel, who saw her first body on that dark day and had to run for her life. “Not wanting to let it go, but also moving forward with my life.” Security was tight, but even that wasn’t reassuring for some students. “There’s literally no place that I am every day that I feel 100 percent safe and the thought doesn’t go through my head that someone could come in with a gun,” said 15-year-old Samantha Deitsch. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRNPalm Beach Post. Associated Press.

School security problems: The Florida Legislature shortchanged the state’s school districts by not providing enough money to pay for the security measures it mandated, says Damien Kelly, executive director of the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools. “All 67 sheriffs are on the same page. They don’t think the funding is where it needs to be,” says Kelly. Orlando Sentinel. Fort Lauderdale police officers filled in to guard schools in the city on opening day Wednesday, just a day after the Broward County School District informed the city it was short of armed guards for 13 schools. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis calls the district’s last-minute plea for help “disappointing.” Sun-Sentinel. Despite the focus on school security, Broward County summer schools had no security presence. Miami Herald. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Sheriff Jerry Demings trade accusations about who’s at fault for a shortage of deputies to cover county schools on opening day. Orlando Sentinel. Safe Schools director Damien Kelly says the new app FortifyFL will be available in two weeks. It will allow people to anonymously report suspicious activities in schools. Associated Press. News Service of Florida.

Judge blasts newspaper: A judge criticizes the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for publishing material about accused school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s educational experiences from a school district report that was supposed to have been redacted to protect Cruz’s privacy. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer says the paper flouted her order, but she did not rule on a school district request that the newspaper and two reporters be held in contempt. Sun-Sentinel.

Education budgeting: Members of the Florida Board of Education say the state needs to provide more money for teacher salaries and security mandates, and call for giving school districts more flexibility on how they can spend the money they get from the state. Board member Joe York notes that the state increased funding, but with “a lot of strings” attached. The districts are held accountable by the state, he says, “yet we don’t allow them the flexibility to be successful in everything they do.” Gradebook.

Virtual school query: Multiple complaints from employees prompt Florida Virtual School to hire an outside law firm to investigate. The firm, FordHarrison, says the complaints, if substantiated, could fall within the scope of the state’s whistleblower law. Earlier this week the school’s general counsel, Frank Kruppenbacher, resigned. He declined comment about the investigation. Orlando Sentinel.

Education and politics: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene says the private school he built in West Palm Beach can be a public education model for the rest of the state in shrinking class sizes, replacing grades with detailed evaluations and using modern technology. Democrats, who have spent the past 20 years fighting against Republican policies that push students to private and charter schools, aren’t so sure. Miami Herald. Gubernatorial candidates talk about school security. WJCT.

Marketing a tax hike: The Palm Beach County School Board approves spending $372,000 for a political consultant to place ads to educate voters about a property tax increase request on the November ballot. “These won’t be political advertisements,” says Mike Burke, the district’s chief financial officer. “This will be educational outreach, explaining the potential benefits, what safeguards will be in place.” Palm Beach Post.

Florida ESSA plan: Civil rights activists are urging U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reject Florida’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act. The plan deviates from federal requirements that schools be held accountable for students’ performances on English-language-proficiency exams and provide some students exams in their native language. Education Week.

Teachers added: The Hillsborough County School District has cut into the number of teacher vacancies at the district’s 50 lowest-performing schools, with 37 classroom openings as of Tuesday. The district is targeting only teachers with effective and highly effective ratings to fill the jobs. Gradebook.

College credit exams lost: College credit exams taken last spring by about 200 Santaluces High School students have been lost by the United Parcel Service, principal Tameka Robinson tells the families. Students will have to apply by Thursday to retake the exams, which were in the Advanced International Certificate of Education courses designed by the University of Cambridge in England. Palm Beach Post.

New schools planned: The Pinellas County School District is planning to start two new elementary school programs for the 2019-2020 school year. A conservatory for the arts would be placed in Sandy Lane Elementary School, and a gifted center would open in the old Palm Harbor Elementary School, which has been vacant since 2009. Tampa Bay Times.

Improving elementary schools: Five members of the Volusia County School Board say they’re worried the district doesn’t have a clearly defined process for improving low elementary school grades. The five agree that curriculum is a problem, but beyond that their solutions head in different directions. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Survey of ex-superintendent: Two months after it fired Superintendent Lori Romano, the Hernando County School Board releases the results of a second districtwide survey to evaluate her. It showed little improvement from the first survey in 2017, according to University of South Florida researcher George MacDonald, who handled the survey for the district. Tampa Bay Times.

District survey: Sarasota County students and parents give mostly positive reviews of the school district in an annual climate survey, but say they would like to see better meals, greater communication and better relationships between teachers and students. About 600 of district’s 43,000 students took the survey, and 1,215 parents participated. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District, academy clash: The Marion County School Board denies a contract for food service with the Marion Military Academy after academy officials refuse to agree to the public records provision or to give the district sovereign immunity. Food will continue to be delivered the rest of this week by the district to the academy, the only charter school in the county. Superintendent Heidi Maier has tried for the past two years to close the academy, which has received D grades from the state for the past five years. Ocala Star-Banner.

School board elections: Seven candidates for three seats on the Alachua County School Board talk about their goals for the district. Gainesville Sun.

Personnel moves: Mike Lastra is named the principal at Brooksville Elementary School in Hernando County. He replaces Jill Renihan, who just took the job as director of school safety for the district. Gradebook.

School bus cameras: The Gulf County School Board approves the purchase of cameras for the district’s 23 school buses. The cameras, which cost about $71,000, should be installed within a month. Port St. Joe Star.

Principal resigns: A Lee County principal resigns after accusations that she was having an inappropriate relationship during school hours on campus with a sheriff’s sergeant. Laura Stanford, principal at Veterans Park Academy for the Arts, resigned July 31 after admitting a romantic relationship with Scott Hoerner. He was demoted from sergeant to deputy after an investigation disclosed that he neglected his duties and engaged in conduct unbecoming of an officer. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teachers arrested: A Marion County teacher is arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and child neglect. Deputies say Christine Maria Egitto, a 57-year-old teacher at Legacy Elementary School, gave a gun to a man who then took a shot at a 17-year-old boy. She has been placed on paid leave, pending the legal proceedings. Ocala Star-Banner. Valerie Jeneen Williams, the chorus director at Oakleaf High School in Clay County, is arrested and charged with grand theft. Deputies say Williams, 48, stole about $1,200 from a chorus fundraiser. Clay Today.

Student arrested: A 16-year-old student at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg is arrested and accused of threatening a shooting attack at the school. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: We can and should appreciate the progress school grades have helped spur, particularly for our most disadvantaged students. At the same time, we should acknowledge that better systems — like customization — are coming, and push to get them here with all deliberate speed. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham’s statement that “Teachers in (charter) schools don’t even have to be certified” is mostly false. A vast majority of them do. PolitiFact Florida. Had Hillsborough County school officials notified parents and the public about testing that showed lead in the water at many schools back in 2017, they could have been praised for their leadership. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. When a student starts out far behind his or her peers and makes even a 5-point improvement from the previous year, shouldn’t it be recognized and celebrated instead of viewed as a loss? Diana Wenrich, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. I think it’s fair to say that a school district that doesn’t provide the proper tools for their physics teachers and students isn’t serious about improving the preparation of its students for college majors like engineering and health professions. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Amendment 8, or A Scam That Could Make A Street Hustler Blush, is a plan to shift oversight of charter schools from local districts and hand it over to the charter-loving, and often charter-profiting, politicians in Tallahassee. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times.

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