Educators ask for $250 billion in federal aid, testing, Bush says open schools are economy key, and more
Voucher effects on public schools, pension plans, panic alarm bill delayed, dual enrollment 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.
Civics exam proposed: All graduating high school seniors will be required to take an exam measuring their knowledge about U.S. government, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday. The test will be similar to one that immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens. “I would like initially to just understand where we are,” said DeSantis. “You see some of these national numbers where they do surveys and it’s pretty bad. I kind of think we would do a little better than that.” He said it’s possible the state could someday require high school seniors to pass such an exam to graduate. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “But I think my main goal with this is just to see if we are okay.” Florida already requires middle-school students to take a civics course and pass a standardized civics exam, and high school students to take American history and U.S. government classes and pass a standardized exam. Naples Daily News. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. WGCU. WTSP. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. WINK. Florida Politics.
Legislative bills: A bill that would require Florida public school students to be educated on the signs and dangers of human trafficking has been approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. S.B. 154 “will include, but is not limited to information on warning signs of human trafficking, terms used by traffickers, red flags that would indicate a trafficker’s malicious intent toward a student, websites that are popular with traffickers and details on how students may get help,” according to its sponsor, state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. It had already been approved by the Senate Education Committee, and the next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee. Florida Politics. A bill to improve the safety of Florida high school student-athletes gets a hearing today before the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. 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.
Costume merits suspension: Broward County School Board members reject Superintendent Robert Runcie’s recommendation to demote an administrator for wearing a risque Halloween costume to school. Instead, the board voted to suspend Mary Coker, the director of director of procurement and warehouse services, for seven days. Runcie had recommended she be demoted to a managerial position that pays about $44,000 less a year for wearing the costume that consisted “only a black coat and hat, with a tight fabric underneath which replicated a naked female body” and for “flashing” children, staff, and colleagues at a work brunch. Board members said they were alarmed by the costume, but they thought the district’s investigation was rushed and that Runcie’s recommendation didn’t follow the normal policy of progressive discipline. Sun Sentinel.
Interim superintendent: Mitsi Corcoran, the Sarasota County School District’s chief financial officer, has been appointed interim superintendent. She had been the acting superintendent since Nov. 19, when Todd Bowden resigned after being accused of mishandling a sexual harassment accusation. The board wanted former Seminole County superintendent Bill Vogel to act as the interim, but he withdrew his name from consideration last week. Corcoran is expected to lead the district for at least a few months as the board looks for a permanent replacement for Bowden. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. Patch. WFTS.
Board appealing ruling: The Sarasota County School Board has voted to appeal a judge’s ruling that the board pay for private schooling for a student who was, for six years, wrongly placed in a program for students with severe cognitive abilities. District officials say there could be as many as 112 other students who were improperly placed in the program and could ask for the same financial consideration. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Contract negotiations: Collier County School Board members approve a contract agreement that will provide raises between $950 and $3,150 for every district teacher. It’s the highest pay raise in five years for teachers, and will cost the school district more than $9 million. Naples Daily News. Contract negotiations between the Pasco County School District and its teachers have been postponed indefinitely. The biggest sticking point is teacher pay. The district wants middle and high school teachers to have an extra class every day in return for an 8 percent pay hike over two years. Teachers have rejected that. Gradebook.
School choice in Florida: A Florida Department of Education official outlined the benefits of the state’s school choice programs this week to the House Education Committee. Eric Hall, the chancellor for innovation, said choice is helping close the racial achievement gap and boost graduation rates, especially for students with disabilities. Florida Politics. Improving access to quality schools and schools of choice is one of the priorities of the Department of Education’s strategic plan for 2020-2025. DOE wants to see more students exercise choice options including open enrollment, dual enrollment, charter schools, career and professional academies, IB programs, lab schools and private schools through the state’s various scholarship programs, with an overall goal of making Florida No 1 in the nation on this and other metrics by 2025. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers several of the state’s scholarship programs. redefinED.
Medical marijuana in schools: The Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee school boards have approved policies that will allow students with prescriptions to receive medical marijuana treatment at schools. A caregiver must bring the drug to the school and remove it after it’s administered. WTSP. WFLA.
Security in schools: The Charlotte County School District’s request for $24 million for security from a proposed extension of a 1-cent sales tax makes it through a initial cut by county commissioners. District officials want the money to help pay for an “one-button” lock down and video security system for schools. Commissioners are asking for more details before the next meeting of the county’s advisory committee Jan. 22. Charlotte Sun.
School start times: Indian River County School Board members say they may reconsider later school start times. District officials have discussed changing start times several times, but never went ahead with a plan. “I know this district has been committed to having start time models that maximize the use of buses and keep our costs down,” said board member Tiffany Justice. “But we do know that there are times where putting the best interest of students is important and may cost money.” TCPalm.
Spelling bee changes: After the discovery that a Palm Beach County student appeared in the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice without winning a regional competition, the event’s organizers are changing the vetting process. A program known as RSVBee began two years to give some local bee winners who lost at the regionals an opportunity to advance to the national championship if they paid a $1,500 participation fee and their own travel expenses. Last year, there were 294 RSVBee entrants and just 271 sponsored regional winners. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press.
School expansion: The Hernando County Commission has approved a private school expansion plan to grow from a storefront operation to a 5-acre parcel in Brooksville. For Each 1 Reach 1, which helps students with disabilities and special needs and those with some minor legal problems, plans to build two 6,550-square-foot classroom and administration buildings, a 7,000-square-foot activity center and gymnasium, and a 900-square-foot equipment building for up to 135 K-8 students. Tampa Bay Times.
Personnel moves: Four new principals are named for Hillsborough County schools. They are Alan Black to the planned Elementary “D” in the Apollo Beach area, Connie Chisholm to Burney Elementary, Richard Shields to Lamb Elementary and Colleen Faucett as a principal coach. Gradebook. The Hillsborough County School District is looking for a new principal at Jackson Elementary School after Jarrod Haneline left the position. He had been principal there since 2018, and the school’s state grade improved from a D to a C this year. Gradebook.
Body spray empties bus: A Manatee County school bus was evacuated this week because of a noxious scent caused by a rider who had applied an excessive amount of Axe body spray, according to school officials. The bus was taking students home from Buffalo Creek Middle School. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.
District bus contract protested: About 200 Duval County school bus drivers are protesting the school board’s decision to hire Student Transportation of America to transport students on Jacksonville’s north side. STA is hiring drivers at $13.50 an hour for the 2020-2021 school year, while the current company, First Student Inc., just agreed to pay starting drivers $15.50 an hour. WJXT.
Teachers’ jobs: A Broward County teacher who was arrested two years and accused of molesting a 12-year-old girl has been fired. Wyman Gresham, 50, had also been accused of being inappropriate with two other girls. He was removed from his job as a reading teacher at the Lauderhill 6-12 school in December 2017 and arrested in February 2018. Sun Sentinel. A teacher at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami-Dade County has resigned during an investigation into allegations that she was involved in a sexual relationship with a student. No criminal charges have been filed against the teacher, whom the district has not identified. WSVN. The Palm Beach County School Board will vote today on a recommendation to fire a teacher who threatened to kill someone. A district investigation found that Raymond Berger, 56, a physical education teacher at Eagles Landing Middle School in Boca Raton, cursed and yelled the threat in front of students. Palm Beach Post. A teacher at Englewood High School in Jacksonville has been reassigned while the Duval County School District investigates undisclosed allegations. WJAX.
Guns at schools: Leon County deputies arrested a Tallahassee man for taking a loaded gun to W.T. Moore Elementary School on Tuesday. Ronald Doss, 31, has been charged with possession of a firearm on a school campus and driving with a suspended license. Tallahassee Democrat.
Students and the law: Alachua County sheriff’s deputies arrested 15 students after a fight during lunch at Eastside High School in Gainesville. Gainesville Sun. Melbourne police say 10 Palm Bay High School students students were arrested after a “large-scale brawl” broke out Tuesday afternoon. Florida Today.
Opinions on schools: There is absolutely no reason that the Trump administration should limit who qualifies for the federal food stamps program when that decision could put nearly 200,000 Florida children at risk of losing their direct enrollment in free school lunches. Tampa Bay Times. The legal mess over the improper assignment of a Sarasota County student to a program for students with severe cognitive disabilities is threatening to become a spreading stain, and the cleanup should not be left solely to the lawyers and the money people. The district must apologize, and prevent this from happening to more students in the future. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. If the Alachua County School Board wants buy-in for its decisions, parents and other residents need to be given an opportunity to have their voices heard and have their input taken seriously. Gainesville Sun.
Student enrichment: Ten students from Hollywood Middle School in Broward County who were taking a tour of the Broward County Courthouse sat in on a hearing Tuesday for accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. Teacher Fenoune Sainvil said the opportunity just “popped up” during the tour. WLRN. Shayna Singer, a 17-year-old senior at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, wins the first prize in the Schmidt Vocal Competition for high school singers that was held in West Palm Beach. Sun Sentinel. Downtown Doral Charter Upper School is one of 300 U.S. schools chosen as finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, which encourages middle and high school students to creatively use STEM skills to solve a community challenge. Miami’s Community Newspapers.
A peek at educational priorities, school police chiefs, superintendent search, student voting and more