Florida schools roundup: Class sizes, school meals, security, raises and more

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Class size violations: More Florida schools are in violation of the 2002 constitutional amendment governing class sizes, even some of those that take advantage of a loophole allowing them to use a schoolwide average instead of class-by-class counts, according to the Florida Department of Education. Educators think part of the problem is the ongoing shortage of teachers statewide. The DOE says 474 of 18,755 traditional classrooms were overcrowded during the fall count, compared with 153 out of 49,287 checked last year. The amendment limits the number of students to 18 in K-3 classes, 22 in grades 4-8 and 25 in high school. Gradebook.

Shutdown and school meals: The federal program that pays schools to provide for free or reduced-cost meals for students has money to continue at least through February, despite the government shutdown. “We have been guaranteed we’re going to get federal reimbursement, we’re going to be able to continue the program until the end of February,” says Sylvia Leeb, Pasco County school district food services program manager. “It’s business as usual.” Gradebook. Education Week.

School security: One of the recommendations from the state safety commission that investigated the Parkland school shooting was that each classroom should have a marked  “hard corner” where students can go to be safe during an emergency. Just two districts have such areas, and some educators and parents say simply telling students where the safe spot is will work and not cause them as much fear and anxiety. Fort Myers News-Press. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican representing the 12th congressional district in the Tampa Bay area, is again filing a bill that would set aside $250 million to help school districts hire more school resource officers. Sunshine State News. Lee County school officials initiate a campaign to remind students that threats, even false ones, have serious consequences. Fort Myers News-Press. St. Johns, Putnam and Nassau county school districts are working on providing live feeds of school surveillance cameras to law enforcement agencies. WJAX.

Administrative raises: Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie is asking the school board to approve the appointments – and significant raises – of three administrators to new, temporary jobs. Two of the three do not meet the minimum requirements of the jobs they would be assigned to. The “task assign” job appointments last six months, but can be renewed. Sun Sentinel.

Contracts approved: The Miami-Dade County School Board approves a contract agreement that will boost teachers’ pay by $5,000 to $18,500 a year, and one with the district’s police department that will allow for the hiring of 260 more officers. Both deals were made possible when voters approved a property tax increase. WLRN. Patch.

First Hope Scholarship: Jordyn Simmons-Outland, a 10-year-old 5th-grader from Lake Placid, is the first recipient of Florida’s Hope Scholarship, which was created last year by the Legislature to allow bullied K-12 public school students to apply for scholarships to attend private schools. Jordyn’s grandparents chose Lakeview Christian School in Lake Placid. Scholarships are funded through car-buyers who direct up to $105 of their motor vehicle purchase taxes to the program. Sixty-seven students from around the state have been awarded scholarships since the program began in November. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blogs, administers the scholarship. redefinED.

Turnaround school: Volusia County school officials are preparing to hire an outside operator to take over Palm Terrace Elementary School in Daytona Beach if the school doesn’t achieve a school grade of C this year. Palm Terrace has gotten three straight D’s, and state law requires the district to have an outside operator in place to assume control if the school doesn’t get a C, or to close the school or turn it into a charter. School officials say they’re optimistic because test scores, attendance and behavior are improving. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter schools: Three former teachers are criticizing the performance of a Jacksonville charter school for high school students who are considered dropout risks. Just six of the 94 seniors at the School for Accelerated Learning & Technologies, or SALTech, graduated in 2017. The three former teachers blame low enrollment, lower than expected funding and questionable decisions by the principal. Florida Times-Union.

Personnel moves: Kelly Edwards, an assistant principal at Sanders Memorial STEAM magnet in Pasco County, is named principal at Connerton Elementary School. Vaughnette Chandler, who had been principal at Double Branch Elementary in Wesley Chapel, is moving into a position in the district’s human resources department. Claudia Steinacker, who had been principal at Cox Elementary, is moving to Oakstead Elementary. Gradebook. Cassandra Boston, principal at Ocala Springs Elementary, is named the Marion County School District’s director of grants and federal programs. Michelle Cino replaces her at Ocala Springs. Ocala Star-Banner.

School name change: The Lake County School Board approves changing the name of Clermont Middle School to Aurelia M. Cole Academy when the school expands into a K-8 school in 2023. Cole was a long-time Lake County educator who died in 2018 at the age of 69. Daily Commercial.

Traffic deaths: A 12-year-old North Fort Myers girl who had just walked her younger sister to her school bus stop is struck and killed by a car as she was walking home. Troopers say the driver stopped after hitting Alana Marie Tamplin, then drove away before returning a short time later. Troopers are investigating. Fort Myers News-Press. Students at Tate High School in Cantonment pay tribute to a student and his sister, who died in a car crash Sunday. Killed by a suspected drunken driver were Sean Banks, 15, a popular sports star, and his sister Antoinette McCoy, 22. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Employees arrested: A Broward County teacher is arrested and charged with molesting a 13-year-old girl. Police say Daniel Joseph Azemar, 34, a math and social studies teacher at Broward Junior Academy in Plantation, kissed the girl, fondled her, sent her sexually graphic text messages and told her he wanted to marry her. Sun Sentinel. A maintenance worker at a St. Lucie County school is arrested and accused of battery. Deputies say Miguel Jose Pena, 26, inappropriately touched a female student. TCPalm.

Students arrested: An 18-year-old Palm Beach County student is arrested after police say he brought an unloaded gun to Palm Beach Lakes High School in West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Post. A 17-year-old Broward County student is arrested after he posted a video of himself with a gun making a threat to fellow students at West Broward High School. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel.

Resource officer transferred: A Volusia County deputy working at New Smyrna Beach High School is transferred and being investigated after his handling of a call about a gun on campus. Sheriff Mike Chitwood says deputy Anthony Abato continued with a mental evaluation of a student instead of stopping to investigate the gun report. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Employees disciplined: Two former St. Johns County School District employees are placed on probation and fined by the state Department of Education. Kerry Mowlam, former athletic director at Ponte Vedra High School, was disciplined for being in possession of alcohol at a school activity. Matthew Cabell, a former science teacher at Bartram Trail High, was punished for drinking with underage students. WJXT.

Teacher resigns: An Okaloosa County teacher resigns after he’s put under investigation for speaking inappropriately about sexual issues with 8th- and 9th-graders. Johnny C. Alexander, a teacher at the Baker School, allegedly made the comments to students riding in his vehicle during a field trip. He denies the allegations. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Ron DeSantis did the right thing by suspending Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Don’t let it stop there, though. Florida has a lot of work to do to keep its citizens safe. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Charter schools can help underserved students realize the American dream. Ed J. Pozzuoli, Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: Eleven-year-old Quinn Ignatowicz of Dade City passes the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) at Pasco-Hernando State College. Passing the CLEP allows students to complete courses for college credit. WFTS. Four stars of the TV show Shark Tank give advice to more than 1,500 students at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton. Sun Sentinel. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Victoria Gonzalez and teacher Ronit Reoven unveil a memorial garden to victims of the school shooting. Sun Sentinel.