Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, legislative goals, Israel criticism and more

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Charter schools now top choice: Charter schools are now the most popular school of choice for Florida parents, according to the Florida Department of Education. About 47 percent of Florida preK-12 students, or 1.6 million, attended a choice school during the 2017-2018 school year. Charter schools claimed 292,001 of those, compared to 262,633 who use open enrollment, 226,122 in choice and magnet programs at district schools and 225,033 paying to attend private schools. redefinED.

Lawmakers’ priorities: Two prominent members of legislative education committees echo Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call this week for cutting down the number of students on waiting lists for tax credit and Gardiner scholarships. Senate Education Committee Chair Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, says wait lists must be eliminated, and House Education chair Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, says the House is working on a education savings account plan that could immediately help students whose applications are on hold. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both programs. redefinED.

Criticism of Israel targeted: A bill filed in the Legislature this week could essentially ban criticism of Israel in schools and other public institutions by labeling it anti-Semitic. Filed by State Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, the bill would require all schools, from kindergarten through college, to “take into consideration anti-Semitism when determining if a practice or act was discrimination on the basis of religion.” Civil rights groups express concerns. “While we applaud efforts to add ‘religion’ as a protected category from discrimination in our schools,” says a spokesperson for the ACLU in Florida, “we oppose any provisions that infringe on the First Amendment rights of Floridians.” Miami New Times.

LGBTQ discrimination: State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and chairman of the Florida Republican Party, files a bill that would ban workplace discrimination over a person’s sexual identity or gender orientation. School students are not mentioned in the bill, but if it’s approved it could be adopted by school districts that are facing criticism over granting transgender students the right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity instead of birth gender. Gradebook. Miami Herald.

Employees honored: Shannon Kraeling, a ceramics teacher at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, is named the Brevard County School District’s teacher of the year. Florida Today. Justen Early, a technology support teacher and football coach at Nature Coast Technical High School in Spring Hill, is named the Hernando County School District’s teacher of the year. Tampa Bay Times. Sandra McMillan, who is a special education teacher at Greensboro Elementary School in Quincy, is named the Gadsden County School District’s teacher of the year. Marilyn Basford, a paraprofessional at Havana Magnet School, is named school-related employee of the year. WCTV. Six finalists are named for the Gulf County School District’s employee of the year. Port St. Joe Star.

Later start times: Orange County School Board members say they want to revisit the idea of later starting times for high schools. A recent study suggests that students in Seattle posted better grades and attendance after starting times were moved to 8:45 a.m. in 2016. All 20 high schools in Orange start at 7:20. Board chair Teresa Jacobs is asking district officials for more information. “Get me educated and more informed,” she says. “I really want to understand why the school board in the past did not embrace that idea.” Orlando Sentinel.

Meeting canceled: Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie says “threats of protests” prompted him to cancel today’s meeting where parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students were going to talk about their concerns with the district. “The purpose of the meeting was to create an opportunity for MSD parents to pose questions to the district and Superintendent Runcie and to share any concerns they may have,” principal Ty Thompson said in an call to parents Wednesday. “Today, numerous threats of protests on social media created an unacceptable risk for students who will be attending events on campus tomorrow evening.” Sun Sentinel. WLRN.

New school request: Hernando County School Board members are asking their legislative delegation for $30 million to build a high school for career and technical education, and an extra $1 million for school security. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay disparities: Why do teachers at Palm Beach County’s poorest schools get the smallest raises? It all hinges on how school administrators rate their teachers, and an analysis shows that only 46 percent of teachers at poorer schools received the highest rating compared to 72 percent of the teachers at wealthier schools. Palm Beach Post.

Testing concerns: The outside operator of Evergreen Elementary School in Ocala says preliminary test results are improved and it expects the school to receive a C grade from the state this year after six straight years of getting a D or F. But Jonathan McGowan, director of school counseling and assessment, says there are still concerns for Evergreen because those reported results come from a less stringent standard. Ocala Star-Banner.

Charter schools updates: Sarasota County School Board members say they’re impressed with improvements made by two charter schools that had struggled before putting turnaround plans into place. The Suncoast School for Innovative Studies improved its state grade from a D to a C in 2018, and the Sarasota Military Academy from a C to a B. Officials from each school updated board members this week. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Boards and contracts: The Palm Beach County School Board terminates a contract with a New Hampshire company that failed to deliver science kits to all elementary schools by September as agreed. The delay has teachers scrambling for equipment to use in lessons such as explaining the laws of gravity and motion. Palm Beach Post. The Manatee County School Board approves contracts of $2.5 million for school access control systems, $2 million for instructional materials and almost $1.9 million for a new roof at Sara Scott Harllee Middle School in Bradenton. Bradenton Herald. Two years after a consultant provided early childhood education training in Marion County schools, she’s finally paid the $79,500 the district owed her. Superintendent Heidi Maier apologized, saying the invoice had been lost in a transition between district directors for early education. Ocala Star-Banner.

Spelling bee winner: Francheska Melendez, an 11-year-old 5th-grader at Kimball Wiles Elementary School in Gainesville, wins the Alachua County spelling bee. She’ll compete in the regional competition in Jacksonville Feb. 19. Gainesville Sun.

Crosswalk to be added: Jacksonville officials say they will add a crosswalk outside First Coast High School, where a student was struck and seriously injured last week as he was walking to school. WJXT.

District faces more suits: Two more lawsuits are filed against the Okaloosa County School Board, bringing the total to four that allege a “pattern and practice” of abuse of disabled students. The latest two allege that the board, suspended Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and educator Roy Frazier abused and neglected special needs students at the Silver Sands School, then conspired to hide their actions. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Students arrested: A 15-year-old North Port High School student is arrested after police say he took a gun to school. The school resource officer confiscated the gun after students reported the suspect was “bragging” about having it. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. A 13-year-old St. Johns County middle school student is arrested after allegedly threatening to shoot up Switzerland Point Middle School in Fruit Cove. St. Augustine Record. WJAX.

Bus driver suspended: A Bay County School District bus driver is suspended after leaving the bus with a sleeping 2nd-grader still aboard. The student remained alone on the bus for hours before being discovered. Panama City News Herald.

Opinions on schools: The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that two school choice programs are constitutional eases a huge burden on disadvantaged students. Leslie Hiner, The 74.

Student enrichment: More than 140 students take taekwondo as part of their physical education classes at Powell Middle School in Hernando County. Teacher Carlos Carrasquillo says he doesn’t know of any other schools in the state that incorporate the martial art into physical education classes. Tampa Bay Times. The Navy is now using virtual reality technology to recruit high school students in central Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Miami-Dade County middle-schoolers program drones to dance to music. WLRN.