Florida schools roundup: Scholarship fund, Scientology, sales tax and more

Scholarship fund empty: The state’s Gardiner scholarship, which is awarded to students with special needs, has exhausted all its available funding for the first time since it began in 2014. About 10,500 students are receiving the scholarship this year, and another 1,270 have been approved but are on a waiting list. “We have definitely exhausted every last dollar, every last penny,” says Gina Lynch, vice president of operations for Step Up For Students, which helps administer the program and hosts this blog. “There is healthy demand for the program.The program allows families to pay for a wide range of education-related expenses, from therapy and homeschool curriculum to public school courses and private school tuition, for qualifying children with special needs.” redefinED.

Schools and Scientology: Several Florida private schools participating in school choice scholarship programs use learning concepts developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, reports the Huffington Post.

Sales tax squabble: Members of the Manatee County School Board still can’t agree on a date for an election asking voters to increase property taxes for schools, how to sell the referendum or even how much to assess voters. The squabbling has led board member Dave Miner to call for the removal of Scott Hopes as board chairman. Miner says Hopes misled the board about his support for the special election when he was chosen as chairman just two weeks ago. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Displaced students: State officials estimate that about 55,000 Puerto Ricans who fled to Florida after Hurricane Maria may stay here permanently. Amy Baker, a state economist, says many of the estimated 231,000 who left the island have simply flown to Florida on the way to somewhere else. “Florida’s a gateway. A lot of people come through Florida now to other cities and states,” says Baker. “Especially in the first month after Maria, they were just catching any plane that was flying [off the island].” She also put the number of Puerto Rican children now in Florida schools at about 7,000. Politico Florida. Meanwhile, about 98 percent of Puerto Rico’s schools are now open for at least part of the day, according to the island’s Department of Education. WLRN.

Brogan appointed: Frank Brogan, former chancellor of Florida’s university system and lieutenant governor, is named assistant secretary of education for elementary and secondary education by President Donald Trump. Brogan, 64, resigned earlier this year as chancellor of Pennsylvania’s universities. Miami Herald. Education Week.

Computer expansion: A pilot program to use Chromebooks in Lake County classrooms has gone so well that the school board is being asked to allow schools to spend about $300,000 of their own money to buy more. The district is eventually expected to expand the Chromebook-buying program, but some schools want to move ahead now. Daily Commercial.

Water tests clean: Test results show that the water at Seminole Middle School cafeteria is now within the EPA’s safe guidelines for copper and iron content. After a test Nov. 28 showed high levels of those elements in the water, school officials had the pipes flushed. They will continue to flush the pipes daily and hand out bottled water to students through Dec. 22, the start of winter break. Gradebook.

Teachers for a day: More than 60 senior staffers in the Palm Beach County School District go back into the classroom to teach for a day, an exercise Superintendent Robert Avossa called for to help them understand the differences between making decisions about classrooms and teaching in one. Avossa was included, and spent the day in a 4th-grade class at Jerry Thomas Elementary School in Jupiter. Palm Beach Post.

Automatic renewals end: Polk County School Board members vote to end automatic contract renewals for their attorney, Wes Bridges, and internal auditor, Carol Matthews. “I do think the best practice is to review contracts from time to time,” says board member Lori Cunningham. “This in no way indicates any unhappiness with these individuals.” Lakeland Ledger.

State asked for help: The Okaloosa County School Board is asking the state to audit the district’s internal investigations into employee misconduct. “We’ve had some complaints about the way they’ve been conducted, the way they’ve been done in the past. We need to know we’re doing it right,” says board member Dewey Destin. The board also votes to require district employees to forward all complaints to the Florida Board of Education. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR.

Transgender case begins: The civil trial of transgender student Drew Adams against the St. Johns County School District begins. Adams, now 16, says the district violated his civil rights when it told him to use gender-neutral bathrooms instead of the boys bathroom. Florida Times-Union.

District lawsuit: The Broward County School District is asking a federal court to find that an administrative law judge was wrong in ordering the district to pay $20,000 to an autistic student for not consulting his mother when creating the boy’s “Individualized Education Plan.” The district says the judge “lacked the authority and jurisdiction to award attorney’s fees and costs under either Florida or federal law.” Miami New Times.

Ex-principal sues board: The former principal at Sabal Palm Elementary School is suing the Leon County School Board for racial discrimination and retaliation. Ann Johnson, 59, says she was demoted in 2013 after questioning the decisions of some administrators regarding teacher retention. She retired in 2016. Tallahassee Democrat.

Old school lawsuit over: An appeals court throws out a developer’s lawsuit against the city of Boynton Beach over its decision not to have him refurbish the city’s historic high school. The decision allows the city to rehabilitate the building into a civic, arts and culture building. Palm Beach Post.

School employee arrested: A Polk County school employee is arrested and accused of hitting a disabled 7-year-old student in the face. Bartow police officers say Pamela Ann Murphy, 59, a paraprofessional at the Jean O’Dell Learning Center, slapped the boy’s face after he began kicking his feet toward her. Lakeland LedgerBradenton Herald.

Students arrested: Two 16-year-old high school students in St. Petersburg are arrested and accused of bringing a handgun to school, and for aggravated assault. Police say a video was posted on Snapchat showing one of the boys on the Lakewood High School campus with a gun. Police found the gun in a backpack near the campus. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

School bus fight: A 30-year-old man is arrested after boarding a Citrus County school bus, grabbing the arm of a student who was fighting with another student and escorting him off the bus. Casey McKelvain is charged with battery and trespass on school property. Citrus County Chronicle.

Opinions on schools: Recent events and new assessments of the level of preparedness in the Manatee County School District and in the community cast doubt on whether they are ready to ask voters in three months to approve higher property taxes for schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. No high school should brag about how many students it sends to college. That is irrelevant. What a strong high school should brag about is how well its graduates do once they are in college. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Three of the chess teams from Oak Hall Academy of Alachua County win first places in a K-12 national chess tournament in Orlando. Gainesville Sun. The Viera Charter School wins a Schools of Excellence award from the Florida Department of Education. Viera Voice.

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BY NextSteps staff