Education bill, hurricane recovery help, vaccinations, security in schools and more

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Education bill: The Florida Senate will consider the legislative session’s major education initiative on Wednesday. S.B. 7070 would, among other things, create the Family Empowerment Scholarship to eliminate the waiting list for tax credit scholarships for students to attend private schools and rework the program that awards educator bonuses. The Best and Brightest bonuses program would have new eligibility requirements, including the elimination of the consideration of teachers’ college entrance exam scores and the amounts awarded. News Service of Florida.

Storm recovery: Gov. Ron DeSantis is asking President Donald Trump to boost the federal assistance for the state to recover from Hurricane Michael, which last week was reclassified to a Category 5 storm. Michael ripped through the state in October, causing catastrophic damage to homes, businesses and schools in several Panhandle counties. DeSantis is asking that the federal share of assistance be increased from 75 percent to 90 percent. He estimated the impact of the storm at more than $2.6 billion. “Similar Category 5 hurricanes have resulted in an increased cost share, with Hurricane Andrew (in 1992) being adjusted to a 100 percent federal cost share,” DeSantis said. “Hurricane Michael should be no different.” News Service of Florida. Panama City News Herald.

Vaccinations bill: As the number of measles cases grows in the United States and Florida, the Legislature is considering a bill that would expand a state registry to track the immunization histories of children, students and young adults through the age of 23. Nearly 14,000 Florida kindergartners in Florida’s public and private schools have claimed exemptions from mandated vaccinations. Critics of the bill, and mandated vaccinations, are holding a rally against the bill today in Tallahassee. Sun Sentinel. Meanwhile, the state’s hepatitis A outbreak is spreading, with the largest number of cases in the Tampa Bay area. News Service of Florida.

School security: Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels says he’s handing over responsibility for service after regular school hours to the new three-person Clay County School District police force. Daniels says he doesn’t know if the district force is ready, but says, “If a police department did not have the foresight to get their infrastructure in place before ultimately stepping out to say that they’re independent and don’t want a relationship with the Sheriff’s Office, then that’s not my responsibility as a sheriff.” School officials say they were blindsided by the move. District officials didn’t plan to hire or train their officers before summer. WJXT. WJAX.

Contract negotiations: The dispute between the Brevard County School District and the teachers union over pay raises will be heard today by a special magistrate. The two sides have been at an impasse since December. Teachers want $2,300 raises for teachers with a highly effective evaluations and $1,725 for effective ones. The district’s offer is $770 for highly effective teachers, $540 for teachers rated effective and a one-time $1,000 bonus for all teachers. The magistrate will make a nonbinding recommendation to the school board, which will make the final decision. Florida Today.

Superintendent’s case: A prehearing conference is set today in the appeal by Mary Beth Jackson over her suspension as Okaloosa County school superintendent by Gov. Ron DeSantis for her alleged “dereliction of duty” with her handling of a child abuse allegation. The conference was set by Dudley Goodlette, who was appointed as the special master for the Senate. The Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that DeSantis acted within his authority, which leaves it to the Senate to decide to reinstate or remove Jackson. News Service of Florida.

Recording meetings: Pasco County school officials are working on a policy on video recording school board meetings for the public to see. The policy draft says the district “may” record meetings, not that it must, and that recordings of meetings will not be considered an official record of what the board has decided, although the recordings will be preserved. A policy could be in place by June. Gradebook.

School health initiative: Students at Westside Elementary School in Daytona can now visit a doctor while in school under a pilot program developed in a partnership with AdventHealth. The program connects sick students with doctors via electronic tablets, a process that Volusia school officials hope will reduce chronic absenteeism. The district plans to have the program available in 36 schools by August. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter school approved: The Okaloosa County School Board approves an application for Destin High School, a charter school that would become the first new high school in the county in 50 years. While no location has been determined, Destin High officials expect the school to open in August 2020 with about 200 students in 9th grade and 200 in 10th. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR.

Personnel moves: Michele Spurgeon is named the assistant director for all three of the McKeel Schools charter school campuses in Polk County. Kim Benson is appointed as principal at McKeel Academy of Technology, which is grades 7-12. At the preK-6 McKeel Academy Central, Angela Massung is named principal, and Joyce Powell takes over at the preK-7 South McKeel Academy. Lakeland Ledger.

School board elections: Todd Yocum withdraws from the Marion County School Board District 1 race because he’s planning to moving out of the district. That leaves Shelia Arnett as the only announced candidate to replace Nancy Stacy, who is not seeking re-election. Ocala Star-Banner.

Name change now official: The Ocali Charter Middle School has officially changed its former namesake on its state paperwork. The change happens three years after the school, which was officially named Francis Marion Charter School, split from its former partner, the Francis Marion Military Academy. Ocala Star-Banner.

Schools sued: A now-closed St. Lucie County private school, Barnabas Christian Academy, is being sued for nearly $2 million in rent by its landlord in a Port St. Lucie shopping center. The school was evicted March 1 after it fell $132,000 behind in its rent. The suit is asking for the rent through the term of the lease, which expires Aug. 20, 2023. TCPalm. Plato Academy Schools is being sued after ending a contract with its service provider, Superior Schools. Superior says the contract calls for a 60-day notice of termination. It got seven. Florida Politics.

Teacher loses license: Stephen Donohoe, a former teacher and basketball coach at Palm Bay Magnet High School in Brevard County, has his teaching certificate permanently revoked by the Florida Department of Education for inappropriately touching a student during the 2015-2016 basketball season. Brevard Times.

Teacher’s firing proposed: Sarasota County school Superintendent Todd Bowden is recommending that the school board fire a teacher who was involved in a fight with a student last year. John Russo, a social studies teacher and athletic director at Brookside Middle School, has been on administrative leave since the incident in February 2018. A district investigation concluded that the contact between Russo and a 14-year-old student was “unnecessary and inappropriate.” The board will consider the recommendation May 12. WTSP. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Warning for teacher: A Hernando County teacher has been warned by district administrators about the tone she uses with her students. Parents had complained that Pine Grove Elementary School teacher Carmela Duncan bullied and verbally abused her kindergarten students. Parents of one student planted a recording device in their daughter’s hair to record her, and after it was posted online more than 1,500 people signed a petition calling for Duncan’s firing. The district investigated, but said the audio was a violation of board policy and refused to review it as part of the query. Instead, district officials issued Duncan the warning. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: Lawmakers cannot make teachers or anyone else carry guns, but if we learn anything from the recent Columbine retrospective, it should be that prohibiting self-defense via gun can be a matter of life and death. Lakeland Ledger. Changing superintendents is tough on a school district, especially in the short term, says a former Indian River County school chief. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. More than 335,000 Pinellas County voters supported the last renewal of the special school property tax, which won 76 percent of the vote. Now the Legislature wants to usurp our wishes and give our tax dollars to charter schools. Beth Rawlins, Tampa Bay Times. Pinecrest Academy has one K-8 charter school in Lake County, is opening another in August and is reportedly considering starting a high school. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Molly Smith, a junior at Montverde Academy in Lake County, wins a National Scholastic Gold Medal for Dramatic Writing in March for her play, God Bless America, from the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers. She competed against 340,000 students nationwide. Daily Commercial. Students from three Sarasota County schools — two from Suncoast Polytechnical High School and one from Brookside Middle School — will compete in the 2019 Vex Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday through April 30. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Two Lake County robotics team are also in the competition. Orlando Sentinel. The Pinellas County School District has begun using environmentally friendly food trays made from Ohio prairie grass and Florida sugarcane. WTVT.