Florida schools roundup: Private school curriculum, education lawsuits and more

Private school problems: Three Christian publishing companies provide some Florida private schools and homeschooled students with a curriculum that denies evolution, says humans and dinosaurs shared the earth, downplays the horrors of slavery and treatment of native Americans, and disparages religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures that didn’t descend from white Europeans, according to a review of the materials. Experts from several colleges and school districts say the lessons also are easier than those required in public schools, and do not prepare students for college. Orlando Sentinel. The principal of an Osceola County private school says he knew about the felony convictions of the man he hired as athletics supervisor, but didn’t know hiring him was a violation of state law. Orlando Sentinel.

Education lawsuits: Lawyers for the state say 10 members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission should not be permitted to file a brief supporting the group Citizens for Strong Schools in its suit filed nine years ago that alleges the state has not adequately funded school education as required by the constitution. Those members, who include former attorney general Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan and former House speaker Jon Mills, say they want to explain their intent in framing the constitutional amendment requiring the state to provide a high-quality public school system. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. State lawyers also argue that the appeal of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, should continue in the standard appeals process instead of being certified quickly to the Florida Supreme Court, as the school boards that brought the suit are requesting. News Service of Florida.

Bittersweet graduation: Sunday’s graduation ceremony for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School seniors was a bittersweet affair, the excitement tempered with the memory of the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people, including four students who would have graduated. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon made a surprise appearance as a guest speaker, telling students, “When something feels hard, remember that it gets better. Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post.

Scholarship growth: The state’s Education Estimating Conference projects that 3,000 students will use one of the K-12 scholarship programs to leave traditional public schools for private schools in the 2018-2019 school year, and that number will grow to 8,000 by 2023. Conference officials cite the Legislature’s expansion of the Gardiner Scholarship, the ongoing popularity of the tax credit scholarship and the creation of the Hope Scholarship for bullied students for the growth. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. WFSU.

School security: Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie says in an email to parents that the district is adopting a new approach to discipline by reporting every offense, expanding mental health services, providing students and staff with assailant training, and requiring mandatory identification badges. Reaction was mixed. Sun-Sentinel. Eleven city police departments in Palm Beach County have agreed to put officers in 47 elementary schools next fall. But the district yet to reach a deal to cover another 45 schools in unincorporated areas, and there are concerns that the details won’t be settled before schools reopen Aug. 13. Palm Beach Post. Outgoing Brevard Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says he does not support arming school employees. Blackburn had not previously offered an opinion. He’s taking a new job in August. Florida Today. School safety and more career options for students who are not going to college are the primary concerns of Pasco County residents, according to a community survey. Gradebook. Who will provide money for school resource officers is the topic Wednesday when St. Johns County school officials meet county officers. St. Augustine Record.

School shooting developments: About 40 people have filed notice of their intent to sue the Broward County School Board and the sheriff’s office over the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. More than half were not physically injured, but say they are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems. State law requires public entities to get six months’ notice before a lawsuit can be filed. Sun-Sentinel. More than 1,600 people have applied for a share of the Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund. About $8.8 million has been collected from 36,440 donors. The committee will start distributing the funds July 16. Sun-Sentinel.

District’s equity plan: Valerie Freeman, the first-ever equity director for the Alachua County School District, is finalizing her plan to narrow the achievement gap in the district. She presents it to the school board July 24. The equity plan is intended to set policies that can begin closing the gaps between white and black students in proficiency in core academics, school discipline and graduation rates. Gainesville Sun.

Charter schools: The Tallahassee Classical School’s appeal to the state after its charter application was denied by the Leon County School Board could provide a template for future appeals. The school is alleging the “board is illegally using the charter school application process as a vehicle for civil disobedience, which cannot and should not survive review.” redefinED. Miami-Dade county commissioners approve a smaller-than-requested expansion of a West Kendall charter school in order to limit traffic. BridgePrep Academy wanted to increase enrollment from 600 students to 2,200, but commissioners approved a maximum of 1,500. WLRN.

Making a case for taxes: People need to pay more taxes to help with school security, higher teacher pay and infrastructure improvements, outgoing Brevard County Superintendent Desmond Blackburn tells community and business leaders. Blackburn recently announced he was leaving the district to become the chief executive officer for the California-based nonprofit New Teacher Center. Florida Today.

Education and politics: Three of the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates make education pitches at the state conference for the National Organization for Women and at press conferences. Philip Levine is calling for a $10,000 raise for teachers, more education funding and an end to state testing. Gwen Graham also wants higher pay for teachers and an end to the testing culture in Tallahassee, and Chris King is pushing for a tax on bullets to pay for safety programs in schools. Tampa Bay TimesCapitolist. Florida Politics. Florida PoliticsTampa Bay Times.

Reading test scores: Fewer than half of the schools in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties reached the state average score of 3 or above on the 3rd-grade English and language-arts portion of the Florida Standards Assessments, according to Florida Department of Education statistics. “When it comes to providing for our students, we are failing,” says Laura Zorc, an Indian River County School Board member. TCPalm.

Dual enrollment: The Sarasota County School Board votes Tuesday on a revised agreement to provide Pine View School students with dual-enrollment courses from State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. The program had been put on hold when the college found irregularities in the way the courses were being handled by Pine View teachers who were certified to teach them. The agreement gives Pine View students the option of taking the courses online, at SCF or through SCF faculty on Pine View’s campus. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher’s packet goes viral: A summer packet that was sent home to parents by Lipscomb Elementary School 1st-grade teacher Betsy Eggart has become an Internet sensation. In the packet, Eggart urges parents to let their children relax over the summer, teach them to tie their shoes and put away electronics for family time. Her Facebook post on the packet has been shared more than 200,000 times. Pensacola News Journal.

A new school’s name: About 50 names have been nominated by the public and Manatee County School Board members for a new elementary school that’s opening in Parrish in August 2019. Barbara Harvey Elementary got 92 nominations, and variations with the Barbara Harvey name got 25 more. Harvey was a Manatee teacher, administrator and school board member from 1961 to 2014. Bradenton Herald.

Principal accused: The Polk County School District is asking for an independent review of its handling of a sexual misconduct allegations last year against Tenoroc High School principal Jason Looney. Two internal investigations had failed to find evidence to support allegations of favoritism, improper hiring practices, bullying teachers into changing student grades, sexual misconduct and more against Looney. Board member Billy Townsend called for a new query, saying he believes the investigations were faulty because of favoritism by the administration and two school board members toward Looney. Lakeland Ledger.

Accuser transferred: The assistant principal who accused Sarasota School Superintendent Todd Bowden of discrimination is reassigned to be a teacher trainer. Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz’s contract as an assistant principal at Booker High School was not renewed. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School investigation: Manatee County teachers union officials say they are concerned about the work environment at Southeast High School. The school district and the county are both investigating recent incidents at the school that resulted in the husband of the school’s principal, Rosa Faison, being banned from campus. The county’s report is due this week. Bradenton Herald.

Officer in training resigns: A man being trained to become a school resource officer resigns after allegedly getting into a fight with a student at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville. Hashan Morgan is a former Jacksonville sheriff’s deputy. WJXT.

Graduation fight: Two people are arrested for fighting over a lack of seats at the graduation ceremony for JFK Middle School being held at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach. WPEC.

Crossing guards dropped: Two more school crossing guard positions are being eliminated by the Polk County School District. District officials say neither intersection had enough traffic to warrant a guard. Lakeland Ledger.

Opinions on schools: We must start looking at how schools should be redesigned and equipped in the future. We already started doing that on the Space Coast as all schools have received new security measures, but we need to reconfigure how we do security and how to pay for it. Florida Today. During the coming weeks when local government leaders begin shaping their proposed budgets for next fiscal year, investing in school-based law enforcement officers must be a top priority. Naples Daily News.  Years of austerity and moves toward privatization in education have resulted in what Christopher Newfield has identified as “the great mistake,” creating institutions which run far less efficiently than if they were treated as public goods, driven by mission. John Warner, Inside Higher Ed. Making a bigger investment in Alachua County’s children would not only help address deep disparities in educational outcomes here, it would benefit all residents. Gainesville Sun. The State Attorney’s Office made the right call when it declined to press criminal charges against the former Ocala Forest High School agri-science teacher who drowned two raccoons and an opossum in class. The facts, the law and the circumstances don’t justify charges. Jim Ross, Ocala Star-Banner.

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BY NextSteps staff