Arming teachers sentiment, year past and year ahead, legislative bills, extra pay for employees and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Arming teachers: Fifty percent of Florida residents do not support arming teachers in schools, while about 42 percent back the idea and 8 percent are undecided, according to a poll from the St. Leo University Polling Institute. More than 31 percent of those opposing the arming of teacher say they are strongly against it, while about 19 percent describe themselves as somewhat against it. Director Frank Orlando said the poll shows solid support for arming teachers in the Panhandle, rural areas and north Florida except Duval County, and less support in south Florida. WUSF. Florida Daily.

Year ahead, year past: Will 2020 be the year that Florida finally will allow standardized testing in Spanish for its 265,000 students who are English language-learners? The proposal is not a new one, but this year it’s getting some support from prominent Republican legislators. Gradebook. The top Florida education stories from 2019. Florida Phoenix. Tampa Bay Times. WJXT. Education stories to watch this year in the nation’s biggest school districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange and Hillsborough. The 74. Two education court cases are among the most anticipated legal decisions in the state in 2020. Law.com. The year in review in the Pinellas, Alachua and Escambia school districts. Tampa Bay Newspapers. Gainesville Sun. Pensacola News Journal. Looking at 2019 as a prologue to 2020. Education Dive. Hernando County school Superintendent John Stratton talks about his goals for the new year. Tampa Bay Times.  The Lee County School District’s 2020 agenda. Fort Myers News-Press.

Legislative bills: The use of restraints on students who are involuntarily committed under the state’s Baker Act would be limited if a proposed bill is approved by the Legislature. H.B. 1027, filed by state Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, would amend the law by adding the clause, “An officer transporting a minor under this subparagraph shall restrain the minor in the least restrictive manner necessary under the circumstances.” More than 36,000 juveniles were taken into custody under the Baker Act during the 2017-2018 fiscal year, according to a state report. Florida Politics. State Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, has filed a bill that would make the Duval County superintendent’s job an elected one with a two-term limit. If it’s approved, it would go before Duval voters in November. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. Five education bills for the 2020 legislative session that could most directly affect students and teachers. Florida Today. Legislative leaders say using all the money generated by the Florida Lottery to boost teacher pay is something that could be considered. The Lottery generates about $1 billion a year in revenue, which is about what Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to spend to boost starting teacher salaries and issue bonuses. Gradebook.

Extra pay for employees: The Broward County School District paid $26 million to employees to work extra jobs during the 2018-2019 school year, according to records. While school administrators aren’t eligible for overtime, 13 assistant principals  worked second assignments in their schools to make at least $10,000 more, and more than 110 others earned $1,000 extra or more. District records also showed that 13 teachers listed as substitutes made more than $50,000 by also teaching adult education students. While the extra assignment policy is criticized as short-changing regular teachers and rewarding administrators, district officials say it saves money. Sun Sentinel.

Vaping waste at schools: The health implications for students who vape aren’t the only problems the use of e-cigarettes presents schools. Disposing of the waste left behind after students vape is a relatively new but increasingly growing environmental concern for school officials. The vaping pens and used pods are considered hazardous waste and, like electronics, should be taken to recycling centers, say experts. Kaiser News.

Teacher shortage: Polk County school officials say the recruitment of about two-dozen teachers from Puerto Rico five years ago has paid off for a district that, like others, is chronically short of teachers. “It makes me extremely proud to know that the vision was carried out successfully,” said Annissa Wilfalk, the district’s recruiting director. “Aside from their wealth of teaching experience, our Puerto Rican teachers add to the body of cultural experiences across the district. That is to the benefit of all students, regardless of race, color, language or ethnicity. All of the Puerto Rican teachers we recruited are fully bilingual. This has been an additional asset to the schools where they went to work.” Lakeland Ledger. The group of 23 students who went through the Barancik Foundation’s first Emerging Educator program are beginning to be hired into jobs in the Sarasota County School District. The program was started to combat the teacher shortage. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Rollins College’s “Pathways to Teaching” program, launched in August,  is helping 14 Orange County School District teaching assistants earn college degrees and become teachers for the district. Orlando Sentinel. The Volusia County School District still has 59 open teaching positions. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Back to school: Classes resume for most Florida school districts this week after the two-week-plus holiday vacation. WFTV. Mold has been discovered in 11 Head Start centers in Pinellas County, and about 800 students won’t return to those schools until at least Jan. 13 while the cleanup continues. The preschools are operated by the nonprofit Lutheran Services Florida. Gradebook. WTVT.

Hurricane aid: Another $29 million in hurricane recovery aid has been released to school districts, counties and cities by the state in the past week. About $3 million of that went to the Lee County School District. Florida Politics.

Mental health courses: Many Florida school districts will soon start providing five hours of mental health instruction to students, ranging from from suicide prevention to substance abuse, to meet a state requirement. Orlando Sentinel.

Preschool program growth: The Lee County School District is expanding the number of spaces available for preschool students at the James Stephens International Academy in Fort Myers. Two hundred additional students will attend next year, and the program is scheduled to expand by 200 more students every year through 2030. Those seats are available to students whose families can pay and those that can’t. Lee wants to improve its state ranking of 61st among the 67 districts in kindergarten preparedness. Fort Myers News-Press.

Military school program: Marion County school officials project that the creation of a military choice academy at the Marion Technical Institute will more than pay for itself. The decision to create the program for the 185 cadets displaced when the Marion Military Academy closed last month will cost the district $256,400 for the second semester, but bring in $551,000 in per-student funding from the state. The estimated costs including hiring a dean, six teachers for core subjects, a seventh teacher for reading remediation and the cost of running a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. Ocala Star-Banner.

New charter schools: Pinecrest Academy, a K-8 charter school that will specialize in STEM subjects, and offer special programs in performing and fine arts, opens next fall in Viera, in Brevard County. Viera Voice. The Royal Palm Beach Village Council has approved plans for a charter school that would eventually incorporate a K-8 Somerset Academy and a SLAM Academy high school emphasizing sports leadership and management. Total enrollment is projected at 1,500. Town-Crier.

Educators honored: Lee Ann Jackson of Hilliard Elementary School has been named the Nassau County School District’s principal of the year, and Melissa Johnson of Callahan Elementary School was named the top assistant principal. Nassau County Record.

Notable deaths: Earl Lennard, the Hillsborough County School District’s superintendent from 1996 to 2005, has died at the age of 77. His tenure was marked by the rapid growth of the district, and a year after he retired the school board voted to name a high school in Ruskin after him. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS. Vivian James, a 49-year-old chemistry teacher at Atlantic Coast High School, was the victim of a homicide last month at her Duval County home. The sheriff’s office has not released a cause of death, a motive or other details. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. Bryce Gowdy, a 17-year-old senior at Deerfield Beach High School, died Dec. 30 when he was hit by a train. His death was ruled a suicide. He was just days away from starting college at Georgia Tech University on a football scholarship. He and his family were homeless, and they said he was depressed that he was leaving them in an unstable situation. Sun Sentinel.

Medical marijuana in schools: The Monroe County School Board has approved a policy to allow students to receive medical marijuana treatments in schools. A caregiver or parent will have to bring the drug to school, administer it, then take the drug from the school. No school staff members will be permitted to touch the drug. Key West Citizen.

School elections: Pasco County School Board member Alison Crumbley has announced that she will seek re-election this year. She was first elected in 2010. So far, she has drawn no competition. Gradebook. Three Lee County School Board seats are up for election this year, and each of the incumbents has drawn opposition. Fort Myers News-Press. A fourth candidate is running to replace retiring incumbent Nancy Stacy in the District 1 seat on the Marion County School Board.  Lori Conrad, a 4th-grade teacher at Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary, will compete against Allison Campbell, Shelia Arnett and David Hutto. Ocala Star-Banner. Leon County school Superintendent Rocky Hanna has filed to run for re-election. He’s the only candidate so far. WTXL.

School board sued: Two former administrators in Sarasota County schools are suing the school board, alleging they were wrongly retaliated against and then dismissed. Janel Dorn, the former principal at Sarasota Middle School, says she was harassed, demoted, reassigned and then fired for opposing the reinstatement of a suicidal employee in 2018. The suit further claims that her husband, Roger Dorn, an assistant principal at Riverview High, was a victim of retaliation. Both were fired in June. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School property suit: A circuit judge is expected to rule soon whether the Franklin County School District has to honor a 2014 agreement to sell a 3.66-acre site of a former school to a housing developer. The issue has been dragging in the courts for seven years. It got complicated because the city of Apalachicola owned a portion of the land before deeding it back to the school district. Apalachicola Times.

Teacher gets suspension: The former football coach at Oviedo High School has been suspended for three days by the Seminole County School District for failing to prevent players from inappropriately touching each other in the locker room. Matt Dixon was fired as the coach after the allegations were disclosed in November but is still at the school as a physical education teacher. Spectrum News 13.

Employees and the law: A Broward County assistant principal has been arrested and accused of stalking the mother of their child. Prosecutors say Robert John Herzog, 36, an assistant principal at Cooper City High School, violated a court restraining order by continuing to call and text the mother. The school district is also investigating. Sun Sentinel. A former Volusia County teacher who accused four high school football players of drugging and raping her in 2018 has been charged with giving false information to police and providing alcohol for minors. Brianna Walker, who was an athletic trainer at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, denies the allegations. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV. A Monroe County teacher has been arrested and charged with felony burglary and theft. Police said Ashlie Nan Hood, 40, an art teacher at the Horace O’Bryant School for pre-K through 8th grade in Key West, broke into her ex-husband’s home and stolen a cell phone that belongs to their son. Miami Herald. A Collier County middle school math teacher has been arrested and accused of deliberately striking two men with his car after an argument outside a Naples restaurant last month. Christopher Lee, 35, has been charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Naples Daily News.

Opinions on schools: More than 100 mentally ill Florida students have threatened to kill or shoot up a school in just a year and a half. On behalf of anxious teachers, students, families and staff, we respectfully ask the governor and legislators: What’s the plan? Sun Sentinel. Making Florida schools safe needs to be the top priority for the Legislature. Period. Daytona Beach News-Journal. When it opens its annual 60-day session Jan. 14, the Florida Legislature needs to continue to make school security and mental health treatment top priorities. Tampa Bay Times. If Gov. Ron DeSantis is serious about improving civics education, he needs to offer up a more comprehensive curriculum that will help Florida’s high school students better understand the way local, state and federal governments operate. He should also make passing a proposed civics test a graduation requirement, and provide state money for the initiative. Palm Beach Post. It is time to end Florida’s experiment with teacher bonuses. The results are in: It’s not helping the state’s children learn any better. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Forcing students who don’t yet speak sufficient English to take difficult assessment tests that native speakers have a hard time passing is counterproductive, a foolish enterprise the Florida Legislature can easily fix. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. The two most appalling stories about standardized testing in schools in the 2010s came from Florida. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post. Raising teacher pay is just a first step in what’s needed for Impact Florida’s “Five Conditions That Support Great Teaching.” Mandy Clark, Tallahassee Democrat. “That’s just the way it is” is an unacceptable excuse for the Alachua County School District’s achievement gap. James F. Lawrence, Gainesville Sun. Advocates for public schools have a choice. They can work to revive a long-lost past when teachers ruled and were respected, or they continue to watch students, teachers and resources flee their school systems. Lakeland Ledger. No, the Mason Classical Academy in Naples did not “soar to No. 1” after dropping the Common Core standards. PolitiFact Florida. While Florida’s high school physics teachers are smart and tough, they also have to be great salespeople for their subject because in most of the state, science and engineering is not in the cultural DNA. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Multi-vendor education is here to stay. Whether disadvantaged students will be able to participate in it is a question we should address in the decade ahead. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Communities across the state and nation are pitching in to pay off school lunch debts of students. TCPalmFlorida Today. Orlando Sentinel. Lakeland Ledger. A 12-year-old Hillsborough County student has designed a video game for visually impaired children. Rome Nardin, a 6th-grader at Navigator Academy of Leadership, designed the game “Please Listen,” which instructs players on how to move through obstacle courses. Gradebook. Students at Citrus Springs Middle School in Citrus County are designing video games with the help of a $48,000 grant from Jimmie Johnson Foundation. Citrus County Chronicle. A Duval County high school senior, Brooke Pavek of the Paxon School for Advanced Studies, is being recognized by national publications for her history-themed TikTok videos. Florida Times-Union. More than 100 Collier County students sent postcards that were launched into outer space by the Blue Origin space flight company last month, then delivered back to them. Naples Daily News. Pahokee, a documentary about the senior years of four students at Pahokee Jr./Sr. High School, has been released. Palm Beach Post. The Charlotte High School Honor Society is holding a 5K run next week to benefit the 30 or so homeless students at the school. Charlotte Sun. Fifty-six Santa Rosa County teachers have received $1,000 grants from the Santa Rosa Education Foundation. Santa Rosa Press-Gazette. The Marion County District will open its new truck driving pad this week at Booster Stadium in Ocala. The $375,000 pad will be used to train drivers in the Marion Technical Institute’s commercial driver’s license program. Ocala Star-Banner.

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