Florida schools roundup: Hurricane, hair policies, opioids, security and more

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Hurricane Michael: Hurricane Michael blasted ashore near Mexico Beach on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, making it the strongest hurricane to hit the United States in nearly 50 years and the most powerful to hit the Panhandle since records have been kept. Schools in 21 Florida counties are closed again today while officials assess the damage, and five of those districts will be closed again Friday. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. GateHouse Media. Panama City News HeraldPensacola News Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News. Citrus County ChronicleFlorida Department of Education. Tallahassee DemocratMiami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach PostWJCT. The Sarasota County School District cancels a digital town hall meeting because of the hurricane. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Hair policies protested: The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is asking the Florida Department of Education to review what it calls “racist” hair policies at private schools that receive money from state scholarship programs. Several students have been banned from schools recently for wearing dreadlocks, braids and other traditionally African-American hairstyles. “The forms of racial discrimination most commonly seen in education have evolved. It is now rare to find a policy that explicitly excludes potential students based on skin color,” says the letter. “However, subtle rules and restrictions based on racial stereotypes and proxies have the same force and effect.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer four state scholarship programs. Huffington Post.

School opioid crisis: The state’s opioid crisis is spreading to school properties in south Florida. Custodians at several schools now patrol the grounds collecting discarded needles. “I don’t recall in this area ever dealing with a situation like this,” says Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “It’s not surprising. All of the sudden the opioid crisis is real and it is not a crisis that’s touching just rural or urban America. It’s pretty universal and ubiquitous. And I think it’s encroaching upon areas where kids’ services are provided, like schools.” Miami Herald.

School security: The last Guardian Angel on patrol at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been asked by the principal to leave. Five days after David “Cobra” Clemente posted on Facebook that “there is a big drug problem at Douglas high school. Drugs are being taken and drugs are being sold inside of the school,” he says he was told by principal Ty Thompson that his services were no longer needed after Friday. WFOR. The new FortifyFl app will cost the state $314,400 over the next three years in licensing fees, and the contract calls for an option for three years after that. The app is also being made available to private schools. Florida Phoenix.

School property taxes: Pasco County School Board members will consider a resolution asking the Legislature to stop requiring local boards to roll back property tax rates so revenues don’t exceed collections from the previous year. Combining that with rising property values would give local boards “critically needed increased revenue to operate public schools,” according to board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley. Legislative leaders have contended that if tax rates aren’t rolled back, the extra revenue generated by higher property values amounts to a tax increase. Gradebook.

New school costs: Building a new high school in the Gateway area of Lee County could cost the school district as much as $77 million, according to two estimates. School officials want to open the school in the fall of 2021. The most recent high school built in the county, in Bonita Springs, cost $79 million, and $64 million of that was for construction costs. The $77 million Gateway estimate is just for construction costs. Fort Myers News-Press.

Enrollment growth: Clay County can expect thousands of new students in the near future because of a housing development boom, says Jim Fossa, planning coordinator for the district. Developments in the works could add up to 3,300 students, Fossa says, and two proposed projects could bring another 4,700. “We need more schools,” Fossa says. “There’s no way around it.” Clay Today.

School dress codes: The Volusia County School Board adds gray pants to the list of colors approved under the district’s dress code. Gray joins navy, black and khaki as allowable pants colors. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Educators honored: Three Florida music teachers are among 25 semifinalists for the 2019 Music Educator Award given by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum: Michael Antmann of Freedom High School in Clermont, Jeffery Redding of West Orange High School in Orlando and John Weatherspoon of Lake Worth Community High School in West Palm Beach. A winner will be chosen Feb. 10 at the Grammys. CBS News. Marion County School Board chairwoman Beth McCall is named the Florida Music Education Association’s 2019 school board member of the year for her “significant contribution in support of music programs in the district’s schools.” Ocala Star-Banner. Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties, is chosen for Leadership Florida’s Education Class IV. Education leaders from around the state will attend the eight-month class to discuss ways to improve the education system. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Charters ease crowding: School districts in south and central Florida have been working closely with charter schools to help with overcrowding problems. “Growth in central Florida has been explosive,” says Fernando Barroso, director of central Florida operations for the charter company Academica. “A lot of the districts do not have the finances to build the student stations to provide for that growth. Charter schools are a small piece of a more holistic solution to those capacity needs.” redefinED.

Charter wants extension: The Athenian Academy of Technology and the Arts charter school is asking the Pasco County School Board for a 15-year contract extension. The school is in the middle of a five-year deal with the board. Officials say the school, which has received grades of B from the state the past two years, wants to buy the building it’s in and needs the extension to convince potential lenders of its stability. Gradebook.

Education and politics: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum wants to boost the starting teacher salary to $50,000, a level only New Jersey and the District of Columbia are at now. What are the chances of that happening in Florida? Tampa Bay Times. Neither of the education plans of gubernatorial candidates Gillum or Republican Ron DeSantis addresses the state funding formula, which is a major concern for school officials in both Volusia and Flagler counties. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School board elections: Previewing the race for the District 5 seat on the Pasco County School Board. Tampa Bay Times.

Renaming a high school: The Manatee County School District is taking nominations to rename North River High School, which is expected to open next August. More than 1,300 people signed a petition to have the school named Parrish for the community it’s in, prompting the district to reconsider the chosen name. Nominations will be accepted until Feb. 26. Bradenton Herald.

School email scam: At least one St. Johns County teacher is duped out of $500 by an email scam. District information technology director Bruce Patrou described the scam as one of many recent “spear phishing” attacks throughout the school district. In July, district employees received an official-looking email asking for employee IDs and providing a link to update the teachers’ accounts. Patrou is recommending that schools remove elements from websites that are easy for hackers to use. St. Augustine Record.

Teachers arrested: A physical education teacher at Central Middle School in West Melbourne is arrested and accused of forcefully grabbing a 14-year-old student who was late for class, leaving bruises on his chest. Kurt Kaufman, 55, who has worked in the Brevard School District for 28 years, denies the student’s allegation. Florida Today. A substitute teacher for several Volusia County schools is arrested and accused of molesting a 15-year-old student. David Lee Davis, 62, is a public school activist and a political consultant who ran for the supervisor of elections job in 2016 and lost. Daytona Beach News-JournalOrlando Sentinel.

School deputy resigns: A school security deputy in Hillsborough County resigns after accidentally pepper-spraying seven students at Lopez Elementary School in Tampa. Sheriff Chad Chronister says deputy Patricia Parker was talking to students about her gear when she pulled out the pepper spray and sprayed it onto a napkin. But she oversprayed and some of the chemical reached the children, causing them to need attention from a school nurse. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: With her online remarks calling Bill Cosby’s accusers whores, Marion County School Board member Nancy Stacy showed us the worst of the board and in the process offended untold numbers of her constituents and embarrassed her community. Ocala Star-Banner. The Lee County School District is carrying $412 million in debt, which could rise to $750 million in the next six to eight years to build schools the district needs to accommodate growth. Lee County School District chief financial officer Greg Blurton, Naples Daily News.

Student enrichment: Students at Jacksonville’s Wolfson High School now can learn to drive in the classroom with a virtual vehicle simulator that provides feedback and evaluation of safe driving techniques. The technology was donated by Coker Law. Florida Times-Union. Berkeley Preparatory School of Tampa collects $65 million in its capital campaign, one of the largest such drives in the country for an independent day school. Tampa Bay Times. A sensory room is now open for students with intellectual disabilities at Fleming Elementary School in Clay County. Sensory rooms offer students a calming break from too much noise or ligh. Clay Today.