College mergers, panic alarms, scholarships, sales tax hike vote, pensions, pronouns and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

College consolidation: A revised bill that would merge New College and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida was approved Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee on a party line vote, and is now headed to a vote by the full House. The sponsor, state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, contends the cost of a degree at the two schools is much higher than the state average, and that bill will save money that can be used for other state priorities. Democrats said the bill was rushed, and pointed out that no cost analysis has been done that shows how much money would be saved. One critical hurdle for the bill, said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach: “The most important number is the number of Senate (bill) companions: zero.” News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFSU.

Panic alarms: The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education has approved a bill that would require all public schools in Florida, including charters, to install panic alarms that would instantly notify law enforcement agencies during an emergency. Florida’s Department of Education would consult with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create the specifications for the system and solicit bids. The bill, filed by state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, is called Alyssa’s Alert after Alyssa Alhadeff, who was among the 17 people killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. The next stop for the bill is the Senate Appropriations Committee. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. WFSU.

Scholarship expansion: Bills that increase the enrollment cap for the Family Empowerment Scholarship and align some of its provisions with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship were approved Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and the House Appropriations Committee. Roughly 126,000 economically disadvantaged students are enrolled in private K-12 schools under the two programs this year. S.B. 1220 also modifies requirements for getting and keeping teacher certificates as a way to ease the teacher shortage. The Senate bill and H.B. 7067 would increase the maximum enrollment growth on Family Empowerment Scholarships this fall from 7,000 to 28,000. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel.

Sales tax hike to ballot: The Jacksonville City Council agrees to vote in March whether to settle a legal dispute with the Duval County School Board by placing a half-cent sales tax hike question before voters Nov. 3. The tax would last 15 years and raise an estimated $1.9 billion to help the district replace and repair schools. “I think it (the process) will be a little quicker because it’s a vote on a settlement agreement between our lawyers and their lawyers,” council president Scott Wilson said. “I still have concerns about which schools are being torn down and rebuilt versus renovated, but at this point, I’m ready to put it behind me, so I’ll most likely support it.” Last year the council denied the board’s request to put the issue to voters, prompting the board to sue. A circuit judge sided with the board. The council said it would appeal, but it also decided to reconsider the request. Florida Times-Union.

Pension considerations: Panhandle school officials are worried about pending legislation that would affect how much they have to contribute to the state’s retirement fund to close the unfunded liability. In Leon County, for instance, meeting the terms in H.B. 5007 would mean coming up with $3 million. The bill is intended to strengthen the pension system, said the sponsor, state Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater. “Once you get underwater, it’s hard to get back to the surface. It’s a big hit and school districts seem to be the biggest chunk.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Pronoun solution: A Pasco County teacher who objected to using the names and pronouns preferred by transgender students has been given an option by district officials: He can call the students by their last names, but he has to do it for all students. Rob Oppedisano, a physical education teacher at Chasco Middle School, also initiated a controversy in 2018 when he refused to supervise a locker room while a transgender student changed clothes inside, and the LGBTQ student rights has been an issue since then. Gradebook.

Baker Act use: Educators say the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public School Safety Act requiring schools to intervene after a perceived threat has led to an inappropriate use of the Baker Act, in which students considered a danger to themselves or others can be involuntarily committed for up to 72 hours. And, they say, special needs students are disproportionately affected. Education Dive. Since school started in August, 201 Bay County students have been involuntarily committed under the Baker Act. WMBB.

Voting registration in schools: Some Florida school districts welcome voter registration drives in schools by nonpartisan organizations. But in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, only the supervisor of elections is authorized to come on campus to register students to vote. Officials in those districts said they don’t want any involvement in potential disputes over the neutrality of any organization. “For many years, we have only allowed the supervisor of elections to do on-site voter registration drives in our high schools because they are an objective, impartial group,” said Hillsborough school spokeswoman Tanya Arja. Tampa Bay Times.

Pay raises considered: Indian River County School District principals, assistant principals and nonbargaining employees such as assistant superintendents, executive directors, directors, food-service managers, school psychologists and program specialists could soon receive their first pay raises since the 2017-2018 school year. Superintendent David Moore is making the recommendation that nonbargaining employees get 2.5 percent raises, and all principals and assistant principals would get $600 more. Principals rated highly effective would get an additional $1,300, and those with an effective rating would receive $1,000. Highly effective assistant principals would get another $1,100, and effective assistant principals would receive $800. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal March 10. TCPalm.

Health scares: Florida Department of Health officials said a student at Apalachicola Bay Charter School has contracted viral meningitis. Franklin County School District officials said extra care is being taken to clean and disinfect the school, but health officials said they’re not recommending any buildings be closed. WTXL. CDC officials said school districts should be getting ready for possible outbreaks of the coronavirus, and urged parents to ask school officials what’s being done. Southwest Florida school officials said they’re starting to prepare. Education Week. WINK. Epipens are now available in every Pasco County school to treat students or adults who have an anaphylactic reaction. The district partnered with the local office of the Florida Department of Health to get the epipens. Within days of their arrival, one was used to help a student who has a peanut allergy. WFTS. South Florida school districts are warning their students against playing the latest Internet craze, the Skull Breaker Challenge. The video of the challenge is on the social media network TikTok. It consists of three people standing in line. When the middle person jumps into the air, the two on both sides kick his or her legs out, sending the person to the ground. WPTV. WBBH.

School rezoning: A St. Johns County School District rezoning proposal would move about 1,000 students to a new high school from Nease High School. Parents were briefed about the plans at a meeting Tuesday. The school, which is being called HHH for now, is scheduled to open for the 2021-2022 school year. WJAX.

School superintendents: Four finalists for the Flagler County School District’s superintendent’s job have been chosen by the school board. They are: Earl Johnson, who is the executive director for leadership and operations for the district; Vernon Orndorff, superintendent of the Milford Independent School District in Texas and a former Flagler district official; Cathy Mittelstadt, the deputy superintendent of operations for the St. Johns County School District; and Janet Womack, the former superintendent of Florence City Schools in Florence, Ala. Interviews will be conducted March 4-6, and school board members are expected to make a decision March 10. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Addison Davis has formally resigned as superintendent of the Clay County School District and will start his job in Hillsborough County March 2. He’ll shadow Superintendent Jeff Eakins for two weeks, become acting superintendent when Eakins goes on leave after spring break and then take over when Eakins retires at the end of June. Davis is being temporarily replaced by David Broskie. Gradebook. Florida Times-Union.

Personnel moves: Elizabeth Hardage was recently named head of school at All Saints Academy in Winter Haven. She comes to Polk County from Beijing, China, where she was head at a Daystar Academy, a K-12 dual Chinese-English immersion school. She replaces Carolyn Baldwin, who is stepping down this summer. Lakeland Ledger.

School calendar: Indian River County’s 2020-2021 school year will begin Aug. 10 and end May 28, the school board has decided. Schools will be closed for a week at Thanksgiving, and 16 early-release days are scheduled. TCPalm.

School crosswalk safety: The city of Tampa has unveiled its second Crosswalks to Classrooms location at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson preK-8 magnet school. The crosswalks are brightly painted to alert drivers to the presence of students walking to school. Florida Politics.

Baseball coach reinstated: A Seminole County high school baseball coach who was fired for cursing and disclosing a player’s medical condition during a video celebrating the team’s state championship in 2019 has been reinstated. Seminole High School’s Kenne Brown was back on the field Tuesday, just a few hours before his supporters planned to attend the school board meeting to urge his rehiring. Principal Jordan Rodriquez said upon further consideration, he decided the five-day suspension Brown received was punishment enough. Orlando Sentinel.

Employees and the law: An Orange County School District janitor has been arrested and accused of placing a phone in Oviedo High School bathroom stalls to make videos of female students and a teacher. Derremy Jerrell Walker was fired and faces eight counts of video voyeurism of a person younger than 16 and one count of voyeurism involving a person older than 19. Orlando Sentinel.

Students and the law: Fort Myers police officers who were called to stop a fight on a Lee County school bus arrested two students who were charged with obstruction and disturbance of the peace. The fight happened on a bus transporting students from the Success Academy, an alternative school. Fort Myers News-Press. A 16-year-old Marion County student has been arrested and accused of making threats on social media against Belleview Middle and Belleview High schools. Ocala Star-Banner.

Opinions on schools: Costs and fairness drove the decision of the Martin County School Board to end school busing for students who live within 2 miles of their schools. It was a tough choice, but it was the right one. Gil Smart, TCPalm. Calculus and physics are important courses for preparing students for college STEM majors. This is where the importance of high school principals comes in. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. It’s time to hone our school naming skills by coming up with names for the two newest Collier County schools. Brent Batten, Naples Daily News.

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