Florida schools roundup: Charters security, guns at schools, arming teachers and more

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Charters security ruling: An administrative law judge rules that the Palm Beach County District must assign security officers to charter schools in order to comply with a state law passed last year. The school board had refused to provide officers for Renaissance Charter School Inc., which operates six schools in the county. “(The law) clearly and unambiguously requires school boards and superintendents — not charter school operators — to ‘establish or assign’ SSOs [safe-school officers], with the assistance of local law enforcement agencies, to every public school within their respective jurisdictions, including charter schools,” wrote Judge John Van Laningham. He did not rule on who is responsible for paying for the officers. News Service of Florida.

Guns at schools: Two bills that widen the ability of people to have guns on the grounds of schools are approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee. H.B. 403 would allow people to carry concealed weapons in churches that also have schools on the same property, and H.B. 6005 would require school districts to allow anyone over 18 years old to store a firearm in their vehicles on school grounds. Both were supported by the National Rifle Association. The current law allows districts to prohibit guns at schools and their parking lots. News Service of FloridaSun SentinelGradebook. Florida Phoenix. WFSU.

Anti-Semitic bill: The House Criminal Justice Committee also approves a bill that would put a definition of anti-Semitism into the law and prohibit discrimination against religion at public schools and universities. Anti-Semitic speech would be defined as any expression of hatred for Jews or calling for attacks on them, making dehumanizing or stereotypical allegations about a Jewish person, accusing Jews of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, or comparing Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany. Associated Press. WTVJ.

Arming teachers: Members of the Orange County School Board unanimously approve a resolution opposing the arming of teachers in schools, regardless of what the Legislature decides on a proposed bill that would allow it. District officials say they only want police officers armed, not school employees. Twenty-five of the state’s 67 school districts have hired armed guards who are not sworn law enforcement officers, and several have armed administrators and say they would support arming teachers as well. Orlando Sentinel.

School board term limits: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee narrowly passes a bill that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot asking voters whether to limit school board members to eight years in office. If approved by the full Legislature, the question would go on the November 2020 ballot, where it would have to be approved by 60 percent of the voters to take effect. Associated PressGradebook.

Competency-based learning: A bill that would allow any school district in the state to take part in a “competency-based” personalized learning pilot program has been approved by the Senate Education Committee. S.B. 226 widens the potential reach of the program, which provides accreditation based on a student’s mastery of skills instead of grades. It must clear at least one more committee before being voted on by the full Senate. If the Legislature approves it, it goes into effect in August. redefinED.

College bribery scandal: Mark Riddell, the director of college entrance exam preparation at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, is among those charged in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. Riddell is accused of accepting money to take SAT and ACT tests for students who were trying to get into elite universities, and has been suspended. Prominent TV actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and several college coaches are among the nearly 50 people charged by the Justice Department. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Court takes shooting case: The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a mass shooting is one crime or many. Insurance companies consider mass shootings a single incident, which caps the state’s liability at $300,000 to be divided among all the victims. If the court rules they are multiple incidents, each victim would be eligible for $200,000 from the state. The case does not involve the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, but legal experts say the issues are the same. Sun Sentinel.

School security: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has approved the Clay County School District’s plans to create its own 47-member police force. The approval was received just hours after Sheriff Darryl Daniels withdrew his agency’s proposal to provide officers because most school board members had shown no interest in it. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Schools mothballed: The Bay County School Board approves the temporary “mothballing” of three elementary schools after this school year due to hurricane damage and low enrollment. Oakland Terrace, Oscar Patterson and Springfield will be closed until they are repaired and enough students return to justify their reopening. Panama City News Herald.

Educators honored: Sugg Middle School’s Anna McDonald is named the Manatee County School District’s principal of the year, and Bernadette Fletcher of Tillman Elementary is chosen as the top assistant principal. Bradenton HeraldWWSB. Annette Blanco, secretary to the principal at Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School, is named the Palm Beach County School District’s support employee of the year. Palm Beach Post.

School start times: St. Johns County School Board members approve new school start and close times starting in August that are designed to smooth out bus schedules and deal with the county’s growth. The biggest change is for middle schools, which begin 20 minutes earlier at 7:30 a.m. and end at 1:50 p.m. Elementary and K-8 schools will start at 8:25 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m., and high schools will begin at 9:20 a.m. and end at 3:50 p.m. WJXTSt. Augustine Record. WJAX.

Contract negotiations: Pasco County School Board members say they are looking for solutions to raise teacher pay more than the 2 percent the district is offering. They say they were shocked to learn that a teacher with 20 years of experience is earning $1,640 less than that same teacher was making in 2007, and that a teacher in Pasco would have to work 16 years to make the same salary as a starting teacher in neighboring Pinellas County. “Maybe we do need to think about putting a referendum on the ballot,” suggests board member Megan Harding. Gradebook. After months of impasse, negotiations will resume between the Brevard County School District and the teachers union. Superintendent Mark Mullins says the district won’t change its pay offer of $770 for highly effective teachers, $540 for effective teachers and a one-time $1,000 bonus for all teachers, but is willing to consider some changes in working conditions that teachers have suggested. Teachers are asking for $3,593 raises for highly effective teachers and $2,694 for effective ones. Florida Today.

Superintendent’s contract: The Hernando County School Board approves a three-year contract for Superintendent John Stratton that will pay him $148,000 annually. Stratton replaced the fired Lori Romano as an interim last summer, and was given the job on a permanent basis earlier this year. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher bonuses: The Okaloosa County School Board votes to withhold Best and Brightest scholarship money from pre-kindergarten teachers after Superintendent Marcus Chambers tells them the approving the bonuses could result in the state asking the district to repay them. Only K-12 teachers are eligible. Clay County recently awarded $31,200 to pre-K teachers, and was ordered to repay the state. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Personnel moves: Colleen Carr, the assistant principal at Shields Middle School in Ruskin, is promoted to the principal’s job. She replaces Tiatasha Brown, who is now the principal at Middleton High School in Tampa. Gradebook.

Making progress: Hillsborough County School Board members say they are pleased with the progress being made at the district’s 50 lowest-performing schools. All the schools are seeing some improvement, assistant superintendent Tricia McManus said in a progress report. But there are still problems recruiting and retaining teachers and good principals for the “Achievement Schools.” Gradebook. Teachers at Edison Elementary School, which is among the Achievement Schools, are lobbying Superintendent Jeff Eakins to not transfer their principal, Marc Gaillard, to another struggling school. Gradebook.

District taking loan: The Lee County School District is planning to take a loan for $105 million in order to pay for a new high school in the Gateway area and for a $13 million addition and renovation project at Lehigh Senior High School. The loan will be repaid with proceeds from the new half-cent sales tax. Fort Myers News-Press.

School won’t move: A developer’s request to move a proposed high school out of a planned housing development of SilverLeaf is turned down by the St. Johns County School Board. Access and traffic concerns were the primary reasons cited for the denial. The board’s recommendation now goes to the county commission, which will make the final decision. WJXTSt. Augustine Record.

Former school sold: The Levy County School Board approves the sale of the old Williston High School to a developer for $1.25 million. The school was closed about two years ago when the district built a new school for a consolidated middle/high school. WUFT.

School enrollment: The Manatee County School District projects a slowdown of enrollment growth for 2019-2020. The district projects the number of students to grow from 48,686 to 49,075, or less than 1 percent. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School for autistic students: A private school for autistic students is opened by two mothers in Tamarac. The Evolve Learning Community will accept Gardiner Scholarships for children with special needs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. Sun Sentinel.

Counselors at school: Grief counselors are at Westridge Middle School in Orange County to offer support to classmates of an 11-year-old 6th-grader who was stabbed to death. Aleyda Rivera’s mother, 28-year-old Rosa Alcides Rivera, has been charged with first-degree murder. She told deputies she stabbed her daughter “to prevent her from having sexual relationships with men.” Orlando Sentinel.

New role for board? The Citrus County School Board asks its attorney to research a proposal from the Citrus Hospital Board to consider overseeing the lease of Citrus Memorial Hospital to Health Corporation of America. The hospital board plans to disband in 2021 or 2022, and another government entity would need to be named to oversee the remaining 60-plus years of the lease. Citrus County Chronicle.

School denies abuse: The owner of a private school in Port St. Lucie is denying accusations that he’s abused students. Alan Weierman owns the Southeastern Military Academy, which has just 12 students, and has been investigated by the state on abuse accusations though no charges have been filed. WPTV.

More problems for academy: The private Barnabas Christian Academy of Port St. Lucie has boarded students without a state-required license or performed high-level background checks on workers who had direct, unsupervised contact with the children, according to an investigation. TCPalm.

Teacher accused: The Marion County School District is proposing to fire a teacher who is accused of “inappropriately communicat(ing) in a sexual nature with a female student.” Marshall Pettway, 63, a teacher at West Port High School, disputes the accusation and has asked for a hearing before the school board. Ocala Star-Banner.

Employee investigated: A former Bay County School District support employee of the year resigned shortly after the district began investigating an accusation that he sent inappropriate text messages to a female student at Rutherford High School. Sylvester Jones was a paraprofessional and track coach at Rutherford who won the support employee of the year award in December 2017. WMBB.

Ex-teacher pleads out: A former Naples High School teacher pleads no contest to charges of engaging in sexual activity with a person 16 or 17 years old. Brock Smith will be sentenced May 9. Naples Daily News.

School threats: A man is arrested for carrying a loaded AK-47 pistol onto the campus of Bear Lakes Middle School in West Palm Beach, according to Palm Beach County School District police. Christopher Freeman, 27, said he forgot he had the gun in his pocket as he rushed to the school after receiving a call from his son, who told him a teacher had “slammed” him. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel.

Student arrested: A 15-year-old student is arrested and accused of supplying liquid THC to two other students at Sickles High School in Hillsborough County. One of the students was taken to a hospital. WFLA.

School bus crash: A Miami-Dade County school bus driver and an aide are hospitalized after a crash. The bus, carrying 10 students from Coral Gables High School, collided with a car, careened off the street and came to rest leaning against a home. No students were injured. Miami Herald.

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