Florida schools roundup: Education lawsuit, commissions, security and more

Education lawsuit: The group suing the state over its funding of public education is asking the Florida Supreme Court to send the case back to lower courts for another review. Both a trial court and an appeals court have rejected the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education case, ruling that the language used in the constitutional standard for funding a high quality public education is not measurable. The plaintiffs disagree, saying the court’s traditional duty has been to interpret constitutional terms and decide if the other branches of the government have acted constitutionally. Gradebook. redefinED.

School safety commissions: The federal school safety commission set up after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will not consider the role of guns in school violence, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tells a Senate subcommittee. “That is not part of the commission’s charge per se,” DeVos said. “We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.” Associated PressNBC News. Politico. Washington Post. Meanwhile, the chairman of the state commission looking into the shootings at Parkland acknowledges that its investigation and recommendations won’t stop school shootings in Florida. “Nobody should be mistaken about this: It’s not a question of if this is going to happen again,” says Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “The question is when and where, and most importantly, what has been done to put things in place to mitigate the impact.” TCPalm.

School security: Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw says he can’t afford to provide a rotating team of deputies to do overtime patrols at 50 public elementary schools. He is willing to hire and train 50 deputies for a year, he tells school officials, for about $7 million. Palm Beach Post. Lee County officials say they will split the costs with the school district for school security in the unincorporated areas, but not in the cities of Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel. Fort Myers News-Press. A father of a student killed in the Parkland shootings wants the school district to fire the security watchman who didn’t lock down the school even after spotting the gunman carrying a “pretty big bag” and heading directly for the building where the shootings happened. Sun-Sentinel. Sarasota County School Board member Caroline Zucker criticizes chairwoman Bridget Ziegler’s decision to go ahead with a public meeting on school security without board members present. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. St. Johns County school officials say the district is in limbo over a school budget until it can put a school security plan in place. St. Augustine Record.

Chief appoints son, niece: Interim Duval County school superintendent Patricia Willis’ son and niece are among 19 people promoted to principal positions. Rashard Willis, a former assistant principal of Jacksonville Beach Elementary, will become principal at S.A. Hull Elementary and get a salary boost of $22,000 a year. Willis’ niece, Deshune Bush, the principal at Biscayne Elementary, moves to Kirby-Smith Middle. District spokesman Tracy Pierce says the moves do not violate the district’s nepotism policy, which mostly centers on family members supervising each other. Willis will leave the job this summer after new Superintendent Diana Greene arrives. Florida Times-Union.

School funding: Florida receives a D+ grade for school funding, according to Education Week‘s latest school finance analysis. The nation’s score on funding and equity was 74.4, or a C. Florida scored 68.1. The analysis gave the state an A- for equity, with a score of  92.4, but an F for funding with a score of 43.9. Education Week.

Kindergarten readiness: Testing indicates that far fewer south Florida children are ready for kindergarten, and pre-K officials say the reason is that the tests were given on computers this year for the first time. Many children in the voluntary prekindergarten programs have never seen a computer or a mouse, they say. The statewide kindergarten readiness rate was 58 percent this year, down from 89 percent four years ago. In Miami-Dade, the rate went from 84 percent to 52 percent; in Broward from 91 to 59; and in Palm Beach 88 to 53, according to the Florida Department of Education. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher absenteeism: Twenty-five percent of Florida’s preK-12 teachers are considered chronically absent, according to an analysis by the Education Week Research Center of recent federal data. The national average is 28 percent. Chronically absent is defined by those who miss more than 10 school days during the year, in this case 2015-2016. Nevada had the highest rate at almost 50 percent, while South Dakota was the lowest at 18 percent. Education Week.

Education and politics: The two Republican candidates for governor say they support the part of a proposed constitutional amendment that would restrict school board members to two terms. Both Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis announced their support this week for term limits. Neither commented on the other two parts of Amendment 8, which would require civics literacy instruction in schools and allow the Legislature to create public schools that wouldn’t answer to local school boards. Tampa Bay Times. Two south Florida Democratic legislators who tried but couldn’t get a special legislative session on school spending are now organizing a rally for teachers. Reps. Shevrin Jones and Nicholas Duran are calling for a “Red For Education Teacher Rally” Aug. 19 in Miami Gardens. Florida Politics.

Lead in school water: Health experts say water fountains in 16 schools in Tallahassee have elevated levels of lead in their drinking water, and they believe similar lead levels can be found at schools around the state. They say any structures built before 1986 are at the highest risk. Tallahassee DemocratWFSUWFLA. WCTV. WJXT. Twenty-nine Democratic senators are asking the federal government for more money to test school water. Tampa Bay Times.

School cutbacks: The Withlacoochee Technical Institute will cut four fulltime positions and reduce two others to part-time jobs after its main funding source, a state workforce program, is cutting the amount it sends to the school by $372,000. The proposed cuts go to the Citrus County School Board June 12. Citrus County Chronicle.

Essay crashes website: MAST Academy Virginia Key student Tiana Headley’s essay on the number of racial slights she and other nonwhite students face daily crashes the website of the student newspaper, The Beacon. Headley says the magnet school has gotten away from its original mission of getting minority, low-income and female students interested in marine science-related careers. The number of low-income students has dropped in half since 2012, and the percentage of black students at the school of 1,480 is down from 10 percent to 3. Miami Herald.

Charter schools: The Hillsborough County School Board approves contract extensions for five charter schools. Advantage Academy of Hillsborough and Advantage County Middle School, whuch are merging, received a 10-year renewal. Getting 15-year extensions were Bell Creek Academy and Bell Creek Academy High School, Valrico Lake Advantage Academy and Hillsborough Academy of Math and Science. Tampa Bay Times. The Pasco County School Board approves a five-year contract for a new K-8 charter school in Wesley Chapel. Pinecrest Academy is associated with Academica, one of Florida’s largest charter school companies. A location has not been announced, though school officials expect up to 900 students when it opens in 2019. Gradebook. Eagle Arts Academy is appealing the Palm Beach County School’s decision to close it due to financial problems. A hearing is set July 12, which could mean the school will reopen when school resumes Aug. 13. Palm Beach Post.

Middle school gets I.B.: Pine View Middle School in Land O’Lakes is becoming is Pasco County’s first International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme authorized school. The academically challenging program includes a broader liberal arts curriculum. Gradebook.

Confederate symbols: There are still more than 1,700 symbols of the Confederacy dotted around the United States, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Florida has 65, including eight schools. Orlando Weekly.

Superintendent’s contract: The Lee County School Board approves a three-year contract for Superintendent Greg Adkins that includes a 13 percent raise, from $185,000 a year to $209,000. Fort Myers News-Press.

Personnel moves:  The Hillsborough County School District appoints new principals for seven schools, among them schools that are in danger of being closed, turned into charter schools or being handed over to an outside operator if they don’t improve their grades from the state. Gradebook. Seven Alachua County schools get new principals. Gainesville Sun.

Ex-principal suing district: A former Collier County principal who was fired for erratic and abusive behavior through the targeting, bullying and undermining of staff is suing the school board. Pamela Vickaryous, who was at Manatee Middle School, claims the district fired her for reporting on-campus criminal activity to law enforcement. Naples Daily News.

Teacher cleared: A Vero Beach High School teacher who was accused of giving his students test questions before their online industry certification exams has been exonerated by a hearing officer. Ralph Vaughn acknowledged reviewing the test questions with students, but says both the Indian River County School District and the company that supplies the test authorized the procedure. The hearing officer reversed the five-day suspension Vaughn received. Sebastian Daily. TCPalm.

Teacher targeted: The principal at Palm Beach Gardens High School is asking the Palm Beach County School Board to fire a teacher who allegedly made derogatory remarks to a Haitian student. Keith Tillman, a math teacher, is accused of using abusive language on a student and employing “inappropriate/disrespectful language in reference to a racial/ethnic group … ” The board will consider the request June 20. Palm Beach Post.

Ex-coach sentenced: The former coach of the Union County High School softball team is sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading no contest to lewd and lascivious battery for inappropriately touching a player. Alexis Branch, 23, will also have to register as a sex offender. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: A service dog was honored in a yearbook at Orange City Elementary School. But there’s more to this story than cuteness and sweetness overload. George Diaz, Orlando Sentinel. Some school districts have decided the best course to school safety is to start their own police departments. Should Martin County follow their examples? Gil Smart, TCPalm. It was a special moment to hear a lifelong educator talking about how learning was more than just a transactional process to a future paycheck. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: Students from Miami Northwestern Senior High School are partnering with the nonprofit voter-registration group Election Heroes to register voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Miami Herald. Brownsville Middle School’s law studies class is getting a law academy lab with jury rooms and witness stands, thanks to the Miami law firm of Hamilton, Miller and Birthisel. WLRN. The Marion County School District will be honored at the 26th annual Model Schools Conference as an innovative district for putting a career pathway model in place in schools. WCJB.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff