Opioid lawsuit recruiting, teacher pay fight, teachers under attack, hairstyles and more

Jim Booth

Opioid lawsuit: The Miami-Dade County School District is recruiting other districts to join its pending lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of opioids. The suit was filed in south Florida Sept. 30, then transferred to a northern Ohio court and consolidated with other claims from school districts, states, counties and municipalities around the country. “Nobody likes being first,” said Miami-Dade board member Lawrence Feldman. “And now that [other school districts] don’t have to worry about doing all the paperwork, they can take what we have.” Among the targets of the lawsuit are Johnson & Johnson and Wal-Mart. The district is seeking compensation for the money and resources it’s had to use to treat overdoses and provide care for students and staff who are addicted to opioids. WLRN.

Few teachers back pay plan: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to boost teacher compensation is playing poorly with the very group it’s meant to help. His $900 million-plus budget proposals to raise the starting teacher salary to $47,500 and offer bonuses of up to $7,500 have been criticized as expected by the statewide teachers union, the Florida Education Association, but has also gotten little support from teachers. They don’t like that the plan doesn’t include a boost in pay for veteran teachers, and want more pay instead of the possibility of bonuses. And legislative leaders are questioning where the money will come from to pay for the plans. GateHouse. Spectrum News 13. Lakeland Ledger. Florida Politics.

Teachers under attack: Hundreds of teachers and other school employees in the Tampa Bay area have been attacked and injured by students in the past three years, according to reports. In Hillsborough County, 312 employees have been injured by students since August 2017. In Sarasota County it’s 237, Manatee 213, Pinellas 180 and Pasco 105. The injuries are driving up workers compensation claims and, teachers say, driving them out of the profession. WTSP.

Protecting hair choices in schools: Florida students who wear African-American hairstyles to school, such as dreadlocks, cornrows and braids, would be protected from recriminations under a bill filed for the legislative session. The bill, proposed by state Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, is called the Florida CROWN Act, an acronym for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. Bracy said it “is an essential part of a national movement to acknowledge the cultural and social manifestations of racial identity, and to uphold our shared values of equity and fairness.” California and New York are the only states to have such protections for students and others in workplaces. Orlando Sentinel.

Moment of silence: A bill filed in the Florida Senate requiring schools to offer students a moment of silence at the beginning of school days now has companion legislation in the House. Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, on Friday filed H.B. 737 to require teachers to offer the moment of silence, no less than one minute and no more than two. Teachers would not be allowed to offer suggestions on how students may use that moment. The legislative session begins Jan. 14. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Community school plan withdrawn: Sarasota County school officials have withdrawn their application for a community partnership school program. Assistant superintendent Laura Kingsley cited the unsettled superintendent situation as the reason for the decision. Todd Bowden recently resigned over his handling of a sexual harassment allegation. An acting superintendent has been named, but no timetable has been set for naming an interim or when the search for a new superintendent might start. “We are hoping that you understand our current situation and that you will consider supporting this opportunity with us in the future when we have hired our new superintendent,” Kingsley wrote in the letter to the University of Central Florida, which administers the program, and the proposed community partners. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School faces closing: Brentwood Elementary School in Jacksonville will be closed at the end of this school year, district officials said in a letter sent home to parents last week. Superintendent Diana Greene wrote that the district can’t afford to provide the resources the school needs to be successful, and that Brentwood students will be sent to North Shore Elementary School a mile and a half away. A community meeting to discuss the closure will be held Dec. 19. WJAX.

Math goals fall unmet: A project to increase the number of minority students taking calculus in Orange County schools had a less than 20 percent success rate this year, according to district officials. The Calculus Project began with 27 students, but just five are on track to graduate this spring with a calculus credit. “This is not a smooth run,” said James Lawson, the district’s minority achievement officer. “We did not follow it closely as we should have.” Adrian Mims, the Massachusetts educator who started the project and convinced Orange County to try it, said the district probably expanded the program too quickly. Orlando Sentinel.

Mental health help: About 13,000 students from six north Florida counties will benefit from a $3.5 million federal grant that will expand school mental health and substance-abuse prevention programs, hire at least three social workers and train teachers how to reduce learning disparities. Sixteen schools in Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison and Taylor counties are targeted by the 2019 School Climate Transformation Grant given to the Gadsden County School District and the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium, which is a nonprofit that helps schools in rural north Florida’s low-income areas, including those enrolling children of migrant workers. Tallahassee Democrat.

Fighting gangs in schools: The Polk County School Board recently approved spending $720,000 for seven deputies and a sergeant to continue the gang task force that started in 2015. School Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said the program, called GRIP for Gang Resistance Intervention Program, is important for the district and the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Grady Judd added: “I’ve seen these GRIP deputies work miracles. It goes from a youngster who is a gang member who doesn’t want to talk to us and, within a few weeks, is asking us to come to their birthday party or a special occasion in their lives. You can’t put a price on that.” Lakeland Ledger.

Junior Achievement expanding: The Junior Achievement curriculum known as 3DE is expanding into four Tampa Bay area high schools for the 2020-2021 school year. 3DE offers teachers special training in project-based learning so students can quickly see the results of what they’re doing, and puts corporations into high schools for support. Programs are being started at Chamberlain and Hillsborough high schools in Hillsborough County, and Dunedin and St. Petersburg high schools in Pinellas County. Gradebook.

Graduation gowns: Some Charlotte High School students are starting a petition to protest a district decision to have all students wear the same color graduation gown in 2020. Traditionally, girls wore gold and boys blue. Next year, everyone will wear blue. District spokesman Mike Riley said the change was made to promote unity and to give females a choice of wearing something other than white or off-white under the gold gowns, since anything else could be visible through the gowns. Charlotte Sun.

Suing to regain job: The Broward County sheriff who was suspended and then removed from office after the 2018 shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has filed a federal lawsuit to get his job back. Scott Israel was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year, and that decision was upheld in October by the Florida Senate. The Florida Supreme Court has also affirmed DeSantis’ decision, so Israel filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Florida. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald.

School sued: A private school in St. Petersburg is being sued by two families that allege it did nothing to protect their children from racial harassment and physical abuse. Officials at Admiral Farragut Academy say they investigated the complaints when they were made in 2018 and found both to be unsubstantiated. WTVT.

Ex-substitute convicted: A former Volusia County substitute teacher was found guilty by a jury last week of sexual battery on a 15-year-old who was a former student. David Lee Davis could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison on the charge of sexual battery on a person 12 or older but younger than 18. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher arrested: The chorus director at First Coast High School in Duval County has been arrested and accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with a former student. Christine Dennard, 32, is alleged to have had unlawful sexual activity with a victim who is 16 or 17 years old. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT.

Students and the law: A 16-year-old Palm Beach County student has been arrested and accused of taking a gun in his backpack on a school bus to William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Having the state’s worst achievement gap is a problem no one in Alachua County should tolerate any longer. The school board and district should be pressed to do their part, but the rest of us need to commit to providing all the help possible to ensure every student can succeed. Gainesville Sun. Dear business leaders: If you want your city (or state) to be a “talent capital,” you’ll need more great teachers and your students will have to learn science and math. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer should reconsider her decision to start the trial of accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz in January. And given the risks and emotional costs, State Attorney Mike Satz should reconsider the plea deal offered by Public Defender Howard Finkelstein to send Cruz to prison on 34 life sentences without parole. Sun Sentinel. How we pick our school superintendents is not as important as what they do. Don Gaetz, Northwest Florida Daily News. Sarasota County School Board member Shirley Brown seemed to defend a teacher’s sexual assault in an email, or at least soften them, and she also defended the administrators at the school, who may or may not have committed a felony based on state child abuse reporting laws. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Whether or not the Miami-Dade County School District ultimately establishes later class start times, a complicated and controversial move, the process to make that determination already looks like the right one. Miami Herald. Creating schooling opportunities untethered to residential zip code is one way to discourage the kind of systemic segregation reported recently in Long Island. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: A Broward County high school senior and her brother have designed a cup cover that they say will prevent drinks from being spiked at parties. Shirah Benarde, 17, a student at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, and her brother Michael, a 22-year-old student at Florida State University, have manufactured 4,000 “Night Caps” to sell at bars and music festivals. Sun Sentinel.

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