State Rep. Ralph Massullo
House bill expands K-12 scholarships, penalties for safety noncompliance, educators honored and more
House’s education budget boosts teacher pay but cuts bonuses, term limits, heat stroke bill and more
Search is on for money for teacher raises, charter authorization and guardian training bills, and more
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.
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.