Florida schools roundup: Arming teachers suggested, tax collections spike and more

Teachers and guns: Florida should change state law so some teachers can be armed, says the chairman of the state commission investigating the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “We know from the history of these things that the majority (of school shooters) are stopped by school personnel,” says Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “People need to keep an open mind to it as the reality is that if someone else in that school had a gun it could have saved kids’ lives.” Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. The Palm Beach County School District is one of eight in Florida to miss the deadline to submit a mandatory school-security review by the Oct. 31 deadline, but that “in no way means that the district is not compliant or responsive to the requirements of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Bill,” says Frank Kitzerow, district police chief. Palm Beach Post.

Tax collections accelerating: Hillsborough County voters just approved an increase of a half-cent in the sales tax to help schools with repairs and construction, and already the Florida Department of Revenue is projecting the measure will bring in more money than expected. School officials thought the tax would bring in just under $140 million a year. The new projection is for $151 million in 2019, and as much as $1.7 billion could be raised over the 10-year life of the tax hike. Tampa Bay Times.

Education differences: With more than three months before the Florida legislative session begins, disagreements over the course of education are already surfacing. Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has expressed an interest in reviewing previously passed pro-charter schools bills and “providing adequate support for traditional public schools.” But Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, want to greatly expand and promote school choice. Tallahassee Democrat.

School transportation: Hernando County school officials want to expand busing of students by shrinking the required distance from schools. They say the current distance required to trigger busing, 2 miles, is too much and too dangerous for students. But tightening the distance will cost more money that Hernando and other districts don’t have, and they say they’d need millions from the state. Tampa Bay Times. A Eustis subdivision wants the city commission to ban school dropoffs and pickups for a nearby middle school at the entrance of the neighborhood. Daily Commercial.

School bus radios: Lake County School Board members will consider buying $1.2 million worth of bus radios as a first step in the district’s plan to improve security in schools. Next will be better camera systems and more reliable video storage systems for buses and schools. Daily Commercial.

School transfers: Almost 400 elementary students in and around Lake Worth could be changing schools in the 2019-2020 school year to better balance enrollment. Palm Beach County school officials are proposing that students from Highland and South Grade, which are both over capacity, be relocated to Palm Springs and Barton, which are both well under capacity. The superintendent and school board have to approve. Palm Beach Post.

Longer school day: Much of the community feedback about lengthening the day for Volusia County elementary schools is questioning the need for the extra 30 minutes. The district expects to roll out its formal proposal, and the justification for it, in March. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Recount civics lesson: Matt Kiernan, a 7th-grade civics teacher at Renaissance Charter School at Summit in West Palm Beach, describes how he used the Florida election recount as a teachable moment for his students. WMFE.

Confederate banner criticized: Students are criticizing a Hialeah Gardens charter school teacher for hanging a Confederate banner in his classroom. School officials say the banner was placed as part of a lesson on the Civil War, but students say the Mater Academy teacher has taught that the Confederacy was fighting for “states’ rights” and that the North “should have lost” the war. Miami New Times.

Superintendent search: The Marion County School Board will get advice from the Florida School Boards Association on establishing a process for hiring a superintendent. On Nov. 6, voters decided superintendents should be appointed instead of elected, and the board is looking for help in defining the job, and setting qualifications and a search timeline. Some board members think a superintendent could be hired by next July. Ocala Star-Banner.

Educators honored: Carin Hetzler-Nettles, principal at Cypress Creek Middle High School, is named Pasco County School District principal of the year. New Tampa Neighborhood News. Kelly Mangel, principal at the Treasure Village Montessori in Islamorada, wins a Florida Charter Schools Champions Award from the Florida Charter School Conference in Orlando. Key West Citizen. Russ Randall, who was the agriculture teacher at Dunnellon High School for 12 years, is named the 35th member of the Marion County Agricultural Hall of Fame. Ocala Star-Banner.

District, teacher settle: The Gulf County School District reaches a settlement with Port St. Joe Elementary School teacher Krissy Gentry over her suspension in April through the end of the 2017-2018 school year for allegations ranging from gross insubordination to using a cell phone in class. The suspension was rescinded and Gentry will receive back wages and benefits. Port St. Joe Star.

Board members squabble: Polk County School Board member Kay Fields attacks fellow board member Billy Townsend, who campaigned against her in the recent election, accusing him of posting lies about her and her husband on his blog. Lakeland Ledger.

School denied: A request for a zoning variance to allow a school for troubled students to be built in a Tavares neighborhood is rejected by Lake County commissioners. Rite of Passage, which provides education and care for nonviolent youths, wanted to open a facility with athletic fields and a dormitory on nearly 40 acres in Deer Haven. Daily Commercial.

Sponsors for checks: The Polk County School District is trying to find sponsors who are willing to donate $100,000 to cover the costs of soon-to-be-required national background checks for volunteers. “I don’t think we should be charging volunteers to come help us,” says school board member Sara Beth Reynolds. Lakeland Ledger.

Middle school sports: The Flagler County School Board’s decision to offer sports in middle schools has been a hit, according to school officials. The programs are a collaboration between the district and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Police Athletic League. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School coach arrested: The boys soccer coach at the Somerset Academy Charter school in Pembroke Pines is arrested after allegedly sending inappropriate texts and nude photos of himself to a female student. Police say Owen Cleveland Gayle, 38, is charged with use of a computer to seduce or solicit a child and transmitting information harmful to minors. WPLG. Sun-Sentinel.

Wrestler injured: A 17-year-old high school wrestler is hospitalized with a neck injury he suffered during a match at Cypress Bay High School in Weston. The wrestler complained of numbness to his extremities. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: Broadening the pool of gun-packers at schools to include more teachers would, perhaps, make the school environment safer. But it also would introduce an unacceptable level of risk. Jim Ross, Ocala Star-Banner. As governor, Ron DeSantis should prioritize paying teachers more, halt unfunded mandates on traditional public schools, and stop diverting taxpayer dollars to unaccountable for-profit charter schools and private-school vouchers. Palm Beach Post. Making standardized tests like the SAT and ACT optional would increase opportunities for deserving students while helping the University of Florida better diversify its student body. Gainesville Sun. Here are six ways a high-poverty elementary school can get students (and teachers) excited about science and achieve substantial gains. Robin Butcher and Karen Silensky, Education Dive. Close collaboration between the University of North Florida’s College of Education and Human Services and the Duval County School District is developing the next generation of educators. Diane Yendol-Hoppey, Florida Times-Union. Much of our society’s religious illiteracy can be overcome if teachers are encouraged to engage in unbiased discussions of religion rather than to religiously avoid it. Derryck Green, Naples Daily News. Schools should teach, but not preach, religion. Rachel Laser, Naples Daily News. The Alachua County School Board should be pushing achievement, not equality. Len Cabrera, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Polk State College’s collaboration with the Polk County School District to produce teachers earns the college a Chancellor’s Best Practice Award from the Florida College System. Lakeland Ledger. A Leon County kindergartner forms a special relationship with the resource officer at Killearn Lakes Elementary School. Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff