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Florida schools roundup: Retention suit, school bells, demographics and more

Retention challenge: Parents who challenged the state’s third-grade retention policy – and won – are back in court this week. A circuit court judge ruled in August that the state and some districts were not offering a portfolio option for promotion of students who didn’t take the state assessment tests or didn’t pass them. The state appealed, and the case moves to the First District Court of Appeal Tuesday. Gradebook.

No bell tolls for them: Seminole High School in Pinellas County has ended the tradition of ringing a bell to change classes. School officials say it’s an effort to put more responsibility on students to manage their schedules. “It’s changed the tenor of the school because kids like being treated like adults,” said principal Tom Brittain. “How many colleges ring a bell?” Tampa Bay Times.

District demographics: There are now more Hispanic students in Palm Beach County public schools than whites or blacks. Of the 190,240 students in the district, 33 percent are Hispanic, 32 percent are white and 28 percent are black. The demographic shift has Superintendent Robert Avossa proposing to expand dual language programs, where subjects are taught in both English and Spanish. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools: More than 3 million American students are now enrolled in 6,900 charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. That’s up almost threefold in 10 years, but is still just 5 percent of total U.S. school enrollment. Education Week. Pembroke Pines’ charter school system, which opened in 1998, now has eight schools, 6,000 students and requires no subsidy from the city. It was the model by which the Cape Coral Municipal School Authority was started in 2004. Fort Myers Beach Observer.

Computer coding: Once again, some Florida lawmakers are proposing to all students to take computer coding to fulfill their foreign language requirements. And once again, there’s pushback from educators, especially in south Florida. “Coding cannot be seen as an equivalent substitute,” says Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “It shouldn’t be an either-or. It should be both — and a reality for all kids.” The Senate education committee will consider the bill today. Miami Herald.

Polk’s performance: An analysis of Polk County School District data shows that the district has significantly worse educational outcomes than districts with similar or even more challenging demographics and child poverty rates. Lakeland Ledger.

Anti-violence campaign: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti are working to put together a citywide program to help cut back on youth violence. There have been nine case of guns at schools since August. Florida Politics. Parents talk and sometimes clash with school officials during a meeting to discuss the rash of gun incidents at schools. Florida Times-Union.

Homeless students: The rapid rise of the number of homeless students in St. Johns County schools is straining the county’s social services network. St. Augustine Record.

Teacher bonuses: Duval County ranks 22nd in the state in the number of teachers who will get bonuses this year with 120 – behind six of the seven largest districts in the state and St. Johns and Clay counties. Only two of the 173 nominees for the teacher of the year award will receive the $6,800 bonuses. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher failure: Failure rates in the Florida’s Teacher Certification and Leadership exams are reportedly at an all-time high. WFTS.

Closing schools: Four aging Orange County schools are closing over the next two years to make way for larger schools that can offer more amenities, but some parents worry about the effects the closings will have on children who are comfortable in a smaller school. “It really is like a community that is helping your raise your family,” said Melinda Aiello, who said her two youngest children benefited from the intimacy at Pine Castle, a 300-student school in Orlando. Orlando Sentinel.

Rezoning considered: Nassau County school officials are considering a rezoning plan that would even out the student populations in Fernandina Beach and Yulee schools. Right now, there are more than 1,200 students in Yulee schools and just 900 in Fernandina Beach. The school board will vote on the proposal Feb. 23. WJAX.

Religion bills: The advocacy group Florida Citizens for Science says two bills aimed at protecting religious expression in state schools could threaten science education. “This bill is not strictly an anti-science or creationist one, but it certainly can be used for those purposes if signed into law as is,” the group wrote on its blog. Orlando Sentinel.

School testing: Assessment testing begins in Florida schools this month, and Lake County school officials are holding a forum Feb. 15 to answer questions about this year’s testing and what might happen in the future. Many legislators have said they want to cut back significantly on testing. Orlando Sentinel. Vero Beach High School students will be able to retake industry certification exams that were invalidated after two teachers violated testing protocol. Many are rejecting the offer because they will have only three days to prepare, and they worry that the tests will be different than the ones they took nearly a year ago. TCPalm.

Contract negotiations: Santa Rosa school officials and the teachers union resume contract negotiations today. The union wants a 2.77 percent raise, and the district is offering 1.8 percent. Pensacola News Journal.

Graduation rates: The Suwannee County School District boosted its graduation rate by more than 22 percentage points in 2015-2016, to 89.6 percent. School officials attribute the improvement to focusing on career technical education and giving more help to students who are struggling. Branford  News.

Top crossing guard: Sheila Payne, a crossing guard at Westwood Middle School in Gainesville, is named school crossing guard of the year by the Florida Department of Transportation. Gainesville Sun.

Pen Pal schools: Four years ago, students from Immokalee Community School sent a packet of letters to survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Connecticut. The letters from students at the charter school focused on family, school and hobbies and didn’t mention the shooting, and it began a pen pal tradition of exchanging letters yearly that continues. Naples Daily News.

Union election: The Palm Beach County teachers union is reconsidering its decision to prohibit a teacher from running for the presidency. Justin Katz was told he wasn’t eligible to run because he took family leave in 2015 to care for a dying relative, and union rules require any presidential candidate to be a member of the union for two consecutive years. Palm Beach Post.

Spokesperson hiring: Monroe County School District officials plan to hire a communications and community relations coordinator by the end of the month. Thirty-one people have applied for the job, which will pay between $63,200 and $85,200 a year. Keynoter.

Illness at fair: Twenty-eight children become ill at the Lake City middle school science fair. Health and school officials think barbecue pork sandwiches served by a catering firm caused the sickness. WJAX.

Trump photo flap: A Gulf Breeze High School student is disciplined after removing a photo of President Trump from the school’s display of presidents. Pensacola News Journal.

Student cited for sign: Milton High School officials order a junior to remove a sign from her car in the school parking lot that reads: “So gay I can’t even drive straight.” They say it’s offensive and is a violation of the student handbook. Rachel Campbell, who describes herself as pansexual, says she won’t take the sign out of her car. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher arrested: A 53-year-old Cutler Bay High School teacher is arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. Bernardo Osorio, 53, is charged with three counts of engaging in sexual acts with a minor. WTVJ.

Sub had been blocked: A Santa Rosa substitute teacher accused of molesting students at Gulf Breeze Elementary School had previously been blocked from two Escambia schools for inappropriate behavior. Richard Mack, 66, got his substitute’s job in Santa Rosa through a third-party contracting company named PESG. The company said it had followed its usual background check procedures, but would not detail what those procedures are. Pensacola News Journal.

Opinions on schools: If you have $454 million, would you provide yet another cut to Florida businesses, which already enjoy one of the best tax climates in America, or a boost to pre-K programs, which are woefully behind? Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. So where, in the Tallahassee budget infighting, is the priority for serious public education funding? It’s not in sight. Not this year. Howard Goodman, Palm beach Post.

Student enrichment: Staffers at Mittye P. Locke Elementary School collect and distribute about 3,000 clothing items to needy children and their parents. Gradebook. The Lee County School District uses translators and special events to improve children’s reading skills and get parents involved in schools. Fort Myers News-Press. Mark Hawkins and Alexa Brutus, freshmen at the State College of Florida’s Collegiate School, finish in the top five in a national budgeting simulation competition called the H&R Block Budget Challenge. Each wins a $20,000 scholarship. Bradenton Herald. Boone Middle School, one of five Polk County schools on a state-required improvement plan, is getting a boost from the First Presbyterian Church of Haines City. Winter Haven News Chief. Students in the Mitchell High School Mustang Film and Game Creation Club have created an award-winning short film and are working on a video game. Tampa Bay Times. Nearly all the 250 students at St. John Neumann Catholic High School, and 30 faculty members, volunteer in the third annual iServe day. Naples Daily News. Brevard students perfect their ideas in a Shark Tank-like competition. Florida Today. Palm Coast’s Buddy Taylor Middle School opens an agronomy lab to teach students about agriscience. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff