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Florida schools roundup: Retention hearing, Zika, sales tax vote and more

florida-roundup-logoRetention hearing: Parents from around the state testify in a hearing to determine if the state’s retention policy for third-graders is legal. The law calls for the retention of third-graders who don’t pass the state reading test or refuse to take it. The 14 parents suing the state and six school districts say retention should be based on a child’s readiness for fourth grade and teacher recommendations, not on the results of a test. Rocco Testani, an attorney for the Florida Department of Education, says “this is a potential undermining of the entire assessment and accountability system.” Leon County Judge Karen Gievers did not rule on a request to allow about a dozen students to be promoted immediately. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. WFSU.

Day 1 and Zika: The first day of school in Miami-Dade County included a new ritual – bug spray to guard against the Zika virus. Miami Herald. Broward and Palm Beach students are not in the Zika zone, like Miami-Dade, but they are receiving insect repellent and tips on preventing the spread of the Zika virus. Sun-Sentinel. Opening day is smooth for Broward and Sarasota county schools. Sun-Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District loses lawsuit: A judge has ruled that while the Polk County School Board can decide whether to ask voters to renew an extra half-cent in the sales tax for capital projects, the county has the power to decide when the election will be held. The board does not want the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot, which the county was planning on doing, and meets today to consider its options. Lakeland Ledger.

Teacher bonuses: Florida school districts are cautious when determining eligibility for the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonuses, even after a recent ruling in Sarasota County that a noninstructional speech pathologist should be eligible for the bonus. Sumter County recently asked the Florida Department of Education for guidance, and was told the bonuses were “only for classroom teachers.” Gradebook.

Debate at school killed: A debate and speech teacher at Lake Brantley High School arranges a debate for his students between two Seminole County School Board candidates. But school officials decided the debate was against school policy, and killed it. Orlando Sentinel.

Inexperienced teachers: A state report shows that the lowest-performing St. Petersburg elementary schools are being staffed by the most inexperienced teachers. The report, based on the 2014-2015 school year, reveals that 30 to 40 percent of the teachers at the five failing schools have three years or less experience. At higher-rated schools, the percentage ranges from 4 to 8 percent. Pinellas Superintendent Mike Grego said improvements have been made since the data from that report was collected. Tampa Bay Times.

Rural problems: The financial problems of the Jefferson County School District could be a hint of things to come for Florida’s rural counties. Those counties are losing students, have aging infrastructure that needs updated, low pay for teachers and high turnover, and are struggling to live up to increasingly stricter state academic guidelines. WFSU.

Religion and schools: Hillsborough County school employees get another training lesson about dealing with religious activities in schools. The message: “It’s never okay for a teacher to pray with a student,” says district leader MaryLou Whaley. Tampa Bay Times.

Academy re-funded: A private Christian school in Orange County is receiving state scholarship money again, less than four months after it was forced to repay $230,000 because it forged fire inspection reports. Agape Christian Academy of Pine Hills had problems with leaky ceilings, holes in walls and paying its teachers. WFTV.

Violations confirmed: An internal review by the Hernando County School District affirms that the former leaders at Moton Elementary School committed testing protocol violations, mishandled disciplinary and bullying cases and made inappropriate comments to staff members. Principal Mark Griffith’s contract was not renewed, and assistant principal Anna Jensen was reassigned. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers win award: Two Florida teachers win the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Angela Phillips, a math teacher at Chets Creek Elementary in Jacksonville, and Janet Acerra, a science teacher at Forest Lakes Elementary School in Miramar, each win $10,000. Florida Times-Union.

Education and elections: An anti-Common Core group endorses several Florida congressional candidates, all Republicans. Florida Parents Against Common Core endorsed Rep. Matt Gaetz, Mary Thomas, U.S. Rep. David Jolly and Rebecca Negron. Sunshine State News. Money from political committees is pouring into local school board races. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. redefinED.

Dress codes: Three elementary schools in Highlands County now require students to wear solid color clothing. Highlands Today.

Busing issues: Parents in northeast Florida are complaining that their children’s buses do not have air-conditioning. WJAX.

Notable deaths: Ray Wishart, a popular teacher who retired last year from Mosley High School, is killed when the bicycle he was riding was hit by a truck in Lynn Haven. He was 63. Panama City News Herald.

Student hit by car: An 8-year-old girl was hit by a car Monday outside Barton Elementary School in Lake Worth. The girl was treated and released. The driver failed to obey the school crossing guard, and was cited. It was the second time a student has been struck by a car in the first week of school in Palm Beach County. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: The moms and dads who have been fighting to liberate their kids from stifling bureaucratic regulation of their play time are great models of activism and success for parents across the country. Abby W. Schachter, Fox News. Miami-Dade County Public Schools spends more on teaching foreign languages to elementary school students than every other district in Florida combined. Marie Izquierdo, Miami Herald. Is the rapper Pitbull cashing in on his ties with the charter school company SLAM Academy? Antonia Noori Farzan, New Times Broward-Palm Beach.

Student enrichment: Gulf Elementary School in Cape Coral is experimenting with classroom seating that is mobile, comfortable and colorful. Fort Myers News-Press. Bradenton doctor Mark DiSclafani donates $60,000 to Take Stock in Children of Manatee County, which will help six students go to college. Bradenton Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff