Florida schools roundup: Some districts still closed, FEA vote, drills and more

Schools and the storm: School officials across north Florida are scrambling to get students back in school, but the devastation of Hurricane Michael is posing problems most of them have never faced before. Five school districts – Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Jackson – are closed until further notice because of widespread power outages, closed and unsafe roadways, damaged schools and the need to continue using schools that aren’t too damaged as emergency shelters, according to the governor’s office. School administrators in Bay County, which was hardest hit by the storm, say it could be months before schools are reopened. Several other districts remain closed today but hope to open tomorrow. CNNWashington Post. USA Today. Associated Press. WJHG. Panama City News Herald. Pensacola News JournalEscambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa school officials say they can take in students whose schools aren’t open. WKRG. Though Gadsden schools are closed, all teachers and staff are required to report to work today, according to a tweet from the district. Gadsden County School District. All Leon County schools reopen today and will have powerTallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Experts say students need as much normalcy as possible and a sense of security after the trauma of an event such as Hurricane Michael. Naples Daily News

New leaders at FEA: Joanne McCall is ousted after one term as president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. She lost a weekend election to Fed Ingram, a Miami-Dade County union official and FEA vice president. Also elected were Andrew Spar of Volusia County as vice president and Carole Gauronskas of St. Johns County as treasurer. “This organization, especially for the last three years in the legislative session, has been reactive instead of proactive,” says Pasco teachers union official Don Peace. “You can’t get big wins when you always arrive to the game late.” Gradebook. Florida Politics.

Active-shooter drills: The new state law requires schools to have active-shooter drills, but it doesn’t say how often, leaving school districts to interpret the law. According to a survey of district officials, some will hold the drills monthly while others will do as few as two a year because they think they’re traumatic for younger children and worry that doing more will make them just another routine drill, like fire alarms, that students won’t take seriously. Mostly, districts are looking for guidance from the state. Tampa Bay Times.

Taxes and teacher pay: Miami-Dade County School Board members agree that if voters approve an increase in property taxes Nov. 6, 88 percent of the money raised will go to raising teacher pay. The other 12 percent will help pay for more school resource officers. The additional tax would raise $232 million a year for four years. The board also agreed to appoint an oversight committee to monitor district spending if the tax hike is approved. Miami Herald.

Class sizes: While the Pasco County School District says it’s in compliance with the class size restrictions approved by state voters in 2002, it does so by using school-wide averages instead of classroom-by-classroom numbers, and some classrooms are well over the limits. “Class size best practices for middle school is 22, and I have classes that are 33, 32 and 27,” notes Rushe Middle teacher Lori Lovetere in a Facebook post. “Incredibly challenging and not best practices for kids.” School officials have been working to get more teachers hired. Gradebook. St. Johns County teachers talk about the practical effects of having overcrowded classrooms. St. Augustine Record.

Superintendent evaluation: Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie gets mixed reviews in his first evaluation since the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Three of the nine members rated him “highly effective.” Three who rated him highly effective last year downgraded him to “effective” this year, joining another member. One gave him a “needs improvement” rating for the third straight year, and the ninth withheld a rating until the state commission investigating the massacre issues its report. Runcie generally was praised for the district’s academic performance and his leadership during Hurricane Irma, but criticized for communications problems after the massacre and delays in making school improvements from the $800 million bond program voters approved in 2014. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher saves student: A Jacksonville teacher uses the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a water bottle cap from the throat of a 2nd-grader at Sabal Palms Elementary School in Jacksonville. Art teacher Emily Kline was able to get the cap out after three thrusts. “He had never been that scared in his life, and you can tell and I had never been that scared in my life as well,” Kline says. WJXT.

Cruz posed as student: Accused Stoneman Douglas school shooter Nikolas Cruz trespassed on school property about six months before the shootings that left 17 dead, according to a teacher’s statement that was released last week by prosecutors. Computer science teacher Sandra Rennie says she saw Cruz on the first day of school in August 2017, and he told her he was a student again. She relayed the conversation to an administrator, who escorted him off campus. Associated Press.

Teaching academy: The Lake County School District’s first teaching academy pilot program has opened at Tavares High School. Most of the students enrolled are freshmen, who can earn certifications, college credit and a guaranteed job interview after college. Daily Commercial.

Education and politics: Gov. Rick Scott is demanding a campaign ad in his race for the U.S. Senate be removed from the airwaves because it’s false and could even be “dangerous” by undermining the public’s trust as he deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. The political action committee behind the ad, which criticizes Scott for cutting spending for education in his first year as governor, says it stands by the ad. Florida Politics. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

School board elections: Previewing the races for the District 4 and 5 seats on the Marion County School Board. Ocala Star-BannerOcala Star-Banner. The four candidates for Polk County School Board seats talk about their qualifications and the issues at a community forum. Lakeland Ledger. Dropped aggravated battery charges from a decade ago surface in the race for the District 1 seat on the Volusia County School Board. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Child dies from flu: A Florida child has died from the flu, according to the Florida Department of Health. It’s the first death of the season. Officials released no information about the victim, except to say the child had not been vaccinated and had been healthy before contracting influenza B and dying between Sept. 30 and Oct. 6. Hillsborough County has reported the only two flu outbreaks in the state this season, both at schools, but neither caused the death, according to Hillsborough officials. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times. Associated Press.

Colleges and testing: More than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities no longer require SAT or ACT scores for admission, and more are being added every year. “The high school record, which includes taking lots of tests, and doing essays, and doing class participation and everything else that goes into a good student, is a far stronger predictor in graduation than any test could ever make,” says Bob Schaeffer with National Center for Fair and Open Testing. WINK.

New school: About 100 students in 6th through 8th grades are attending the first year of the SLAM charter school at Osceola Heritage Park. The school, which integrates sports-related themes into its math, language arts, science and social studies curriculum, plans to add a grade each year until 12th grade is established in 2022. Osceola News-Gazette.

Ex-teacher guilty of abuse: An Okaloosa County jury finds former Kenwood Elementary School teacher Marlynn Stillions guilty of abusing a 4-year-old autistic child during the 2015-2016 school year. Stillions had been charged with three counts of child abuse without great bodily harm. She will be sentenced Dec. 6. State guidelines call for a 33-month sentence. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Students arrested: Two students are arrested and accused of threatening to commit a shooting at Miami Springs Middle School. Police say the students, 13 and 14, made the threats through a social media post on Instagram. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Player hurt in fight: A Bartow High School junior varsity football player is hospitalized in stable condition after a fight during a game against Lakeland High School. The Polk County School District and school district and the Florida High School Athletic Association are investigating. WTSP.

School bus runs into pool: An Orange County school bus with nine children aboard veers to avoid an accident and drives through a fence and nose-first into a Pine Hills homeowner’s pool. The homeowner helped the children get out of the bus through the rear exit. No one was injured, and police are investigating. Orlando SentinelFlorida Today.

Opinions on schools: The Martin County School District is at an important crossroads. With major challenges looming, the district must do all it can to maximize efficiency. Having a professional as the superintendent, instead of an elected official, is an important step toward this goal. TCPalm. I can see where sometimes, teachers might think their passion is a thankless task. So I wanted to take this time, and use this space, to make sure it isn’t. Gil Smart, TCPalm. As a member of the Marion County School Board, Nancy Stacy is supposed to set an example of proper behavior, of civility, of simple decency. Inexplicably, she just doesn’t seem capable. Brad Rogers, Ocala Star-Banner. All over Florida, parents are moving mountains. They have defeated lawsuits, bad legislation and a status quo that insists only parents with means have school options. And now they have won an uphill battle in Clermont. Catherine Durkin Robinson, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Two Palm Beach Gardens High School seniors take their friends with special needs to homecoming. Palm Beach Post. About 70 students at Lemon Bay High School get to interview famed Bigfoot hunter James “Bobo” Fay from California via Skype. Charlotte Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff