Proof of courses, district paying ransom, VAM ratings, grade-changing and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Proof of courses: The Florida Board of Education has adopted a rule that requires all school districts to inform it what courses they’ll offer to meet the state law mandating instruction on more than 20 subjects, and even who teaches them and how they’re being taught. The change was prompted after a Palm Beach County high school principal told a parent last summer that the school didn’t have lessons about the Holocaust because “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.” A state representative says she will file a bill for the legislative session that would withhold a superintendent’s salary if his or her district doesn’t follow the law that requires teaching students about the Holocaust, black history, human trafficking and more. Gradebook. Florida Times-Union.

District paying ransom: The Wakulla County School District will pay a ransom to restore critical data that was frozen two weeks ago by hackers. The school board voted last week to follow the recommendation of Coveware, its insurance company, to pay the ransom demanded to regain access to the computer system that manages bus routing, food service and the library for the district. “We have the decryption code and we are in recovery,” said Superintendent Robert Pearce. “It’s working out.” Pearce would not disclose how much the district agreed to pay the hackers. Other U.S. school districts in the same situation have also paid. Tallahassee Democrat.

VAM ratings: The formulaic value-added model of rating teachers has been widely criticized and is no longer required by the state in evaluations. But it’s still being used to determine which teachers may work at schools that are in the state’s turnaround process. Its use, and the timing of the VAM scores being released by the state in August shortly after schools open, are forcing schools to move some highly effective teachers and causing disruptions in dozens of schools that have received grades of D or F from the state. “VAM matters in the turnaround world more than anything else, which of course you’re dealing with the most vulnerable kids, which creates the most chaos,” says Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend. Tampa Bay Times.

Grade-changing investigation: A Santa Rosa County assistant principal may be fired after an investigation determined that she changed her daughter’s grades to improve her class standing. Tori Baker changed the grades for three nine-week periods in the last school year, moving her daughter from seventh in her class to second, the inquiry revealed. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick is recommending to the school board that she be fired, and that principal Danny Brothers be suspended for 10 days because he knew about it and did nothing to stop it. Pensacola News Journal.

E-STEM school plans: The Lake County School District is planning to build the state’s first school that integrates environmental lessons with science, technology, engineering and math into the everyday curriculum. The $33 million K-8 school, being called an E-STEM school, would be built in the south part of the country at the border with Osceola, Polk and Orange counties for up to 800 students, and open in the fall of 2021. Daily Commercial.

Schools, medical collaboration: The Flagler County School District would partner with the University of North Florida and others to create a classroom-to-career pipeline for students interested in health careers. The proposal, initiated by UNF, would funnel students from Flagler Palm Coast High School’s medical program to Daytona State College for a nursing degree or to UNF’s satellite in Palm Coast for a four-year degree, and then to AdventHealth Palm Coast for a job. The request now goes to the university system’s board of governors in October. If it’s approved, the Legislature will consider it in the session that begins Jan. 14. Flagler Live.

Student climate strike: Students across the state ditched classes Friday to join in a global climate strike to demand that world leaders take action on climate change. “It’s not cutting class if I’m doing it for the planet,” said 14-year-old Jessica Cao, who joined the protest in Tallahassee. “It’s super-important to acknowledge there’s a crisis right now. I don’t think the government is listening.” Associated Press. Miami Herald. WLRN. Florida Times-Union. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Records problems: Officials from the company that installed a new student management system for the Orange County School District say they “believe” they’ll have the problems with it fixed before college applications are due next month. Students have discovered their transcripts and class rankings are wrong because of a problem in transferring data from the old system to the new one installed by Skyward, which signed a three-year, $14 million contract with the district. Both are required in most college applications. Orlando Sentinel.

District budgets: The Lake County School Board approves a $703 million budget that doesn’t include money for raises even as negotiations between the district and its unions are ongoing. Superintendent Diane Kornegay says the district is trying to find money for raises without cutting staff, programs or services. Daily Commercial. A state audit reveals that six Santa Rosa County schools did not have the required 900 hours of instructional time during the 2017-2018 school year. So the state withheld about $700,000 in funds the district would have received for the current school year. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said the loss of money led to cuts in technology programs, such as replacing old computers, and to a special STEAM program. Pensacola News Journal. Republican-dominated counties across the state are considering increasing local taxes for schools. Florida Daily.

Report card changes: Some Leon County schools have announced that students’ report cards will be available only online, leading to speculation that the district will soon stop issuing paper report cards. While district officials say posting grades online is faster, cheaper and easier, no decision has been made about doing it for all schools. The first report cards will be issued Oct. 23. Tallahassee Democrat.

Security in schools: The Lee County School District and the sheriff’s office present a program for parents explaining how parents can detect and help prevent school threats, and how schools prepare for them. Fort Myers News-Press.

Contract negotiations: Sarasota County teachers would lose job protections under changes Superintendent Todd Bowden wants to make in the contract between the district and the union. Bowden is proposing to bring the contract in line with state law that limits the restrictions placed on administrators when deciding not to renew a teacher’s contract. He says the process leading to dismissal can last three years. Union president Barry Durbin dismissed the proposal. Bowden also suggests raises will be slight, while Durbin says the union will probably ask for 5 percent. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Negotiations have resumed between the Charlotte County School District and the teachers union. One focus of talks will be how to resolve an error by the district that resulted in 91 teachers being overpaid a total of about $300,000. Charlotte Sun.

Charter school takeover: A state administrative judge is expected to rule by the end of the month whether the Manatee County School District acted properly in seizing control of the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school. Both sides presented final arguments to the judge last week. The district argued that the school has gone into debt, that former leader Eddie Hundley benefited from that out-of-control spending, and that the school continues to hide financial documents. An attorney for the school says the district violated the school’s due process rights, unfairly withheld money from the school and didn’t prove the school posed a threat to the health, safety or welfare of students. Bradenton Herald.

District rezonings: About 600 Pasco County students would have to change schools if the school board approves rezoning changes to fill the newly renovated Cypress Creek Middle-High School in the fall of 2020. The students who would be affected live in the Seven Oaks subdivision of Wesley Chapel, and have attended John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High. Gradebook.

School enrollment: Three teachers and an assistant principal are being moved from Lake Alfred Polytech after enrollment at the STEM magnet middle school dropped by 36 students. Parents and other teachers fear the move will affect the progress the Polk County school has made. In 2015 it was an F school, then improved to a D for two years and has received a C in each of the past two years. Lakeland Ledger.

No instruments for some: Eighteen Broward County schools won’t be getting band instruments through the $800 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2014 because their schools don’t have music programs. Eight of them are elementary schools where at least 94 percent of the students live in poverty. “That’s really sad. They need quality arts programs, especially for children in low socioeconomic schools who have less exposure to the arts,” says retired principal Rebecca Dahl. District officials say schools that add music programs will see funding for instruments restored. Sun Sentinel.

Vaping regulation: A movement to regulate vaping to combat the growing epidemic among students has hit a roadblock: No state agency appears to be responsible for regulating vaping products that contain CBD, an active ingredient in cannabis that is used to treat a variety of medical conditions. Tampa Bay Times.

School programs: The Palm Beach School for Autism has expanded its culinary and hospitality programs. The school added a 10,000-square-foot kitchen extension, a classroom and a mock hotel room to train students for jobs in the hospitality industry. Sun Sentinel. Funding is running out for a Brevard County program that pairs more than two-dozen gifted students with abandoned cats and dogs to help socialize them. Canine Companions was started in 2003 by Quest Elementary gifted student teacher Virginia Hamilton. Florida Today.

Superintendent search: Fewer than 2,000 people have responded to a survey to tell the Hillsborough County School District what characteristics they want in a new superintendent. So the survey deadline was extended to this morning. The school board is expected to discuss the results Oct. 2 with the consultants helping with the search. Applications for the job will be taken through Dec. 11, and the board hopes to choose its top candidate by late January. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: Mariandl Hufford is installed as the first woman head of school in the 81-year history of the Miami Country Day School. She replaces James Connor, who has been the interim head of school since John Davies retired in 2018. Miami Herald.

School calendar: Palm Beach County school officials want to designate the next general election primary day, Aug. 18, 2020, as a day off school. The school board is expected to finalize the 2019-2020 school year calendar this week. Sun Sentinel.

Player collapses: A football player at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg collapsed during Friday’s game and is now on life support at a hospital. Coach Jeremy Frioud said Jacquez Welch has severe bleeding in the brain from a pre-existing condition. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Officials officiate: High school football referees in Miami-Dade County reach an agreement about pay with the school district in time to officiate last weekend’s games. WQAM.

Officer suspended for arrest: An Orange County school resource officer is suspended for arresting two students, 6 and 8, on misdemeanor charges without getting approval from his supervisors. Dennis Turner made the arrests Thursday at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, an Orlando charter school, after the students acted up in class. WKMG.

School threats: A 14-year-old Hernando County student is arrested and accused of threatening to shoot someone at the Challenger K-8 school in Spring Hill. Tampa Bay Times. A Palm Beach County student faces charges after a loaded gun was found in his backpack at Santaluces High School in Lantana, according to police. Palm Beach Post. A 14-year-old Manatee County student is arrested after being accused of bringing a gun to the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A 14-year-old student at Lake Mary High School in Seminole County is arrested after a disassembled handgun is reportedly found in his backpack. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. Several Clay County students were injured during a stampede to exit the Oakleaf High School homecoming football game against Ed White High after a false report of gunfire caused a panic. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: With about 130,000 students, almost 200 schools, nearly 12,000 employees and a multibillion dollar budget, the job as superintendent of the Duval County School District is a massive one that requires the most competent and experienced CEO possible, not the most political one. Florida Times-Union. Impact fees for Alachua County schools are long overdue. Gainesville Sun. If you are among those who have claimed a religious exemption to avoid getting your child a state-mandated vaccine as part of attending school, please do more research and reconsider. Before the government forces your hand. Lakeland Ledger. Because of the limited or nonexistent vocational programs offered in the Alachua County School District, coupled with the problems caused by program access, many kids struggle to connect what happens in school daily to future success. Diyonne McGraw, Gainesville Sun. Results from the teacher certification exams show that whatever Florida is doing to recruit new teachers, it isn’t working. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Two Sarasota County students complete a 6,000-mile trip to Canada in a 34-year-old car they retrofitted to run on discarded food grease. Brian Lutton and Andrew Dowdell, both 17, attend the Out-of-Door Academy in Sarasota and want to become automotive engineers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tinkergarten classes, in which children learn through play, are becoming increasingly popular in southwest Florida. WINK. Seventeen Florida school districts are named Florida Healthy School Districts for 2019-2021 by the Florida Partnership for Healthy Schools. Santa Rosa Press Gazette.

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