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Florida schools roundup: ESSA plan approved, medical marijuana and more

ESSA plan approved: Florida’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act finally has won the approval of the U.S. Education Department. The state submitted five revisions of the accountability plan, including one this week, before Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave her approval in a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. Florida had resisted some ESSA requirements, such as assessments of English language learners and math testing for advanced students in middle schools. Florida’s was the last of the 50 states to have its plan approved. Gradebook. Education Week.

Medical marijuana: School boards in Orange, Volusia and Clay counties are moving forward with policies that will permit students with prescriptions to receive medical marijuana treatments at schools from parents or caregivers, but not school personnel. The Orange County School Board approved the policy this week, and the Clay and Volusia boards will take final vote in October and November, respectively. Broward and Santa Rosa counties have adopted similar policies. Orlando Sentinel. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Clay TodayOrlando Weekly.

Audit pans district: An audit by the Florida Auditor General’s Office concludes that the Lee County School District has misused money collected from impact fees, spent capital funds for landscaping, and questions the district on background checks for volunteers, payroll, school construction projects, the selection of subcontractors and subcontractor licenses. District officials dispute seven of the 15 findings, and question the timing of the audit’s release. “This is a report that should have been issued in March, and yet it gets issued … at the end of September, and we have a referendum that’s going to hit the first of November,” says Superintendent Greg Adkins. “To me, that’s not a coincidence.” Fort Myers News-Press.

School security: The Pasco County School District says it plans to add security cameras at schools and door locks in classrooms to improve security. The cost is estimated at just more than $2 million, which is the amount the district is expecting to get from the state for hardening schools. Gradebook.

Teacher’s account refuted: St. Lucie County school officials are disputing a teacher’s contention that she was fired for refusing to give half-credit to middle school students who didn’t turn in their assignments. A spokesperson for the district wrote in an email: “Ms. (Diane) Tirado was released from her duties as an instructor because her performance was deemed sub-standard and her interactions with students, staff, and parents lacked professionalism and created a toxic culture on the school’s campus. During her brief time of employment at West Gate, the school fielded numerous student and parent complaints as well as concerns from colleagues. Based on new information shared with school administrators, an investigation of possible physical abuse is underway.” KSAT.

Vaccination program suspended: The Santa Rosa School District suspends its student vaccination program after some children were vaccinated without the consent of their parents. WEAR.

Tax hike projects: Hillsborough County school officials say they will soon appoint the rest of the committee that will provide oversight to the district’s spending of $1.31 billion in capital improvements from a 10-year, half-cent hike in the sales tax if voters approve it Nov. 6. Former USF president Betty Castor has been appointed as chairwoman for the committee, and Sheriff Chad Chronister is the vice chair. A list of projects has been released, though it leaves $11 million free for requests from charter schools. Gradebook.

Hurricane effects: A year after Hurricane Irma devastated the Monroe County School District, schools are still trying to recover. Superintendent Mark Porter talks about problems the district is still dealing with, and offers some advice for school districts in the Carolinas that were hit by Hurricane Florence earlier this month. WLRN.

Educational goals: The Florida Chamber Foundation issues its goals for Florida for 2030, when the state is expected to have 26 million residents. In K-12 education, the foundation wants all children ready for kindergarten, all 3rd-graders reading at grade level, all 8th-graders reading and doing math at grade level, a high school graduation rate of 95 percent, and improved access to early learning programs for children younger than 3. GateHouseTampa Bay Times. Achieve Escambia sets a goal of having 60 percent of the county’s children ready for kindergarten by 2020. The organization’s last report said just 46 percent of the county’s preschoolers are ready for kindergarten, which ranks 54th out of the state’s 67 districts. WUWF.

Typing classes: The chairman of the Orange County School Board is pushing the district to require 6th-graders to take a keyboarding, or typing, class. Bill Sublette says keyboarding is an “essential skill” that makes schoolwork easier. Sublette, who is leaving the board in November after eight years, has been pushing for a mandatory keyboarding class throughout his tenure. The district offers keyboarding as an elective course, and has an online typing program available. Orlando Sentinel.

Parental engagement: Marion County School Board member Bobby James says the district needs to do more to encourage parents of Oakcrest Elementary School students to attend community meetings where the struggling school’s future is being discussed. If Oakcrest doesn’t get a C grade from the state this school year, the district will have to close the school, turn it into a charter school or hire an outside company to manage it. Ocala Star-Banner. Fathers across the state take part in the annual “Dads Take Your Child to School Day.” WPTV. WTXLTCPalm. TCPalm. WMBB.

School board elections: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend is endorsing three candidates he sees as potential allies in challenging Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd and her staff, and mandates passed down by the Legislature. “Billy needs three friends” is a slogan Townsend supporters have adopted in their call for a new, activist majority on the board. Lakeland Ledger.

School bus passings: Duval is the third-worst county in the state in the number drivers illegally passing school buses, according to the Florida Department of Education. A survey showed 1,045 such incidents in a single day, which put Duval behind only Broward and Miami-Dade counties. WJAX.

Athletic facilities upgrades: The Monroe County School Board approves $12 million for improvements to athletic facilities at Marathon High School and $300,000 for artificial turf at Key West High School’s baseball field. Key West Citizen.

Ex-teacher sentenced: A former Duval County teacher is sentenced to more than seven years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of transporting images depicting child sexual abuse over the Internet. Jeremy Scott Clark, 45, was a math teacher at First Coast High School in Jacksonville when he was arrested in March. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

School threats: A 21-year-old man is arrested and accused of making threats against an undisclosed Palm Beach County school. Deputies say Emanuel Martinez used the social media platform Snapchat to make written threats to kill, do bodily injury or mass shooting. Sun-Sentinel.

Student arrested: A 16-year-old student is arrested for bringing a stun gun and a lighter into the campus of Dunbar High School in Fort Myers. The student told police she brought them for protection. Fort Myers News-Press.

Opinions on schools: Legislative leaders should release funds from the school guardian program this year so districts can upgrade school security, then return to the guardian idea in next year’s education funding plan. For now, having $58 million in education funds sitting idle, helping no one, is just not prudent use of taxpayer dollars. Ocala Star-Banner. I’m all for testing dangerous products at the cutting-edge, but is it really that important to be the first autonomous shuttle to drive kids to school in a world where driverless cars are little more than a novelty? Tristan Greene, The Next Web.

Student enrichment: Members of Doral Academy Preparatory School’s math honor society create cancer kits for children undergoing chemotherapy at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. The kits include essentials such as hand sanitizers and tissues, and books, puzzles, games and more to keep busy during treatments. Miami Herald. Two Leon County elementary schools, Walter T. Moore and Gilchrist, are among 22 state schools to be chosen for inclusion on the list of  “America’s Healthiest Schools” by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. To qualify, schools must serve healthy snacks and meals, invest in physical and health education, make resources available to teachers and staff to do so, meet federal nutrition standards and offer students breakfast. WTXL. The city of Clermont is creating a youth council for south Lake County high school students. Students would shadow city departments to learn about government, then collaborate on a project to benefit the city. Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff