Florida schools roundup: Board considers firing Runcie, scholarship test and more

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Runcie’s job on line: The Broward County School Board will consider firing Superintendent Robert Runcie at its meeting Tuesday. Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, requested the item to be added to the agenda. She cited his “many failures of leadership,” specifically his handling of the tragedy and the district’s slow progress in carrying out the $800 million bond program for schools approved by voters in 2014.  “The urgency to do this now is because the district is spiraling out of control,” Alhadeff said. Five of the nine board members have publicly expressed support for Runcie in the past few weeks. “As board members, we need to be accountable to the public,” Alhadeff said. “I am bringing it forward regardless if I have five votes or not.” Sun Sentinel. WPLG.

Hope Scholarships: Pasco County school officials are considering testing the state’s Hope Scholarship law by requiring that bullying reports from students be verified by the district before students are awarded a scholarship. Legislators and Department of Education officials say the law requires the complaining student be awarded a scholarship out of the school and, possibly, into a private school regardless of proof. But Pasco officials say the definition of bullying includes substantiation of the complaint, and a board attorney is doing further research. Gradebook.

Security in schools: Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chair of the state commission that investigated the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, tells Broward County School Board members that they have to “do things differently,” including arming teachers, and start right now. “If we continue to have discussions about a different outcome without immediately effecting change,” he said in Tuesday’s appearance, “we’re kidding ourselves.” Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. The Clay County School District hires its first internal police chief. Lt. Kenneth Wagner, who has worked for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for more than 20 years, was chosen to build the district’s police force by this fall. The school board approved the creation of the police department at its Feb. 7 meeting. WTLV. WJXT. Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning says the district’s decision to hire 56 armed school guards for its elementary schools has been a success. Tampa Bay Times.

New name for school: Manatee County School Board members vote 4-1 to change the name of a school opening in August from North River High School to Parrish Community High School. The board decided on North River in August 2017, but many Parrish residents wanted the school name changed to reflect the community it was in. That request was challenged by others, who noted that a pioneer in the area, Crawford Parrish, was a slave-owner. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Books challenged: It’s Your Tea Party Florida, a conservative political group in Marion County, wants the school district to remove 14 books from libraries in middle and high schools because it thinks the books contain “obscene and/or pornographic material” that have no educational value. Superintendent Heidi Maier chose to remove the books from the middle schools but left them in the high schools. Among the titles: Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Bluest Eye, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Ocala Star-Banner.

Contract agreement: The Leon County teachers union and school district have reached a tentative contract agreement that provides raises, a slight boost in starting pay and some changes in working conditions. If the school board approves the deal, teachers will get an extra $1,500 a year and an average of $150 in performance pay, and starting salaries would increase to $37,500. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

Charter schools: Duval County Superintendent Diana Greene is recommending the school board reject an application for a proposed charter school. Greene says the diversity plan presented by Seaside School Consortium Inc. would segregate students. “Basically from my perspective, that’s what’s being created: a separate but equal [school],” Greene says. The board will vote on the application Feb. 19. Florida Times-Union. A dispute with the Lake Wales Charter Schools prompts Polk County school officials to propose a new K-12 path for Lake Wales students. Under the plan, McLaughlin Middle School would be expanded to include high school, giving town students an option for a traditional public schooling through graduation. Lakeland Ledger. A judge has granted a request to halt the construction of a charter school in Clermont. Danielle Page had fought the building of the Seven Lakes Preparatory Academy near her home, arguing that the heavier traffic load created by the school would endanger students. The city of Clermont has 30 days to appeal. WKMG.

Transgender school policy: Despite another push by conservatives to restrict the use of school bathrooms and locker rooms by transgender students to their birth gender, Pasco County school officials say they have no intention of changing the district’s current policy. The groups also want to require parental permission for students to join clubs, and a guarantee from the district that teachers won’t have to use “false gender pronouns.” Gradebook.

Funding inequities: High-poverty majority-white school districts in Florida and 20 other states receive more funding than high-poverty predominantly nonwhite districts, according to a new report from the nonprofit organization EdBuild. In Florida, high-poverty majority-white districts receive $9,221 per student, while high-poverty predominantly nonwhite districts receive $8,786. The 74.

Discrimination alleged: The Escambia County School Board votes to relocate pre-K classes from an inner-city Pensacola school in a cost-saving measure, prompting complaints that black students and their families are always shortchanged when the district needs to cut spending. “You can spin this any way that you want to, but I am deeply concerned when the constituents are coming to me and saying, ‘They are discriminating against us,’ because it’s District 3 that is always penalized with school closings,” says board member Laura Dortch Edler. “They are tired of it.” Pensacola News Journal.

Glitch delays decisions: Parents waiting to hear if their children got into an Alachua County School District magnet program will have to wait a little longer. A software glitch in the application program is delaying the notification process. In December, the board signed a three-year, $145,000 contract with SRC Solutions Inc. for the software to handle the magnet application process. Gainesville Sun.

District questioned: Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins appeared before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee last week to answer questions about an audit that included 15 findings against the district. Among the questions: Did the district use tax money on things the law does not allow, and why does the district accept invoices that don’t include a breakdown of the services included? Fort Myers News-Press.

School upgrade: The North Florida School of Special Education has raised $6 million to build a new school that will include a gymnasium, eight more classrooms, a commercial kitchen and upgraded therapy rooms. About 160 students between the ages of 6 and 22 attend the Jacksonville school. WJAX.

Notable deaths: Donald Samuels, a longtime administrator for the Miami-Dade County School District and a member of the Broward County School Board for 16 years, has died at the age of 80. Sun Sentinel.

School start times: A committee of St. Johns County School District employees is recommending changes to school starting times in August to help cut back the number of late bus arrivals. Middle schools would start 20 minutes earlier, at 7:30 a.m., and let out at 1:50 p.m. Elementary, K-8 and high schools would be adjusted by five minutes. Elementaries and K-8 schools would start at 8:25 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m., and high schools would begin at 9:20 a.m. and dismiss at 3:50 p.m. The board votes on the proposal March 12. St. Augustine Record. WJXT.

School calendar: After hearing complaints from parents, the Brevard County School Board made changes to the district’s 2019-2020 school year calendar. Winter break now starts Dec. 23, and students return Jan. 8. It had been set at Dec. 24 and Jan. 10. The first day of school is Aug. 12, and the last day is May 28. Florida Today.

Union pushing back: The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, launches a campaign to fight back against the proposed expansion of vouchers and to call for higher teacher salaries. An advertising campaign called “Fund Our Future” will extend through March 11. The legislative session begins Tuesday. Florida Phoenix. Capitol News Service.

School board dysfunction: Escalating tensions among Lee County School Board members prompt the scheduling of a professional training session for board members March 4 conducted by the Florida School Boards Association. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher resigns: A Marion County elementary teacher who was arrested and accused of inappropriately touching students has resigned. Kevin Wayne Tindall was a music teacher at Belleview Elementary School. Ocala Star-Banner.

Students arrested: Four Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students are arrested after a fight on campus. All four were treated for minor injuries. WPLG.

Students treated: Several Bay County elementary school students are treated by paramedics after ingesting prescription medication at Hutchison Beach Elementary School in Panama City Beach. Panama City News Herald.

Opinions on schools: A long-term solution is needed to ensure public schools, colleges and universities are able to pay for needed infrastructure improvements without having to ask voters or the Legislature for extra help. Gainesville Sun. The Hillsborough County School Board no longer televises or webcasts public comment at their meetings. What they call efficiency sure looks like censorship. Sue Carlton, Tampa Bay Times. There is not a more bipartisan issue than term limits for elected officials, including school board members. Shawn Frost, Florida Politics. Here’s a question for Black History Month: Does school choice work? Just ask black college graduates. Ann Duplessis, The 74.