Legislative previews, foundation cuts off Pasco because of data-sharing, reading issues and more

In the Legislature: Budget questions, what to do about funding for school districts that have lost thousands of students in the past year and changes in education choice are among the biggest issues legislators will face when the 60-day legislative session begins Tuesday. Changes are also proposed for school employees, including an end to state pensions for new employees. More than 2,500 bills have been filed, and new Republican leaders will take over in both the Senate and House. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: A national philanthropic organization has cut ties with the Pasco County School District because it shares private student information with the sheriff’s department, which uses the data to compile a list of students it thinks could become criminals, Hillsborough school officials say they will try to repurpose schools for other uses instead of simply closing them, the number of K-3 students with reading problems has gone up significantly in the past year, Florida pro sports teams will partner with the state to provide a “resiliency curriculum” to help students overcome hardships that affect their mental health, Manatee school officials are thinking about placing a medical magnet program at Lincoln Memorial Academy in Palmetto, and Orange County plans to hold high school graduation ceremonies at the Amway Center. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A Coral Gables special education teacher and football coach who went missing Tuesday was found by police Friday in Fort Pierce, about 130 miles away. Roger Pollard, 39, was unharmed. Miami-Dade police wouldn’t say why he left or where he had been. Spokesman Angel Rodriguez said only that “it’s a big mystery.” Miami Herald. WPLG.

Broward: A 17-year-old senior at North Broward Prep in Pompano Beach who heard about 260 rabbits and guinea pigs living in squalor in Lee County organized a rescue effort and found most of the animals homes within days of launching the rescue. Dylan Warfel has been rescuing animals for five years. She and the owner of an animal sanctuary rented a cargo van and drove across Florida to collect the animals and drop them at new homes. Warfel took in 21 rabbits and guinea pigs, and is working to find them homes. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: After saying that closing schools was a possibility to save money, district officials said late last week that they have every intention of repurposing partly empty schools instead of closing them and selling the properties. For example, deputy superintendent Michael Kemp said the district could merge two schools that are well under capacity and use the closed school as an early education or adult education center. “How we repurpose our schools in the future is only limited by our imagination,” Kemp said. Tampa Bay Times. A Tampa middle school teacher who was arrested two years ago and accused of sexual activity with students has been acquitted by a jury. Alex Jeffrey Hull had been fired from Benito Middle School after the arrest. His lawyers said they presented evidence that Hull had an alibi for the time one of the victims said they were having sex, and was never alone with the girl. Tampa Bay Times. A 12-year-old Coleman Middle School student has been arrested and accused of selling stun guns to her classmates. The girl told police she bought five guns online and sold three of them last Thursday to classmates. She still had two when police questioned her on Friday. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Orange: County high school graduations will be held May 17 through June 2 at the Amway Center with face masks mandatory, social distancing, limited ticketing and strict arrival, departure and stage procedures, district officials announced Friday. Ceremonies will also be livestreamed. WKMG.

Palm Beach: School officials said last week that students will have options on how to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. IB students won’t have to take their exam in person, while AP students will have the choice of taking the tests in-person or on a computer at school or from home. Students taking the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education exams will have to do so in person. “Our preference is always face-to-face, because that’s a better environment, but we’ve given as much flexibility as we can within the parameters provided,” said deputy superintendent Keith Oswald. Palm Beach Post. A new drone class will be offered next fall at Palm Beach Lakes High School. About 20 students will learn how to operate drones, and every senior will have the chance to earn industry certification. WPTV.

Duval: A program developed by Junior Achievement and the Duval County School District is giving 8th-graders a look at career opportunities and what level of education they need to qualify. “The JA Inspire program is a great way to get middle school students thinking more about future possibilities, and the earlier we can introduce that the better,” said Jane Harvey, a career and technical education specialist with the district. “When we wait until 11th or 12th grade for students to do career exploration, the students might find a career that interests them but find they have not taken any of the high school courses that would prepare them for college acceptance.” Florida Times-Union.

Polk: A Winter Haven High School student was arrested last week and accused of having a loaded gun on campus. Police said they found a handgun in the backpack of an 18-year-old boy after a teacher smelled marijuana smoke on the boy and called the office. An assistant principal confronted the student and asked to see the backpack. The student resisted and when a school resource officer arrived the assistant principal was holding the boy on the ground. The boy was charged with grand theft of a firearm, possession of a weapon on school ground, carrying a concealed firearm, battery on a school employee and resisting an officer without violence. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA. WKMG.

Pasco: A national philanthropic organization has cut ties with the school district because it shares private student information with the sheriff’s department, which uses the data to compile a list of students it thinks could become criminals. “We believe this practice is contrary to both the best interests of students and our values,” said Julie Mikuta, the co-president for education grant-making at the Oklahoma-based Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, which supports education initiatives and criminal justice reform. The foundation had already given the district $1.8 million for teacher training and instructional materials and was scheduled to donate $1.7 million more. Superintendent Kurt Browning said he was disappointed with the foundation’s decision. Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee, Sarasota: Manatee school officials are considering trying to boost enrollment at the struggling Lincoln Memorial Academy in Palmetto by starting a medical magnet program there. Lincoln Memorial Middle School was converted to a charter school during the 2018-2019 school year before experiencing financial and management problems. Its charter was canceled and the district took over the school in the summer of 2019. Bradenton Herald. School officials in both Manatee and Sarasota say it’s not too soon to start talking about what coronavirus-related precautions now in place will be carried into the next school year. “People have reached out as to what we expect next school year,” said Sarasota school board member Bridget Ziegler. “Right now is enrollment time for many other schools, including ours,” and she added that COVID-19 policies will “play a huge role in families making decisions as to what they will do next year.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Collier: Lorenzo Walker Technical College is expanding its HVAC apprenticeship program after receiving a grant from the state’s Pathways to Career Opportunities program. Naples Daily News.

Alachua: Buchholz High School junior Jeffrey Xue and Eastland High senior Bill Zhao have been named Alachua’s Sunshine State scholars for the past two years. Scholars are chosen for outstanding STEM achievement. Gainesville Sun.

Northwest Florida: Many colleges and universities have canceled or reduced the amount of time off during spring break, though the northwest Florida beaches will be open and businesses and law enforcement officials are making preparations for visitors. The Escambia, Santa Rosa, Walton and Bay school districts are all off March 15-19, while Okaloosa’s is off April 19-23. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Citrus: Two district students committed suicide last week, prompting Superintendent Sandra Himmel to email parents with a message that read, in part: “I am encouraging all families to continue to engage their children and check on their well-being. Over the last year, all of our lives have changed in one way or another and those long-term impacts are still unknown. Please know that our school district along with our community partners are here to provide resources which are available 24/7.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Monroe: A 14-year-old student was arrested after allegedly threatening a Horace O’Bryant School student over a girl they both like.  The boy emailed his rival that “three bullets will be looking for your brain” if he didn’t stay away from the girl. Police said the boy had no access to guns, and will likely be charged as a juvenile. Miami Herald.

Resiliency in schools: Florida pro sports teams will partner with the state to provide a “resiliency curriculum” to help students overcome hardships that affect their mental health. Casey DeSantis, the governor’s wife, announced last week that “key fundamentals of teaching kids how to be resilient,” such as problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, would be in the curriculum. Pro athletes will add their own stories of overcoming injuries, losses and bad luck. “We are changing the narrative on mental health and re-framing it to resiliency and hope,” DeSantis said. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics.

What teachers think: Florida teachers who are members of a union are unhappy with Gov. Ron DeSantis, want access to coronavirus vaccinations and want the state to cancel its standardized tests, according to a poll conducted by Clearview Research for the Florida Education Association. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the nation: Saturday, the U.S. House passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that includes $170 billion for K-12 schools and colleges and universities. Now it moves to the Senate for consideration. Forbes. About 400,000 U.S. students in grades K-3 are reading at lower levels than they did a year ago, according to a mid-year assessment developed by the University of Oregon. And the number of minority students in those grades who need instructional intervention has increased significantly. K-12 Dive. The 74.

Opinions on schools: If the state passes the new education choice bill, micro-schools can become a reality for those in underserved communities as well as for students with means. Simply put: the low-income black children who need them the most. Glenton Gilzean Jr., Orlando Sentinel. Florida has no business telling college students what they ought or ought not study, which for all practical purposes is what S.B. 86 would do by denying financial aid to a certain class of student. Orlando Sentinel. Delightfully, the once hard-and-fast distinctions that define “education” are beginning to blend, and the Dynamic Micro-school in East Mesa, Az., is a great example. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. The educational experiences of many successful people have shown that there often is not a straight line to success. And along the way, education is never wasted. The state’s mission should be to support that journey, wherever it leads, rather than finding new ways to put up roadblocks or push students off their paths and, ultimately, out of school. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. S.B. 86 is a horrible idea, because how many people can trace an obvious path from their college major to their career? Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. Here are some things the Legislature could do to protect and promote quality public education. Dr. Kathleen Holmes Reynolds and Dr. Sharon Harris-Ewing, Naples Daily News. Minority students need more options to achieve higher education than have athletic talent or taking on overwhelming student debt. Michelle Figueroa, Florida Times-Union.

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