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Florida schools roundup: School safety, Legislature, achievement gap and more

School security: The Broward County School Board and the county have been awarded $1.2 million in grants from the Department of Justice to improve threat assessments and reporting, crisis interventions, training and mental health services. The grants were part of the $70 million awarded to U.S. school districts, law enforcement agencies and cities under the federal STOP School Violence Act. Education Week. The Pinellas County School District is emphasizing the personal side of school security by encouraging students to care for one another and recognize when a classmate is troubled. The strategy was developed by the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit founded by family members of students killed in the 2012 school shooting in Connecticut. Tampa Bay Times. The Osceola County School District is the latest to ban backpacks from after-school sporting events. School officials also say all bags would be subject to a search, and metal detecting wands could be used. Orlando Sentinel.

Legislative meetings: Florida Senate and House leaders say legislative committees will meet during the weeks of Dec. 11, Jan. 7, Jan. 22, Feb. 4, Feb. 11 and Feb. 19. No education bills have been filed yet, but it’s expected to again be a key and sometimes contentious issue. The 60-day legislative session begins March 5. Gradebook.

Achievement gap: Pinellas County school officials deliver a one-year progress report on the plan to improve educational outcomes for black students by 2027 to a local group that helped develop the plan. Better results were reported on five of the six areas being measured: graduation rates, advanced coursework enrollment, student discipline, identifying students for special education programs, and minority hiring. Achievement on state exams was unchanged. Members of the Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students say they’re glad to see progress but more improvement is needed, especially in some targeted schools. Gradebook.

Help with A/C problems: The Hillsborough County Commission is willing to help the school district start repairing air-conditioners in schools now by offering its AAA bond rating to borrow money on behalf of the school district or by guaranteeing bonds issued by the district. About 40 schools in the district have significant A/C problems, and school officials don’t have the estimated $340 million needed to fix them. The district is asking voters to approve a sales tax hike Nov. 6 that would raise $1.31 billion over 10 years for capital improvements. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF.

Tax oversight committee: Former Hillsborough County school superintendent Earl Lennard is joining a committee that will provide financial oversight on district spending for capital improvements if voters approve an increase in the sales tax on Nov. 6. Others on the committee are chairwoman Betty Castor, former USF president; Sheriff Chad Chronister; Bonnie Carr, chief financial officer of Hillsborough Community College; Ed Narain, a former state representative; and Jose Valiente, a certified public accountant. A seventh member will be appointed by the school district. Gradebook.

Special school delivery: Employees at Galax E3 Elementary School in Boynton Beach were pressed into action when the visiting daughter of a cafeteria worker went into labor in the school parking lot. Head custodian Sharon Dames called 911 and then delivered the baby with the help of food service manager Bonnie Rawlins. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools: The Palm Beach County School Board approves a new charter school for the arts in Belle Glade. Covenant Arts Academy would combine elementary and middle schools and integrate arts education into all classes. It projects having 590 students by its fifth year. Applications from two schools were rejected by the board, and votes on two others were delayed until the district settles a dispute with the state on when it can build schools. Palm Beach Post.

Private school concerns: Advocates for Volusia County schools express concerns about a private church school in DeLand after newspaper disclosures about its operator’s past. Earl Barnett was the director of the Beta Preparatory Collegiate Academy in Orlando, which closed at the end of the last school because of financial reasons that included not paying teachers or rent. Barnett then opened the DeLand Preparatory Academy, which has 46 students, in the DeLand Church of the Nazarene. Like Beta, DeLand Prep is receiving scholarship money from the state. “That’s a totally different school than the one we have in Volusia County,” says Barnett. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Ex-superintendent’s hearing: Former Hernando County superintendent Lori Romano appealed her firing Wednesday to the people who fired her – members of the school board. Romano was fired June 12 in a 3-2 vote for insubordination for refusing to cooperate with a researcher doing a survey on her performance, and incompetency for not adequately warning the board that she was planning to fire all 47 teachers at struggling Moton Elementary School. Final arguments are expected next week, with a decision on the appeal scheduled Oct. 23. Tampa Bay Times.

Student records disappear: The Bay County School District is asking the state Inspector General’s Office to investigate allegations that Florida Department of Health of Bay County workers entered school health rooms without authorization and removed student health care records. Panama City News Herald.

Contract negotiations: Polk County teachers, paraprofessionals and support workers ratify contract agreements between two unions and the school district. Teachers get a raise of $300 and move up a step on the salary scale, and the starting teacher salary is now $40,972. Lakeland Ledger.

School board elections: A preview of the race between Melissa Mitchell Byrd and Eric Schwalbach for the Orange County School Board District 7 seat. Orlando Sentinel.

Personnel moves: Ron Ciranna, deputy superintendent of the Manatee County School District who has been on administrative leave for almost two months for his role in a software project that was late and double the projected cost, announces his retirement. It’s effective Dec. 3. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Mariandl Hufford, the assistant head of school and director of the Center for the Advancement of Girls at the Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, Pa., is hired to lead the Miami Country Day School, starting next July. She takes over from James Connor, who was named the interim head of the school when John Davies retired in June. Miami Herald.

Notable deaths: Susan Roberson, a teacher for more than 30 years and a descendant of a pioneer family in Indian River County, dies at the age of 69 in a car crash. TCPalm.

New school program: The Cambridge International Middle School program is now available at Denison Middle School in Winter Haven. The program offers fair testing, a global standard for education and internationally recognized qualification. Fifty-seven Denison 8th-graders are in the program. Lakeland Ledger.

Dual enrollment: School officials in Manatee and Sarasota counties express their disappointment at the State College of Florida’s decision to end dual enrollment courses at schools in those counties due to “inconsistencies” in the programs. Students may still take the classes online or at SCF. District officials in both counties say they are looking for alternatives programs for their schools. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School declared historic: The 88-year-old, one-room Duette School in Manatee County has been added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. The school operated from 1930 to 2016. There are plans to turn it into a community center. Bradenton Herald.

Students arrested: A 16-year-old student at Everglades High School in Miramar is arrested and accused of threatening to shoot up the school, according to police. Sun-Sentinel. A 15-year-old student at South Lake High School in Groveland is arrested for carrying a switchblade in school. Orlando Sentinel. Two 13-year-old students are arrested and accused of trying to carjack a teacher at gunpoint as she left Biscayne Gardens Elementary School in Miami. Associated Press.

Two arrested at schools: An 18-year-old man is arrested and accused of violating a domestic violence injunction ordering him to stay away from his ex-girlfriend and Deerfield Beach High School and trespassing at the school. Sun-Sentinel. Cocoa police say a 46-year-old woman is arrested after throwing a powder at two Cambridge Elementary School students she accuses of bullying her daughter. Simmone Lavern James is charged with two counts each of child abuse and battery and was banned from campus after she allegedly threw an off-white substance into the faces of an 8-year-old girl and an 11-year-old girl. Police say the powder was believed to be a mixture of salt and cayenne pepper. WSB.

Opinions on schools: The power to choose isn’t just another instrument of education policy. Exercising choice is a fundamental human desire that increasingly is accommodated in multiple spheres of life. Why should education be excluded? Scott Kent, redefinED. When it comes to schools, more choice doesn’t always equal more opportunity. Jinal Jhaveri, Hechinger Report. The Broward County School Board, not the city of Fort Lauderdale, has come up short in protecting schools. Rick Maglione, Sun-Sentinel. In spite of teachers union propaganda, the average teacher in America — Florida included — already enjoys market-level wages plus retirement benefits vastly exceeding those of private-sector workers, according to a pair of think-tank researchers. Nancy Smith, Sunshine State News.

Student enrichment: Eighteen Sarasota County schools receive the Five Star School Award from the Florida Department of Education, and 41 others are presented with the Golden School Award. The awards are presented to high-performing schools that also have a high rate of volunteerism and community involvement. SRQ Magazine.

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BY NextSteps staff