School security legislation, anniversary of school shootings marked, substitute teacher pay and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

In the Legislature: Three years after the Parkland school shooting claimed 17 lives, several school safety bills have been filed for consideration in the legislative session that begins March 2. One would require schools to notify students’ parents within 24 hours about any threats or violence on campuses. Other bills would address ammunition background checks, safe storage of firearms, banning assault weapons and limiting ammunition capacity, local governments’ ability to make local gun laws, and creating a memorial day for the Parkland victims. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics. State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, talks about bills in this legislative session on education choice, providing books to young students, higher education, job training programs and more. Florida Politics. A bill has been filed in the Florida House that would require the state to create a “Portraits in Patriotism” video library that would be used in K-12 civics education courses. Florida Politics. State Rep. Traci Koster, R-Tampa, has made a $306,000 appropriations request to fund a University of South Florida St. Petersburg program that would give high school students the chance to take part in a government education program to earn college credits. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Ceremonies in south Florida on Sunday marked the third anniversary of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Escambia’s school district is considering addressing shortages of substitute teachers at five schools by raising their pay, Duval school officials are reworking their “You Matter Month” campaign after complaints from students, the Leon County School District is investigating the development of several sinkholes near a school, and a community effort to save a Putnam County elementary school from closing appears to be working. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Several events were held Sunday in Broward County and elsewhere in south Florida and flags were flown at half-mast at all state offices to mark the third anniversary of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen people were killed. A former student is charged with the murders, and is awaiting trial. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida. WPLG. Tallahassee Democrat. WPTV. Tragedies bookended the high school years for many students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Associated Press. Where are the students who survived the shooting and became activists now? Sun Sentinel.

Tampa Bay area: The number of coronavirus cases in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando schools is flattening out. Pasco had a slight uptick, while the other three reported declines last week. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: District officials announced last week that their “You Matter Month” campaign would be reworked after students protested that its introduction diminished attention from Black History Month and inappropriately took its phrasing from the Black Lives Matter movement. The campaign was intended to bring awareness of mental health resources available to students, and to prevent teen suicide. District officials said they would work with students on the goals of the campaign “while discontinuing the use of the ‘you matter’ language. WJXT.

Polk: A 6th-grade math teacher at Bartow Middle School has been arrested and accused of fighting with students at a McDonald’s after a Bartow High School basketball game Friday. Liquindella Clark faces child abuse charges. According to police, she “aggressively” approached a student who had been arguing with her child and had to be removed from the restaurant. In the parking lot, police said, Clark hit one student in the face and another in the head. She’s been placed on administrative leave. WFLA. WTLV. A physical education teacher at Jewett Middle Academy in Winter Haven has been arrested on charges of DUI and DUI with property damage. Deputies said Kathryn Lewis, 57, had been drinking at a party before she caused an accident Thursday. It was Lewis’ third DUI arrest, deputies said. WKMG.

Brevard: District teachers expressed outrage over the weekend after reports that two prominent Florida defense contractors were trying to get their workers vaccinated before educators. But officials from Northrop Grumman and L3Harris denied the reports and said no employees who weren’t eligible under the state’s guidelines have received vaccinations. Brevard teachers union president Anthony Colucci said he was “pleased” that the reports were untrue, but defended the “hypersensitivity” because others have cut the line for shots while teachers are still waiting for their turn. Florida Today.

Seminole: High school graduation plans that were announced last week and promptly criticized by parents and students could still be revised, district officials said Friday. “Nobody has finalized plans,” said Mike Gaudreau, the district’s executive director of high schools. Parents had been told all graduations would be in school auditoriums instead of larger arenas, with staggered ceremonies so fewer people would be in the building at any one time. Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: J. Susy Peterson, principal of Volusia Online Learning, has resigned. Her last day is Feb. 26. In an email to her staff, Peterson wrote that she was “taking charge of my destiny and putting my family, my health and my happiness first.” Danielle Leffler will be the acting principal. The school grew from about 100 students to 8,000 when the coronavirus pandemic set in, and still has 5,700. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee, Sarasota: After spiking in January, the number of coronavirus cases in Manatee and Sarasota schools is returning to pre-Thanksgiving levels.  Manatee had been averaging more than 50 cases a week in January, but that declined to 44 and 34 in the past two weeks. Sarasota is reporting about 60 cases a week, compared with the 140 or so it counted every week in January. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A $38,000 grant from the Manatee County Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund allowed middle school teacher Sharon Jefferson to start an e-mentoring and tutoring program for underprivileged students who are learning remotely. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Collier: Mary Beth Thomas, who taught in Collier County schools for about 40 years before retiring in June 2020, died in January in North Carolina of cancer. She was 65. Naples Daily News.

Lake: A school resource officer has been suspended by the sheriff’s office after being arrested for allegedly hitting her boyfriend during an argument. Deputies said the dispute began when East Ridge Middle School resource officer Keshia Rytter called the hairstyles of her boyfriend’s daughters, 5 and 7, which had been braided into weaves, as “ghetto.” Their father, Orlando police officer Maurice Cone, told police Rytter slapped him and knocked his phone from his hand in the ensuing argument. Charges of domestic battery and tampering with a witness were later dropped. The sheriff’s office suspended Rytter for five days for conduct “unbecoming of an officer,” and she will become a floating school resource officer instead of being assigned solely to East Ridge Middle. Orlando Sentinel. In its third year, the Tavares High Teaching Academy has graduated five students who are now in college schools of education. About 40 students are enrolled in the academy this year. Daily Commercial.

Marion: Meghan Magamoll has been named executive director of the Public Education Foundation of Marion County, replacing Judi Zanetti, who is retiring after eight years in the job. Magamoll has worked for the foundation for 16 years. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: District officials are proposing to address the shortage of substitute teachers at five schools by raising their pay. Collectively, Holm Elementary, Bellview Middle, Ferry Pass Middle, Workman Middle and Escambia High can fill only 60 percent of the teacher vacancies on an average day. The rest of the district’s schools average 75 percent. The proposal would pay subs with a bachelor’s degree $115 a day, or $32 more than they are paid now. Subs with associate degrees would be paid $100, which would be a $28 increase. The school board will consider the proposal Tuesday. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: The school district is investigating the development of several sinkholes in the area around the Woodville K-8 School in Tallahassee. Several depressions were reported in a stormwater pond just east of the school. The holes are about 3 feet by 12 feet but about 3,000 feet from any school building, and are not likely to be a threat, according to school officials. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: District investigators are recommending that Archer Elementary School principal Stella Arduser be fired for violating district policies. The report alleges that Arduser shared photos of nude men with employees, showed favoritism toward some employees and retaliated against others, had an inappropriate sexual relationship on the school campus, and fostered unethical practices. She denies the charges. The report has been forwarded to interim Superintendent Carlee Simon, who will decide whether to support its recommendation and send it to the school board. Gainesville Sun. Neha Gupte, a 6th-grader at Lincoln Middle School, has won the Alachua District Spelling Bee to qualify for the regional competition March 29 in Jacksonville. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Sunday night, the district had to counter a viral Facebook post that wrongly said schools were closed today. President’s Day is usually a day off for the district’s students. But schools opened later this school year because of the pandemic, prompting classes to be held today. WMBB.

Citrus: A 10-year-old student has been arrested for allegedly bringing a machete to Crystal River Primary School on Friday. School administrators got a tip that the girl had a weapon at the YMCA’s before-school program, and she was arrested. School officials said she didn’t threaten anyone with the machete. Citrus County Chronicle.

Highlands: A teacher at Sebring High School has been arrested and accused of sexual battery on a 15-year-old student. Deputies said Ariel Madden Reed, 30, who teaches critical thinking, had sex multiple times with the student in her classroom, her home and her car since last November. WTSP.

Putnam: A community effort to save Melrose Elementary School from closing looks like it is paying off. After those who support keeping the school open appeared at last week’s school board meeting, district officials said they will reverse their recommendation to close the school. School board members are expected to vote Tuesday on the plan to keep Melrose Elementary School open. The district plans to reduce the number of schools from 18 to 10 to match enrollment and to save money. WUFT.

CDC school guidance: The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to have little or no impact on Florida schools, since they’re already open with a majority of students attending in nearly all districts. The agency said Friday that there’s evidence schools can open safely as long as safety precautions such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, disinfection, testing and contact tracing are in place. News Service of Florida. WKMG. Associated Press. Florida Phoenix. Miami Herald. Bay News 9. WTVT. NPR. Chalkbeat.

Colleges and universities: Florida International University president Mark Rosenberg has sent an email to faculty and other employees urging them to return to work today at campuses. Miami Herald. Florida Gulf Coast University officials said they planning on students attending in-person classes next fall. About 50 percent of classes have been online-only this school year. WINK. The emphasis on remote learning at universities has placed extra burdens on many international students. Medill News Service.

Opinions on schools: Young students shouldn’t be facing felony charges for “acting stupid” by making threats against schools. Lawmakers should give local law enforcement more discretion to reduce charges in cases where the child clearly didn’t intend to carry out the threat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Those who advocate for a pure market approach to educational choice should be asked to keep in mind that decisions about design will be made by 50 individual state governments. Might it not be to our civic good as a nation to watch and learn from the experience of those states with a variety of statutory models just what is popular and what works? John E. Coons, redefinED. There has been progress made against gun violence since the Parkland massacre. But it’s not enough. Miami Herald. Florida can honor the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by revising the state’s outdated sovereign immunity law. Sun Sentinel. Only 18 of Florida’s largest public high schools are enrolling students in physics and calculus courses at a rate higher than the national average. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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