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Florida schools roundup: Alt teaching, security, discipline program and more

Teaching alternatives: As more teachers retire and fewer are graduating from education schools, some districts that struggle to recruit teachers fill the gaps with technology. In Pasco County, for example, far-away teaching experts provide virtual instruction while in-class monitors set up the lesson, help prepare for the connections and police student conduct. “For a couple of years we’ve been really looking for a solution for, typically, when a teacher isn’t able to complete their assignment,” says Vanessa Hilton, an assistant superintendent in Pasco. “It obviously is a whole lot better than a substitute not doing any instruction.” Tampa Bay Times.

Politics kills safety forum: A Palm Beach County town hall meeting about school safety is canceled after the school district gets complaints that it appeared to be related to gun-control events organized by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and to the Democratic party. The organizers say they have no direct affiliation with the March for Our Lives events, and have received no funding or resources from that group. But deputy superintendent Keith Oswald canceled the meeting through an email to organizers that said, “the political tension around this topic is palpable” and that “we cannot risk losing hard earned trust and credibility with our parents by hosting what many are perceiving to be a partisan event.” Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

School shooting developments: Confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz had been assigned to an alternative discipline program, Broward County school officials are now acknowledging. Superintendent Robert Runcie had previously denied that Cruz had been part of the program that is designed to find discipline alternatives to arrests and suspensions. WLRN. Students who were among the 17 killed in the shootings Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are honored at the school prom. Associated Press.

Civics requirement: Next week the Florida Board of Education will consider a rule setting standards for civics literacy for all students entering Florida colleges, beginning in the next academic year. Students would need to pass two courses or three tests to prove their competency. A similar requirement of civics is one of the constitutional amendments Florida voters will consider in November. Gradebook.

Lawsuit participation: Pinellas County School Superintendent Michael Grego is recommending the school board stay in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069. The board will vote on the recommendation, and the $15,000 contribution required, at Tuesday’s meeting. Lee and Bay counties have agreed to continue with the suit, while Duval is dropping out. Gradebook.

Charter war in capital: Backers of two charter schools whose applications were rejected by the Leon County School Board say they’re disturbed by the way the decision became a symbol of the charter vs. public schools conflict. A cofounder of one of the schools, Adrienne Campbell, told the school board that “we never wanted this to be an us-vs.-you. We wanted to join you, and be a part of Leon County schools. And that’s why we’re here tonight, as a homegrown, nonprofit school that wants to do great things for our kids, and for our community.” But Superintendent Rocky Hanna also saw a chance to make a statement. “Today is the day Leon County Schools can send a message to lawmakers across the state that enough is enough,” he said. “We will no longer be willing participants in a program which I believe attempts to systematically dismantle one of the great cornerstones of our democracy: Our public-school system.” redefinED.

Charter school applications: Two new charter schools will open in August in Polk County if they are approved by the school board June 5. One will replace Our Children’s of Winter Haven, a troubled school for children with mental, physical and emotional disabilities that is closing in May. The other is the Bok Academy North in Lake Wales. Lakeland Ledger. Charter Schools USA has decided to drop its appeal of the Marion County School Board’s decision in October to deny its application for a school in the Silver Springs Shores area. Ocala Star-Banner.

School security: The Clay County School Board reverses an earlier decision to ask voters Aug. 28 to increase property taxes to help pay for school resource officers and other security improvements. “I kind of feel like we’re rushing through this too quickly … I’m wondering do we need to do a little more work on this,” says board member Janice Kerekes. She thinks the district will have a better chance of winning the tax hike in a special election held later. Florida Times-Union. Osceola County school officials are working with the sheriff’s office and the Kissimmee and St. Cloud police departments to hire 33 additional school resource officers by August. The district would have two officers in every high school and one in all middle, elementary and charter schools. Osceola News-Gazette. More than 30 times since 2014, guns taken into U.S. schools by law enforcement officers or educators have been fired, went off accidentally or were lost or left unattended, according to a review of news reports compiled by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. Associated Press.

Contract negotiations: Hillsborough County teachers and the school district resume negotiations today. The district says it can’t afford what the union wants in pay raises, and union officials say the district’s bureaucracy is overstaffed and they’re being penalized by school officials’ wasteful spending. Gradebook.

A school’s struggles: Troubles at Oscar Patterson Elementary School in Bay County have been building for a long time, and are perpetuated by a vicious cycle, say school officials. Poverty and abuse lead to behavior issues for many students, which leads to class disruption, which leads to less learning time and a widening gap in achievement. The end game: Patterson will be closed if it doesn’t get a C grade from the state. Panama City News Herald.

Schools and traffic: Residents of a subdivision in Parrish say the building of a new elementary school across the street will create a traffic “nightmare.” The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Sarasota County School District is asking the city commission to close Sarasota High School’s central thoroughfare School Avenue, either permanently or from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The street divides the campus, and school officials say it’s a security issue for it to be accessible to the public. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Education and politics: Republican gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis outline some of their education priorities in separate sessions with the Florida Family Policy Council, a conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. Putnam says he’ll push vocational and technical training for high school graduates, and create an ombudsman position in the Florida Department of Education to help students who are looking for K-12 education outside of a traditional public school. DeSantis wants to make civics education a top priority, and he wants to expand the state’s school choice programs. Sun-Sentinel. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida.

DeVos gets an ovation: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gets a standing ovation for her address laced with references to Jesus Christ, former Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa at the graduation ceremony for Ave Maria University, a Catholic university near Naples. Naples Daily News.

Education ‘ownership’: Improvement in public education will come only when people buy into necessary changes and feel a sense of ownership in the institution, Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill tells a Florida Chamber of Commerce summit. “Public education is our primary human development institution,” he said. “That’s the institution that really has to be able to develop the kids who need it most. And, frankly, that’s our greatest failure.” Step Up For Students hosts this blog, and helps administer two state scholarship programs. Florida Politics.

Insights on education: Hillsborough County teacher Ryan Haczynski, who blogs and hosts a podcast about education policy, talks about the “politicization of education,” the state of public education and what parents can do to support teachers. Tampa Bay Times.

Board still sparring: A meeting to resolve differences between Manatee School Board members Scott Hopes and Charlie Kennedy is called off when the men couldn’t agree on whether it should be recorded. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teachers union election: Pat Barber wins her 17th straight election for the presidency of the Manatee County teachers union. Barber first won the office in 1986. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Principal problems: Lecanto Middle School Principal Brian Lancaster, under investigation by the City County School District for undisclosed reasons, has resigned. Lancaster, 40, had worked for the district since 2000. Citrus County Chronicle. The instructional superintendent of the Palm Beach County School District is demoted for his actions in his former job as principal of Boca Raton High School. Geoff McKee permitted students to take classes, such as yearbook or band, that would not be counted against their grade point averages. Twenty-nine students benefited from the policy, and the district says McKee did not make that option widely known. McKee is now transportation manager, and his $142,000 salary will be cut to $125,605. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher put on leave: A Seminole County teacher is escorted from campus last week and placed on paid leave after a student accuses him of inappropriate behavior. Miguel Nieves, a math teacher at Millennium Middle School in Sanford, allegedly unzipped a female student’s jacket and began fanning her stomach with his hands. Sanford police have asked the state attorney to consider criminal charges. WFTV.

Girl’s comment draws suspension: Okaloosa County school officials are reviewing a one-day in-school suspension given to a 9-year-old girl for telling another student that “her dad owned a gun store and she had guns.” The father of the Antioch Elementary School 3rd-grader says the school overreacted. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: One of the core principles of civic literacy is that a state constitution should deal only with the basic structure of government and the inalienable rights of the people. The Constitution Revision Commission’s amendments are stuffed with details — some good, some bad — that don’t belong in the constitution and should be left to the Legislature. Sun-Sentinel. Civic literacy and media literacy go hand in hand. If we want voters to be educated enough to reject boneheaded ballot measures, we need to start teaching them early. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun. Politicians should take the troubling signs of the for-profit education industry in Florida more seriously before so eagerly shoveling our money and children into it. Pensacola News Journal. The only profits made from education should be reaped by our students, not a group of politicians twisting our government to line the pockets of their family members, friends and corporate donors. Jacob Asbell, Tallahassee Democrat.  I don’t fault the school system for wanting as large a share of the student population as it can get. What I do have a problem with is public school authorities using their power to deny alternatives to parents and students who want them. J. Robert McClure III, Tallahassee Democrat. Gov. Rick Scott should call for a special session of the Legislature, whereby legislators can choose to rescind the mandate on school resource officers or phase in the mandate over several years. It’s not that local districts don’t want to increase security in their schools. They just need the time and resources to do it. Daytona Beach News-Journal. If a private business such as the company that supplies substitute teachers to Hillsborough schools wants public money, it needs to play by the public’s rules and operate in the sunshine. It’s mind-boggling that the school district needs a refresher course to learn that lesson. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. Florida has term limits on its governor, lieutenant governor, Cabinet members and lawmakers — not to mention on numerous mayors and other local officials across the state. It’s time to bring this simple, effective and popular reform to our school boards by voting to approve Amendment 8. Philip Blumel, Florida Times-Union. We as students are afraid and on edge. We are enraged and no longer able to be complacent. Nothing we can do will ever completely halt tragedies like the ones that occur too frequently at schools across the nation, but today is the day we demand change. Chloe Wheeler and Adam Lowell, Florida Today. It is clear that to some Citrus County commissioners, not raising taxes is a higher priority than providing the funding for school safety. Citrus County Chronicle. You should care about a pep rally celebrating achievement at Leesburg High School because the school is climbing out of a hole and needs a hand. It needs everyone to show appreciation for the effort, to encourage students and school leaders as they build a successful future and erase the failures of the past. Daily Commercial. My advice for today’s high school graduates: “learn a trade.” It takes all kinds of intelligence and advanced training to do a trade, and it can be financially rewarding and enormously satisfying. Chuck Collins, Flagler Live.

Student enrichment: Gemini Elementary School students Mary Meyers, Lila Schoolfield, Corbin Brown and Max Carl win the statewide Gridiron Cooking Challenge held in Jacksonville. Space Coast Daily. Alison Pager, a senior at Hernando High School, is one of 31 Florida and 630 U.S. semifinalists for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Hernando Sun. Polk County schools technology specialist Randy Nothdorf is touring the district to show off an R2-D2 replica he built for about $2,200. Spectrum News 13. The Mount Dora High School Air Force JROTC unit earns the Silver Star Community Service Award, putting it in the top 5 percent of units worldwide. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff