State Sen. Janet Cruz
Error means bonuses must be repaid, school security, school meal changes, absenteeism issues and more
Early education proposal: The Florida Department of Education is proposing to tighten requirements for child-care providers for the 2020-2021 school year, and day-care providers say the changes could leave thousands of Florida children without access to state-subsidized care. The plan would raise the minimum ratings providers would need to meet to continue receiving state funding. Last year, 24 percent of those providers — more than 1,000 — did not meet the proposed higher standard. Politico Florida.
Therapy bill advances: A bill that would add registered behavior technicians to the list of therapists allowed to accompany students into classrooms has been approved by the House Health Market Reform Subcommittee. H.B. 575 was filed by state Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, after an RBT was removed from a classroom by Brevard County school officials who cited state law in ruling that RBTs were not permitted to accompany students. The boy’s father, Jonathan Pogar, lobbied for a change and testified before the subcommittee. “The impact RBTs have on the lives of children with special needs is nothing short of groundbreaking,” he said. “(They) are able to push our children to make leaps and bounds with their therapy.” Florida Today.
Schools construction plan: The Pasco County School District is considering a proposal to spend $250 million on building and renovating schools and launching new academic programs. District officials want to close Hudson Elementary School, a move that was considered a year ago but rejected by the school board. Under the latest plan, two magnet schools would be built and as many as five schools would be renovated. Construction would begin in 2021 and continue through 2024. Superintendent Kurt Browning said the plan is meant to improve outcomes in areas that have lagged academically. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS.
Temporary homes sought: Alachua County School Board members are looking for alternatives to a plan that would have put portable classrooms on Westwood Middle School property for students while their schools are being renovated. That plan was put on hold after it drew objections from school parents and nearby residents because of traffic and emergency evacuation concerns. The board is looking for a place for Howard Bishop Middle School students to be educated while 18 buildings at their school are demolished and 32 new classrooms built. District officials say delays in starting the project will boost the costs by 6-12 percent a year. Gainesville Sun.
School impact fees increased: The Hernando County Commission has voted to increase impact fees on new single-family homes by almost 50 percent to raise money for school construction. “We are going to have to build new schools, and impact fees will help us do that,” said board member Linda Prescott. Fees will increase from $2,133 to $3,176, and go into effect next June. The school district is at 98 percent capacity, said Superintendent John Stratton. He estimates the cost of a 10-classroom expansion at $6.5-$7.5 million, and the cost of a new elementary school at $21-$23 million. Tampa Bay Times.
Money for sidewalks sought: State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, is asking the state Legislature to commit $2 million to support a Hillsborough County plan to building more sidewalks and make other improvements to help students who walk or ride their bikes to school to get there safely. WFTS.
Contract negotiations: Pasco County teachers and the school district reach an agreement on a contract that would give teachers raises of 3.25 percent. That’s the same pay hike that was agreed to last month for school-related employees. A ratification vote will be held in January, and the deal will then go to the school board for approval. Gradebook. WFLA.
Education issues Q&A: State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, the chair of the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and vice chair of the House Education Committee, talks about school security, teacher pay, bonuses and more in a Q&A. News Service of Florida.
Superintendent search: Resumes have been released for the 51 candidates who have applied to replace Jeff Eakins as superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District. Eakins is retiring next June. The only current superintendent to have applied is Addison Davis, who runs the Clay County School District. Among the other applicants are a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force who commanded a wing at MacDill Air Force Base, the former chief of the Oregon and Wyoming lottery systems, an ex-police officer and two current Hillsborough administrators. The field is expected to be culled to about a dozen by early January. Gradebook.
New superintendent: David Moore takes over today as superintendent of the Indian River County School District, and said he will start by aligning the district’s efforts for supporting schools and principals. “I’m looking forward to getting in and setting high expectations for what students and adults can do,” he said. Educators in the district and others who have worked with him elsewhere say he’s well-positioned to meet the objectives he’s setting. TCPalm.
Pushing back on violence: Four students of Godby High School in Tallahassee have died in shootings this year, and school officials and community leaders say they’ve had enough. At a special school assembly this week, they pleaded with students to help end the epidemic of gun violence. Among the speakers were a former drug dealer who was granted clemency after being sentenced to life in prison, a motivational speaker, the Florida A&M football coach and Superintendent Rocky Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.
Ballet in schools: Tallahassee Ballet CEO Janet Pichard is proposing that the Leon County School District start a dance program with classes at schools. Pichard said about $50,000 is needed to start the program, and fund-raising has begun. Superintendent Rocky Hanna was receptive to the idea, saying, “I think our principals are going to be very interested. It will help kids get motivated to live healthy lives.” Tallahassee Democrat.
School calendars: Lake County School Board members approve a 2020-2021 school year calendar that was the preferred choice of parents in an online poll. The school year will start Aug. 10 and end May 28, and students will be out of school for Veterans Day and for a week at Thanksgiving. Orlando Sentinel.
Storm closes school: Lightning struck Central High School in Bay County when a series of strong storms moved through the area on Tuesday, closing the school. Several other schools reported power and phone outages. Panama City News Herald.
Principal transferred: A Manatee County School District investigation has concluded that the Palmetto Elementary School principal might have unintentionally harmed an autistic student when she lifted his chair and he fell to the floor in November. That principal, Michelle Mealor, was investigated by police but no charges were filed. She has been transferred to the district’s curriculum department pending a review of the case by the Florida Department of Education. Bradenton Herald.
Employees and the law: A Santa Rosa County school bus aide has been arrested and accused of showing photos of naked men to an 11-year-old student and her classmate. Jessica Anne Wylie, 35, has been charged with distributing obscene material to a minor. Pensacola News Journal.
Students and the law: A 14-year-old New Smyrna Beach Middle School student has been arrested and accused of threatening to shoot students at the school. New Smyrna Beach police and Volusia County sheriff’s deputies were alerted through the app Fortify Florida about the threat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV.
Student hit by car: A 12-year-old Martin County student is recovering after he was hit by a car while riding his bike to Murray Middle School. Police say the driver, 32-year-old Jennifer Scala, ran a red light, hit the bicyclist and then drove away. Another driver followed her and called police, who arrested Scala. WPTV.
Opinions on schools: Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie’s effort to protect himself by brushing off security issues in schools has reached the point of irresponsibility. He has created a culture that values image over substance. How long will the school board let him get away with it? Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel. The Florida grand jury report published last week shocks the senses. In the 18 pages, jurors document how school districts have lagged or flat-out failed to put into practice mandatory security fixes since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings Feb. 14, 2018. Glenna Milberg, Sun Sentinel. To ensure that all families have the same education options, the Florida Legislature must allow the Family Empowerment Scholarship program to serve more students. No child’s future should be put on hold. Doug Tuthill, Fort Myers News-Press.
Student enrichment: Three Oaks Elementary School of Fort Myers is one of 10 U.S. schools to receive a $10,000 grant from the Burlington Stores’ Adopt My School Sweepstakes. The school’s teachers will use the money to stock their classroom supplies. Fort Myers News-Press. Two students from Cutler Bay Senior High School in Miami-Dade County were among 20 from around the world chosen to meet Pope Francis. They are U.S. representatives of Scholas Occurrentes, an international citizenship program started by the pope. Miami Herald. Triangle Elementary School in Lake County is one of 50 schools in the United States to be awarded a $2,500 grant from the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens Network. Jacqueline Holmes, a 4th-grade teacher at the school, will use the money to help her students cultivate a garden and to teach them about its benefits. Daily Commercial. Students from the Titan Ambassadors program at Treasure Coast High School in Port St. Lucie take 10 elementary school children shopping for $100 worth of free gifts. TCPalm. Good Samaritans have donated toys for needy children to replace the ones being kept inside a trailer that was stolen from St. Kevin Catholic School in southwest Miami-Dade County. WSVN.
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.