School board term limits, number of failed courses increases, limits on spectators, lawsuits and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Around the state: A bill has been filed in the Legislature that would put a constitutional amendment before voters to limit school board members to eight years in office, Citrus County school officials said the number of district students failing courses is up significantly this year over last year because of the pandemic, the Clay County sheriff said some students are misusing the FortifyFL emergency app, Broward students start a petition against a new requirement that remote learners turn on their computer cameras, school impact fees are going up in Orange County though not as much as the school board requested, Pasco school officials have backed off a ban of spectators at sports and theatrical events, and the Sarasota County School Board will pay a former student $250,000 for inappropriately placing him in a class for severely disabled students and leaving him there for five years. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The district’s requirement that online students turn on their cameras so they can be seen by teachers is meeting resistance from students. More than 8,000 have signed a petition on Change.org that’s titled “Cameras Should Not Be Required In Broward County Schools.” “I know personally people that are not in home environments that are as nice so by showing their house to everybody in their class, by showing their parents and their siblings running around in the background, I know that’s really embarrassing,” said Kayla Bello, a sophomore at Fort Lauderdale High School. WTVJ.

Orange: County commissioners have approved an increase in school impact fees on new home construction, though they will be bring in $6.6 million a year less than the school board wanted. The fees will mostly be based on the size of a home, and affect new construction of single- and multi-family homes, townhouses, apartment buildings and mobile homes. Half the fees begin in January and half in April. Orlando Sentinel. The family of an autistic 9-year-old is suing the school board and the sheriff’s office for negligence. The girl was taken into custody and involuntarily committed through the Baker Act in 2017 after having a temper tantrum at Lovell Elementary School. Roxanne and Brian King said the incident left the girl, now 12, with night terrors and increased anxiety. Orlando Sentinel. Students in John Burke’s creative photography class at Boone High School are documenting the ways the coronavirus pandemic has changed their lives. About 20 of their photographs are on display at district headquarters in an exhibition called “Through Their Eyes: 2020.” Orlando Sentinel.

Pasco: School officials have backed off last week’s decision to ban audiences for school sporting and theater events after protests from parents. Now, each student participating in an event may have two guests attend. Masks and social distancing will be required. The change takes effect immediately. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times. Among the claims bills being filed in the Florida Senate is one that would have the Pasco County School Board pay $1,246,215 to the family of Marcus Button, who was seriously injured in 2006 when a Pasco school bus failed to yield and slammed into the car he was riding in. Button was 16 at the time. At a trial in 2007, an economist estimated the cost of his care could approach $10 million. Florida Politics.

Osceola: School board members have approved a learning plan for the second semester that includes the three options students have now. One difference is that only students who have a 90 percent or better attendance record can continue to take classes remotely. Parents who want to switch from one option to another may do so by Dec. 9. WKMG. WFTV.

Brevard: The parents of five special education students are suing the school board and a teacher for allegedly submitting her autistic students to “physical, emotional and psychological abuse.” The teacher, Stacey Garzione, works at Ralph Williams Elementary School. Florida Today. WESH. Parents who are looking for school-specific coronavirus information have to go to the Florida Department of Health’s webpage for the information. The school district’s coronavirus dashboard has never contained school-specific numbers. District officials contend that if there are few cases at a school, release of the information could identify people who have tested positive, which could violate privacy laws. Florida Today.

Seminole: More than 8 million emails filled with racist messages have been sent to public high school and middle school students since last Saturday, according to school officials. They believe the emails were sent from overseas. Orlando Sentinel.

St. Johns: School officials and the union representing teachers have reached an agreement to improve salaries. Pay for starting teachers will improve from $39,000 to $45,535, and veteran teachers who are already making the new minimum will receive 2 percent raises. The deal still has to be approved by teachers and the school board. WJAX.

Sarasota: The school board has approved a settlement of $250,000 to the family of a former nondisabled student who was inappropriately placed in a program for children with severe cognitive disabilities when he was in 3rd grade and left there for five years. The school district will also pay the student’s tuition to a private school for four years. The student, referred to as DJ, was one of more than 100 nondisabled students placed in the program. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: A former Escambia Virtual Academy administrator has been arrested and accused of sexual battery of an underage girl over four years. Deputies said Jeremy Shane Lowery, 46, began molesting the girl in 2013, when she was 13. Lowery’s educator certificate was suspended in 2019 for three years by the Florida Department of Education after he was accused of modifying grades in the virtual school’s summer program. NorthEscambia.com.

Clay: District Police Chief Kenneth Wagner said some students are misusing the FortifyFL app that is intended to report emergencies in schools. “Sometimes the tips are blank or it could be a myriad of keystrokes and letters and numbers,” he said. “Sometimes they posted, just in this week alone, graphics of colors and then one person even put a recipe of how to make ice cream. I want students to really think about what they’re doing. It’s not a tool to play with. It’s a tool. It actually works.” WJXT.

Leon: School officials have applied for a $1.2 million state grant to build more sidewalks near the Woodville, Oak Ridge and Canopy Oaks elementary schools, and is asking the community for comments on the plan. WTXL. WCTV. A small fire in a mechanical room at the Florida A&M University Developmental Research School on Tuesday temporarily disrupted classes. No one was injured. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: Students were evacuated from Niceville High School on Tuesday after someone started a small fire in a girls bathroom. No one was injured. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR.

Citrus: The number of district students failing courses is up significantly this year over last year because of the pandemic, according to school officials. Last year, 95 percent of all courses were passed by students but this year it’s down to 87 percent. “This is something we anticipated from the beginning,” said district spokeswoman Lindsay Blair. “Having to go to that remote learning during that latter part of last year; there were going to be those educational gaps. Some kids don’t do well in remote learning; you lose that physical connection you have when you’re in that brick-and-mortar classroom.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Sumter: The school district is short of substitute teachers. In October, only 75 percent of the requests for substitutes could be filled, and in November it was  about 83 percent. “We’re having a hard time,” said Superintendent Rick Shirley. “The health department will call, and all of a sudden we have 10 teachers who aren’t sick but were exposed and have to quarantine.” The district had a pool of about 145 substitutes before the pandemic, but it’s shrunk to 45. Villages Daily Sun.

Colleges and universities: Florida State University will begin its spring semester Jan. 6 with online classes only. Officials had planned to begin the semester with remote learning for the first three days, but extended that to Jan. 15 to give more time for the university to test students and staff for the coronavirus. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WFSU. Bills for student loans are being temporarily put on hold by the U.S. Education Department as it tries to decide how to handle the Dec. 31 end of the freeze on monthly payments and interest. Politico. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has issued updated recommendations for universities and colleges to follow to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Among them: Offering clear guidance on ways to reduce the risk of transmission and establishing a regular testing routine. Politico. The University of Miami and Florida International University will hold virtual graduation ceremonies this month, but Miami Dade College is going ahead with its in-person plans. Miami Herald.

More on the coronavirus: A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has proposed a $908 billion federal coronavirus aid package that includes $82 billion for schools and $160 billion for state and local governments. Politico.

School board term limits: A bill that would put a constitutional amendment to place eight-year term limits on school board members before voters has been filed for the 2021 legislative session, which begins March 2. Similar proposals in recent years have failed to make it through the Legislature. HJR 11 was filed by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills. If approved by lawmakers, the question would then have to be approved by 60 percent of the state’s voters. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: The “rigor gap,” which is the difference between students’ grades and how they perform on statewide standardized tests, can have serious consequences for students and their parents. The time to address it is now, so students can approach their dreams with the conviction that they are ready. Steven Birnholz and Eric Frey, redefinED. If states are going to provide less funding for education in the coming year, they can help districts make the most of existing resources by giving them greater flexibility and prioritizing their most cost-effective programs. Matthew Joseph, The 74. During his inaugural address, new Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls set a goal of trying “to make sure that every child in Florida can read and understand a book about the moon by the year 2030.” But here is a goal that is just as important for Florida’s students: Every child in Florida should have the best possible opportunity to be an astronaut to fly to the moon or Mars, or to be one of the engineers or scientists that will be needed to make that happen. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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