A day of remembrance: Friday was a day for remembering the 17 people killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, honoring them through civic activism, community service and a moment of silence, comforting their families, and marking the improvements made in school security and access to mental health services as ways to try to stop such events from happening again. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Tallahassee Democrat. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WFTV. WTVJ. WFOR. Sun Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
School closings: Falling student enrollment could push the Broward County School District into closing or combining about 30 schools in the next couple of years. Most of the exodus is happening in the southern part of the county. The district has 30,000 fewer students this year than it did 15 years ago, and chief financial officer Judith Marte predicts a drop of another 4,000 next fall. Any school with an enrollment of 70 percent or less of capacity is considered underutilized, and nine schools are under 50 percent. District officials said much of the decline can be attributed to growth at charter and private schools, and changing demographics. Most of the county’s growth is coming from older adults with no school-age children. The school board will review its options at a meeting in May. Sun Sentinel.
Holocaust education: A bill requiring Florida schools and districts to educate K-12 students about the Holocaust was approved last week by the House Education Committee. The bill was prompted by a 2018 incident in Palm Beach County in which a high school principal told a parent that not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and that he couldn’t state that it was a factual event. H.B. 1213, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, requires all schools and districts to incorporate materials that they can get from the Florida Holocaust Museum or other organizations, teach students about the state’s anti-Semitism policy, and then prove to the state that they have complied with the requirements. The Senate version of the bill will be heard this week in the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Florida Politics.
Superintendent’s contract: The incoming Hillsborough County school superintendent, Addison Davis, is being offered a contract paying $310,000 a year through December 2023. Davis asked for more money and a five-year deal, but board attorney Jim Porter said “the board was not comfortable with that.” Davis will be paid about $85,000 a year more than the person he’s replacing, Jeff Eakins. Davis’ benefits will mirror those paid to Eakins, though he will get a $3,000 a month housing allowance for up to four months while he looks for a home and up to $7,000 in moving expenses. Davis would begin with the district March 2 as an administrator on assignment, working with Eakins on the transition. After spring break, Eakins would go on administrative leave until his contract expires June 30 and Davis would be acting superintendent until he officially steps into the job July 1. The board is expected to vote on the proposed contract Tuesday. Gradebook.
Contract negotiations: Sarasota County School District teachers and non-instructional employees have overwhelmingly voted to ratify a contract with the district that provides raises. Teachers rated highly effective will get 4.25 percent raises, effective teachers will get 3.25 percent more, and the minimum wage for district employees will be raised to $12 an hour. The school board is expected to approve the agreement at Tuesday’s meeting. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Polk County teachers union couldn’t get raises from the district this year, but teachers will get back some planning time and will no longer have to fill out cumbersome lesson plans. “I also want to say that we were very happy about the lesson planning language — the professional autonomy that you just gave back our folks is awesome,” said union president Stephanie Yocum. Lakeland Ledger.
Teaching issues: Hundreds of central Florida teachers, students and education activists gathered over the weekend in Orlando to call for more education funding from the state as well as higher pay for teachers and all school employees. It was considered a continuation of the rally held Jan. 13 in Tallahassee, and another one is being planned for south Florida. “If it’s really the year of the teacher, let’s hear teachers’ voices,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County teachers union. “What we need to do is lift everyone, and I’m not talking just about teachers. I’m talking about cafeteria workers, bus drivers and secretaries.” WESH. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. WMFE. School districts in central Florida are getting creative in dealing with teacher shortages. Osceola County, for instance, has brought in more than 30 foreign teachers from such places as the Philippines, Egypt and Ghana in the past year, and is offering its employees bonuses of $250 for every referral that leads to a hire. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes,” said chief human resources officer Tammy Otterson. WFTV. The teacher shortage has left Whispering Pines Elementary School in Boca Raton with 21 vacancies, and some parents are concerned about two teachers who aren’t certified in gifted education are now handling gifted classes. Boca News Now.
Charter schools: A south Florida developer has announced plans to build a K-8 charter school in Osceola County, just west of St. Cloud, for up to 1,000 students. Orlando Business Journal. As members of the Destin community lobbied for a charter high school in town, they turned to a Tallahassee-based consulting company, Collaborative Education Network, for help in getting organized and taking the necessary steps to open a school. Destin High School opens in the fall for about 300 9th- and 10th-graders, and adds a grade in each of the following two years. Northwest Florida Daily News.
Tax increase vote: Monroe County School Board members have agreed to ask voters to approve the renewal of a half-mill property tax levy on the ballot March 17. The tax must be renewed every four years; this will be the fifth time voters have been asked to continue it. School officials call it the flexible fund initiative because it allows the district to decide how to use the money. In return, the school board cuts the capital tax by the same half mill. “So there’s no tax increase at all; it’s a wash,” said board member Andy Griffiths. Keys Weekly.
Vaccination plans: Starting in May, the Florida Health Department in Flagler County will be offering students free vaccinations from 3:30-5:30 p.m. on every second Tuesday of the month. Health officials decided on the expansion after the school board chose not to offer vaccinations to 6th-graders in schools against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical, tonsil and other cancers. Flagler Live.
Educator honored: Jennifer Casey has been named mentor of the year for the Volusia County School District by the Futures Foundation for Volusia County Schools’ Take Stock in Children organization. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Costly scheduling error: Marisa Davino’s story is a cautionary tale for high school students about using specialized diplomas to qualify for college scholarships under the Bright Futures program. As a senior at Seminole Ridge High School in Palm Beach County, she broke a scheduling rule by taking a class too far removed from a related class and lost her eligibility for a specialized diploma from the University of Cambridge in England. That, in turn, led to the loss of her Bright Futures scholarship. The 19-year-old now has student loans, has needed assistance from her family and works long shifts as a hostess at a restaurant to meet her expenses. Palm Beach Post.
New school building: The Bay County School Board has approved the construction of a building for science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes at Bay High School. The proposal had been discussed for years, but got sidetracked when Hurricane Michael hit the area in 2018. The building is expected to cost $5.5 million and take 12 to 16 months to complete. Panama City News Herald.
Boundary website: Lake County school officials have launched a website to inform parents and others about school attendance boundary changes. The district is opening two schools in the next three years, and will be making changes in current school zones. The website is lake.k12.fl.us/redistricting. Daily Commercial.
A history lesson: Students and others who lived through the turbulent time of desegregation in the Alachua County School District look back at the often painful process and ahead at the challenges of educational equity that the district still faces. Gainesville Sun.
School calendar: Schools will open Aug. 13 for the 2020-2021 year, Monroe County school officials have announced. The last day is May 28, 2021. Key West Citizen.
School makeup day: Today is a makeup school day for Brevard County students for a day they missed when school were closed for three days last September because of Hurricane Dorian. The other two days were made up in January. Brevard Times.
Employees and the law: A Charlotte County teacher has been arrested and accused of possession of cocaine. Cheryl Lynn Vollmar, 53, helps teach 5th-grade students at Peace River Elementary in Port Charlotte. She was placed on paid administrative leave pending the resolution of the court case. WINK. Charlotte Sun. A former girls basketball coach at Buchholz High School in Gainesville will receive $25,000 from the Alachua County School District as part of a settlement over her firing. Rebecca Williams was a student services specialist and coach at the school when she was fired in 2016 after refusing to resign. She sued, alleging racial and gender discrimination. Gainesville Sun.
Students and the law: A Florida appeals court has ruled that a former North Marion High School student who sent a Snapchat photo to a student showing a weapon with the caption “Show and Tell @NM on Monday” can be prosecuted. The decision overruled a circuit judge’s decision to dismiss the case. The ex-student was charged with sending a written threat to kill or do bodily injury to a child two weeks after the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. News Service of Florida. Ocala Star-Banner. Three Seminole County high school students were arrested and accused of bringing a pellet gun to Lake Brantley High School and making a threat. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. WMFE. A 16-year-old former student at Astronaut High School who allegedly threatened students with a gun early last week was arrested three days later when he crashed a stolen car into a Titusville police cruiser, according to officers. Florida Today. Duval County school officials said they will meet with representatives from the mental health nonprofit that made the decision recently to Baker Act a 6-year-old student for behavior problems. A video of the incident showed a calm girl acting pleasantly while being led out of school by a deputy. Florida Times-Union.
Opinions in schools: No one can promise there will not be another tragedy in the future like the one in Parkland. What I can promise is this: the men and women of the Broward Sheriff’s Office are better trained and our resources better focused so that we can respond faster, smarter and more effectively. Sheriff Gregory Tony, Sun Sentinel. If Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature are truly willing to put their money where their mouth is by properly training teachers, effectively creating paths to higher level math thinking and funding new measures appropriately, Florida has a real shot at leading the way in education. Cortney Stewart, Citrus County Chronicle. Leon County high schools lead the way in northwest Florida in preparing students college for college STEM majors. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Inflicting pain to disadvantaged students by bullying corporate donors to stop contributing to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is no way to make progress. James Bush III, Florida Politics. Online predators are why middle school students should not have their own cell phones. Gil Smart, TCPalm.
Student enrichment: Weeks of training led to this moment: the opening night of Mainland High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Several Alachua County high school students have won national recognition this year for their academic achievements. WUFT. Students at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School complete an unusual assignment: create a pitch for the HGTV makeover show Home Town to convince the show’s producers that their small community should be chosen to receive a half-dozen renovation projects by show stars Erin and Ben Napier of Laurel, Miss. Port St. Joe Star.
A day to remember those killed at Parkland, budgets approved in Senate and House, civics bill and more
Scholarship eligibility changes considered, teacher pay hikes, suit against safety assistants and more
Search is on for money for teacher raises, charter authorization and guardian training bills, and more
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.