Arming teachers questions, superintendent retiring, absenteeism, shortages and more

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Questions on arming teachers: Teachers are beginning to pepper the state with questions about carrying guns in schools through a Twitter campaign initiated by the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. Among them: Can they carry their own guns? Can they bring extra ammunition? The FEA has been adamantly opposed to arming teachers, and started the barrage after a state lawmaker suggested that teachers could be held criminally liable if they don’t protect students in a situation like the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Gradebook. About 360 Clay County school employees, first responders and community mental health workers have a simulated exercise on responding to a mass shooting. Florida Times-Union.

Superintendent retiring: Jeff Eakins, superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District the past four years, tells board members he is retiring on June 30, 2020. Eakins, 54, has worked as a county teacher and administrator for about 30 years, but says he and his wife Peggy want to be closer to family in Ohio. Eakins says he’s leaving the district with better finances, fewer F-rated schools, a higher graduation rate and money for school replacement and repairs after voters approved a hike in the sales tax. Gradebook. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS. WUSF.

Chronic absenteeism: More than 11 percent of Florida students were considered chronic absentees during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education. That’s 360,722 students missing 21 days or more in that school year. The highest rates — all more than twice the state average — were in Liberty, Taylor, Putnam, Calhoun, Jefferson and Bradford counties. The lowest rates, at 6 to 7 percent, were in Collier, Sarasota, St. Johns, Brevard and Palm Beach. Florida Phoenix.

Teacher shortage: The Duval County School District is facing what officials call a “critical” teacher shortage. Even after hiring 145 teachers last week, the district needs 400 more before schools resume in August. Eighty percent of the district’s 165 schools have openings, with science, math, English and England-as-a-second-language in special demand. Florida Times-Union.

Health insurance costs: Health insurance costs are skyrocketing for the Marion County School District. Florida Blue, the district’s insurance provider, estimates that the district’s premium will go up by nearly 20 percent for 2020. That would boost the district’s premium by $8.4 million, to $51.35 million, if the same plans with no changes are offered to the 6,000 fulltime employees and 1,000 part-timers. The school board will consider its options in two weeks. Ocala Star-Banner.

Sales tax hike hearing: The Jacksonville City County is holding a public hearing today on the Duval County School District’s request for a special election in November to increase the sales tax by a half cent so aging schools can be replaced or repaired. The mayor and some council members oppose a special election, saying it will cost too much and have low turnout. School board members argue that they’re wasting money now on temporary repairs. WJCT. WJXT.

Appointing superintendents: Okaloosa County School Board members listen to a pitch to switch from electing superintendents to appointing them. The group Yes for Okaloosa Schools is lobbying for the change to improve accountability and maintain local autonomy. In January, superintendent Mary Beth Jackson was suspended for her handling of child abuse accusations, and her fate is in the hands of the Florida Senate. School board member Diane Kelly said Okaloosa is a A-rated district, and that most districts only switch to appointed superintendents because the quality of education is declining. Board members promised to revisit the topic at a future meeting. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Reading success: The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a focused effort by the Manatee County School District and other organizations to get students reading at their grade level or above, is starting to show some signs of success. Fifty-one percent of the county’s 3rd-graders are now leading at grade level or above, as measured by state testing. That’s still 7 percentage points below the state average, but a gain of 2 percentage points from last year. Bradenton Herald.

District buying building: The Martin County School Board is expected to approve a final $250,000 deposit to buy the old Stuart News building. The $7.9 million sale should be completed later this summer. The district will spend another $3.5 million to convert the newspaper building into its administrative offices, and officials hope to move in later this year. TCPalm.

Schools recall chicken: About 190,000 pounds of chicken fritters that were shipped to schools in Florida and 28 other states are recalled by Tyson Foods because they may be contaminated with pieces of hard plastic. CNN.

Bus idling questioned: The Santa Rosa County parent of a special-needs student is questioning a state rule that limits the amount of time school buses may idle. The bus company hired by the district limits idling to 5 minutes or less, while the state rule limits “unnecessary” idling. The student has body temperature regulation issues, and her mother says having her daughter sit on a bus without air-conditioning puts her at risk. “How is a child being strapped into a five-point harness on a hot bus in Florida any different than leaving a child strapped in a non-running vehicle?” asks Brittany Wissing. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Details of a complaint: The chief operating officer of the Sarasota County School District sent 831 text messages to his administrative assistant in the course of a year, including serenades at 1 a.m., kissy face emojis, suggestive jokes and vows of love. Cheraina Bonner reported Jeff Maultsby’s behavior to Superintendent Todd Bowden, who allegedly took no action for six weeks. Bonner has filed complaints against both men. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher arrested: A Bay County teacher has been arrested after police say she stabbed her husband multiple times in the back, chest and arms during a domestic dispute in their Panama City Beach home. Kristy Linton Williams, 43, who works at Hutchison Beach Elementary, has been suspended with pay. Her husband is expected to recover. Panama City News Herald.

Teacher faces suspension: A Broward County math teacher faces a one-day suspension after several female students say he gave them unwanted “full frontal” hugs. Karleef Jamel Kebreau, 42, is also accused of making inappropriate comments to female students at Miramar High School. Kebreau denies the charges and says he will appeal to a state judge if the school board approves the suspension at today’s meeting. Sun Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: It’s not easy to track students so accurate graduation statistics can be kept. But sometimes a single student can be the difference between an A and a B grade for a school that year, which would mean less funding from the state. Jeff Charbonnet, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Fourteen therapy dogs are honored with their pictures in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School yearbook. Sun Sentinel. A Palm Beach County program recruits senior citizens to volunteer at the Orchard View Elementary School in Delray Beach. Sun Sentinel.