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Florida schools roundup: Education on trial, sharing with charters and more

Education court challenge: Florida Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments Thursday in a nearly 10-year-old case that claims the state’s education system is inadequate and therefore a violation of 1998 constitutional amendment that calls for “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of public schools.” A trial court and an appeals court have rejected the challenge. Now lawyers for the plaintiffs, Citizens for Strong Schools, want the case sent back to the trial court. “We had 670,000 children that are failing reading,” said attorney Jodi Siegel. “So this is not a child or two. This is a systemic failure.” Rocco Testani, an attorney for the state, says the state has made significant improvements in the past 20 years. “It has been successful, it has worked,” he said of the public education system. “It is not a system that anyone should be concerned is broken.” The justices gave no indication when a decision might be issued, though they often take months. You can watch the arguments here. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Orlando SentinelPolitico Florida. WFSU.

Sharing with charters: Eight Florida school districts will be receiving an influx of revenue after voters approved sales tax or property tax increases. But will the district share any of it with charter schools? And if they do, how much? About half the districts say they will share, though they aren’t saying how much. Charter officials believe their schools are entitled to some of the funds, since they’re part of the public districts. They also worry that the proposed salary increases from the extra money will make it harder for them to compete for the services of good teachers. redefinED.

Medical marijuana in schools: Medical marijuana can now be given to sick students in Volusia County schools. The school board unanimously approved “Zoe’s Policy,” named after terminally ill 6-year-old Zoe Adams. Her parents’ request to give Zoe medical marijuana was initially turned down by district officials, who cited federal law. But they and supporters pushed the issue, citing a state law that allowed parents and caregivers to administer the drug, and the school board signed onto the effort. Four other state school districts have similar policies. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

DeSantis watch: Florida Republican Ron DeSantis is selected as one of five newly elected governors whose education policies bear watching, according to an Education Week report. DeSantis wants to expand the tax credit scholarship program, which Step Up For Students helps administer, spend 80 percent of all education funds in classrooms, boost bonus pay for the best teachers and review curriculum standards. Education Week.

Election recounts possible: The races for the U.S. Senate and governor in Florida are tightening as ballots continue to be counted, and could be close enough to require recounts. Problems counting votes in Broward and Palm Beach counties are contributing to the confusion and prompting some Republicans to allege ballot fraud. Associated Press. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. A teacher at a Miramar elementary school finds a locked election box with the labeling “Provisional Ballot Box” that was left behind after Tuesday’s vote. She called Broward election officials, who say the box contained only election supplies, not ballots. Sun-Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: The St. Lucie County School District and its teachers union reach a contract agreement that would give teachers a one-time bonus, but no raises. Eligible teachers would receive an $850 “retention supplement,” and nonteaching employees would receive a one-time supplement equivalent to a step in the salary schedule plus a $250 bonus. The deal must be approved by the union and school board. TCPalm.

The discipline gap: In a podcast, reporters discuss the Hernando County School District’s attempt to end the disproportionate disciplining of black students. Early results from a pilot program at three schools have been promising enough to prompt the expansion of the program to three more schools. Gradebook.

Plea for civility: Outgoing Volusia County School Board member Melody Johnson makes a plea to “stop the negativity” in the school district. Johnson, who lost her District 5 seat to Ruben Colon in Tuesday’s election, says the district has much to be proud of, including a rising graduation rate and district grade, and improved financial stability. “We are five (percentage) points away from (a district A grade) and we act like we’re falling apart,” Johnson says. “Stop it. Acknowledge all that you’ve done.” Contentious salary negotiations with employees, dissatisfaction over grades for elementary schools and some board discontent over Superintendent Tom Russell’s performance have contributed to the unsettled atmosphere. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Renaming a school: Next week the Hillsborough County School Board will consider new names for Lee Elementary School, which is named after the Confederate general. The district is taking suggestions until Tuesday, with the board meeting Thursday. Soon after the district decided the school needed a new name, it was severely damaged by a fire. Until Lee rebuilt, its students are attending nearby Lockhart Elementary. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: At the recommendation of the Florida Department of Education, Marion County Superintendent Heidi Maier has removed the principal at Reddick-Collier Elementary School and replaced her with longtime administrator Chris Sandy. Maier said she wanted to keep Jolene Vining at the school because student test scores were improving, but that Education Commissioner Pam Stewart urged the change. Sandy has served in a variety of administrative roles at the district since 1982. She retired in 2015, but came back two years later. Vining moves to the district’s counseling and assessment department. Ocala Star-Banner.

Mental health town hall: The Sarasota County School District’s expanded mental health services programs for students is the topic of a digital town hall meeting. Kristie Skoglund, chief operating officer for the Florida Center for Early Childhood, which provides some counselors for the district, says the integration of mental health care into schools can help teachers identify problems and provide guidance. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Principal arrested: A Pasco County principal is arrested and accused of stealing $900 from a student with a mental disability. Deputies say the 9-year-old student brought $2,100 of his parents’ money to Connerton Elementary School on Oct. 23. When teachers discovered the boy with the money, they took it, counted it and locked it in the office of principal Edward John Abernathy, 50. When the boy’s mother came to school to get the money, Abernathy turned over just $1,200. Deputies say he kept the rest. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Teacher investigated: A Palm Beach County middle school teacher has been pulled from the classroom after he was accused of striking a 14-year-old student. The teacher allegedly hit the boy in between classes Wednesday at Bear Lakes Middle School in West Palm Beach. School district police are investigating. Palm Beach Post.

Eight hurt in bus crash: Six students and two adults are taken to hospitals with serious injuries when their after-care school bus was hit by a pickup truck. The children are students at Bennett Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale. WTVJ. WPLG. Sun-Sentinel.

Attempted abduction: Sunrise police says a man tried to lure three elementary girls into his car as they walked to school Wednesday. Two 5th-graders and a 2nd-grader were just a few blocks from Village Elementary School when the man stopped and offered a ride. When they refused, he drove off. Sun-Sentinel.

Student detained: A student at Cobb Middle School in Tallahassee is detained for reportedly having a steak knife at the school. No threats were made. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: Here’s why Florida’s SAT results are significant: Elementary students are stars in both reading and math at the elementary level because the state’s educational leaders have made it a priority. But it really doesn’t matter what kids can do in 4th grade if they can’t compete at a national level by the time they graduate from high school. That’s why it’s so important for Florida to make the same commitment to middle and high school math achievement that the state has made at the elementary level. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The Sarasota County School District’s new gender guidelines are a cause for parental reflection. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff