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Florida schools roundup: Youth suicide, dropout prevention and more

florida-roundup-logoMiddle school suicide: For the first time, suicide is claiming more U.S. middle school student lives than car crashes, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, 425 students between the ages of 10 and 14 killed themselves. The rate doubled in the years between 2007 and 2014. WUSF.

Dropout prevention: Intensive tracking of student progress is fueling a rapid rise in the graduation rate at Homestead Senior High School. In the 2010-2011 school year, 54.2 percent of seniors graduated. In 2014-2015 the rate was up to 68.4 percent, and school officials think they’ll hit 72 percent this year. Frequent use of data is helping to identify students in trouble, and prompts the dropout prevention team into quick intervention. Miami Herald.

Dress code: A 16-year-old Ridgewood High School student who has had cancer twice was told last week that the cancer survivor t-shirt he wore to school violates the dress code. The code forbids wearing a shirt with a logo that takes up more than a quarter of the design. Tim Powers says he’s disturbed the school wouldn’t let his son Tyler wear the shirt. Daily Mail.

Bathroom rights: A lawsuit challenging the Duval County School District’s policy allowing students to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity has been dismissed. A lawyer for the challengers says the suit may be refiled, pending the results of other similar cases. Florida Times-Union.

Cutting costs: About 225 Hillsborough County support teachers and perhaps administrators are being assigned to classrooms as part of the district’s cost-cutting plan. General fund reserves have dropped by more than $200 million since 2011. Tampa Bay Times.

School elections: Local, nonpartisan school board candidates are increasingly being asked by voters what party they’re in and which candidate they’re supporting for president. “Everybody wants to know where the school board lands, and we don’t fall into those categories,” says Pinellas County board incumbent Carol Cook said. “A lot of people think we’re hiding behind that.” Tampa Bay Times. Charter schools are the focal point in the race for the only vacant Palm Beach County School Board seat. Palm Beach Post. The Palm Beach County teachers union is making a late push urging voters to approve an increase in the sales tax to raise money for the school system. Palm Beach Post. The heated tone of the presidential campaign spills over at Pine Ridge’s Deltona High School. Arguments over politics led to rumors of threatened gunplay last week. School officials are tightening security. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Superintendent candidates: St. Johns County School Board members are considering the strengths and weaknesses of the two finalists for the superintendent’s job. Tuesday, the board is expected to choose between Tim Forson and Vickie Cartwright. Forson is the county’s deputy superintendent of operations. Cartwright is the senior executive director for exceptional student education in Orange County. Current Superintendent Joe Joyner is retiring in January. St. Augustine Record.

Reading program problems: A $1.2 million reading program has led to little or no improvement in the reading fluency of Alachua County students, according to a recent study. Fast ForWord’s impact on comprehension is mixed, according to the study by the U.S. Department of Education. Gainesville Sun.

Turnaround school: West Pensacola Elementary School is getting extra resources as part of the improvement plan to boost the school’s grade from the D it received. Science, technology, engineering and math activities are expanding, and the school is reaching out to parents to increase involvement. Pensacola News Journal.

Recess moms: Two Tampa Bay area mothers who have lobbied for daily recess for elementary students create a website to inform voters where candidates stand on school health issues. Gradebook.

Muting criticism: Some Florida school boards are asking speakers at meetings to refrain from naming school officials they are criticizing. Barbara Peterson of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation thinks the policies are violations of the First Amendment. WTVJ.

New schools: Manatee County School Board members will get an update this week on plans for a new high school in the northern part of the county. Officials expect the school to be open for the 2019-2020 school year, and to relieve overcrowding at Palmetto, Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools. Bradenton Herald. Ground is broken for the new North Bay Haven Elementary School in Panama City. The charter school is expected to be completed in July and house 750 pre-K through fifth-grade students. Panama City News Herald. The Duval Charter School Coastal is opening in Jacksonville next fall. The Charter Schools USA school, the eighth the company will have in Duval, will open with students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Florida Times-Union.

School start times: An Orange County School District survey on high school start times will go out Wednesday instead of today. A school spokesman says the district decided to wait until after the election to conduct the survey. Students, staff and the community will be asked if they want to keep start times the same, move them to no earlier than 8 a.m., or have all schools start and finish 20 minutes later. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher honored: Mandarin High School’s Alissa Kester is one of just 50 U.S. teachers named as a 2016 Geography Teacher Fellow by the American Geographical Society. Florida Times-Union.

Notable deaths: Kyleen Fischer, a member of the Lake County School Board for 24 years before retiring in 2014, has died at age 72 of complications following heart surgery. She was an advocate for safer schools and was a key vote to retain the district’s sex education program. Orlando Sentinel.

Two students hit: Two students walking to SouthTech Academy in Boynton Beach are struck by a car. Neither was seriously injured. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

Teacher’s bump: A Jacksonville mother says a male teacher chest-bumped her 12-year-old daughter and knocked her down during a confrontation at Northwestern Middle School. Erika Jackson wants the teacher in jail. The teacher, who was not named, has not been disciplined and the school district is declining to comment. WJAX.

Employees arrested: A staffer at the Devereux Florida Viera program in Melbourne is arrested and accused of punching a 14-year-old girl in the face several times. Trashonda Coven, 28, is charged with child abuse. The program is for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral challenges. Florida Today. A teacher’s aide is arrested and accused of slapping a blind student in the face at Big Cypress Elementary School. Barbara Margaron, 47, also was investigated last year for hitting a student, but that charge could not be substantiated. WBBH.

Students arrested: Four students are arrested and accused of possession of a loaded firearm on the Norland Senior High School campus. Miami Herald. A 15-year-old student at Classical Preparatory Academy is arrested after allegedly saying he was taking a gun to school and would shoot several specific students. Tampa Bay Times. A 15-year-old student is arrested after making social media threats against Palmetto High School. Bradenton Herald.

Opinions on schools: The extraordinary transformation in STEM education underway at Bay County’s Mosley High School not only shows what is possible, but also demonstrates why such transformations don’t happen more often. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: The Florida Commission on the Status of Women Foundation is pushing a book about historical Florida women with the help of the Manatee County School District. Bradenton Herald. Students at Ruskin Elementary School get extra reading help through an program called Parents & Children Advance Together. Tampa Bay Times. Pasco County math teachers are connecting with students and sharing ideas through the Twitter account #PascoMath. Tampa Bay Times. About 1,000 students at Wellington Middle School favor Hillary Clinton in a mock election. Palm Beach Post. Students at two Lee County schools also choose Hillary Clinton in mock elections. Fort Myers News-Press. Students at Mills Elementary School learn about agriculture during a visit from the Seed Survivor mobile classroom. Bradenton Herald. First-graders at Phillippi Elementary School raise $1,000 to donate to hurricane relief efforts in Haiti. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Volusia County students learn about campaigning, voting and governing as part of election-related lessons. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Literacy Volunteers of Collier County receives two grants totaling $37,500 that will help it support and expand operations. Naples Daily News.

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BY NextSteps staff