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Florida schools roundup: Charter funds, gay teacher fired, Baker Act and more

Charters get payments: Under protest, Broward and Orange school districts distribute about $15 million in local construction funding to charter schools after being ordered to do so by the Florida Department of Education. The districts wanted to hold the money in escrow until their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law requiring the payments is decided. DOE officials said the pending decision was not a basis to withhold payment. Both districts allege the state threatened to withhold regular school funding if the payments were not made, a charge the DOE denies. WLRN.

Gay teacher fired: A Miami Catholic school 1st-grade teacher says she was fired from her job after marrying her girlfriend. Jocelyn Morffi was apparently asked to resign after officials at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School found out about her marriage. When she refused, she was fired. Now her story is being turned into an issue in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, according to Politico Florida. Miami New Times. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG.

Baker Act policy: A widely seen video of a 7-year-old boy being taken away from a school in handcuffs prompts a change in the way Miami-Dade County schools will handle children with behavior issues. School officials have been instructed to exhaust all options in dealing with a student before calling police and using the Baker Act for an involuntary psychiatric exam. When called, police officers also will need clearance from a high-ranking officer before transporting a child under the Baker Act. Miami Herald. Children under the age of 18 were taken for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation under the Baker Act about 32,000 times between the summers of 2015 and 2016, according to a report by the Florida Department of Children and Families. WLRN.

Educators honored:  Kenneth Savage, principal at the James Stephens International Academy in Fort Myers, is named Florida’s principal of the year by the Florida Department of Education. Jackie Ramsey, an assistant principal at Carver Middle School in Orlando, is named assistant principal of the year. Florida Department of Education. Orlando Sentinel. Lee County School District. Sylvester Jones, a paraprofessional at Rutherford High School in Springfield, is named Bay County’s support employee of the year. WMBB. Bobbie Cavnar, who taught English and journalism in a Broward County in the early 2000s and now teaches British literature at South Point High School in Gaston, N.C., is named national public teacher of the year by the National Education Association Foundation. Gaston Gazette.

Superintendent vs. board member: Sarasota County School Superintendent Todd Bowden is accusing school board member Shirley Brown of sexual harassment. Bowden says he was talking on the phone with Brown about stalled contract negotiations with the teachers union when she allegedly told Bowden that he and the union director, Barry Durbin, “needed to get laid.” Brown says she cannot “recall anything that I said that may be considered out of bounds.” Bowden was accused of sexual harassment by a district employee in 2016, and says he has asked Brown to stop “privately poking” him about sexual harassment. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Special students, special education: Thousands of Florida parents are using Gardiner scholarships to customize education for their special-needs students, according to a study by EdChoice. About 4 in 10 parents are using the scholarship to pay for multiple education services, not just a private school, say the authors of the report. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner program. redefinED.

Schools and the flu: Outbreaks of the flu have been reported at 16 schools in Hillsborough County, according to a spokesman with the Florida Department of Health. State officials say the number of cases reported continues to rise, and five children have died. WFLA.

District finances: The Manatee County School District has done a “remarkable” job of recovering from its financial problems, says a consultant with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Now the district is considering adding a finance oversight committee as it approaches a March 20 election asking voters to approve an extra 1 mill in property taxes for the district to boost pay and add 30 minutes to the school day. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School name: The Orange County School District is conducting an online survey to see how the community feels about changing the name of Stonewall Jackson Middle School, which is one of the few remaining Florida public schools named after a Confederate war hero. The school’s advisory council requested the survey. Once the results are in, the council will decide whether to ask the school board to change the name. Orlando Sentinel.

Substitute shortage: South Florida schools are struggling to find substitutes to cover for absent teachers. In Broward and Miami-Dade counties, nearly 20 percent of requests for substitutes go unfilled, forcing schools to reassign administrators and coaches or redistribute students from those classes to other rooms. District officials say this leads to more discipline problems and can hurt students academically. They are considering increasing the pay and broadening recruiting, especially for retired teachers, to combat the shortage. Sun-Sentinel.

Planning for growth: The rapid growth of St. Johns County is putting a strain on the county’s schools, and Superintendent Tim Forson says he doesn’t expect any let-up in the next 10-20 years. The school district, which now has 37,000 students, is growing by 1,400 to 1,800 a year. That’s leading to more crowded classrooms and more portable classrooms. St. Augustine Record.

School programs: Leesburg High School will be home to a Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education program in August. About 100 8th-graders will be chosen this month for the program, which guarantees a full Bright Futures scholarship funds and up to 45 hours of college credit earned while in high school. Daily Commercial. Tampa Bay area high school students seem to like the idea of schools offering a financial literacy course, but have mixed views about it being a requirement to graduate. That’s what S.B. 88 would do if passed by the Legislature. Tampa Bay Times.

Affordable housing: A plan to build affordable apartments for Monroe County School District workers behind Sugarloaf Elementary School would cost at least $2.5 million and take two years, but would pay off for the district or a developer within 10 years, according to a task force. The next question for school board members is whether the district should take on the project or partner with a developer. Keynoter.

School board elections: April Griffin, an often controversial member of the Hillsborough County School Board for the past 12 years, says she won’t run for re-election. “I have done my duty and feel it’s time to move on,” Griffin said in a written statement. Tampa Bay Times. Kenneth Mathis, a longtime music teacher in the Pasco County School District, says he is resigning to run for the District 1 seat on the school board. That seat is held by three-term incumbent Allen Altman. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: The man who hired Robert Avossa from his job as Palm Beach County school superintendent says even if he hadn’t hired him, Avossa still would have left. “Robert is so good that he was being recruited by some even bigger districts and some states to be state superintendent,” says Ken Kahn, owner of LRP Publications in Palm Beach Gardens. “Frankly, I think he was going to leave anyway.” Palm Beach Post. Hal Stewart, an instructor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is named headmaster at the Central Florida Christian Academy in Orlando. West Orange Times. Cara Hayden, former principal of Starlight Cove Elementary School in Lantana, is the new principal at Wellington High School. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher arrested: Justin Martineau, a social studies teacher at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, is arrested and charged with possession of hash oil, possession of methamphetamine, possession of cannabis and violating the city’s open container ordinance. He’s been taken off the job and won’t be allowed on campus, according to school officials. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher resigns: A Collier County teacher is allowed to resign in lieu of being fired after contacting an underage female student on Facebook. East Naples Middle School music teacher Samuel Chadwick, 29, had also been suspended without pay for three days in 2016 for viewing adult content during class. Naples Daily News. WINK.

Arrests at schools: Sixty-seven students have been arrested at Wharton High School this school year, more than double the number at any other Hillsborough County. Eleven students were arrested during a fight last week at Wharton. WTVT. WFTS. A North Port High School student is arrested after allegedly making threats to other students through social media. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Three students are arrested after making threats against Spruce Creek High School officials and causing a disturbance. Two of the students were also charged with assault on a school board employee. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: Young children need help, not handcuffs, when they are unruly in school. Miami Herald. Florida students are Baker-Acted all the time. It could be because there’s a greater awareness of how mental illness affects kids. Or it could be that schools are too quick to Baker Act. It could be both. But here’s one thing it shouldn’t be: acceptable. Gil Smart, TCPalm. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is on a mission to fundamentally remake Florida’s public education system and he is acting every bit the bully to get his way. This time, the Florida Senate shouldn’t let him. Palm Beach Post. The state’s largest teachers union’s claim that “(House Speaker) Richard Corcoran has a plan to divert even more of our tax dollars to unaccountable private schools” needs more context. We rate it half-true. PolitiFact Florida. The move to create a state scholarship for bullied students seems like a ruse by House members to further expand an already healthy school voucher program that funds private schools. Citrus County Chronicle. Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin has sometimes been petty and is rarely diplomatic, but she will leave the board better than she found it. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Science education is facing an unprecedented attack not seen in Florida since 2008, when state board of education members and lawmakers tried to override science education experts’ revision of state science standards. Brandon Haught, Tallahassee Democrat. It’s worth celebrating the 10th anniversary of the adoption of Florida’s science standards for K-12 public schools, and the Florida Citizens for Science for helping make it happen. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Sarasota is one of only two Florida school districts to consistently earn an “A” grade from the state. There are other factors beyond referendum dollars and exceptional teachers that contribute to this success, but the continued strategic use of tax dollars is critical. Teri A. Hansen, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Two Lake County high school juniors, Kelly Folsom of South Lake High and Rachel Williams of Eustis High, are chosen 2018 Sunshine State Scholars. Each school district selects its two top juniors in STEM fields. Daily Commercial. A group of Flagler Palm Coast High School students launches Fostering the Future, a plan to help foster children who age out of the system at 18, as a class project. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A memorial statue is dedicated at Seminole High School in Pinellas County to Drew Leinonen, who started the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school and died in the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff