Florida schools roundup: Bible and civics courses bills, teacher test fees and more

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Bible course bill: A bill that would require all Florida public high schools to offer an elective course on the Bible is approved in an 11-3 vote by the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee. The course would not be mandatory, and it also will be focused solely on the Bible. But the bill sponsor, Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, says it is intended as an “objective study of religion” and is simply a “literacy course.” Some lawmakers question whether the bill could survive a court challenge. News Service of FloridaAssociated PressOrlando Sentinel. GradebookWKMG. Florida Phoenix. WFSU.

Civics education bill: The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee also approves a bill that would require middle school students to take a civics education course to advance to high school. The course would be reviewed for effectiveness by the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, a partnership between the University of Florida and University of Central Florida. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Vance Aloupis, R-Miami. Associated Press.

Teacher test fees: The Florida Department of Education is recommending that fees aspiring teachers pay to take the teacher certification test be slashed by 78 percent. The proposal comes as the Legislature is considering revising the teacher certification testing process to combat the shortage of teachers. Nearly 1,000 Florida teachers lost their jobs last summer because they couldn’t pass the exam. WFTS. The teacher certification bill the House is considering could lead to the elimination of the test. “We feel the general knowledge test has probably outlived its usefulness,” says Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples. “We have an opportunity to make some corrections.” The bill would give teachers more time to pass the general knowledge exam, reduce the costs for retakes and allow principals to waive the scores for teachers they consider effective. Gradebook.

School security: The Marion County School Board agrees to a three-year contract with three law enforcement agencies to provide resource officers at all schools. The deal with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the Ocala and Belleview police departments locks in costs at $3.63 million a year. Ocala Star-Banner. Clay County parents urge the school board to reconsider its decision to create a district police department. The board has approved creating a 47-member department that would replace Clay County deputies in schools. Clay Sheriff Darryl Daniels also is critical of the plan, saying he can put sworn officers in schools for about the same cost.  WJXTWJAX. Alachua County’s 13 charter schools turned to armed school guardians to comply with state law because it was the only option they could afford. At some schools, principals volunteered to be trained to carry a gun to avoid the extra expense of hiring a guard. Gainesville Sun.

School spending: The 50 struggling Hillsborough County schools in the district’s Achievement Schools initiative get $9,097 per student, according to district figures. Spending on students in all other schools is $7,397. Most of the difference comes from federal and state anti-poverty programs. Superintendent Jeff Eakins will update the school board Tuesday on the progress of the Achievement Schools. Gradebook.

Education podcasts: Officials from Impact Florida, a new group formed to find successful instructional models for teachers, talk about their goals. Gradebook.

Spelling bee winner: Isabel Liu, a 6th-grader at Cypress Lake Middle School in Fort Myers, wins the Lee County Spelling Bee. She moves on to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in May. Fort Myers News-Press.

Health care issues: Gainesville city commissioners say they’d like to consider creating a consolidated health care plan for employees of the Alachua County School District, city and county. Gainesville Sun. Hillsborough County school officials forward a letter to parents from the Florida Department of Health urging them to get their children vaccinated against hepatitis A. More than 125 cases have been reported in the county since 2018. WTSP.

Schools closing: The Bay County School Board will vote next week on a proposal to temporarily close three elementary schools that were damaged by Hurricane Michael and have lost enrollment. Some parents from at least one of those schools, Oscar Patterson, worry that repairs will never be made. Panama City News Herald.

School board elections: Nancy Stacy, twice elected to the District 1 seat on the Marion County School Board, says she won’t seek a third term in November 2020. “I am 67 years old and it will be time to retire,” says Stacy. Shelia Arnett and Todd Yocum have announced their candidacies for the seat. Ocala Star-Banner.

School employee charges: The former business director at a Manatee County charter  school pleads not guilty to charges that she stole more than $362,000 from the school and its management company. Deputies say Melissa Tapia, who worked at the Team Success charter school, wrote fraudulent checks and used the school’s credit card for personal purchases, including $75,000 at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher investigated: The Duval County School District and the Florida Department of Children and Families are investigating a teacher who allegedly pulled a student’s hair. The incident, which was filmed and posted on Instagram, happened at First Coast High School. WJAX.

Student arrested: A 13-year-old student at Clermont Middle School in Lake County is arrested and accused of threatening to kill another student who owed him $20. Orlando Sentinel.

Seven hurt in bus crash: Seven Manatee County students sustain minor injuries when a car runs into their parked school bus in Ellenton. Bradenton Herald. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: If Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to satisfy his supporters, he must respond to parents’ obvious demand for school choice by expanding eligibility for choice programs, with a continued focus on low-income families. Christian Barnard and Kristiana Bolzman, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: More than 200 high school students from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties take part in GradNation, a student-led event aimed at helping students at-risk of graduating from high school. Gradebook. Students at the Somerset Academy Charter School in Broward County are creating public service announcements to deter their peers  from making threats, even jokingly, against schools. WSVN.