Florida schools roundup: Arming teachers, certification delays, tax breaks and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Arming school employees: Gov. Ron DeSantis says he supports having the option of arming willing employees, including teachers, to help protect schools, as proposed by the state commission that investigated the shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February. DeSantis says no one would be forced to be armed, but that “if you’re somebody who is working at a school and you are somebody who is trained and has the ability to do it, then you shouldn’t be precluded …” News Service of Florida.

Teacher certification: Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has reorganized his staff to try to cut the waiting time to process applications for teacher certifications. The increased waiting time since 2017 has corresponded with a decline in educator certificates issued from 70,166 in the 2016-2017 school year to 31,397 in 2017-2018. WFTSGradebook. News Service of Florida. The Pasco County School District is turning to lively Facebook videos with catchy jingles in an attempt to recruit teachers. Gradebook.

Tax exemptions proposed: A lawmaker is proposing a tax exemption for Florida’s senior citizens that would cut into the money collected by school districts. The bill filed by State Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, would provide “an additional homestead exemption from school district levies for certain persons age 65 or older.” No estimate was given on how much the bill would cost schools. If approved, it would begin Jan. 1, 2021. Politico Florida. A 10-day back-to-school tax holiday is proposed by State Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville. It would be held Aug. 2-11. News Service of Florida.

For-profit charters: Bills filed for the legislative session that begins March 5 would ban for-profit companies from managing charter schools and create a “bill of rights” for all Florida students to attend school in safe, maintained buildings. Both bills, SB 584 and SB 586, were filed by Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. Florida Senate Democrats.

Meetings closed: Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie’s meetings with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parents who are critical of his actions in the Parkland school shooting will be closed to the public, says a school district spokeswoman. All nine school board members can attend but only Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the shooting, will be permitted to speak. The first of four scheduled meetings is Thursday. Sun Sentinel. The Palm Beach County School District launches a “17 Acts of Kindness” project as a memorial to the victims of the Parkland school shooting. WLRN.

School security: The Broward County School District is choosing new surveillance technology over student privacy concerns as it tries to keep schools safe. It’s an approach that has its critics. The Atlantic.

Heart exams considered: Brevard County school officials and other districts around the state are considering heart screenings for student athletes. Only Calhoun County requires all student-athletes to undergo an electrocardiogram screening. Several others have no district policy but allow high schools to arrange for the tests, and at least 20 others offer no cardiac screening. Brevard officials say liability and cost have to be taken into consideration. WKMG.

Record-keeping faulted: A state audit finds problems in the record-keeping for construction projects by Sarasota County school officials. A review of a small portion of construction costs during the 2017-2018 school year indicated that 63 percent of the spending could not be confirmed in the records. Auditors also found problems with the way the district maintained time-keeping records for school resource officers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District’s austerity: Indian River County school officials say their reserve fund has dipped below the district’s 5 percent requirement, and school board members are asking Superintendent Mark Rendell to hold off on major expenses. “The overall budget is in good shape. We have the money to pay all our bills,” Rendell told board members, but cuts in spending may be needed to boost reserves. TCPalm.

Hope Scholarships: Alachua County School Board members are struggling with the implementation of the new state law that provides scholarships for bullied students. They question whether the board should be involved in deciding if a student’s claim of bullying is valid, and what the process should be if officials reject an application for the Hope Scholarship. Gainesville Sun.

Employees honored: Christy Buzzell, a paraprofessional at Sallie Jones Elementary School in Punta Gorda, is named the Charlotte County School District’s support employee of the year. Charlotte Sun. Todd Brown, an 8th-grade teacher at the Sarasota Military Academy, is one of 100 chosen worldwide as a Sustainable Development Ambassador Teacher for the United Nations. WTVT.

Road named for educator: The Lake County School Board votes to name the road leading to East Ridge High School in Tavares after longtime educator Aurelia M. Cole, who died in July. Daily Commercial.

Schools named for segregationists: A review of U.S. school names finds four in Florida named after segregationists who signed the Southern Manifesto opposing school integration after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. They are Bob Sikes Elementary in Okaloosa County, Spessard L. Holland elementaries in Polk and Brevard counties, and Charles E. Bennett Elementary in Clay County. Education Week.

Suit claims hazing abuse: Two former baseball players at East Lake High School are suing the Pinellas County School Board for negligence, claiming they were physically abused and taunted racially and sexually by players last year. The suit alleges that school officials and the district did not properly supervise the players or coaches. A district spokeswoman says the district “fully investigated the incident both internally and externally and found there was no negligence on the part of our staff.” Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Fight over braille: A mother is appealing to the Seminole County School Board to comply with an administrative judge’s ruling that the district needs to supply her legally blind daughter instructional materials in braille or a large font. WFTV.

THC oil in dab pens: Lee County deputies say the vaping devices and dab pens that are being confiscated in schools are increasingly found to contain THC oil. THC is the ingredient in marijuana that produces euphoria. WBBH.

Student arrested: A 13-year-old student is arrested and accused of threatening to kill her classmates at Ruckel Middle School in Niceville. She’s charged with making a false report to use a firearm in a violent manner. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Student hit by car: A 12-year-old student biking home from Buddy Taylor Middle School in Flagler County is hospitalized with nonlife-threatening injuries, police say, after being hit by a car. The driver was cited. Flagler Live.

Opinions on schools: If state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, had his way, the Orange County School Board would have run afoul of Florida law when it renamed Robert E. Lee Middle School. Orlando Sentinel. Volusia County school officials should consider anything that’s proven effective in recruiting and retaining teachers — for the sake of their students, who can only benefit from stable and engaged educators. Daytona Beach News-Journal. We all want what’s best for our own kids. But I worry that in creating a parallel education system via “choice,” we’ll further impoverish the traditional public schools. Gil Smart, TCPalm. The voter-approved tax boost for Miami-Dade teachers’ raises should include those teaching in charter schools, too. Bernie Navarro, Miami Herald. The Legislature is considering a bill that would give public school students alternative facts to so-called “controversial theories” of science such as evolution and climate change. After all, every child should have the right to be as proudly misinformed as the most uneducated parent in his or her school district. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: Students in the Leesburg High School Construction Academy will help build a home for Lake County Habitat for Humanity during the next school year. Daily Commercial. Lake Worth Middle School officials say adopting the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program is convincing average students that they can be on a college track if they want to be. Palm Beach Post. All Bay County public, non-charter school students will receive free breakfasts and lunches through the end of the school year. Panama City News Herald.

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