Florida schools roundup: Arming teachers, superintendent hire, security poll and more

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Arming teachers: A bill that would broaden the state’s 2018 armed guardian law and allow some teachers to carry guns in schools clears the Senate Education Committee in a 5-3 vote along party lines, with Republicans in the majority. Last year’s bill specifically prohibited the arming of teachers, but calls grew to change that after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission recommended arming willing teachers. Senate Bill 7030 also broadens state oversight over districts’ compliance with the law’s security rules, and would require sheriffs to train teachers in districts that opt in. The bill may get a hearing in the appropriations committee before heading to a Senate floor vote sometime after the Legislature opens March 5. News Service of Florida. GateHouse. Associated Press. Tampa Bay TimesGradebook. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics.

Superintendent’s contract: Cynthia Saunders is approved as school superintendent in a 3-2 vote by the Manatee County School Board. The contract runs through June 30, 2021, and pays her $196,000 a year. She had been acting as interim superintendent since Diana Greene left last summer. Her ascension was delayed last year when Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart accused Saunders of manipulating student data to inflate the district’s graduation rate. Saunders is negotiating a settlement with the DOE in which she would neither admit nor deny the charge. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School security poll: About 86 percent of Florida voters say they are extremely or somewhat concerned about security in the state’s schools, according to a new Florida Atlantic University poll. Sixty-five percent favor stricter gun laws, 52 percent approved the call to eliminate the use of Common Core standards and 37 percent favor arming teachers in classrooms. The poll also shows strong support for new Gov. Ron DeSantis. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Security in schools: The Pinellas County School District is using a federal grant to help buy a communications system that will send live information to law enforcement agencies in a school emergency. The system features video surveillance and a lockdown system that can be activated simply through a cell phone while also notifying law enforcement, school officials and parents. It will be installed in 122 schools. Gradebook. Broward County’s school buses will come off the county’s overburdened public safety radio system in August. Sun Sentinel. The Broward County School Board approves the hiring of former Google employee Brian Katz as security director. Sun Sentinel. In 2013, Broward school officials rejected a proposal to ask voters for a special $55 million security tax. Superintendent Robert Runcie said then that he had a plan for school security that included putting a police officer in every school. Sun Sentinel. Manatee County school officials provide an update of security changes made to schools in the past year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Parkland stories: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students release a 45-minute documentary film, called MSD Reflects, that reviews events of the past year since the shooting at the school Feb. 14 that killed 17 people. Sun Sentinel. The shootings prompted three siblings, one who was about to graduate from Stoneman Douglas last spring, to get politically active and help start the March For Our Lives movement. Associated Press. Forty-three Stoneman Douglas students and teachers compile their first-person accounts, photos and art in the book Parkland Speaks. WLRN.

Contract approved: The Pinellas County School Board approves a contract with the teachers union that calls for average pay raises of 2.55 percent, a boost in the starting salary to $43,809 and better working conditions for teachers that include fewer meetings and less oversight of lesson plans. Gradebook.

New school considerations: Hillsborough County officials say the school district’s approach to decide where to build new schools should be reconsidered. County Administrator Mike Merrill says there are hidden costs to new schools that often fall to the county to pay for, and suggests taking a “total cost approach” for school planning. Gradebook. The Polk County School District wants to spend $2.68 million for a 20-acre site to build a new elementary school inside the planned Tierra del Sol subdivision off U.S. Highway 27. Lakeland Ledger.

Special education issues: Two Marion County School board members say the district’s new special education programs at Sparr and Anthony elementary schools are not providing adequate service. District officials say they’re following the plan approved by the board last fall, and several parents of special needs students are challenging the views of board members Kelly King and Nancy Stacy. Ocala Star-Banner. New Okaloosa County Superintendent Marcus Chambers asked the state to assess the district’s special education program and recommend ways it can be improved. The visit was last week, and a review is expected in two to three weeks. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Medical marijuana: The Bay County School Board is considering a policy change that would allow the use of medical marijuana on school campuses. Under the proposed policy, family members and caregivers could come to campus to administer the drug to a student as prescribed. Panama City News Herald.

Water testing completed: The testing of water in Polk County schools for lead has been completed, according to school officials. Fifty-nine schools were cleared and 35 schools have had their water issues repaired. The district is awaiting test results for 34 other sites. The costs for the testing will probably exceed $250,000. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter district progress: Officials of the Jefferson County Charter School District brief members of a House education committee on the progress made since the district was turned over to a charter school company two years ago. New programs have been launched, school grades are up and more students are taking courses through dual-enrollment programs. WFSU.

Changing start times: The complexities of changing school times is prompting the Volusia County School District to delay issuing a survey for the community to vote on one of three options for when to start the elementary, middle and high school days. The team working on the plan says it needs more time to evaluate the effects of the proposed changes. The school board set its discussion for the March 28 meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Textbook purchases: St. Johns County school officials are going ahead with the purchase of textbooks for the 2019-2020 school year despite the uncertainty of proposed changes to the state’s teaching standards. Some districts are putting off new purchases until new standards are set. Superintendent Tim Forson says the changes could take years to be implemented. St. Augustine Record.

District sued over assault: A parent is suing the Pasco County School for negligence after her child was sexually assaulted several times on campus by a teacher. Sean Gallegos, a robotics teacher at Ridgewood High School, was arrested almost a year ago and charged with sexual assault of a minor child by a custodial authority. Tampa Bay Times.

Students arrested: An 11-year-old Osceola County student is arrested after deputies say he made a threat on Instagram to “shoot up” Neptune Middle School near Kissimmee. Orlando Sentinel. A 12-year-old Gulf Middle School students is arrested after threatening his school in a handwritten note, police in Cape Coral say. Fort Myers News-Press. One student is arrested, one is tasered and five are given civil citations for their participation in a fight in the cafeteria at Homestead Senior High School. WPLGMiami Herald. An 18-year-old Lehigh Senior High School student is arrested and accused of taking fentanyl, cocaine and marijuana to the Lee County school. Fort Myers News-Press. A 14-year-old Lee County student is arrested for setting off an irritant during a school dance at G. Weaver Hipps Elementary School in Lehigh Acres. Fort Myers News-Press. A 13-year-old student at the Okaloosa Academy Charter School near Fort Walton Beach is arrested and accused of threatening to shoot the school resource officer. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Students treated: A radiator coolant leak into a Lake County school bus sends three students to a hospital for treatment. The bus was taking 37 students to East Ridge Middle school when the leak was discovered and several students began complaining about feeling nauseous. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial. Two students at Tate High School in Escambia County are treated at a hospital after a possible drug overdose. The students were smoking something in a vape pen before they complained of feeling light-headed. WEAR.

Opinions on schools: One year after the Parkland shootings, our schools still remain vulnerable to active shooter situations, and the reality is many campuses around the country remain open targets and our children are not safe. Kevin Grundstrom, Fort Myers News-Press. Let’s boost mental-health services for at-risk students as a way to prevent future mass shootings. Bradley Jaffe, Sun Sentinel. The Common Core has already been replaced once. But that change was cosmetic. To truly overturn the program, Florida will have to burn down the barn to raise another. St. Augustine Record.