Panic alarm bill approved by legislators, school closing preparations made, teacher pay and more

Panic alarm systems: The Legislature has approved a bill that requires all district and charter schools in Florida to have a panic alarm system that instantly alerts law enforcement, and the bill now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for a signature. If he signs it into law, districts will have the option of installing their own systems; 13 already have. But those systems must conform to the standards presented in the bill. If they don’t, they will have to be replaced. The bill is named “Alyssa’s Law,” after 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, who was one of 17 people killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Alyssa’s mother, Lori Alhadeff, who initiated the bill and helped push it through the process, said she was “ecstatic,” adding, “it’s been a roller coaster but I’m so happy to have gone through the process … so if there is a threat on campus, a teacher can be empowered to push a button and know that help is on the way.” Sun Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. Orange County commissioners agree to spend $1.9 million to hire an additional 19 school deputies. Orlando Sentinel.

Coronavirus concerns: The latest coronavirus headlines include the Palm Beach County School District making preparations to close schools if necessary, an option other districts are also considering, the Legislature may be cutting funding for school technology by $20 million even as schools consider more online learning, school trips being canceled, handshaking banned at Palm Beach County high school graduations, two quarantined Sarasota students had not shown symptoms, health officials confirm eight more cases in the state, where the Florida cases are located, and more. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. WPLG. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. WFTV. Sun Sentinel. Florida Times-Union. Florida Today. Naples Daily News. WLRNWSVN. WTXL. WFLA. WFTS. WESH. Orange Observer. What school districts around Florida are doing to fight the virus. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WKMG. WJXT. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Palm Beach Post. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WEAR. Questions and answers about the coronavirus. Florida Department of Health. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Chalkbeat. Associated Press.

Teacher pay drama: A dispute over a teacher pay amendment derailed a House education bill late Monday night. The amendment would have allocated $500 million for teacher raises, but it also would have required districts to get the approval of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for their plans to spend the extra money. Democrats considered that an intrusion of the state into the collective bargaining process and provided the votes to block the amendment under the rules for changing a bill ready for a final vote, which require a two-thirds supermajority for approval. “They tried to sneak an amendment by us and we caught it,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. It “was not language we had heard before, which is how it was promoted to our caucus.” House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, retaliated by postponing consideration of bills sponsored by Democrats. The issue now goes to the Senate without the amendment. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. The rapidly evolving coronavirus situation and the fight over teacher raises and other budget items could keep the Legislature in session a week beyond the scheduled Friday closing, said Oliva. WFSU. State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said he’s disillusioned with the way the Legislature is micromanaging education policy. Florida Politics.

Paying athletes: The House has approved an amendment that closely aligns a bill allowing college athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness with the Senate’s version. The proposal would also allow athletes to hire agents and require universities to provide financial literacy courses for student athletes. The Senate passed its bill Monday. Both bills call for a start date of July 1, 2021, but one significant difference is that the House bill requires universities to maintain insurance for athletes while the Senate’s stripped out that provision. Associated Press. Florida Politics. WUFT. News Service of Florida.

Minimum arrest age killed: An amendment to the Senate’s school safety bill that would have prohibited the arrest of anyone 6 years old or younger has been withdrawn by the sponsor, even as the bill is ready for a vote in the full Senate. Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, withdrew his amendment after another senator pointed out that it hadn’t gone through the committee process, which is a rules violation. The impetus for setting a minimum age was an incident last year in which a misbehaving 6-year-old girl was restrained and arrested by a police officer at an Orlando charter school. Florida Politics.

Superintendent named: Flagler County School Board members have chosen Cathy Mittelstadt from four finalists to become the district’s next superintendent. Mittelstadt, 55, is an assistant superintendent for the St. Johns County School District. She starts July 1, replacing Jim Tager, who had the job for three years. “She is a strong candidate. She is a good fit for Flagler County,” said board member Maria Barbosa. “I know a lot of people who will be very pleased to have her also.” Flagler Live. WJXT. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Mental health career studies: The Hillsborough County School District is making plans to create mental health career studies programs at two high schools next fall. District officials will collaborate with Hillsborough County Community College and the University of South Florida to create the programs for seniors at Tampa Bay Technical and Leto high schools. The courses were the suggestion of school board member Karen Perez, a clinical social worker who said the courses will be the first of their kind in the nation. “They (students) left school thinking their only career path was to become a psychologist. This is going to open up a whole world to them  and let them know there are different tracks,” Perez said. “There are professions in psychology, social work; they can become school counselors or psychiatrists or psych nurses.” Gradebook.

School construction projects: Broward County School Board members have been presented with a list of $17 million worth of improvements needed at middle and high school sports facilities, including stadiums, bleachers, protective netting and new track surfaces. It’s unclear how much of the list, if any, will be funded by the district. “We’re dealing with roofs and leaks,” said school board member Robin Bartleman. “There are scarce capital dollars. You have to prioritize what is most needed. Clearly scoreboards and sound systems are going be at the end. There’s no way we’re going to be able to do everything.” Sun Sentinel.

Sales tax hike support: Members of the Duval County community showed their support at a Jacksonville City Council public hearing Tuesday for a referendum to increase the sales tax to repair and replace aging schools. Last year the city council had refused to place the tax question on the ballot. The school board then sued the council and won. The council and school board agreed to settle the lawsuit as long as the council put the tax on the November ballot. The public hearing is part of that process. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Spelling bee winner: Stella Armstrong, a 10-year-old 5th-grader at the Fisher Island Day School in Miami Beach, has won the Miami Herald Spelling Bee to qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 24-29 in Maryland. Miami Herald.

School district ratings: St. Johns County students are the most likely to succeed in Florida, while according to an index compiled by 24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company. The rankings take into consideration child poverty rates, graduation rates, teacher-to-student ratio, per-student spending, college entrance exam performance and the share of adults in the county with a college education. Florida ranks 23rd overall for education, according to another study by the company. St. Augustine Record. The Wakulla County School District is the best in Florida, according to a recent report by, an online company that does background checks and posts public records. The ratings are based on such data as student-to-teacher ratio, standardized test scores, teacher quality, graduation rate. and school funding. Gilchrist County was second, Suwannee third, Hendry fourth and Dixie fifth. WTXL.

Superintendent elections: Judy Vandergrift has announced she is running for the job of Bay County School District superintendent. She has been a deputy superintendent, a principal at several schools, assistant principal and teacher, and also helped start the University Academy Charter School. Bill Husfelt is the current superintendent. WMBB.

Student on bike hit, killed: A 14-year-old Pasco County student who was riding his bike to school Tuesday morning was struck and killed by an SUV.  Jayden Relyea was on his way to River Ridge High School when he was hit in an intersection. Troopers said no charges have been filed. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTVT.

Settlement considered: Leon County School Board members are being advised by their attorney to sign a proposed agreement with the tech company EduLog over the massive problems the district had with school bus transportation when schools opened last August. The company deleted key routing information to clear up space on its servers, causing confusion. If the board agrees to the settlement, the district will receive $330,000, which is about half what the district paid for the software, and both sides have promised not to criticize each other. Tallahassee Democrat.

Ex-teacher loses suit: A lawsuit brought by an ex-teacher against the Bay County School Board is dead after the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider it. Johanna Beanblossom filed the suit in 2013, claiming she was illegally fired her from Mowat Middle School job because she was a whistleblower. She’s lost at every court level, and has been ordered to pay about $130,000 in legal fees to the board. WMBB.

Felon allowed to volunteer: A convicted felon will be allowed to volunteer at his daughter’s Okaloosa County school. Jason Harwell, 36, had been barred from field trips and other volunteering because of a felony conviction when he was 17. After being denied by the school board several times, Harwell’s efforts led to the district creating an appeals process for volunteers. He was approved at the end of February. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Employees and the law: A Marion County teacher has been arrested and accused of domestic battery. Deputies said William Keith Chartrand, a 5th-grade teacher at College Park Elementary School, choked and slapped a woman last weekend. He’s been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the charges. Ocala Star-Banner.

Opinions on schools: I see no alternative but the adoption of educational systems of subsidized choice that are designed, step by step, year by year, to reach at last a universal empowerment of the poor. John E. Coons, redefinED. Voters could get whiplash this week as the Florida Legislature simultaneously moves to significantly raise teacher salaries and steer additional millions toward tuition vouchers for private schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: The Miami-Dade County School District has cut the use of plastic straws at school meals from 45 million in the 2018-2019 school year to zero this year. WLRN. Pasco County’s Lacoochee Elementary School is adding a drumming curriculum to focus on listening and teamwork skills for students, and maybe shore up its enrollment. Tampa Bay Times.

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