Testing exemption, school police, bonuses lawsuit settlement, vaping bill and more

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Testing exemption: Florida students who are learning the English language would no longer have to pass a 10th-grade language arts test to qualify for graduation under a bill that was the idea of students at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County. The sponsor, state Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, says, “One test shouldn’t determine the rest of your life.” Gradebook. Early education and school security have emerged as top priorities for lawmakers in the 2020 legislative session. What else will draw legislators’ attention? Gradebook.

Security in schools: Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods is calling on the Marion County School Board to withdraw its police department designation, saying the board’s mission is education and not law enforcement. Woods signed off on the designation last spring after being assured that it was sought only so the district could apply for grants and receive unredacted law enforcement reports. But since then the district has advertised several police department positions and created uniforms and badges. Woods says the move toward a district department “needs to stop. … I know other school districts are doing it and it may be their only options. To me, it’s wrong.” Several board members agree the district may be sending the wrong message with its actions. Ocala Star-Banner. Many threats reported through the state’s new app, Fortify Florida, are bogus and unnecessarily waste the time of officers and disrupt school days, says Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning, who is the president of the state superintendents association. Gradebook.

Best and Brightest settlement: The Florida Department of Education and the state’s largest teachers union ask a federal judge to approve a $15.5 million settlement resolving a lawsuit against the state’s teacher bonuses program. The suit, brought by the Florida Education Association, alleges that the Best and Brightest educator bonus program discriminated against veteran and minority teachers by making college entrance exams part of the eligibility. The money would go to those teachers who received “highly effective” ratings but haven’t received bonuses since the program started in 2015. News Service of Florida.

Congress takes on vaping: Two U.S. senators have filed a bill in Congress that would put new restrictions on the e-cigarette industry. The bill proposed by Republican Mitt Romney of Utah and Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon would ban flavoring, impose the same taxes on e-cigarettes that are on tobacco and push the Department of Health and Human Services to begin an education campaign about the risks. Politico Florida.

Florida ranked second: Florida is ranked second only to Arizona on the American Legislative Exchange Council’s report card on education. No A grades were given by the council, which focused on school choice options as well as student achievement. Florida received a B-plus, with a grade point average of 3.4, and was one of just nine states to receive a B. Education Dive.

Contract negotiations: The Orange County School District is offering pay raises of $1,625 or $2,025 for most teachers and a bonus of $1,250 in the latest contract negotiations, but hasn’t backed off proposed increases in health insurance costs. Union officials countered with a demand for raises of $3,000 for teachers rated highly effective, $2,400 for effective ones and $800 for all others. In July, teachers voted against the district’s offer, prompting the return to negotiations. Orlando Sentinel.

Education budgeting: The Florida Department of Education makes its pitch for a $22.2 billion K-12 budget request to the House Pre-K12 Appropriations Subcommittee. That’s about $419 million more than last year’s spending, and would prioritize mental health services, early learning and teacher recruitment and retention. Tallahassee Democrat. WFLA. The Polk County School Board approves a $1.8 billion budget that includes no raises for employees. Board member Sarah Fortney was the lone dissenting vote, saying: “I cannot vote for this budget because we have a staffing plan that’s in here that I do not agree with. We have overcrowded classrooms, no steps, no raise for any of our employees, an increase in insurance costs, no decrease in workload … The overcrowded classrooms — we’re at a tipping point right here.” Lakeland Ledger.

School makeup days: The Marion County School District is considering Oct. 15 as one of two makeup days for time missed when Hurricane Dorian threatened Florida. It’s not official yet, and a second day is still being discussed. Ocala Star-Banner.

Scientists in schools: The University of Florida is launching a program designed to put a scientist in every Florida school. The program, which begins in Escambia, Alachua, Seminole, Lee and Palm Beach schools, puts a scientist with a teacher to develop lesson plans and help boost the number of students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math careers. WMFE.

New school opens: The new Chisholm Elementary School in New Smyrna Beach opened this week after a year of construction. It includes a new administration building, media center, cafeteria and a two-story classroom building, as well as new security features and classroom furniture. The cost of the project was $20.8 million. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

New school programs: Two military schools in Florida are among 44 nationwide chosen to participate in an Army JROTC pilot program that uses technology to enhance learning. Students at Mariner High School in Lee County and the Mariner and Sarasota Military Academy have access to a portal for textbooks and keeping track of lessons, and have Blackberry-like clickers to answer questions during class that allow instant feedback. Fort Myers News-Press.

Climate strike absences: Miami-Dade and Broward students who attend the Miami Youth Strike for climate change today outside Miami Beach City Hall will not get excused absences, district officials say. And one Broward student has been suspended for handing out flyers about the strike at his school. The nationwide strike is part of the Global Climate Strike to bring attention to the impacts of climate change. Miami Herald. Levi Draheim, a  12-year-old Brevard County student from Satellite Beach, joined climate change activists in demonstrations and appearances this week in Washington. Florida Today.

Superintendent evaluation: Here’s how the seven members of the Palm Beach County School Board graded Superintendent Donald Fennoy in every category on his first evaluation since taking the job 18 month ago. Overall, Fennoy was judged to be “highly effective.” Palm Beach Post.

School water problem: A boil water notice was issued for several buildings at Gifford Middle School in Indian River County after a break in an underground water line was detected. TCPalm.

Teacher convicted for drug sales: A former Hendry County teacher has been found guilty of selling illegal drugs to two students. Maria Otilia Rivera, 37, a former teacher at Clewiston Middle School, faces up to 35 years in prison. Deputies said she sold drugs to two girls, 12 and 14, and even showed them how to use the drugs. WINK. WKMG. Miami Herald. Fort Myers News-Press.

School guardian arrested: A school guardian for the Pinellas County School District was arrested and charged with false verification of ownership for allegedly pawning the handgun, ammunition and body armor he was issued by the sheriff’s office. Erick Russell, 37, was hired as a school guardian in April and completed training in May. He was fired after his Sept. 5 arrest on charges of domestic battery and false imprisonment. Tampa Bay Times.

Officer under investigation: An Orange County school resource officer is under investigation for arresting two students, 6 and 8, on misdemeanor charges without getting approval from his supervisors. The 8-year-old was processed at a juvenile jail, and the 6-year-old was released before processing. Police won’t say what school officer Dennis Turner made the arrests at, or what the charges were. Orlando Sentinel.

Students arrested: A 14-year-old Palm Beach County student is arrested and accused of threatening two West Palm Beach schools. Officers say the boy posted a photo of a gun on Snapchat, with a caption that threatened to “blow up” Bak Middle School of the Arts and Roosevelt Elementary. He told officers the threats were hoaxes. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. A 13-year-old Monroe County student is arrested and accused of threatening to shoot a teacher at Marathon Middle School. Miami Herald. A 15-year-old student at Niceville High School in Okaloosa County is arrested and accused of threatening to shoot a classmate. WEAR.

School’s parents unhappy: Parents of students at Parkside Elementary School in Collier County say they have yet to hear from the school or the school district about the case of a teacher arrested in March for allegedly sexually molesting more than 20 children as young as 6 years old. A district spokesman said, “The district and staff made multiple efforts to reach out to and communicate with Parkside parents and the community as best as possible in light of the ongoing criminal investigation.” Naples Daily News.

Opinions on schools: The Volusia and Flagler school boards are rightly taking deliberate, thoughtful approaches to finding new superintendents. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: An 11-year-old Sarasota County opera singer finished in the top 10 in the latest America’s Got Talent competition. Judges called Emanne Beasha’s performance this week “otherworldly.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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