Florida schools roundup: ESSA plan, cyberattack, borrowing, pot and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Florida’s ESSA plan: Florida has filed its fourth plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The first three were rejected because they didn’t meet the standards of the school accountability system. The latest attempt, filed Aug. 24, calls for the continuation of an exemption from grade-level math exams to students in high school who successfully completed the courses in middle school. The state also is declining to give tests in languages other than English, and does not want to change the way it sets proficiency standards for students still learning the language or how it reports the academic performance of demographic subgroups. In Gov. Rick Scott’s letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, he writes that “Florida’s expectations is that our state is treated fairly and given full flexibility to provide the greatest return to our students.” Florida is the only state whose plan has not been approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Gradebook. Education Week.

District’s computers hacked: A cyberattack forces the Monroe County School District to shut down its computer systems this week. Officials say the hacker used ransomware called “GandCrab,” with the goal of encrypting files in the system and then demanding a payment to unlock them. The district’s Internet security provider, Symantec, took the system down Sunday after the threat was detected and created a patch that was applied Tuesday. But the problems persisted and the system was shut down again. Keynoter. Key West Citizen. WLRN.

District borrowing money: Lee County School Board members unanimously approve taking out a $25 million loan to help pay expenses from Hurricane Irma a year ago. District officials say expenses from the storm are about $31 million, and they have received just $1.4 million in reimbursements, creating a cash-flow problem necessitating the loan. “It’s like a payday loan,” says Chief Financial Officer Greg Blurton. “I am expecting a paycheck, but I have a cash flow shortage. So I go to the payday loan to cover that gap, and then I will pay it back. The big difference is we do not get charged the interest like on a payday loan, thankfully.” Money received from property taxes will be used to repay the loan. Fort Myers News-Press.

Medical marijuana: After hearing an emotional plea from the parents of a sick 6-year-old girl, Volusia County School Board members will consider a policy that would allow the child to be treated with CBD hemp oil at Edgewater Public School. Zoe Adams suffers from seizures caused by the rare disease Sanfilippo Syndrome, and the hemp oil helps control them. Only two districts in the state now have policies permitting the use of medical marijuana on campuses. WESH. West Volusia Beacon.

Software problems: Two more Manatee County School District employees are placed on paid administrative leave for their roles in the problems with the district’s new business software system. Chief information officer Rob Malloy and project manager Angie Oxley join deputy superintendent Ron Ciranna on leave after the project came in at double the projected cost of $10 million and a year late. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District budgets: The Hernando County School Board approves a $291 million budget that maintains student services and lowers the tax rate. The budget is about $750,000 higher than last year’s. Tampa Bay Times. The Bay County School Board approves a budget of $243.3 million, which is about $3 million more than the district spent last year. Panama City News Herald. The Charlotte County School Board approves a budget of $279.3 million, a boost of $13 million over last year’s. Charlotte Sun.

School security: The city of Cape Coral has temporarily reassigned 22 officers from the police department to provide security at schools in the city. “What this is going to mean temporarily is that our investigators are going to have a higher caseload,” says police Lt. Dana Coston. WINK. Thirteen more armed school guardians will be providing security in Manatee County schools starting Monday, bringing the total to 31. Seven more will begin training next week. WWSB. Security is tightened at high school football games in St. Johns County. St. Augustine Record.

Tax referendum: A group of Hillsborough County parents launches a political action committee called Strengthen our Schools to support a November referendum for a half-cent sales tax hike to raise money to repair schools, help pay for school security and upgrade technology. The measure would generate about $131 million a year for 10 years. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough Superintendent Jeff Eakins schedules a series of town hall meetings to discuss the district’s capital needs and promote the referendum. Gradebook.

Pay supplement delayed: Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis’ request for a $28,900 salary supplement is withdrawn from the agenda of the school board. Board member Mary Bolla says it was pulled to avoid any perception that the recent tax hike approved by voters to upgrade infrastructure is going instead for salaries. Bolla says the supplement will be reviewed later. Clay Today.

Printer problems: A district decision to remove old printers from classrooms sparks a revolt among Volusia County teachers. District officials say they’re simply trying to replace old printers with new ones to save money on repairs. But the new ones aren’t coming in as quickly as the old ones are going out, sometimes leaving teachers in the position of having to leave the classroom and go to a different building for a copy. The district has decided to suspend the program until a better solution to meet teachers’ needs can be found. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter school application: The Volusia County School Board has rejected a charter school’s request to update the application that was turned down last year. The Southeast Volusia School of Science and Technology had hoped to update the application to meet the Feb. 1 deadline so it could stay on track to open by August 2020. Once the district accepts an application, it has 90 days to accept or deny it. School officials say it is unlikely they can build a school in the 15 months between that deadline and the hoped-for opening. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter owner’s trial: The owner of a charter schools company goes on trial this week in Pensacola on charges of racketeering and organized fraud. Prosecutors say Marcus May, 56, who owned the charter school management company Newpoint Education Partners, and two vendors fraudulently inflated prices charged for supplies for three Escambia County charter schools, then split the profits. Pensacola News Journal.

Investigator pleads out: Former Okaloosa County School District investigator Arden Farley is placed on three years’ probation after pleading no contest to charges of failure to report child abuse. Farley acknowledged he did not call the Florida Department of Children and Families after his report concluded that a teacher had physically abused a student. The teacher, Marlynn Stillions, goes on trial in October. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Rezoning considered: Leon County school officials say they are considering rezoning elementary and middle schools in the northeast part of Tallahassee to accommodate enrollment growth. About 100 students would be affected. Tallahassee Democrat.

Cell phone tower on school land: Charlotte County School Board members approve the construction of a 130-foot cell phone tower on school property near L.A. Ainger Middle and Vineland Elementary schools. Some parents worry that the tower will emit radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation, but school officials and the cell phone company insist students are safe. Charlotte Sun.

Teaching P.E. at 80: The physical education teacher at Miami’s New World School of the Arts is 80 and has been on the job 32 years, but has no intention of slowing down. Lois Kim began her teaching career 56 years ago, and says she delights in seeing students who couldn’t do a plank for 10 seconds when school started now holding it for a minute. Jason Allen, the school principal, says Kim is the real deal. “There’s a level of credibility there,” he says. “She lives it, she breathes it, it’s who she is, she’s as real and as authentic as you can get.” WTVJ.

Dispute resolution: The Pasco County School District’s plan to start a dispute resolution program to handle complaints about schools veers off course when the woman selected to lead it last spring accepted another job. Hilda Martin, who left a job as principal of Marlowe Elementary for the one-person dispute resolution program, has accepted a job as assistant principal at Gulf High. Gradebook.

Principal’s behavior: A principal who just resigned sexually harassed at least three female employees with lewd comments, according to a Pinellas County School District investigation. Anthony Francois, 50, principal at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School, made “continued inappropriate comments (that) have resulted in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for the affected employees,” according to the report. Gradebook.

Teachers arrested: A Hillsborough County teacher is arrested and charged with video voyeurism for placing two camera phones in a school changing room to record students undressing. Sheriff’s deputies say Mark Ackett, a 49-year-old family consumer science teacher at Bloomingdale High School, admitted placing the phones. District officials say he has resigned his position. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. A Miami-Dade teacher is arrested and accused of shooting a teenager in the backyard of a nearby vacant house. Police say Frantz Noel, 47, a teacher at Van E. Blanton Elementary, confronted two teens while he was home for lunch Wednesday and shot one of them in the abdomen. He said “he felt threatened and was standing his ground.” He’s been charged with attempted second-degree murder, false imprisonment, aggravated assault, discharging a firearm in public, tampering with evidence and armed burglary. The 16-year-old is in critical condition. Miami Herald. A special education teacher in Volusia County is arrested and accused of beating a 17-year-old girl for eating food he had put aside for his wife. Deputies say Joseph Sweeney, 44, a teacher at Spirit Elementary School, slapped the girl and then stepped on the left side of her head. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Students arrested: A 14-year-old Stuart Middle School student is arrested after he posts a photo of himself holding a gun pointed at the camera on social media. He’s charged with writing threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism. TCPalm. An 18-year-old student at the Center Academy in Pinellas County is arrested and accused of making a false report about planting a bomb, explosive or weapon of mass destruction. Deputies say the student posted a photo of himself on Snapchat holding what appeared to be a handgun, with the message “Don’t Come to School Today (It’s a BeBe Gun).” WFLA.

Opinions on schools: To further improve our public schools, we need to decrease regulatory accountability and increase accountability via consumer choice. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. With the Legislature pushing for more charter schools and denying any significant increases in funding for the schools attended by 84-90 percent of students, the traditional public schools are being strangled. Paula Montgomery, Pensacola News Journal. Shanghai’s teacher evaluation system could be a model for improving evaluation of teachers. Charles Robinson, TCPalm. What kind of teacher and principal gets excited when a student’s science experiment fails? We cheerfully admit to being that kind of educator because we are firm believers in experiential learning. Dorothy Rieger and Harriet Moore, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sarasota County School Board members have the right to take offense over personal remarks, but this Twitter pettiness continues to undermine public confidence and consume civic energy that ought to be directed at improving the performances of the school district and its employees and students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: The North Florida School of Special Education in Jacksonville gets a therapy dog. The dog’s owner, teacher Nikki Szwedzinski, says Zenbowie brings a sense of calm to students who are struggling. WTLV. Teachers from nine schools, public and private, are awarded grants totaling $14,000 from the Cox Charities Innovation in Education. WEAR. Five northwest Florida students are among 16,000 U.S. semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Panama City News Herald.

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