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Florida schools roundup: Education bill, guns and schools, unions and more

House education bill: The Florida House Education Commission approves the 109-page education bill, which includes new scholarships for 3rd-graders who fail the state reading exam, an expansion of school choice, a cutback in computerized state testing and new regulatory accountability rules for private schools accepting tax credit scholarships. Representatives spent considerable time debating the merits of a provision that allows school boards to set up autonomous networks within their districts that would be managed by the highest-rated principals. News Service of FloridaredefinED. Politico Florida. The Senate and House plans for higher education spending differ by hundreds of millions of dollars, but leaders in the chambers say they are optimistic they can strike a deal agreeable to both. News Service of Florida.

Guns and schools: A Senate bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in churches and religious institutions that include schools is amended  during a hearing Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those senators approved the bill only after making a change that would prohibit firearm possession in religious institutions during hours when schools or day-care centers are operating. And two south Florida Republicans are asking the bill’s  sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, to provide assurances that he won’t continue to push the bill if the amendment is removed. Baxley says he will try to avoid having the bill changed. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. WFSU.

Public employee unions: The full Florida House passes a bill that would require public employee unions to apply for recertification if their total dues-paying membership falls below half of all those eligible. Unions representing police officers, prison guards and firefighters would be exempt from the bill. Florida Education Association president Joanne McCall says the bill is “an attempt to silence those who dare to speak out and speak up on behalf of our public schools and our students.” The bill’s chances in the Senate are uncertain. “The bill hasn’t moved in the Senate this session, and I don’t see it gaining traction,” says Senate president-designate Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Politico Florida.

Teachers honored: Molly Winters Diallo, who teaches Advanced Placement geography and psychology courses at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High, is named the Miami-Dade County School District’s teacher of the year. Stephanie Pierre, a teacher at Miami Norland Senior High, is named rookie teacher of the year. Miami Herald. WQAM. Amy Grimm, a 1st-grade teacher at Julington Creek Elementary School, is named the St. Johns County School District’s teacher of the year. Hailey Fletcher, a 5th grade teacher at Patriot Oaks Academy, is named rookie teacher of the year. St. Augustine Record. Rebecca Caskey, a counselor at Citrus Springs Elementary School, is named the Citrus County School District’s teacher of the year. Citrus County Chronicle. Three finalists are chosen for the St. Lucie County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are: Luca Bradley, social studies, Fort Pierce Central High; Luke Hall, band director, Treasure Coast High; and Samantha Lamora, 1st grade, Savanna Ridge Elementary. The winner will be announced Feb. 10. TCPalm. Ten finalists are chosen for the Pinellas County School District’s teacher of the year award. The winner will be announced Wednesday. Tampa Bay Times.

Communication problem: A parent who emailed the principal of the Miami Arts Charter School several times about various issues at the school received a reply that mocked her concerns and concluded with a poop emoji. Alfredo de la Rosa, the principal and founder of the school, says the parent got under his skin. “I should have known better, but there’s a history there,” he says. “She has not always been polite on her end toward us.” He also says the poop emoji was an accident. “It looks intentional but it wasn’t,” he says. “I don’t even know how that ended up on there.” Other parents say they have had similar exchanges with de la Rosa. Miami Herald.

Flu outbreak: While Gulf County schools are closed today due to an outbreak of the flu, which has kept 20 percent of students at home and caused shortages of substitute teachers and school bus drivers, several other counties are struggling to keep the outbreak from spreading in their districts. Health officials are attributing the flu for the deaths of 30 children across the United States, including three in Florida. WBBH. Tallahassee Democrat. Miami Herald. WPTV. Palm Beach Post. Citrus County Chronicle. WFSU.

Injunction against turnarounds: The Bay County School District joins 12 others around the state in asking a Leon County judge for an injunction against the state’s rules regarding turnaround schools. Superintendent Bill Husfelt says he wants another year to improve Oscar Patterson Elementary School, instead of being forced to close the school, turn it over to a charter company or some other outside operator. The injunction argues that the law providing three options in the improvement plan violates the Florida Constitution by eliminating the role of the local school board. Panama City News Herald.

Students and suicide: After the recent suicide of a 12-year-old middle school student, Bay County school and health officials are urging parents and other adults to look closely for signs that young people are struggling, and to talk with them about their suicidal thoughts. Panama City News Herald.

Contract negotiations: Duval County teachers and other school workers vote today and next week on three-year contracts that include pay raises or step increases for at least the first two years, retroactive to July 1. The school board is expected to vote on the agreement Feb. 6. Florida Times-Union.

Displaced students: Gov. Rick Scott extends the emergency order that is helping Puerto Rican evacuees work, enroll in schools and find housing and health care. This is the second extension since the original order was signed Oct. 2 to provide assistance to those driven off the island by Hurricane Maria. Florida PoliticsPalm Beach Post.

Teacher evaluations: Palm Beach County School Board members say they’ll do everything they can to revamp the way the district’s teachers are evaluated to eliminate huge disparities between schools. High-poverty schools have fewer teachers rated highly effective, which is a key element in pay. “The state of Florida has created a monster here,” says board member Marcia Andrews. “They are destroying the teaching profession.” Sun-Sentinel.

Money for charters: The Sarasota County School District will send about $7.3 million to 11 charter schools under the state’s new law requiring districts to share local property tax money earmarked for construction and repairs, and Manatee’s will send $2.7 million to nine charter schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Whistleblower speaks out: Jason Ferger, a critic of the Hillsborough County School District, was outed this week as the author of the “Whistleblower” Facebook page where he had anonymously criticized the district and school board. He talks about his motivations and his goals. Gradebook. The Hillsborough County School District announces it will appoint a person to deal with the public over requests for information. Director of communications Grayson Kamm says  the volume of requests has grown rapidly in the past few years. Gradebook.

Teacher resigns: A Lee County teacher accused of sending suggestive social media messages to students resigns a day after he is removed from the classroom. The Florida Department of Education and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office will take over the investigation of Scott Kilhefner, who had been teaching at North Fort Myers High School. WINK. WBBH.

Student killed by train: Grief counselors will be at Fleming Island High School today to help students cope with the death Thursday morning of a classmate. The student was hit by a train about 10 miles from the school, in Orange Park. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Students arrested: A 13-year-old student is arrested for bringing an unloaded gun to J.E.B. Stuart Middle School in Jacksonville. WJAX. Police arrest a 16-year-old Durant High School student and charge him with making a false report about seeing a gun at the school. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times. Five Braden River High School students are charged with the rape of a 13-year-old girl last summer in Bradenton. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School custodian arrested: Robert Hudson, a 55-year-old custodian at Glenallen Elementary School in Sarasota County, is arrested and charged with five counts of possession of child pornography. School officials say none of the images appear to be of school district students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School threats: Three Lauderdale Lakes schools are evacuated when bomb threats are called in Thursday morning. The first two threats were made against Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson High School and Lauderdale Lakes Middle School. About 20 minutes later another was phoned in to Oriole Elementary School. The three schools share a complex. Miami Herald. WPBF. WPLG.

Student enrichment: About 400 Miami-Dade high school students meet with Holocaust survivors as part of the Miami-Dade County Student Awareness Day: A Prejudice Reduction and Anti-Bullying Program. Sun-Sentinel. Florida first lady Ann Scott visits three Manatee County elementary schools as part of a tour promoting Celebrate Literacy Week. Bradenton Herald. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office donates 25 computers to Campbell Middle School. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff