School threats and the toll on students, potential solutions, the politics of teacher raises and more
The toll of school threats: False school threats have become so commonplace that the lockdowns they provoke often can get overlooked by most people in a community. But for those students who go through the lockdowns, the threats are very real and can cause fear and anxiety lasting for hours, days or longer. “If you’re in a moment when you think this is the last few seconds of your life,” said Nicholas Cutro, a school psychologist in Orange County, “that’s a traumatic event. The truth is, I don’t think any of us really know what the consequences are.” During the 2017-2018 school year, according to an analysis by the Washington Post, more than 4 million U.S. students went through at least one lockdown. Tampa Bay Times.
Addressing school violence: Lawmakers and educators are responding to recently published reports of threats to schools from emotionally unstable students with a variety of possible solutions. Among them: revising laws that protect disabled students but also restrict the ability of school officials to deal with threats they pose, improving mental services in schools and integrating them with family counseling, training teachers on ways to better handle special-needs students, improving tracking of violent students and boosting spending to support disruptive students and provide the therapy they need. Sun Sentinel. The number of student assaults against Polk County school employees jumped from fewer than 15 two school years ago to 64 in 2018-2019. In the first four months of this school year, through Dec. 9, 26 incidents have been reported. Lakeland Ledger. Seven people died and 43 were wounded in 24 shootings at U.S. schools or during school-sponsored events in 2019, according to records kept by the publication Education Week. Education Week.
Politics and teacher raises: Gov. Ron DeSantis has called 2020 the year of the teacher in Florida, is proposing to raise pay for starting teachers and wants a new bonus program. Florida is buzzing about the moves, and they’re attracting attention nationally. But what can actually get done? Legislators are pointing at the sheer cost — more than $900 million — and equity issues as serious obstacles to DeSantis’ plans. The legislative session begins Jan. 14. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald.
Educator honored: Jae Glass, a 7th-grade language arts teacher at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, has been named the Gulf County School District teacher of the year. Port St. Joe Star.
IG’s power may be cut: Palm Beach County school officials are proposing ways to limit the authority of the school board’s inspector general. The initiative was prompted last spring, after an IG investigation disclosed that the principal and assistant principal at Palm Beach Central High improperly raised the grades of at least 11 students between 2016 and 2018. Both were removed, though the principal has since returned, and the school administrators’ association complained that the release of the report before the district had a chance to review it “created a high degree of uncertainty regarding the support and trust” given to school administrators. Palm Beach Post.
Keeping cadets together: Marion County School Board members meet today in an emergency session to see if there’s a way to keep the 185 cadets from the Marion Military Academy together. MMA closed Monday for financial reasons. On Wednesday, district Superintendent Heidi Maier gave students four choices for new schools. Since then, MMA officials have met with Maier and other district officials about possible options to place the cadets at the same school. Ocala Star-Banner.
Medical marijuana in schools: The Monroe County School Board approves a policy that will allow students to receive medical marijuana treatment at schools. A caregiver or parent will have to bring the drug to school, administer it, and then take it out from the school. No school worker is permitted to touch the medication. Key West Citizen.
New schools planned: The First Baptist Academy in Jacksonville has announced plans to build a new K-12 college prep school on the grounds of the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes campus on the city’s south side. Construction begins early next year, and officials hope to have the school open for its 360 students by the fall. Florida Times-Union. The Naples Classical Academy, a charter school that will focus on a traditional liberal arts and science curriculum, is preparing to open next fall in north Naples for K-6 students. No specific location has been announced. School officials have applied to Hillsdale College to be a part of the Barney Charter School Initiative. Naples Daily News.
Changing a school name: Many residents of Orange County want to change the name of Stonewall Jackson Middle School, and the Orange County School Board is expected to consider it early in 2020. Earlier this year a school advisory committee proposed simply dropping the word Stonewall from the name to rid the school of the Confederate association, but many in the community are pushing for a new name. Orlando Sentinel.
Top bus driver named: Jo-Ann Donovan, a bus driver for the Charlotte County School District, has been named the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s bus driver of the year. Donovan helped authorities find a developmentally challenged student who had run away from home. Charlotte Sun.
School fundraising site: A Manatee County man has developed a website that he says will make it easier for schools to raise money. Frank DiGiovanni, an entrepreneur and financial adviser, started “Schoolvite,” which partners with local vendors that can be hired for birthday parties and other special events as a school fund-raiser. Businesses agree to pay back 7.5 percent of the total cost of the event, with 5 percent going to the chosen school and 2.5 percent to Schoolvite. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Teachers and the law: A teacher at a Miami-Dade County charter school has been arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. Police say Desiree Cartin Rodriguez, 27, a teacher at Doral Academy Preparatory High School, is charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a 15-year-old boy. Miami Herald.
Arrest in shooting at school: A 50-year-old Naples man has been arrested and charged with shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend at Lely High School in Naples last Thursday night. The woman was attending night English classes for adults at the school. Naples Daily News.
Students and the law: A 12-year-old Lee County student has been arrested for having a loaded gun in his backpack at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres, according to sheriff’s deputies. Officials found the gun after other students tipped off administrators. Fort Myers News-Press.
Opinions on schools: School choice is no longer an educational aberration; it’s now the norm. To criticize the Polk County superintendent for recognizing that and trying to learn more about it at a conference is unfortunate. Lakeland Ledger. If we want to provide a quality education to every student in our public school system, testing methods to determine eligibility for gifted programs need to be revised and implemented across the country sooner rather than later. Sabina Valery, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Guadalupe Center’s E.G. Salisbury Tutor Corps Summer Academy bridges the gap between high school and college with guidance, tutoring and teaching skills needed to succeed in college, like time management and priority-setting. Robert Spano, Naples Daily News. What if we were to envision a a K-12 schooling system that benefits from disorder, or is anti-fragile under the concept developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb? Matthew Ladner, redefinED.
Student enrichment: Morning Star School, a K-12 school in Jacksonville for students with learning and intellectual disabilities, attention deficit disorders and autism spectrum disorders, has received a gift of $250,000 from Delores Barr Weaver. The money will go toward building a new high school. WJXT. The lobbying firm Ballard Partners has donated $50,000 to the Foundation for Leon County Schools to help needy students and their families. Tallahassee Democrat. Stephen Simpson, the owner of the asset management company S2 Groups, has paid off the $2,564.47 debt that students owed the Escambia County School District for unpaid school lunches. Pensacola News Journal.
Jury rips districts: A statewide grand jury has concluded that many Florida students are in imminent danger because their schools are not complying with state requirements for school security. “There is no conceivable set of circumstances that any Florida school, charter or not, should be unprepared to comply,” according to the report that was issued Wednesday. It’s the second report issued by this grand jury since it was empaneled by Gov. Ron DeSantis to look into school safety noncompliance by districts. The report singled out the Broward County School District as particularly slow to comply, citing its flawed communications systems, under-reported student incidents and its rushed efforts to meet the law’s requirements. Sun Sentinel.
Armed teachers: Republican legislators who pushed to allow Florida teachers to be armed in classrooms now say they don’t need to know how many have signed up for the training to carry weapons. State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and the chair of the Senate’s education budget-writing committee, said this week that she doesn’t know how many teachers are carrying concealed weapons in schools, and that it isn’t something that concerns her. Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, is pushing for disclosure, and said she thinks Republicans don’t want the number released because it will prove the program is a failure. Thirty-eight of the state’s 67 districts are participating in the armed guardian program, but Safe Schools director Damien Lewis said in September that only 11 were considering arming teachers. News Service of Florida.
School board term limits: Local school board members in Florida would be limited to 12 years in office under a proposed constitutional amendment filed Wednesday in the Senate. State Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota who is also chairman of the state party, filed the resolution that, if approved, would place the question on the November 2020 ballot. A similar proposal was filed in the House in September, but it calls for term limits of eight years. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.
Four-day school week rejected: Hernando County School Board members informally have agreed that a four-day school week is not in the district’s future. “I see this going over with parents like a ton of bricks,” said board member Gus Guadagnino, echoing the thoughts of the rest of the board and school officials who looked into the idea as a way to cut costs. They said the arguments against four-day weeks — longer school days, a loss of art and music classes, trouble with transportation and sporting events — outweighed the arguments for the change, which centered on saving money. Tampa Bay Times.
Teachers honored: Heather Young, an art teacher at Venice Elementary, has been named the Sarasota County School District’s teacher of the year. Joshua Grant of Venice High was named the district’s high school teacher of the year, and Sarasota Military Academy Prep’s Marissa Dobbert was chosen as the middle school teacher of the year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun.
Student-athlete safety: The House PreK-12 Innovation Committee has given its approval to a bill aimed at improving safety for student-athletes against health crises brought on by heatstroke. The bill, filed by state Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, would require defibrillators to be available for all games, practices, workouts and conditioning sessions, with an employee or volunteer trained to use it, and amend guidelines for when schools should have cooling zones or cold-water immersion tubs available. Tampa Bay Times.
Campus therapists approved: Therapists will be on Citrus County school campuses next year after a contract between the school district and a community mental health provider was approved by the school board. The deal calls for LifeStream Behavioral Center to provide 6-10 mental health counselors to be divided among schools. The therapists will treat students for behavioral and emotional issues and refer students to other services as needed. Citrus County Chronicle.
Desegregation plan reconsidered: The Volusia County School Board wants to take another look at the desegregation plan that’s been in effect for decades. The plan bused black students from a Daytona Beach neighborhood to schools that were predominantly white, but did not bus white students into the mostly minority schools near that neighborhood. Board members have asked district officials to research the results from the plan. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Medical marijuana in schools: The Duval County and Citrus County school boards have approved policies that will allow students with prescriptions to receive medical marijuana treatment at schools. The treatment must be administered by a student’s caregiver or parent, and no one at any school is permitted to help or store the drug. WJAX. Citrus County Chronicle.
Vaping by students: The percentage of Collier County middle and high school students who use electronic vaping products is the highest in the state, according to the Florida Department of Health. Its new report said 39.2 percent of Collier students reported vaping in the last 30 days in 2018. The county with the lowest rate is Gadsden, at 15.6 percent. The statewide average is 27.9 percent. WBBH. A look at what vaping is costing one U.S. school district. Education Week.
Contract negotiations: The Manatee County School Board approves a contract that gives 71 percent of the district’s teachers a $1,249 pay raise, and $936 to another 28 percent. The raises are effective as of Dec. 20, and paychecks will include retroactive pay to July 30. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Pasco County School Board is expected to vote Dec. 17 on a tentative contract agreement that would give 3.25 percent raises to the district’s 1,100 school-related workers. The agreement would cost the district about $2.2 million. Gradebook.
Board rejects Maier request: Marion County School Board members reject Superintendent Heidi Maier’s request to hire an accounting firm to audit the school district’s hiring process. Maier wanted authorization to spend $21,350 for the random audit of 200 employees to see if their applications had been properly vetted. Board members called it a waste of money and unanimously rejected the request. Ocala Star-Banner.
Board meeting security: The Manatee County School Board will discuss making changes to the security protocol it established for board meetings shortly after the district took over the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school in July. Bag checks and metal detectors will probably remain, but alternatives to the prohibition on standing during meetings, heavy police presence in the room and the removal of some attendees for breaking the board’s rules could be considered. Bradenton Herald.
School start times: Palm Beach County School Board members have authorized Superintendent Donald Fennoy to research the feasibility of later high school start times. Sun Sentinel. Parents and students in Broward and Palm Beach counties say high schools should start later in the day, though many worry about the impact of later times on after-school activities, homework and working students. Sun Sentinel.
School calendars: The Palm Beach County School Board approves a change in the school calendar. Schools will be closed March 17 for the state’s presidential primary. That day will be made by by cutting spring break a day short, with schools open March 30. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. The Lake County School Board approves a 2020-2021 school calendar that closes schools on Veterans Day and Thanksgiving week. The year will begin Aug. 10, and the last day of classes for students is May 28. Daily Commercial.
Teacher shortage: The national shortage of teachers is also being felt in special skills fields such as braille instructors. Officials at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind say the shortage is due to cuts in teacher training. “Since the day I started, there has been a chronic shortage of teachers who are able to teach reading and Braille,” said school president Jeanne Prickett said. News Service of Florida.
New school program: A program to train Charlotte Technical College students in breaking down airplanes and assembling them could start at the Punta Gorda Airport by January 2021. The Charlotte County School Board approved a lease for a donated plane and other equipment, and the school district has received a $1.7 million grant from the state. The Charlotte County Airport Authority still has to approve the lease, and the Federal Aviation Administration must sign off on the plan. Charlotte Sun.
No charges for principal: Bradenton police have concluded that there’s not enough evidence to charge Palmetto Elementary School principal Michelle Mealor with child abuse. A substitute teacher told police she saw Mealor yank a chair out from under an autistic boy, causing him to fall the ground. “Basically, we have conflicting statements,” said Police Chief Scott Tyler. “To bring a battery charge, we would have to show that she deliberately caused physical harm.” Bradenton Herald.
School investigations: Police in DeLand are investigating a report that girls at a private school in Volusia County are being ordered to change in a classroom with windows and surveillance cameras. If they didn’t change into their gym clothes in the room, they were reportedly told by a female teacher at DeLand Preparatory Academy, they would receive failing grades. School officials say they believe the investigation “will be resolved in our favor.” Orlando Sentinel. Kirsys Elizabeth Padron, 35, a language arts teacher at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High, is identified as the teacher who resigned during an investigation into allegations that she was having sex with a student. Miami Herald.
Teacher retires: A Palm Beach County teacher who was facing being fired for threatening to kill someone has instead retired. Raymond Berger, 56, a physical education teacher at Eagles Landing Middle School in Boca Raton, cursed and yelled the threat in front of students. The school board had scheduled a vote Wednesday to fire Berger, but he submitted his resignation and retired Tuesday. WPTV.
Bus driver facing firing: A Manatee County school bus driver faces dismissal after a student she was driving was struck and badly injured by a vehicle as he crossed the road to board the bus. District officials are not saying why they intend to fire bus driver Tina Rodriguez. “Why they want to discharge her, I don’t know,” said Hector Ramos, the coordinator for Rodriguez’s union. “If management persists in terminating her, we will proceed to arbitration.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Opinions on schools: While support for school choice is surging, some of the Democratic presidential candidates are swimming upstream. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED. School districts know their students and communities far better than legislators in Tallahassee. The decision to teach about the Bible as part of secular public education should remain in their capable hands. David Barkey, Orlando Sentinel. If Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to emphasize civics as part of public education, fine. Just don’t imply that Florida hasn’t already been doing that for a while. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested we need a common term for concepts such as mastery-based learning, personalized learning, competency-based learning, individualized learning and customized learning. I recommend we use the term ”customized education.” Doug Tuthill, redefinED.
Student enrichment: Sales from a Florida 4th-grader’s hand-drawn University of Tennessee shirt have raised more than $950,000 for an anti-bullying organization. The university marketed the shirt after the boy was teased by his classmates over the homemade design he wore for his school’s college colors day. Associated Press. WTVC.