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Florida schools roundup: Death penalty, walkout, school safety, tests and more

Death penalty proposed: Broward County prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against accused Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz. Cruz, 19, is accused of murdering 17 people at the school on Feb. 14, and wounding 17 others. Cruz’s public defender says he will not contest guilt, but will focus on his troubled past to try to convince jurors to spare his life. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Palm Beach Post. CNN. An attorney for Stoneman Douglas High student Anthony Borges, who was gravely wounded in the shooting, wants both the prosecutors and public defenders off the Cruz case because they endorsed a program in 2016 to “eliminate the school to prison pipeline.” Sun-Sentinel.

National School Walkout: Students at about 3,000 U.S. schools are expected to join the National School Walkout today to protest gun violence. The protest comes one month after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Time. Associated Press. The 74. Education Week. Vox. Students around the state plan to participate in the walkout, and schools are deciding how they will deal with it. Palm Beach PostOrlando Weekly. Tampa Bay Times. Pensacola News Journal. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. WLRN. WFTV. WJAX. WFLA. The Florida ACLU is urging superintendents not to interfere with students or punish them if they participate in the walkout. Gradebook. How young is too young to participate in today’s walkout? New York Times. A Lake County School Board member apologizes for calling a Stoneman Douglas student a “crisis actor.” Daily Commercial.

School safety plans: School superintendents are lobbying members of Congress to revise the STOP School Violence Act so it won’t be extended to private schools. “We support a revision to ensure that any resources made available to non-public school settings be funneled through an ‘equitable services’ provision, already in place through the Every Student Succeeds Act,” according to a letter from the American Association of School Administrators. Politico Florida. U.S. House Democrats will hold a forum next week to review ways to prevent violence in schools. Politico Florida. Teachers can already carry guns in 14 states. USA Today. Parents of students murdered at Parkland urge the Constitution Revision Commission to let Florida voters decide on a three-day waiting period and on raising the age limit to buy guns. In Lakeland, the father of another murdered Parkland student asks the Polk County School Board to approve a plan to arm some school employees. Tampa Bay Times. GateHouse. Lakeland Ledger. Members of the public urge the Bay County School Board not to arm school employees. Panama City News Herald. A majority of the St. Johns County School Board members oppose arming school workers. St. Augustine Record. The Citrus County School Board is asking the sheriff to split the cost of adding five resource officers to schools for the rest of the school year. Citrus County Chronicle. Pinellas County School Board members vote to not arm any school workers other than law enforcement officers. Gradebook.

SAT, ACT study: SAT and ACT tests do not reflect states’ academic standards and should not be used to measure high school achievement, according to a study by the nonprofit education organization Achieve. The company came to that conclusion after assessing three other studies of how well the national tests align with state standards. One of those studies was from Florida, by the Assessments Solution Group, which indicated multiple questions would have to be added to the ACT and SAT for the tests to properly reflect the state’s standards. Education Week.

School choice bills: Most of the bills expanding school choice in Florida got through the Legislature this year. Here’s a look at those that did and the few that didn’t. redefinED.

Board term limits: A poll indicates that 68 percent of voters would approve term limits for school board members if the initiative is approved by the Constitution Revision Commission and placed on the November ballot. Constitutional amendments need to pass with 60 percent of the vote to be enacted. News Service of Florida.

Repeat offenders: About 10 percent of Duval County’s students cause nearly 85 percent of the disciplinary referrals, according to district records after the first 100 days of school. But the total number of suspension days is down to 17,015 days from the 2011 high of 35,847. Florida Times-Union.

Extra week for Avossa: Today was supposed to be Palm Beach County Superintendent Robert Avossa’s last day, but the school board has tentatively agreed to hire him as a consultant and adviser for an extra week to the incoming superintendent, Donald Fennoy. Palm Beach Post.

Data breach: Leon County school officials delayed telling teachers and students about the data breach at the Florida Virtual School for several weeks so they could conduct their own investigation and prepare the anticipated response. “We wanted to ensure that there was not mass confusion,” says Chris Petley, spokesman for the district. “We wanted to make sure that the call centers were set up and we followed the correct protocol. There were many times during this process that the superintendent wanted to do just that — pick up the phone and call the media and inform the community. But we were advised against that.” Tallahassee Democrat.

District funding: The state budget will push some welcome extra money to Volusia and Flagler county schools. Volusia will get a boost of $4.2 million, and Flagler will receive an extra $1 million. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Sen Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, says while schools around the state appreciate the extra money the state budget provides for school safety and mental health services, he expects to see program cuts because discretionary spending has barely budged. WFSU.

Election day off: The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to give students a day off on Tuesday, Nov. 6, election day, to avoid mixing strangers and students on campuses that are used as election precincts. Instead, schools will be in session Nov. 2, which had been a day off for teacher development. Sun-Sentinel.

Employee honored: Christy Cole, who oversees the food and nutritional program at Citrus Grove Elementary School in Palm City, is named the Martin County School District’s school-related employee of the year. Palm Beach Post.

Personnel moves: Kristi Jarvis, who has been acting principal at Ashton Elementary School in Sarasota for nearly a year, is officially named to the job. She succeeds Chris Renouf, who was chosen to head the district’s elementary schools last year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School board elections: Victor Dotres, a technology teacher at Estates Elementary, is running for the District 3 seat on the Collier County School Board. It’s currently held by Erika Donalds, who is not running for re-election. Others in the race are Kathy Ryan and Jennifer Mitchell. Naples Daily News.

New school’s name: The Manatee County School Board unanimously approves Dr. Mona Jain Middle School as the name for the school that opens in east Manatee in August 2019. Jain was an educator and the former director of the county’s Head Start program. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Rezoning criticized: About 100 Pasco County parents complain about the new zoning proposal for the west side of the county. At least one parent group has already said it intends to challenge the district’s rezoning process in court. Gradebook.

Teacher fired: An Okaloosa County teacher is fired for allegedly sitting on a male student’s lap while teaching a class. Amanda Varnum, who taught English at Laurel Hill School teacher, joked with two male students about penis size and often sat on a student’s lap, according to students in the class. Varnum is appealing the dismissal, and an arbitrator will hear the appeal in May. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School threats: A 12-year-old student is arrested after threatening to shoot his classmates at Hudson Middle School in Pasco County. Tampa Bay Times. An 11-year-old student at Meigs Middle School in Fort Walton Beach is arrested and accused of making a written threat to kill a teacher. Northwest Florida Daily News. A 15-year-old Umatilla Middle School student is arrested after allegedly leaving a threatening note at the school. Daily Commercial.

Pepper sprayed on bus: Ten students headed for Independence Elementary School are treated and released after a student pepper sprays them on a school bus. The pepper spray had been given to a 7-year-old student for self-defense by a parent, but Orange County deputies say another student grabbed the canister and sprayed the students. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: A “classical” charter school is being proposed for Martin County. But do we need it, and at what cost? Gil Smart, TCPalm. So we’ll get the video from outside Stoneman Douglas High School. But how much should the public see? Dan Sweeney, Sun-Sentinel. Students who participate in school walkouts today should not be punished. Philadelphia Inquirer. Despite years of study on the topic, experts appear to be conflicted over whether charter schools improve public school academic outcomes. Due to the uncertainty, public debate could continue as Betsy DeVos’ Education Department continues its pro-school choice agenda to the dismay of opponents like the National Education Association. Sam Dorman, Independent Journal Review. I have no idea if arming teachers will make our children safer. But if we’re going to do this, let’s not kid ourselves: A school filled with guards is a prison, and a teacher with a gun is a cop. Darrell A.H. Miller, Tampa Bay Times. Arming school staff and encouraging the arrest of students for minor offenses are the wrong approaches to school safety. Schools can’t be made to resemble jails if we’re ever going to close the school-to-prison pipeline. Gainesville Sun. If Republicans want to ignore Democratic lawmakers in the future, allow me to suggest Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, for a change. She’s a religious huckster who has turned lawmaking into a side hustle. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Charter school parents are joining families that receive state scholarships in the Florida Parent Network to broaden the reach and voice of the school choice movement. Doug Tuthill, The 74 (Note: Tuthill is president of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog). Eighteen random assignment studies of “voucher” programs have gauged their academic impact on like students. Thirteen found positive outcomes. Three found negative outcomes. So when a Sarasota school administrator claims “there are no reputable studies to prove that private-school students learn better than public school students,” he’s wrong. Ron Matus, Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Note: Matus works for Step Up For Students).

Student enrichment: The Florida Department of Education recognizes five students from around the state as outstanding school volunteers. They are: Chloe Kriner, Santa Rosa County School District; Malia Domingo, Nassau County; Jazlyn Edwards, Martin County; Ty Wilcox, Manatee County; and Kayla Abramowitz, Palm Beach County. Florida Department of Education. TCPalm. Simone Kaplan, a 12-year-old 6th-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Davie, wins the Broward County spelling bee to qualify for the national competition in May. Miami Herald. Lamarque Elementary School 5th-graders become wildlife biologists for a day at Oscar Scherer State Park. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff