Florida schools roundup: ‘Safety specialists,’ budgets, testing and more

Security in schools: The Polk County School District and Sheriff Grady Judd are working on a plan to have an armed “safety specialist” in all county elementary schools this fall. The district is finalizing a job description, but the specialists will fall between a sworn school resource officer and an armed school employee. As many as 90 will be hired, and the school district will pay for them. Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says the pay will be “significantly less” than what resource officers and teachers make. Judd says the specialists’ job is to be a “visual deterrent to an active shooter, and be trained to suppress the active shooter threat” if necessary. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG. WFLA. Manatee and Sarasota school districts are struggling to find funding to comply with the state law to have an officer in every school by fall. Law enforcement authorities in both counties contend that since the school districts are getting some money from the state, they should be responsible for the full costs of school security. WWSB.

Budget ‘crisis’: Volusia County School Board members say the district is in “crisis mode” after the preliminary budget shows a deficit of $4.2 million. School officials blame a small increase in funding from the state, an underfunded state mandate on school security and proposed 1 percent teacher raises for the deficit. “I’m a little alarmed by it and very cautious about what we must do,” says board chairwoman Linda Cuthbert, who noted that decisions need to be made soon. “It’s certainly going to be a difficult budget cycle,” says Deb Muller, chief financial officer for the district. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Testing cautions: National Assessment of Educational Progress testing results have positive news about Florida, and particularly several three large school districts. But they also show there’s work to be done, especially in 8th-grade math and in closing the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups. redefinED. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says her top goal is to close the academic achievement gap between students of different racial and economic backgrounds. She says part of the problem is chronic teacher absenteeism. “I can tell you … with our most vulnerable students that we have our teachers that are less motivated and less capable. We’ve got to make that shift and we’ve got to help them become better or help them find another profession,” Stewart said in a speaking appearance in Sarasota. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School shooting developments: A prominent gun-rights activist, Charlie Kirk, was invited by some students to speak at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and accepted. But Broward school officials have uninvited him. “The school’s administration has met with the student organizers and advised them that non-school sponsored, student-initiated guest speaker assemblies/meetings are not permitted to take place on campus,” says Cathleen Brennan, a district spokeswoman. Sun-Sentinel. More audio recordings by emergency responders to the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High are released. “This is going to be a big event … contact all the area hospitals,” the commanding paramedic says. “We may be sending patients in all directions … trauma centers especially.” Sun-Sentinel. Broward school officials will wait for the investigation to be completed before deciding whether to take any disciplinary action against a Stoneman Douglas teacher who left his gun in a public restroom. Sun-Sentinel.

Hemp oil fight: Volusia County parents are fighting with the school district to allow their terminally ill 6-year-old daughter to use CBD hemp oil at Edgewater Public School. JJ and Kim Adams say their daughter Zoe’s use of an increased dosage of the over-the-counter supplement has ended her seizures and reduced inflammation and pain associated with Sanfillipo Syndrome, a disorder that destroys the cells in her body. But the school district has denied the family’s request to continue that higher dosage. WFTV.

School dress codes: The case of the braless Manatee high school student who was forced by school officials to put bandaids over her nipples sparks a wider conversation about school dress codes, and even prompts a call for a national boycott on wearing bras – called a “Bracott” – on Monday. GradebookRacked.

Contract negotiations: The Okeechobee County School Board rejects a teachers union request for a 2.7 percent pay increase after Superintendent Ken Kenworthy says the district can’t afford it. The board also rejects a union request that would require principals to give a reason to annuals contract teachers who aren’t being rehired. The sides have been at an impasse since October. Okeechobee News.

Charter capital funds: Even as a charter school network is challenging the state on the way it handles capital funds for charter schools, the Florida Department of Education is proposing to change its rules. Department officials say the changes are technical in nature and are proposed to conform to the 2017 education bill H.B. 7069. Politico Florida.

Charter schools: The Martin County School Board is expected to vote Tuesday whether to allow a classical charter school to open. The Treasure Coast Classical Academy would serve K-12 students with a “content-rich classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue,” according to the school’s application. More than 100 students have signed a letter of intent to attend. TCPalm.

School board elections: Six-term Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner says she will not run for re-election. Lerner, 74, was first elected in 1990. The District 6 seat has one announced candidate, Matthew Stewart, who lost a close race in 2016 for an at-large seat. Gradebook. Denver Cook announces his candidacy for the District 4 seat on the St. Johns County School Board. Ponte Vedra Recorder.

Teachers honored: Theater teachers Janine Papin of Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park and Nadine Love of William R. Boone High School in Orlando win national 2018 Inspiring Teacher Awards. Both helped their students to win top acting awards last year. Orlando SentinelBroadway.com. SKY Academy-Englewood reading instructor Meghan McKenna, math teacher Jill Fernandez and language arts teacher Laura Kleiss Hoeft are named high-impact teachers by the Florida Department of Education. Charlotte Sun.

Personnel moves: Wharton High School in Hillsborough County will be getting a new principal next year. Bradley Woods, who has been principal there for 10 years, says he is leaving to “explore opportunities within our district.” Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher resigns: A teacher the Citrus County School District planned to fire has resigned. Amanda Crawford, a kindergarten teacher at Citrus Springs Elementary School, was under investigation for allegedly asking a student’s parents for pain medication during an event at the school. Citrus County Chronicle.

Students arrested: A 17-year-old Port St. Lucie High School student is arrested after bring a gun and ammunition to school, according to police. School officials say the student also made an undisclosed threat. TCPalm. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. A 14-year-old Caloosa Middle School student is arrested and accused of threatening to kill a teacher. Fort Myers News-Press.

Opinions on schools: School districts, law enforcement agencies and cities are rightly making additional local investments to protect our schools. Will all this make a difference? We hope we never have to find out. Naples Daily News. The Palm Beach County School Board should shut down the Eagle Arts Academy now. Don’t allow Gregory Blount, Eagle Arts’ founder and executive director, access to one more tax dollar. Palm Beach Post. Teachers accused of improper relations with students are rare on the Treasure Coast. But perhaps not as rare as you’d think. At least 25 teachers here have been disciplined for sexual misconduct involving students since 2000. Gil Smart, TCPalm. We must wonder whether U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is choosing to remain ignorant to the potential consequences of her actions against public schools, or if she understands the damage she is doing and is refusing to acknowledge it. Jacob Asbell, Tallahassee Democrat. With its showing on the gold standard of national achievement tests, the Duval County School District is now reaping the considerable benefits of former School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s bold and aggressive style of leadership. Florida Times-Union.

Student enrichment: Charles Baermans, a senior at the Florida Virtual School, has some fun in his graduation pictures by posing in a T-Rex costume. WJXT. Students at Riverside Elementary School in Miami are learning about food production by growing vegetables in their garden that are used in school lunches. WSVN. A fund-raiser is scheduled by the Brevard Schools Foundation’s Supply Zone for Teachers, where Brevard teachers can shop for free classroom supplies. Florida Today.

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BY NextSteps staff