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Like public schools, Fla. faith-based schools grapple with security costs

WEST PALM BEACH – Like traditional public schools and charter schools — and other faith-based schools — many Florida Catholic schools are struggling to fund added security measures.

Catholic school leaders have received help from the church, but they say they still struggle to cover the costs of school resource officers and other enhancements.

In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach added a policeman on campus from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. in addition to a regular policeman who is on campus in the afternoons from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. That pushed daily security expenses to $500 per day.

Rev. David Carr, president of Cardinal Newman, said the additional security expenses will add a new strain to the school’s finances over a full 180-day school year.

“For the next school year that will mean $90,000 for security which is not included in next year’s budget,” he said. “We are concerned about funding for security.”

The struggle to fund additional security mirrors the struggles school boards around the state have faced as the figure out how to hire additional officers or armed guards. The Legislature mandated armed security officers at public schools and provided funding to help defray the cost. But private schools must respond to similar public concerns with their own funding sources. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Armed guards, training, amendment support and more

School security: Broward County School Board members express support for the hiring of armed “guardians” to protect schools that don’t have sworn resource officers. Board members say they would prefer the guardians to be retired police officers or military veterans. Most would be stationed in elementary schools. Sun-Sentinel. The Lake County School Board approves a security plan that will put a resource officer in every school and arm some school administrators. Daily Commercial. The Volusia County School District has paid 100 percent of the cost for having deputies at middle and high schools since 2008. But with the law now requiring an armed guard in every school, school officials are asking the county for help to hire armed guardians to cover elementary schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has begun training more than 100 applicants to become armed guardians. Training includes handgun and rifle handling, how to engage active shooters and written tests. WFTS. WKMG. Lakeland Ledger. The Manatee County School Board is considering several changes to its student conduct code that are required by new state laws. The proposals revise the situations in which the district can send students to mental health agencies, when it can remove students through the Baker or Marchman acts, would broaden the definition of a threat to any of its schools, and would prohibit firearms from being stored in students’ vehicles. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota County school leaders meet with law enforcement officials today to discuss school security and the district’s proposal to start its own police force. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Northwest Florida school and law enforcement officials meet to share ideas on how to provide school security. Panama City News Herald.

Amendments support: Only four of the 13 constitutional amendments that will be on November’s ballot have the support needed to pass, according to a poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce. One of of the four is Amendment 8, which would limit school board members’ terms to eight years, require the teaching of civic literacy in public schools and establish an alternative path to approval for public and charter schools that does not involve local school districts. The poll indicated 75 percent support for Amendment 8. Sixty percent is required for passage. News Service of Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: School crime reporting, scholarships, suit and more

School crime reporting: The Broward County School District has failed to report many students’ crimes to the state as required by state law, according to records from the Broward Sheriff’s Office. For example, the district reported 193 weapons were found in schools during the 2016-2017 school year, but officials acknowledge they no longer were counting such things as ammunition, small knives, throwing blades, nunchucks, BB guns and combustible materials. District spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan says the data sent to the state is meant only to capture “the most serious of incidents, while other incidents are recorded and addressed locally.” Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association, adds, “The state statute is really kind of unclear and open to interpretation, so it leads to subjective decisions.” Sun-Sentinel.

Scholarship oversight: Several legislators say they want to standardize education curriculum for all state schools. Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, was among those calling for the change after a newspaper report detailing some of the materials used by some private schools that enroll students who get scholarships from the state. Among those lessons: people and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time, slaves who “knew Christ” were better off than free men who did not, and God intervened to prevent Catholics from controlling North America. The state doesn’t track curriculum used by private schools with scholarship students, and bars the Florida Education Department from regulating academics at those schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer two scholarship programs students use to attend private schools. Orlando Sentinel.

One lawsuit on hold: Leon County Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer rules that the Palm Beach County School Board’s challenge of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, is on hold until an appeal on a broader lawsuit against the law is settled. Palm Beach is challenging only the part of the law that requires the district to share local property tax revenue with charter schools it authorizes. The other lawsuit, brought by several districts, claims the law is unconstitutional because it has “encroached on the authority vested by the Florida Constitution in locally elected district school boards to operate, control, and supervise the local public schools located in their respective jurisdictions.” redefinED. Continue Reading →


A third Florida institution joins the AltSchool roster

The Silicon Valley startup AltSchool spent the just-completed school year test-driving its personalized learning software in a handful of elite private schools — including two in Florida.

When the company first announced its plans to expand beyond a handful of pricey private schools it operated itself, it pledged to gradually extend its reach into a more diverse cross-section of institutions, including public school districts. This week, it announced plans to do just that, starting with a handful of additional schools and districts around the country.

AltSchool also announced its existing partner schools, including Temple Beth Sholom Day School in Miami Beach and the Greene School in West Palm Beach, have signed on for another year. Another Florida institution, Jacksonville Beach’s Discovery School, is joining its roster. Continue Reading →


‘A voice of calm’ for students with Autism

Trina Middleton, education director at JSA, has been lauded for her leadership at JSA.

Abigail Maass never spoke. It was hard for her to connect with others. She grew impatient easily.

Her struggles mirrored those of children everywhere who grow up with profound autism.

This all changed when she met Trina Middleton, a teacher with Duval County Public Schools.

Middleton said she consistently encouraged Abigail and gave her many opportunities to do different activities. She also enrolled her in intensive Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy. ABA is a therapeutic approach that helps people with autism improve their communication, social and academic skills.

“It is just believing in her abilities and supporting her and celebrating with her,” she said.

Priscilla Maass, Abigail’s mother, said Middleton’s belief in her daughter made all the difference. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Task force findings, cop talks, term limits and more

Security task force: Almost four months after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a Broward County school safety task force recommends 100 ways to improve security for schools. Among them: installing portable metal detectors at Stoneman Douglas this fall and considering them for all schools, putting coverings over windows in doors, keeping classroom doors locked at all times, increasing the height of all outdoor fences, requiring ID badges for all students and staff, and reviewing the Promise program, which was created in 2013 as a way to offer alternatives to arresting students. The committee members also joined local officials in calling on the Legislature to boost funding for school safety. Sun-Sentinel. Miami HeraldWSVN. Politico Florida. WLRN.

A cop reflects: Scot Peterson, a Stoneman Douglas resource officer who did not enter the building where confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz was killing 17 people on Feb. 14, is haunted by that day, at times justifying his decisions (“How can they keep saying I did nothing?”) and at times questioning them (“Why didn’t I know to go in?”). He has considered changing his name or moving out of state, but knows there’s no escaping the infamy. “It’s haunting,” Peterson says. “I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17.” Still, he believes there is little or nothing more he could have done. Washington Post. Parents of students killed at Stoneman Douglas express outrage at Peterson’s comments. “I’m tired of him trying to paint himself as the victim,” says one, Fred Guttenberg, the father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg. “He is not a victim. He created victims. He keeps referring to them as his kids. They are not your kids, Scot Peterson! You let them die!” Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Private school curriculum, education lawsuits and more

Private school problems: Three Christian publishing companies provide some Florida private schools and homeschooled students with a curriculum that denies evolution, says humans and dinosaurs shared the earth, downplays the horrors of slavery and treatment of native Americans, and disparages religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures that didn’t descend from white Europeans, according to a review of the materials. Experts from several colleges and school districts say the lessons also are easier than those required in public schools, and do not prepare students for college. Orlando Sentinel. The principal of an Osceola County private school says he knew about the felony convictions of the man he hired as athletics supervisor, but didn’t know hiring him was a violation of state law. Orlando Sentinel.

Education lawsuits: Lawyers for the state say 10 members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission should not be permitted to file a brief supporting the group Citizens for Strong Schools in its suit filed nine years ago that alleges the state has not adequately funded school education as required by the constitution. Those members, who include former attorney general Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan and former House speaker Jon Mills, say they want to explain their intent in framing the constitutional amendment requiring the state to provide a high-quality public school system. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. State lawyers also argue that the appeal of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, should continue in the standard appeals process instead of being certified quickly to the Florida Supreme Court, as the school boards that brought the suit are requesting. News Service of Florida.

Bittersweet graduation: Sunday’s graduation ceremony for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School seniors was a bittersweet affair, the excitement tempered with the memory of the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people, including four students who would have graduated. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon made a surprise appearance as a guest speaker, telling students, “When something feels hard, remember that it gets better. Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Teacher wins Tony, spelling bee, security and more

Teacher wins a Tony: Melody Herzfeld, the one-person drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who saved 65 students during the shooting rampage at the school Feb. 14 by barricading them in a closet, wins a special Tony award for educators. The award is given annually to U.S. teachers who have “demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession.” She wins $10,000 and a pair of tickets to the Tony ceremony and gala. Sun-Sentinel. New York Times. Associated Press.

National spelling bee: Two Florida students spell their way into Thursday’s finals at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C, before being  eliminated. Simone Kaplan, a 12-year-old 6th-grader from Davie who attends St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Broward County, was eliminated in the ninth round when she spelled the word carmagnole as carmagnol. Marisa Langley, a 14-year-old home-schooled 8th-grader from Tallahassee, was eliminated in the eighth round when she spelled the word hausen as housen. The champion is Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas. The 519 spellers who started the competition included 31 students from Florida. Associated PressScripps Howard Spelling Bee. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelPalm Beach Post. TCPalm. Continue Reading →