Marching teachers threatened: The top attorney for the Florida Department of Education says teachers who are taking today off to join the rally for education in Tallahassee could be fired for striking illegally. “A concerted failure to report for duty constitutes an illegal strike under Florida law,” Matthew Mears wrote Friday in an email sent only to Polk County Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. Byrd said she asked the department for “guidance” and simply forwarded the email to employees to make them aware of the law, and “not as a threat from me to fire staff.” Teachers and their union leaders said they took it as a veiled threat. “Everything about that email was a disaster from the state level [to] the local level,” said Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend, who is attending the march and rally. “If this is a local decision, over my dead body will anybody be fired.” More than 1,000 Polk teachers are planning to make the trip to Tallahassee. Spectrum News 13. Lakeland Ledger. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. WTSP. WFLA. WFTS. More about today’s march by teachers in Tallahassee, and the legislative session that begins Tuesday. News Service of Florida. GateHouse. Orlando Sentinel. WLRN. Tallahassee Democrat. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. TCPalm. Florida Today. Lakeland Ledger. WSVN. WKMG. WTVT. WFTX.
More education bills: Several bills were filed just before Friday’s deadline to be considered by the Legislature. Among them are one that would require all high school students to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to graduate, another spelling out parental rights in their child’s education and health care, and one that would make temporary funding increases to 29 school districts permanent and require districts to share any future voter-approved tax hikes with charter schools. Gradebook. Lakeland Ledger. Local government officials, such as school board members, would be allowed to carry weapons to meetings under a bill filed in the Legislature. S.B 1524, filed by state Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, would make an exception to the law prohibiting weapons at government meetings for school board members and other local officials. Members of the public attending the meetings would still be barred from being armed. News Service of Florida. Two bills would make significant changes to the way students are handled under the state’s Baker Act. Tampa Bay Times.
Students and suicide: Florida’s youth suicide rate has increased by 50 percent in the past 10 years, an epidemic that school and other officials say is hidden in plain sight online. There are 632,000 Instagram posts with with the hashtag #lifesucks, and another 550,000-plus tagged with #hatemyself. But there are also 2 million Instagram posts with the less obvious hashtag #kms (kill myself), hundreds of thousands under such #secretsociety123, and online users have developed code names for mental health disorders, such as Annie for anxiety and Sue for suicidal. Many teens who are depressed or suicidal say the first place they turn for help is not a mental health professional, a counselor or parents, but to social media. Sun Sentinel.
Mental health instruction: To meet the state requirement of giving students five hours of instruction about mental health, the Volusia County School District will provide monthly lessons conducted through PowerPoint presentations. In Flagler County, students will have 10 30-minute lessons in subjects designed to be age-appropriate. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Native language testing: Some education officials say a bill that would require the state to allow Spanish and Haitian-Creole speakers to take required tests in their native languages raises issues of fairness for speakers of other languages. The Florida Department of Education says Florida ranks third in the country in the number of English language learning students, and they speak more than 300 languages. TCPalm.
Educators honored: Rob Paschall, a 5th-grade teacher at West Creek Elementary, has been named the Orange County School District’s teacher of the year. Others honored: James Leslie of Lake Weston Elementary was named principal of the year, Fred Ray of Carver Middle was chosen as the assistant principal of the year, and Maria Seijo, who works in the district’s Innovation Office, was selected as support person of the year. Orlando Sentinel.
Superintendent search: Politics and race have crept into the search for a new Hillsborough County school superintendent, tinging the process with strong feelings about certain candidates. The six outside candidates and the lone internal candidate, Harrison Peters, will interview Thursday. Despite the factions, school board member Steve Cona said, “I really believe that this job will be won in the interview.” Superintendent Jeff Eakins is retiring no later than June 30. Tampa Bay Times.
Vaping lawsuit: Lee County School Board members are giving consideration to joining the Brevard, Seminole and Palm Beach school districts in a class action lawsuit against Juul Labs, the manufacturer of e-cigarettes. The suit alleges that the company targets teens in ads, leading to health issues for students and disruptions in schools, which are forcing the districts to divert resources from other issues to deal with the vaping problems. Board members are expected to discuss the lawsuit within the next month. Fort Myers News-Press.
Partial dismissal sought: Attorneys for the Broward County School Board are asking for a partial dismissal in the case filed by families of the shooting victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. They claim the suit goes beyond the scope of Florida law in the areas of school districts’ duties and responsibilities. WFOR.
School repairs: The Palm Beach County School District has spent about $61 million repairing and replacing school air conditioning systems since 2017. That investment has resulted in an overall decline in A/C problems by 7 percent, but an analysis of district records shows that some schools have had persisting problems. Palm Beach Post.
More on graduation rates: The Florida Department of Education reported last week that 86.9 percent of the state’s students who started high school in 2015 graduated last spring. But it also reports that the dropout rate is 3.4 percent. So what happened to the other 9.7 percent? Gradebook. More reports about Florida school districts’ graduation rates. WFSU. WMBB. Charlotte Sun. Space Coast Daily. Orlando Sentinel. Panama City News Herald. WUWF.
Spelling bee winner: Caleb Rimpel, an 8th-grader from Christ the King Lutheran School, won the Flagler County Spelling Bee to qualify for the regional spelling bee in Jacksonville on Feb. 27. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Personnel moves: The Sarasota County School District’s interim superintendent since mid-November, Mitsi Corcoran, was given a contract last week by the school board. Corcoran will paid $207,000 a year and receive an extra $1,150 a month for expenses. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Notable deaths: Dr. Ed Anderson, an Ocala dentist and one-term Marion County School Board member who helped the district desegregate schools in the late 1960s, died Jan. 3 at the age of 90. Ocala Star-Banner.
Charters and candidates: Charter schools have been among the most divisive issue among the leading Democratic candidates for president. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have vigorously opposed them, while Mike Bloomberg is a strong supporter and has said he would push for more of them. Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have been less vocal but have called for great accountability for charters. There are about 7,000 charter schools in the United States, and they education about 6 percent of the country’s students. Politico.
School elections: A third candidate has entered the race for the Clay County superintendent’s job. Melanie Dawn Walls joined former superintendent Charlie Van Sant in challenging incumbent Addison Davis. WJXT.
District marketing: The Hernando County School District is rolling out a new marketing plan that includes a new, soft blue and green district logo reading: Hernando School District: Learn it. Love it. Live it. The district paid the Sarasota marketing firm Voss & Associates just over $20,000 to develop the plan. Tampa Bay Times.
Hackers change school names: Hackers temporarily changed information provided from Google searches about several central Florida schools last week. Leesburg High School, for instance, was changed to Tatas High School, with the location changed to Skeezeburg and the principal being named “Megamind.” School officials from several districts are investigating. WOFL. WKMG.
Students and the law: Lee County sheriff’s deputies arrested an Estero High School student and accused him of having a stun gun and six bullets in his car in the school parking lot. Deputies also found cocaine residue in the student’s clothing. Fort Myers News-Press. A 15-year-old Flagler County student has been arrested and accused of hitting a teacher who was trying to break up a fight at Flagler Palm Coast High School. The teacher was not injured. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. A 13-year-old Lee County student was arrested and accused of threatening to kill students at the Alva School. WINK. WFTX.
Opinions on schools: Florida students deserve better than to have one of the lowest-paid education workforces in the nation at work in their classrooms. FEA president Fed Ingram, Miami Herald. Mass marches, such as the one planned by teachers today in Tallahassee, don’t change many minds. But they do focus public attention on what organizers want lawmakers to know their constituents care about. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. Legislators need to put students first for a change, and teachers a close second. Sun Sentinel. Republican legislators will have to deliver to fulfill Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pledge to make 2020 the year of the teacher. Tampa Bay Times. Name an issue proposed by a Republican but viewed favorably by 97 percent of Florida Democrats … AND that increases government spending yet is supported by nearly 9 in 10 Florida Republicans. The answer: raising Florida’s base salary for public school teachers. Karen Cyphers, Florida Politics. Teacher pay and student performance must be the top priorities for the Legislature. John Legg, Florida Politics. Florida school districts are looking to the courts for help fighting vaping manufacturers to recoup costs for the damage they’re doing to students and the problems they’re causing the districts. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Florida needs to make sure that high school students earn credentials that will actually prepare them for life after graduation including college, further vocational training or entering the workforce with a high-paying job. Patricia Levesque, Tampa Bay Times. Non-English-speaking students should get the chance to show what they’ve learned by allowing them to take required state assessment tests in their native languages. Jochua Cora Santiago, Orlando Sentinel.
High school graduation rate up slightly, bill would boost teacher pay, early learning bills and more
High school graduation rate up: Florida’s high school graduation rate improved slightly during the 2018-2019 school year, to 86.9 percent from 86.1 percent in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The rate has increased steadily since dipping to 58.8 percent in the 2005-2006 school year. Rates were up for white, black and Hispanic students, and for economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities. The Lafayette County School District had the highest rate at 98.8 percent, and 13 other districts had rates above 90 percent. Pinellas and Orange tied for the highest rate among the 10 largest districts with 88.4 percent, and the Gadsden County district had the state’s lowest rate at 60.4 percent. Office of the Governor. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. Palm Beach Post. Tampa Bay Times. Patch. WFLA. WUSF. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. St. Augustine Record. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Fort Myers News-Press. Florida Today. TCPalm. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Palm Coast Observer. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. Pensacola News Journal.
Teacher pay hikes: A bill that would boost teacher salaries a specified amount this July and again in 2021 and 2022 has been filed in the Florida House. H.B. 1223, sponsored by Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, would raise teacher salaries to $47,500 or by 5 percent, whichever is greater, on July 5. In 2021 pay would be bumped by 4 percent or to $49,400, whichever is greater, and in 2022 by 4 percent or to $51,376. School support employees would also get raises of 5 percent, 4 percent and 4 percent over the next three years. The bill addresses concerns of teachers and their unions with DeSantis’ plan to boost starting teacher pay to $47,500, but does not include increases for veteran teachers. Florida Politics.
Early learning bills: The state’s early learning programs would be placed under the direction of the Florida Department of Education under bills (H.B. 1013 and S.B. 1616) that have been filed in the House and Senate. The bills, sponsored by state Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and state Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, would create a Division of Early Learning to replace the Office of Early Learning and the school readiness program for state-subsidized child care. They would also create stricter accountability measures using a new standardized test given three times a year, and give the state Board of Education the authority to enforce compliance. A 2019 report concluded that 42 percent of the children enrolled in the state’s VPK program were not ready for kindergarten, prompting Gov. DeSantis to call for reforms. Politico Florida.
School impact fees: The Santa Rosa County Commission has approved a school impact fee on new housing. Developers will pay $5,000 for single-family houses, $4,000 for mobile homes and $2,750 for multi-family units when they apply for building permits. The money generated will be used to build schools to help keep up with the county’s population growth. Commissioners had been opposed to the fee, but reconsidered after voters turned down a half-cent sales tax increase in October. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News.
Tax hike gets support: Business leaders in Okaloosa County are backing a 10-year, half-cent increase in the sales tax to raise money for the school district. The group hopes to get the initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot. If it gets before voters and is approved, the tax hike would generate about $20 million a year for school repairs, construction and upgraded school buses. “The business community recognizes and values the importance of a good education to a strong economy,” said attorney Michelle Anchors, a member of the group. “This isn’t the school board coming to us. It’s us going to the public and saying we need you to lock elbows with us to give strong, secure facilities to our children.” Northwest Florida Daily News.
Teachers honored: Three finalists are named for the Lake County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are: Christine Palmer, an art teacher at Triangle Elementary; Doreen Elder, a math coach at Groveland Elementary; and Sarah Foster, a 5th-grade language arts teacher at Pine Ridge Elementary. The winner will be announced Jan. 30. Daily Commercial.
Students suing state: Eight Florida students between the ages of 12 and 21 are suing Gov. Ron DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the Florida Cabinet and two state agencies for violating their constitutional rights by not developing a plan to fight climate change. “Sadly, our state government has long disregarded the stakes with feel-good political appointments. The time has come for real action,’’ said 21-year-old Delaney Reynolds, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that was filed in 2018 but amended to include the new governor and agriculture commissioner. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.
Education podcasts: The legislative session opens Tuesday, but Monday also figures to be a busy day with a teacher rally for educational funding being held on the steps of the Capitol and the Senate Education Committee taking up several significant issues. Two reporters discuss the busy schedule. Gradebook. Central Florida math teacher Jessica Granahan and UCF professor Lisa Dieker talk about teaching math and science. WMFE.
Anti-vaping message: Polk County students, Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd, Sheriff Grady Judd and Health Department Director Dr. Joy Jackson have produced a public service announcement to warn students about the dangers of vaping. Lakeland Ledger.
Florida students lagging: Florida students lagged significantly behind the 2015-2016 school year national average last spring in taking calculus, chemistry and physics classes, according to a report released by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Bridge to Tomorrow.
Superintendent search: A series of town halls will be held next week in Marion County so members of the community can express what qualities they want to see in the next school superintendent. County residents voted in 2018 to switch from an elected superintendent to an appointed one, and the school board is just beginning the search. Ocala Star-Banner. One of the eight semifinalists for the Hillsborough County school superintendent’s job has withdrawn his name from consideration. The withdrawal of Chris Farkas, a deputy superintendent in the district, leaves chief of schools Harrison Peters as the only internal candidate. Gradebook.
Personnel moves: The president of the Jupiter Christian School in Palm Beach County has resigned after a reported breach of employee policies. According to school officials, Dave Breslin violated the policy when he was alone with a student in a room that was not open for viewing. Jupiter police investigated and determined there was no improper contact with the student. WPTV.
School choice: School choice registration begins today in Collier County, Monday in Lee and in February in Charlotte. And Sarasota County schools will showcase their academic programs next Tuesday and Wednesday. WINK. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Students and the law: Four Polk County students were taken into custody after deputies found an unloaded gun at Lake Region High School in Eagle Lake. Arrested were a student who was seen pointing the gun at another student, two students who had possession of the gun, and a student who had a bullet in his backpack. Lakeland Ledger. WFTS. WTVT.
School bus crash: An Orange County school bus driver was injured when a car drove into the bus’ path near Winter Garden. The bus was carrying 21 students, but none was hurt. Charges are pending against the car’s driver. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV.
Opinions on schools: Real-world lessons for students can start with high-school internships. Melanie Diel, Orlando Sentinel.
Student enrichment: Free after-school meals are now available at Hawthorne Middle/High School, Alachua County school officials have announced. Gainesville Sun. The STEM program at Treadway Elementary School in Lake County has received an augmented reality sandbox, which uses a 3D camera, motion sensor and projector to help students model and learn about erosion, water flow and land contour lines. Daily Commercial. A Manatee County charter school, Visible Men Academy, is home to an early education program called Rise and Shine that helps students and their families get ready for school. Bradenton Herald.
Revised ESSA plan: The Florida Department of Education submits its revised plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The state is asking the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver to limit state testing to either math or science every year for middle school students, instead of both, and wants to offer state tests in a language other than English only when 5 percent or more of middle school students speaks that language. In Florida, the plan says, that would be only Spanish. The state also wants to change the way it deals with migrant and homeless children, how it handles out-of-field teachers, and details how it will use demographic subgroups to determine what schools need additional attention. Gradebook. Politico Florida.
Digital report cards: Report cards for Lake County School District students will no longer be mailed to homes, school officials say. Instead, parents and students will have to look up grades online through the already-in-place Skyward Family Access portal. The switch is expected to save the district $35,000 a year. Parents can still get a paper copy by going to their child’s school and asking for one to be printed. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial.
School security: A 16-member commission reviewing the Parkland school shooting meets for the first time today in Coconut Creek. The panel will look into law enforcement’s response and confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz’s background, and make recommendations to prevent future attacks. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Manatee County is unlikely to contribute to pay for armed security at the county’s schools, county officials are telling the school board. The county has split the costs in the past. School board member Charlie Kennedy says he hopes the county’s decision is negotiable. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Clay County School Board members want to put a resource officer in every school, which will cost $5 million, and are asking the county for more financial help. Clay Sheriff Darryl Daniels is frustrated by the delays in making a decision, and warns that time is running out to hire and train officers for schools. WJAX. Polk County School Board members are expected to vote today on a plan to hire at least 85 armed safety officers for county schools. WFLA. The first of three town hall meetings about using the school marshal program in Brevard County schools is tonight. The school board says putting a resource officer in every school is too expensive, and wants to consider arming school personnel even though Superintendent Desmond Blackburn and Sheriff Wayne Ivey are recommending against it. Florida Today. At least 31 students have been killed and 53 wounded in school shootings this year in the United States. The 74.
Legislative education bills: The Florida House and Senate release their education bills, revealing differences in per-student spending and the teacher bonuses program. The Senate proposes spending an additional $110 per student, while the House wants $100. Both are below Gov. Rick Scott’s $200 proposal. The Senate also puts $184 million into general operations for teacher pay raises, while the House wants to keep the Best and Brightest bonus program and spend $234 million on it. Other highlights of the Senate proposal include $88 million to remove the limit on the number of traditional public schools eligible for extra money under the Schools of Hope program, almost $18 million for teacher classroom supplies and $40 million for student mental health issues. The House’s 109-page proposal includes new scholarships for 3rd-graders who fail the state reading exam, an expansion of the powers of charter schools and networks, a cutback in computerized state testing and new accountability rules for private schools accepting tax credit scholarships. Gradebook (Senate). Gradebook (House). redefinED. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Meanwhile, the Senate release its higher education budget, which calls for a $383 million boost in spending. Tuesday, the House proposed cutting spending for universities and colleges by $217 million. Tampa Bay Times. WFSU.
Guns in schools: The Florida House Criminal Justice Committee approves bills that would allow people to carry guns in public schools and churches with schools. H.B. 621 would allow designated people, chosen by superintendents or principals, to carry concealed weapons in public schools. Those designated, who could be any school employee or even volunteers, would have to complete 40 hours of proficiency training. H.B. 1419 would allow concealed weapons in churches, synagogues or religious institutions, even if they have schools. Current law prohibits anyone from having a gun in a school. Sunshine State News. WFSU.
Flu closing district: All Gulf County schools will be closed Friday due to the widening flu outbreak. Superintendent Jim Norton says about 20 percent of students have missed school this week with the flu, and the district is running out of healthy substitute teachers and school bus drivers. Schools will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized Friday. Other northwest Florida counties are also seeing more flu cases. Port St. Joe Star. WMBB. WJHG. Destin Log.
Retention issues: A judge says she may rule this week in a lawsuit brought against the state’s third-grade retention policy. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers did not grant the request to immediately promote third-graders who did poorly on the state reading test or opted out of taking it, saying she wanted to give the state and the six districts named in the suit time to respond. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Many school districts in the state offer alternative ways for third-graders to advance even if they do poorly on the state test or opt out of taking it. Gradebook.
Maintenance issues: Palm Beach County school officials say 40 of its 196 schools are in unsatisfactory or poor condition, and seven need to be torn down and rebuilt. Mold, leaks, broken equipment and more are reported. The district and the county are asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax in November. Half the proceeds would go for school construction. Sun-Sentinel.
School construction: Almost two years after Broward County voters approved an $800 million school renovation program, no work has been done. School Superintendent Robert Runcie says the district has had a “little bit of a rough start getting out of the box.” There have been errors in assessing needs, confusion about advertising for bids, problems in the purchasing department and troubles following Florida’s Sunshine Law that caused the district to repeat work. Some costs are running 57 percent above original estimates. Despite the problems, Runcie says the work will be completed by 2022, as originally estimated. Sun-Sentinel.
Back to school: More Florida school districts open their doors to students today. Florida Times-Union. Palm Beach Post. Tallahassee Democrat. Lakeland Ledger. TCPalm. TCPalm. Gainesville Sun. WFLA. Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is criticized by school board members for a late and potentially confusing letter going out to parents. The letters inform parents of their “assigned” schools, which could be different from the schools parents have chosen. Board members say the letters are confusing, and were also unhappy that about 265 letters just went out Thursday. School starts today. Florida Times-Union. The Orange County School District opens the Wedgefield K-8 School today. It has room for about 1,200 students. Orlando Sentinel. Volusia County officials start the school year today with a goal of reducing chronic absenteeism by 10 percent. Daytona Beach News-Journal.