Florida schools roundup: School crime reporting, scholarships, suit and more

School crime reporting: The Broward County School District has failed to report many students’ crimes to the state as required by state law, according to records from the Broward Sheriff’s Office. For example, the district reported 193 weapons were found in schools during the 2016-2017 school year, but officials acknowledge they no longer were counting such things as ammunition, small knives, throwing blades, nunchucks, BB guns and combustible materials. District spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan says the data sent to the state is meant only to capture “the most serious of incidents, while other incidents are recorded and addressed locally.” Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association, adds, “The state statute is really kind of unclear and open to interpretation, so it leads to subjective decisions.” Sun-Sentinel.

Scholarship oversight: Several legislators say they want to standardize education curriculum for all state schools. Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, was among those calling for the change after a newspaper report detailing some of the materials used by some private schools that enroll students who get scholarships from the state. Among those lessons: people and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time, slaves who “knew Christ” were better off than free men who did not, and God intervened to prevent Catholics from controlling North America. The state doesn’t track curriculum used by private schools with scholarship students, and bars the Florida Education Department from regulating academics at those schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer two scholarship programs students use to attend private schools. Orlando Sentinel.

One lawsuit on hold: Leon County Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer rules that the Palm Beach County School Board’s challenge of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, is on hold until an appeal on a broader lawsuit against the law is settled. Palm Beach is challenging only the part of the law that requires the district to share local property tax revenue with charter schools it authorizes. The other lawsuit, brought by several districts, claims the law is unconstitutional because it has “encroached on the authority vested by the Florida Constitution in locally elected district school boards to operate, control, and supervise the local public schools located in their respective jurisdictions.” redefinED.

School safety task force: Broward County school resource officers and sheriff’s deputies do not have access to a database of discipline data for students in the district’s alternative discipline program, a sheriff’s major testifies at Friday’s meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Major Nichole Anderson suggested that perhaps the school district should have its own police department, similar to those in the Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school districts. News Service of FloridaMiami Herald. Politico Florida. Associated Press. WJCT. WLRN. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the commission, reminds fellow members that the hearings aren’t “a commission about the Promise program,” referring to the Broward district’s alternative discipline program. “I don’t think the … program has a hill of beans to do with the outcome of this. One of the things I know has to do with the outcome of this is why that kid was able to get out of that car, walk into an unlocked door and get into a building totally unchallenged, and you’ve got access that was free and unfettered. Those are the things that can make a difference.” Politico Florida.

School security: Half of Broward County’s 234 schools do not have fulltime police officers. The school board meets today to discuss its options. Sun-Sentinel. Paying half the cost for resource officers at schools in their cities would cost Bonita Springs $200,000 and Estero $150,000, according to the Lee County School District. City officials have not yet decided if they’ll contribute. Naples Daily News. The Clay County School Board decides to ask voters in August to approve a property tax increase to pay for school security. Florida Times-Union. The Manatee County School District will hire armed guardians, not sworn officers, to protect some schools starting in August, but school board chairman Scott Hopes and Sheriff Rick Wells say they are looking at options to have SROs at all schools in the future. Bradenton Herald. Three finalists are named for the police chief’s job in the new Sarasota County School District police department. They are: Paul Grohowski, who has been director of public safety and chief of police for Allan Hancock Joint Community College District’s Police Department in Santa Maria, Calif.; Robin Griffin-Kitzerow, a major for the Palm Beach County School District Police Department; and Michael Wiggins, a captain for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Sarasota Herald-TribuneLakeland Ledger. Training of school resource officers in under way in Lee County. Fort Myers News-Press.

School shooting developments: The release of Nikolas Cruz’s recorded confession in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 has been temporarily halted while a judge considers the defense’s arguments that the release “will cause significant trauma to an already beleaguered community.” Sun-Sentinel. Students at Stoneman Douglas High issue grades to politicians based on their positions on gun control, as a counter to recent NRA ratings. Sun-Sentinel.

Property tax hikes: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Donald Fennoy is asking the school board to approve a property tax referendum that would raise $150 million a year. Fennoy says the money is needed for school security, mental health services and higher teacher pay. The board will consider the proposal June 20 and if it approves, the request would go before voters in November. Palm Beach Post. A majority of the Brevard County School Board does not support asking voters to raise property taxes to pay for school security and teacher raises. “I can’t justify going out to the public and raising taxes when you have frivolous spending,” says board member Matt Susin, making reference to a recent board decision to spend $555,180 over three years to hire an armored car service to pick up money from schools and deposit it at the bank. Florida Today.

District squabble: Polk County School Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says school board member Billy Townsend is spreading “serious and false” accusations that she and administrators are showing favoritism to an outside contractor that employs a former school district official. The district has a $594,000 contract with K12 Inc., which provides online student instruction and employs John Small, a former deputy superintendent. Byrd wants a retraction on Townsend’s blog. Townsend says he has nothing to retract because he’s made no direct accusations. Lakeland Ledger.

District reading goal: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins is setting a goal of having every student reading at grade level by 3rd grade. The current rate is 53 percent, and 23 percent read at the lowest level. Chief academic officer Debbie Cook will convene an advisory council of teachers, experts and school leaders to produce ideas. Tampa Bay Times.

New grading system: New grading standards that would bring consistency to St. Johns County middle and high schools are being considered by school board members. A standard weighted system for determining grades would be established. “You shouldn’t have large gaps between a student taking [biology] at one school and one who takes bio at another,” says Tim Egnor, director for instruction services for secondary education. St. Augustine Record.

Superintendent search: The Brevard County School Board will pay $14,000 to the Florida School Board Association to help it with its search for a new school superintendent. The association will collect and process applications. Finalists are expected to be chosen Tuesday, with interviews June 21 and 22 and a selection made June 28. Current Superintendent Desmond Blackburn is expected to leave no later than Aug. 10. Florida Today.

Teacher honored: Christine Schram, who teaches autistic students at Fruitland Park Elementary School, is nominated for a 2018-19 national LifeChanger of the Year award for “making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.” The award is sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, and the winner will be announced in May 2019. Daily Commercial.

Principal resigns: The principal at the Millennium 6-12 school in Tamarac resigns as a Broward County School District investigation looks into accusations that she and her family ran a side business at the school. Cheryl Cendan, who had been principal at the school since it opened in 2002, allegedly allowed students to pay to play in the gym on early release days and allowed her mother to sell food at a concession stand on school days, in violation of school policies. Sun-Sentinel.

Teachers arrested: A physical education teacher and volleyball coach at Stetson Baptist Christian School in DeLand is arrested and charged with using an electronic device to seduce/solicit/lure a child and using a two-way communication device to commit a felony. Volusia County deputies say Stephen M. Ward, 69, sent sexually suggestive messages to a 14-year-old student. Daytona Beach News-JournalWKMG. Orlando Sentinel. The former band director at Boynton Beach High School is arrested and accused of child neglect. Police say Quinton Peterson, 33, ordered a student out of a bus during a school trip in January, forcing him to walk for a mile or so before he could get a ride. Palm Beach Post.

Ex-coach sentenced: The former soccer coach at Fort White High School in Columbia County is sentenced to 18 months in prison for interfering with custody and sex with a minor. Rian Rodriguez, 27, ran off with a 17-year-old student before being arrested in New York. WJXT.

Teacher not renewed: The contract of Lisa Weindorf, a music teacher at Dinsmore Elementary School in Jacksonville, is not renewed after she used the “n” word in class, according to a Duval County School District investigation. WJAX.

Substitute investigated: The Clay County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a substitute teacher for allegedly throwing a 2nd-grader onto a bench for not eating his pizza during a party at Thunderbolt Elementary School in Fleming Island. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: There’s been enough fraud, scandal and excuses in Florida’s voucher school industry. Here are five things that should be done to clean up the mess. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Florida is using nearly $1 billion of your tax dollars to teach kids in voucher schools fake science and distorted history — all because uneducated charlatans have figured out how to intimidate state legislators. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. Despite some writer’s take on the quality of private school science curriculum in Florida, National Assessment of Educational Progress scores show that private school students in the South do as well or better in science as their public school peers. Matthew Ladner, Jay P. Greene’s Blog. Florida law is heavily weighted toward protecting the rights of the mentally disabled, such as Nikolas Cruz, sometimes at the expense of common sense. Florida allows utterly deluded adults to decide whether they need treatment. Or to quit their meds. Fred Grimm, Sun-Sentinel. It’s time for the Palm Beach County School District and the sheriff to drop the posturing over school security and to remember what’s most at stake: the kids. Palm Beach Post. The Sarasota County School Board, the sheriff and city police departments should follow the statute’s mandate that they partner to put at least one officer in each school and to share the cost for doing so. The safety of our children requires no less. Robert J. Martineau, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: The drama team from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School puts on a rousing performance of Seasons of Love from the musical Rent at the Tony Awards last night to honor its teacher, Melody Herzfeld, who was presented with a Tony for helping save 65 students during the shootings Feb. 14. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff