Tax initiative considered, grand jury rips Duval school police, Pasco data use changes urged and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Around the state: The Duval County School District police force is singled out in a statewide grand jury report for underreporting crime, a local-option property tax is among the ideas Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis has to raise money, an appeals court rules that Broward school officials had no custodial duty to protect students during the 2018 Parkland school shooting, Lee County parents want to know how a man fleeing from police could escape from a nearby hospital and get into a building at Fort Myers High School, parents and teachers want changes in the way the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department uses sensitive student data from the schools, Brevard schools count another coronavirus death, and an Okeechobee teacher is under investigation for allegedly zip-tying a sleeping student to a classroom chair. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: Superintendents in Miami-Dade and Broward point to student grades as an argument for having them return to classrooms. In Miami-Dade, 9 percent of students received at least one F in the first grading period. That’s 5 percentage points higher than in the same period last year. In Broward, 11 percent of students had at least one F, which is 7 percentage points higher. “We see students who were previously high performing students, some of them are struggling under (remote learning),” said Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie. WLPG. Sun Sentinel. Broward County School District officials had no custodial duty to protect students during a 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a federal appeals court has ruled. A three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by a lower court that agreed with Broward County, Runcie, former Sheriff Scott Israel and former school resource officer Scot Peterson. “Because the students were not in custody at school, they were not in a custodial relationship with the officials,” according to the opinion. News Service of Florida.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Asking Hillsborough voters to approve a local-option property tax is one of several proposals Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis said he would take to the school board for consideration next month. The district is in a financial hole, and Davis has trimmed staff and plans to sell surplus properties and end some vendor contracts to save money. He said a local-option property tax could raise $90 million a year, which could be used to raise pay for veteran teachers and put art, music, physical education and media teachers in every elementary school. Tampa Bay Times. More than 540 cases of the coronavirus were reported in Tampa Bay area schools last week: 273 in Hillsborough, 132 in Pasco, 84 in Pinellas and 53 in Hernando. Fifty-eight cases were counted at area colleges and universities. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: Two custodians at J.C. Mitchell Elementary School in Boca Raton have been arrested and charged with possession of a firearm on school property. School district police said Hoover Mora, 58, appeared in a photograph on social media last week holding an AR-15 rifle on the school campus after hours while wearing a shirt with the district logo. Mora told police the gun belonged to his colleague Domingo Urena Reinoso, 52, who told police he waited until all students were off campus to show it to Mora and that he didn’t know having a gun on campus was illegal. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: The statewide grand jury investigating the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School singled out the Duval County School District in its report issued last week for underreporting crimes in schools. “We have seen overwhelming evidence over the past 11 months that the rosy reports forwarded quarterly to the FDOE by local school districts are wildly inaccurate,” the report said. Duval was the only district named. “It is also apparent, though, that some incentives to ‘decrease the statistics’ are perverse,” the report said. “Administrators are rewarded with promotion or better jobs in larger districts; school police chiefs tout phony ‘reductions’ in arrests or reports while the actual activity proceeds unabated or accelerates; districts appear ‘safer on paper’ and thus more attractive to potential new (or even current) students and the funding they represent.” In a statement replying to the report, district officials said, “We remain committed to examining current procedures to ensure strict compliance. To assure the school board and the public, (the district) will pursue an external review of district and school reporting practices to determine if further improvements are needed.” Florida Times-Union. Politico Florida. The construction of a charter school directly across the street from Alimacani Elementary School in Jacksonville is being criticized by parents of children attending the public school and its employees. They contend the charter school will draw resources from Alimacani and create traffic problems. School board members said they can’t do anything to stop the charter school because of state rules set up to encourage their creation and bypass local approval. WJXT.

Polk: A special magistrate will hear arguments today and Tuesday from school and union officials about the negotiations impasse over a contract. The sides are deadlocked over base pay, raises for paraprofessionals and clerical staff, and an extra stipend for teachers who are providing instruction for both in-person and online students. Lakeland Ledger. Holiday parties have been approved for Polk students, teachers and staff, but rules governing conduct during a pandemic must be followed. Face coverings and social distancing are required, gloves must be used when handling food, and desks must be wiped down frequently. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Parents and students are demanding to know how a man fleeing from police managed to get past a security guard, onto the Fort Myers High School property and into a building Thursday before escaping after the school was put on lockdown. The man, who was at a nearby hospital for a mental evaluation, was eventually detained off-campus. In an email to parents, the principal acknowledged that the event happened, but school officials have yet to answer how it happened. WINK.

Pasco: Parents, teachers and the Pasco County Council of PTAs are calling for changes in the way the sheriff’s department is using sensitive school data about students. An investigation in November disclosed that the department was using student data on grade point average, attendance, disciplinary actions and even friends to predict which students could someday become criminals. “It is not acceptable,” said Alicia Willis, president of the Pasco County Council PTA. Danielle Biggs, a teacher at Veterans Elementary School in Wesley Chapel, said the program “goes against all good education practice” and “is targeting and profiling children.” School officials said they planned to “assure the PTA County Council that our agreements with the sheriff’s office are routinely reviewed and, when appropriate, revised or updated,” and sheriff’s officials said, “We will do everything we can to protect the children in our school district and prevent a tragedy from occurring.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: A retired school district resource officer and basketball coach died Dec. 4 of complications from the coronavirus. Mike Doyle, 59, had worked at Herbert Hoover Middle School in Indialantic from 2008-2019. The district also lost a reading teacher to the coronavirus last week. Elizabeth Toro, 52, who worked at Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School in Melbourne, died Wednesday at the age of 52. Her mother died less than 24 hours earlier, also of COVID-19 complications. Florida Today.

Seminole: A search committee has recommended five candidates for the school board to consider to replace Walt Griffin, who is retiring in the spring. They are: Serita Beaman, the board’s attorney and director of the district’s legal services department; Harold Border, chief of high schools for the Orange County School District; Chad Farnsworth, an associate superintendent for human resources and employee relations at the Lake school district; Scott Howat, chief communications officer for the Orange district; and James Larsen, an area superintendent for the Orange district. The board plans to decide next month which candidates it will interview, hold interviews in February and make its selection in March. Griffin has been the superintendent for nine years. Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: School board chair Linda Cuthbert recently announced that she has been diagnosed with cancer. Treatments will begin over the holidays and she’s scheduled surgery for March. “This is not my first battle with this,” she said. “I know there’s joy on the other side.” She also offered encouragement to Superintendent Scott Fritz, who has been on medical leave since last summer as he undergoes cancer treatments. Fritz is scheduled to return in February.  Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee, Sarasota: The highest one-week increase in coronavirus cases was recorded in Sarasota schools last week, with 69 reported. In September and October the average number of new cases a week was 26. That has doubled since the second week in November. Manatee schools counted 44 new cases, with 477 students and employees sent into quarantine. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Marion: Seventy-seven students and employees tested positive for the coronavirus from Dec. 4-10, according to the district. Forty-six were students. The last report covered two weeks, and 100 coronavirus cases were counted. Ocala Star-Banner. School officials are looking for a new social emotional learning curriculum after the school board recently dumped Sanford Harmony, which the district had been using. Board members didn’t like the curriculum’s materials on gender norms aimed for kindergarten students. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: Rapid-results coronavirus tests are expected to be available today at county schools, said district spokeswoman spokesperson Lydia Martin. The tests are available to students who have parental consent, and will be administered by school nurses. TCPalm.

Alachua: Carlee Simon, the newly named interim superintendent of the school district, said her immediate concern is managing to get through the pandemic safely without further widening the racial achievement gap. “The district has struggled with certain levels of managing equity concerns, and COVID has shined a brighter light on things that need to be addressed,” Simon said. “I think we have some exciting opportunities for the future to consider and try to establish.” Gainesville Sun.

Bay: School officials said they are ending their relation with NavaEd, whose founders were indicted last week on charges that they stole and sold contents of teacher-certification exams. The district had bought 10 study guides or tutorials from the company. Panama City News Herald. Two excavator simulators have been installed for students in the construction academy at Arnold High School in Panama City Beach. The district received a grant to pay for the machines, which cost up to $80,000 each. Superintendent Bill Husfelt said the simulators will provide 80 percent of the training students need to operate excavating machines. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: The school district is cutting the quarantine times for students and employees who have been exposed to the coronavirus but are asymptomatic. They’ll now be required to be in isolation for 10 days instead of 14. TCPalm. While more students are choosing to return to in-person learning, or are being pressured to by school officials, “We also know it’s not possible for every student to come back,” acknowledged Martin County chief academic officer Tracey Miller. She said the district will continue to offer remote learners support. TCPalm.

Citrus: School officials are ordering teachers to discard or return teacher-certification study guides from a company that is under federal indictment for allegedly stealing the answers from the tests and selling them. The district had been buying the tutoring guides from NavaEd since 2016. Citrus County Chronicle.

Okeechobee: A high school teacher is under investigation for allegedly zip-tying a sleeping student to a chair in a classroom at Okeechobee High School. A video of the incident was posted Thursday on social media, prompting the district to reassign the teacher and launch an investigation. WPTV. WPEC.

In the Legislature: A bill has been filed that would require bleeding control kits to be placed in all schools and other public buildings. If approved, H.B. 63, which was filed by state Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, and state Rep. Michael Grieco, D-Miami Beach, would require schools to have kits with tourniquets, dressing and gauze be available to treat bleeding injuries. Similar bills were filed last year but were not approved. Florida Politics.

School enrollment projections: State analysts said they will again this week to try to figure out how to project K-12 school enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year. The projections are used to determine funding for districts. The analysts met last week, but could not come to any conclusions on how to proceed. “We are in uncharted territory here, because we are trying to forecast something that will happen in a year that we have no basis for doing it,” said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research. The Legislature begins its 90-day session on March 2. Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: The threat of K-12 teachers resigning or retiring because of the pandemic has not been validated, according to an analysis, though there are variations by regions. Education Week.

SUFS among biggest charities: Step Up For Students, which  helps administer five school choice scholarship programs in Florida and hosts this blog, is now the 21st largest charity in the United States, according to Forbes magazine. It was ranked 24th last year with $618 million raised in private donations. Its goal for the 2021 fiscal year is to raise $700 million. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: It will not necessarily be politically hurtful to the cause of educational choice that Betsy DeVos will be gone, and that the president-elect appear as mendicant of the union elites. The individual state will still decide whether and in what precise form those who need choice should receive it. This could well be the time for voucher folk, “left” and right, and in every state, to become happy co-conspirators. John E. Coons, redefinED. Greater collaboration among the new school board, interim superintendent and members of the community is critical to helping the Alachua County School District overcome the problems caused and worsened by the pandemic. Gainesville Sun. Sarasota County School Board members need to look in the mirror and make some changes after getting slapped with sanctions by the Florida Department of Education for inappropriately placing students in programs for students with severe cognitive disabilities. Charlotte Sun. Even with the promising news of a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, educators know the pandemic’s impacts will not end anytime soon. Leaders at the senior levels of Florida’s education systems are not only adapting to immediate challenges, but driving changes that will benefit the children and families in their communities over the long term. Mike Magee, The 74. With any luck – and with an efficient rollout of vaccines to fight the coronavirus – schools will soon return to in-person classes. No doubt some children will need extra help academically and new approaches will have to be employed to make up for time lost. But there is a chance that the innovations begun by children and families in this difficult time will result in strategies to improve the future for all of us. Kathy Silverberg, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Every February, the Florida Department of Education issues a press release about the success of the state’s high school students on Advanced Placement exams taken in May of the previous year. And every February, I troll the department by pointing out that while Florida is indeed a leader in AP social science courses – in large part because of financial incentives given to schools and teachers for AP exam success – the state is only average in AP math and science courses. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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