Safety bill with minimum arrest age approved, moment of silence, union bill, testing rules and more

School safety bill: The Florida House unanimously approved a school safety bill containing a late-added  amendment requiring police departments to adopt policies prohibiting the arrest of anyone under the age of 10. The addition to the bill was a response to last September’s arrest of 6-year-old Kaia Rolle from an Orlando school, which sparked national outrage and cost the arresting officer his job. The bill also calls for pay to be withheld from appointed superintendents and possibly school board members whose districts are out of compliance with state safety laws, requires mental health crisis training for officers on campuses, requires districts to have plans to quickly reunite parents and children after a school emergency, and allows criminal charges to be filed against people who make false tips through the state app FortifyFL. The Senate’s version of the bill stalled in committee Tuesday but is expected to come back for another hearing today. Tampa Bay Times. Sun Sentinel. Tallahassee Democrat. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Florida Politics. WFSU.

Moment of silence: The Florida House voted 96-20 to approve a bill creating a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day. The moment must be no less than one minute and no more than two. The bill states that teachers “shall encourage parents to discuss the moment of silence with their children and make suggestions as to the best use of this time.” The Senate version of the bill has cleared all committees and is awaiting a vote. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Union bill approved: A bill that would add several requirements to membership in public unions, such as teachers unions, was approved by the Florida House on Wednesday. H.B. 1, which was filed by state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, would force workers to sign authorization forms to join unions and be required to refile the authorization forms yearly, and require their employers to verify the forms agreeing to pay dues. Critics such as Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, say “this is simply another attempt to place more barriers to union membership.” The Senate version of the bill has not been heard by any committees. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Center Square.

Testing guidelines protested: Almost 16,000 people have signed an online petition that calls for a change in the new Florida Standards Assessment rules that were issued this month. The Florida Department of Education rules prohibit teachers from waking students who fall asleep or even reminding them to check their work during state testing. Teachers have also been told they can’t suggest students write their strategies when they get the materials, and can’t offer rewards to students who behave during the testing. WFTX.

Coronavirus concerns: Five more residents of the state have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed or presumed state-related cases to eight, but those five are out of state where they will remain until they’re healthy, according to Florida officials. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis held a conference call with school superintendents and urged them to follow the recommendation that school staff and students stay home if they’re sick and self-isolate for two weeks if they’ve recently visited any countries considered at high-risk for contracting the coronavirus. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach Post. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. WPLG. WOFL. WSVN. WTVT. School districts around Florida continue to make plans on how they will fight the virus. Palm Beach Post. Daily Commercial. TCPalm. WESH. WFTV. WTSP. WFTS. WFTX. Orange Observer. The State Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF) of Florida in Lakeland has been canceled over coronavirus concerns. About 950 students were expected to compete at the junior (grades 6-8) and senior (grades 9-12) levels. “The risks … are far too great to justify this year’s SSEF,” said Bill Herschleb, chair of the Florida Foundation for Future Scientists. Tampa Bay Times. Questions and answers about the coronavirus, and links to more information. Miami Herald.  Florida Department of Health. Orlando Sentinel. WPTV. Hoaxes are the new coronavirus threat for schools. Miami Herald. How teachers are talking to students about the coronavirus. Education Week. Five lessons U.S. schools can learn from China about emergency distance learning. The 74.

Lottery warnings: A bill that would require warnings about the risks of gambling to be placed on lottery tickets has been approved by the Florida House. No Senate committee has heard the companion bill, and Gov. DeSantis vetoed a similar measure last year because he said a warning might suppress sales and cut the amount of money the lottery provides for education. News Service of Florida.

College consolidation: The House is scheduled to vote Friday on a bill that would merge New College and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida. Bill supporters claim the move will save money, but opponents such as Florida TaxWatch are skeptical. Several amendments will also be voted on, including one that would call the proposed merger an acquisition so the University of Florida would not have to be reaccredited. Florida Politics.

Panic alarms: Today, the Florida House is expected to consider a bill requiring panic alarms in all public schools. Some vendors have complained that the bill was written to direct the $8 million contract to Mutualink, a company that employs former Senate president Mike Haridopolos as a lobbyist, by calling for the alarms to be apps that connect directly to law enforcement instead of physical alarms. To address those concerns, state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, has proposed an amendment dropping the mobile app requirement. But the amendment also requires that the proposed technology be certified by the Department of Homeland Security, a provision only Mutualink has, according to the House’s own research. USA Today Network. Tampa Bay Times.

School renovations: Broward County School Board members voted to move ahead with a $6.6 million renovation project at Plantation Middle School, which has about half the number of students it can hold, but only after a debate about whether it was a wise use of tax dollars. It’s an issue that the board will face again, with 30 schools on the renovation list that are at 70 percent or lower capacity. Superintendent Robert Runcie said no matter what happens to the schools, they still need good roofs and working air-conditioning. “It’s one thing to fix the roof. It’s another thing to pay for renovations that may or may not be necessary if it suddenly becomes an office building or community school,” said Nathalie Lynch-Walsh, vice chair of the district’s Facilities Task Force. “Now you’ve thrown money out the window and set fire to it.” Sun Sentinel. Consultants tell the Alachua County School Board that Westwood and Bishop middle schools and Rawlings Elementary School are the best places to locate a so-called “swing school” to house students in portables while their schools are being renovated. The board is still trying to decide if the idea of a swing school makes sense. A vote on the plan to put Bishop students on Westwood’s campus is scheduled in two weeks. Gainesville Sun.

School impact fees: The Hillsborough County School District’s request for higher impact fees on new home construction has been approved unanimously by the county commission. The fees will be doubled in many cases, to about $8,000 per home, and raise $30 million a year for school construction. District officials project that 38 more schools will have to be built in the next 15 years to keep up with rising enrollment. The higher fees take effect in June. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

School enrollment: Orange County schools are forecast to have about 25,520 more students for the 2030-2031 school year than the 212,401 they have now, according to district researchers. Orange County has the most students of any central Florida district, with almost twice as many as Polk County. WKMG.

Charter school renewal: The Hernando County charter school Brooksville Engineering, Science and Technology Academy (BEST Academy) got a three-year contract renewal from the school board. School officials wanted five years. The school boosted its grade from the state from a C to a B last year. Tampa Bay Times.

A teaching life: The stories of Florida teachers trying to find affordable housing or make ends meet are familiar. It’s new teachers living with their parents, or renting an apartment with roommates, taking on extra jobs at school or second jobs at night, selling their blood. Half of the district’s staff earn less than the $47,500 Gov. DeSantis wants to make the starting teacher salary. And most are paying 40 percent or more of their net pay for housing, which puts most of the state squarely in the category of areas with “unaffordable housing.” USA Today Network. Fort Myers News-Press. Ocala Star-Banner. Some Florida school districts are getting creative to help teachers find affordable housing. USA Today Network.

‘Twerk tour’ troubles: A Miami-Dade high school therapeutic support professional and basketball coach has been reassigned for allowing a “Twerk Tour” event to be filmed in the gym at Miami Beach Senior High School. District officials said coach Jacob Shaw was not authorized to give the group of dancers permission to use the gym to make a video. Miami Herald.

Teacher’s firing upheld: An administrative law judge has upheld the firing of Lakeland High School math teacher Keith Cook, who told students during a lockdown drill Aug. 16 that if he were a school shooter, “he would have a 1,000-person body count and be a hero.” Judge Robert Cohen ruled that Cook’s “words went above and beyond what could reasonably be expected to be appropriate language for a teaching moment.” After Cook’s comments were reported, the district investigated, suspended and then fired Cook. He appealed, and has until March 12 to appeal the latest ruling. Lakeland Ledger.

Students and the law: A 17-year-old Broward County student was arrested and accused of having a gun at Hallandale High School. Police found the gun when they were breaking up a fight the student was involved in. WSVN.

Opinions on schools: Curriculum reformers should support choice mechanisms such as charter schools because they provide the opportunity for educators with minority viewpoints to create schools fulfilling their education vision. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Expanding the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program would benefit all Florida students. Tim Benson, Heartland Institute.

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