Florida schools roundup: Climate change, evolution, Bible classes, security and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

‘Alternative theories’: A bill is filed that would allow Florida school districts to teach students alternative theories to what it calls “controversial theories” such as evolution and human-created climate change in a “factual, objective and balanced manner.” The bill is sponsored by State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who says schools need to teach “different worldviews” on those subjects because textbooks present a “uniformity” of thought. Keith Flaugh, the managing director of the Florida Citizens Alliance, which wrote the bill, says says the curriculum taught in Florida schools equates to “political and religious indoctrination.” Tampa Bay Times.

Biblical courses: Florida is one of at least six states considering allowing Bible literacy classes in public schools. Supporters include President Trump, who tweeted: “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!” Florida’s proposed bill would require public high schools to offer an elective course providing an “objective study of religion.” Washington Post.

School security: State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, files a bill that would direct $4 million toward bolstering security at Jewish day schools. That’s double the amount Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged earlier this month. News Service of Florida. Sarasota County School Board chair Jane Goodwin asks her legislative delegation for more money for security and mental health services in schools, and greater flexibility in how the district can use the money. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Santa Rosa County school and law enforcement officials dispute the charge made by the chair of the state commission investigating the Parkland shootings that schools are unprepared for emergencies. Pensacola News Journal.

Administrators fired: Okaloosa County School Superintendent Marcus Chambers has fired two top administrators. The school board approved the firings of Henry Kelley, once the district spokesperson and now the director of the district’s foundation, and Andy Johnson, who was program director of Student Services, Discipline and Athletics. Both had been criticized in a grand jury report that looked into the district’s policies and procedures after a child abuse scandal. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher honored: Nicole Kenngott, a 5th-grade teacher at Plumb Elementary School in Clearwater, is named the Pinellas County School District’s teacher of the year. Gradebook.

Consent for clubs: Pasco County School Board member Megan Harding says she can support some parents’ requests to require students to get parental consent if they want to join clubs in schools. Parental request has been pushed by critics of the district’s policy on transgender students. Gradebook.

Teacher exam fees: State legislators are asking the Florida Department to consider lowering the cost for teacher certificate exams. The general test that covers the four core subjects costs $130, up from $25 before 2009, and retesting costs even more. With the state dealing with a shortage of teachers, legislators are looking for ways to cut back on obstacles to get teachers certified. Politico Florida.

Crackdown on smoking: The Nassau County School District is boosting the punishment for students who use tobacco or vape on campuses. “Using these or other tobacco/nicotine products on campus will result in an automatic three-day, out-of-school suspension, as well as a tobacco citation, which includes a $25 fine, a court appearance and possible community service,” district officials wrote in a Facebook message to parents and students. Nassau County Record.

Notable deaths: Deelena Fae White, a Sarasota County School District bus driver and a representative of the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association, has died in a traffic accident in Nokomis. She was 62. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

Football playoffs: The Florida High School Athletic Association approves the use of a ratings percentage index to determine which high school football teams get into the playoffs. The index is compiled from a team’s winning percentage, opponents’ winning percentage and opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage. Fort Myers News-Press.

School employees arrested: Three Okaloosa County school employees are arrested and accused of “intentionally and maliciously” punishing autistic children by blowing whistles in their ears or locking them in a dark bathroom, and a fourth is charged with failing to report child abuse in a separate case. Margaret Wolthers, a special education teacher at Silver Sands School, and aides Diana LaCroix and Carolyn Madison are charged with aggravated child abuse. Guidance counselor Sharen Burt is charged with failing to call the state’s child abuse hotline after she was notified of sexual abuse allegations made by a 5-year-old. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR. Miami Herald.

Students arrested: Two Leon County students are arrested and accused of threatening to commit a school shooting at the Governor’s Charter Academy in Tallahassee. The students, 13 and 14, discussed a threat on an internal chat program used in the school. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

School bus crash: A Duval County school bus runs into a shopping center in Jacksonville. Police say the driver first ran into the back of a truck that was stopped to make a turn, then veered into a sub sandwich shop and an empty storefront. Only the bus driver was aboard, and police say she suffered minor injuries. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: Whatever his reasons, Broward’s embattled superintendent Robert Runcie showed a tin ear for public relations by canceling his first town hall in Parkland since a state commission released its critical report on the shooting. And the cancellation has blown up on him, making whatever happens next a much bigger deal. Sun Sentinel. Initial improvements in areas such as increasing the involvement of black students in advanced coursework and reducing out-of-school suspensions provide hope that the Alachua County School District’s equity plan is working. Gainesville Sun. Florida is making progress in the quality of K-12 education, especially in relation to the rest of the country. That improvement has occurred as the state has expanded education choice options for families, including charter schools, which now number more than 650 and serve nearly 300,000 students. Lynn Norman-Teck, Orlando Sentinel. Catholic Schools Week is a great time for the state’s Catholic high schools to make a commitment to open the doors of opportunity for their students to careers in engineering, the mathematical and physical sciences and computing by properly preparing their students for college majors in these fields. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Miami’s Liberty City Elementary School students and officials credit the involvement of T. Willard Fair, CEO and president of Miami’s Urban League, for the school’s academic improvements. WTVJ. Gainesville High School students stage a 5K race to raise more than $4,000 for schools damaged by Hurricane Michael. WUFT.

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