Florida schools roundup: School security, lawsuit appeal, felons and more

School security: The Hendry and Suwannee county school boards adopt the state’s guardian program and will have school employees carrying concealed weapons in all their schools next August. The school boards will decide who becomes a guardian, and the county sheriff’s departments will provide the training. WBBH. Suwannee Democrat. The Pasco County School Board will be asked to approve a $2.8 million program to put armed safety officers instead of sworn school resource officers into county schools. Gradebook. Some Florida legislators predict the school safety act will be revised in the next legislative session. Florida Today. A majority of people responding to a Lake County School District survey say they do not want to arm school employees. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. A group of Duval County students share their safety concerns with legislators. WJCT. St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson talks about the financial challenges the district faces in adhering to the state mandate of having an armed person in every school. St. Augustine RecordFlorida senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio introduce a bill to expand the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center as a way to protect students. Sun-Sentinel. Sunshine State News

Education lawsuit appeal: School boards in Lee and Bay counties vote to appeal a judge’s April 4 ruling that the 2017 state education law, H.B. 7069, is constitutional. The other 11 school boards in the suit – Alachua, Broward, Clay, Duval, Hamilton, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla – have yet to decide whether they’ll join the appeal. The plaintiffs say the law is unconstitutional because it takes power away from local school boards. Fort Myers News-PressPanama City News HeraldWJHG. The ongoing legal fight reflects the tension between local school boards, which are given the authority to oversee all public schools in their counties, and the Legislature and Florida Department of Education, which have the power to regulate that authority. redefinED.

Private schools investigated: The Florida Department of Education will investigate three private schools that hired felons as teachers. Kingsway Christian Academy and Winners Primary School near Orlando and Southland Christian School near Kissimmee have been asked for records of the employees, including proof of their background checks. State law prohibits private schools that take scholarship money from hiring employees with certain convictions, but the state relies on the schools to conduct background checks. Orlando Sentinel.

School shootings developments: Guidelines meant to keep young people out of the criminal justice system spared confessed Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz of a criminal record and left him free to attack Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, says an attorney for a survivor of the shooting in his latest court filing to get both prosecutors and attorneys for Cruz removed from the case. Sun-Sentinel. Kelly McManis-Panasuk, the Marion County teacher who confronted a school shooter last week at Forest High School in Ocala, says she listened to him for three minutes before he put down his ammunition and knife. “There was an angel on my shoulder,” she says. Fox News. A Marjory Stoneman Douglas High junior says he was interrogated by school officials and deputies after he posted photos on social media showing him holding an AR-15 at a shooting range. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools denied: A charter school’s second attempt to be approved in Hernando County is denied by the school board. The district’s charter school committee said the Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School met only seven of the 19 benchmarks for approval. Proposed school chairman Michael Maynard says he will reapply. Tampa Bay Times. The Volusia County School Board rejects the Southeast Volusia School of Science and Technology’s charter application. The board cited financial concerns for the denial. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Magnet schools: Florida has the highest number of magnet schools among the states, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Education. Florida has 536 of the 4,340 magnet schools in the country. California is second with 504. Sixty percent of students in magnet schools perform higher in math than other district students, according to the report, and magnet schools also report higher graduation rates than traditional public schools. redefinED.

Contract negotiations: Pay was the central issue in the second day of a hearing before a special magistrate over the impasse in negotiations between Hillsborough teachers and the school district. District officials say teachers are well-paid compared with other districts. The union contends that a longer work day and the area’s cost of living drop the hourly wage below average. The magistrate’s recommendation, which is nonbinding, is expected to be issued in a few weeks. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

Squabble escalates: Marion County School Board member Nancy Stacy blasts Superintendent Heidi Maier over a speech telling the board to quit bullying her employees. In a 14-minute speech during Tuesday’s board meeting, Stacy called Maier a foul-mouthed bully who is a “fake victim” and has a leadership style like the KGB’s. Ocala Star-Banner.

Superintendent survey: The Hernando County School Board approves another survey of 3,000 school employees to evaluate the performance of Superintendent Lori Romano. The first survey, with 940 responses, gave Romano a score of 2.86 on a 5-point scale. It was conducted by USF professor George MacDonald at a cost of $11,000. He will conduct the new one as well, but at no cost. Tampa Bay Times.

Sales tax proposal: A proposal to ask voters for a 10-year, half-cent sales tax hike for schools is killed before it gets to the school board. Board members decided that a recent child abuse scandal has damaged the district’s credibility to the point that “I’m not sure we could sell dollar bills for 50 cents,” says member Rodney Walker. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Foundation grades lawmakers: Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future issues its annual grades for legislators. Republicans, who generally favor the school choice and accountability model of the foundation, got mostly A’s and B’s while Democrats, who generally do not, receive mostly D’s and F’s. The highest graded Democrats were Sen. Bill Montford and Rep. Kimberly Daniels with A’s. Montford was the only Democratic senator to vote for the education bill, and Daniels is a reliable supporter of choice programs. The lowest-rated Republican was Senate Education chairwoman Dorothy Hukill with a C. Gradebook.

School conversion: The ongoing conversion of Ridgewood High School into the Wendell Krinn Technical High School is exciting but also trying. Teachers are transferring and in some cases not being replaced, noisy and messy renovation work is going on during classes, and some students who will be leaving for another school have a feeling of abandonment. Tampa Bay Times.

Special education concerns: Parents of special education students are protesting the Flagler County School District’s decision to reorganize its teaching approach to those students. Five of the 10 staffing specialist positions are being eliminated. Parents say those workers are watchdogs to make sure education plans for each student are followed. The district says it’s changing its approach because the existing system was not improving student outcomes. Flagler Live.

School board elections: Karen Rose, former executive director of Sarasota County’s middle schools who retired in February, is challenging incumbent Shirley Brown for the District 4 seat on the Sarasota County School Board. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Duval County School Board member Scott Shine says he isn’t running for re-election because he’s lost interest in the job since his friend, former superintendent Nikolai Vitti, left to take over the Detroit school system. Nick Howland is now the only candidate for the District 2 seat. Florida Times-Union.

Union election: Manatee County teachers will elect a union president next week. Pat Barber, who has been in the job for 32 years, is being challenged by Horizons Academy teacher Steve Motkowicz. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Mourning students: The death of a senior in a car crash near Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg casts a pall over senior week at the school. Bryson Welton-Williams, 18, died when the car he was driving struck a tree just after school Tuesday. Two other students were seriously injured. Tampa Bay Times. Crisis counselors are at Mitchell High School in Pasco County to help students grieve the death of Lillia Grace Morris, a 17-year-old student at the school. She was struck and killed by a vehicle Tuesday afternoon. The driver has been identified, but no charges have been filed. WFLA.

School construction: Four of five Monroe County School Board members want to district to speed up its plans to renovate Key West High School’s football and baseball stadium. Work was scheduled to begin in 2022. Key West Citizen.

Coach fired over ‘like’: Months after Venice High School’s football team won the Class 7A state championship, coach John Peacock has been fired for liking and resharing a tweet from one of his players about a multi-racial rival coach’s skin color. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Aide accused of abuse: The Walton County School District is investigating a teacher’s aide who was accused of abusing a special needs student. The district stepped in after the state attorney said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Kelly Woodworth, who was accused of pulling a chair out from under a Freeport High School student. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bus driver arrested: A Bay County School District bus driver is arrested and accused of fondling an 8-year-old girl on his bus March 8. David Doss, 67, resigned Friday and was arrested Monday. Panama City News Herald.

How teacher was hired: A thorough background check was conducted when Quentin Peterson was hired to teach math at Booker High School a few months after he resigned from the Manatee district during an investigation for misconduct with a 16-year-old student, Sarasota school officials say. But district spokeswoman Tracey Beeker says the circumstances of Peterson’s departure were not revealed by officials at Lincoln Memorial Middle School. Peterson was arrested this week on child pornography charges. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student arrested: A gun is missing on the campus of John F. Kennedy Middle School in Brevard County, and an 8th-grader is under arrest for bringing it on campus. Brevard County deputies say the boy took the gun from his grandmother and brought it to school in his backpack. The gun disappeared during gym class. WKMG. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: The Constitution Revision Commission is meant to keep Florida moving forward. This commission dashed to the rear with its proposals to dismember the public school system and sacrifice home rule. That’s a pity and a disgrace. Sun-Sentinel. The extra half-cent tax has proven to be a beneficial source of revenue for our public schools, and voters should support renewing it for another 15 years. Lakeland Ledger. Florida’s war on public school teachers won’t be solved by duplicitous campaign ads such as House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s and Tallahassee chest-thumping. It’s time for voters to smarten up and start sending people to Tallahassee who will deliver the help schools need. Sun-Sentinel.

Student enrichment: A logo created by a graphics design team at Auburndale High School is chosen to represent the Polk County School District. The new logo and slogan “Students First” replaces a 50-year-old yellow and black logo with the words “The School Board of Polk County, knowledge is power.” Lakeland Ledger. Sixth-graders at Sebastian Middle School in St. Augustine are engineering a 3-D prosthetic limb for their teacher’s three-legged dog as a class project. St. Augustine Record. About 250 south Florida high school and middle school students talk botany with astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel aboard the International Space Station. WLRN.

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BY NextSteps staff