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Florida schools roundup: ESSA plan, safety breakdowns, graduation rates and more

State’s ESSA plan rapped: Florida’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act is the worst in the country in identifying persistently underperforming schools and working to improve student outcomes, according to a review of every state’s plan by 24 independent education advocates and leaders of both political parties. Eight components of the plans were reviewed, and Florida received a rating of “weak” in six areas. State officials disagree with the review. The 74. Education Week.

Safe spots blocked: Most of the designated safe spots in classroom corners at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were inaccessible when a gunman opened fire Feb. 14 because they were blocked by furniture, according to testimony Wednesday before the state commission investigating the massacre. Seventeen people died in the attack. Creating the so-called “hard corners” was recommended during training of Stoneman Douglas staff in December 2017 and again in January. The panel’s meeting continues through Friday. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel.

Animated re-enactment: Commission members had harsh words for the law enforcement response to the Parkland shooting after a new computer animation of the massacre was shown. “Why didn’t they move toward the building?” asked panel chairman Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County sheriff. Broward County deputies say they hadn’t had active-shooter training in years. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and other deputies are expected to testify today. Miami Herald. Associated Press. The panel is also told that one of the Internet searches accused shooter Nikolas Cruz performed was, “Is killing easy?” Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida.

Graduation rates: Duval County school officials project an 85 percent graduation rate when the state releases figures next month, which would be an increase of more than 4 percentage points. School board chairwoman Paula Wright made the prediction at the state of the District 4 schools speech Wednesday. Wright is leaving the board because of term limits. Florida Times-Union.

Mental health services: The Lee County School District is hiring 10 new school social workers, four psychologists and three behavioral professionals as part of its state-required expansion of mental health services for students. A state grant of $1.8 million will finance the expansion, which will focus on better identifying troubled students and getting them help sooner. Fort Myers News-Press.

Contract negotiations: Buoyed by passage of a property tax increase that will give the Miami-Dade County School District an extra $232 million a year for four years, the teachers union kicked off negotiations with the district by asking for a 12.5 percent raise for this year for all teachers, substitutes, paraprofessionals and security monitors. That would cost $158 million. Still to be determined is how the money from the referendum will be used. Miami Herald. The Pasco County School District bumps its total pay offer to school employees from $990,000 to $1.15 million, an increase of 1.5 percent but far below the union’s 3.5 percent request. Teachers, who resume talks today, are about $5 million apart with the district. Gradebook.

Recount as a lesson: National, state and local teachers unions are turning Florida’s election recount into a lesson in civics. The National Education Association and affiliates will hold a “Florida Recount Event” in Fort Lauderdale, where they intend to release a curriculum based on the election, with emphasis on the voting process. Gradebook. The deadline for the recount is today. Many districts report they are on target to finish on time, but Palm Beach County is struggling. Associated Press.

New wing or new school? Early returns from public hearings show that most Sarasota County parents prefer building a new school over adding a wing to alleviate overcrowding at Venice High School. The school board will debate the issue Dec. 10. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Practice scores improve: Practice language arts and math exams show that students at 15 struggling Marion County schools are making impressive progress, officials tell the school board. Language arts proficiency rates were up 4.11 percentage points after the first nine weeks of school, and math proficiency rates are up 14.12 percentage points. Ocala Star-Banner.

Educators honored: Finalists for the Volusia County School District teacher of the year are announced. They are: Sharron DeRosier, world history/STEM labs teacher at Galaxy Middle; Ian Jackson, AVID teacher at Taylor Middle-High; Sonia Larrabee, academic coach at McInnis Elementary; Michelle Pons, a science teacher for Volusia Online Learning; and Keisha Wallace, a math teacher at Atlantic High. The winner will be named Jan. 18, and then compete for the state honor. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A teacher at a Tallahassee magnet school is one of 17 U.S. educators selected as PBS KIDS Early Learning Champions. Roshanna Beard is a media teacher at the Apalachee Tapestry Magnet School of the Arts. PBS. Arlene Gebber, a 4th-grade teacher at Somerset Academy Boca, is one of 21 winners of charter champions awards from the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools. Boca Raton Tribune.

Flu vaccinations: More Alachua County students are being vaccinated against the flu now that flu mists are an option, say school and health officials. “In general, students prefer the mist over the shot,” says Dr. Kathleen Ryan, a pediatrician at UF Health Shands, which is collaborating with the school district and the county health department to provide the vaccinations. “It doesn’t matter because the most important message everybody needs to hear is: you need a flu vaccine.” WUFT.

Notable deaths: A Lake Worth High School senior is killed when his bicycle is hit by an Amtrak train Tuesday afternoon. Deputies say Tomas Juan Reynoso, 17, rode his bike around the flashing crossing gates when the train clipped his back tire. Grief counselors were at the school Wednesday. Palm Beach Post.

District, employees sued: A lawsuit is filed accusing two Miami-Dade school employees of assaulting an 8th-grade boy, and the district for negligence. The suit claims Jose Arenas, a teacher at Fienberg-Fisher K-8 Center in Miami Beach, hit the boy and that he and security guard Angel Martinez took him to another room and belittled him. The allegations were made during the last school year, and a district investigation cleared both men. Miami Herald.

Guns and weapons in schools: Arrests for gun possession and the number of times guns have been fired is declining in Duval County schools, according to district police. Two years ago there were 11 incidents of guns being fired on campuses. This year it’s one. And the number of arrests for having a gun at school has gone from nine two years ago to two this year. WJAX.

Teachers arrested: A science teacher at an all-girls school in Hillsborough County is arrested and accused of having a romantic relationship with a 14-year-old student. Deputies say Jason McClain Osborne, 40, who has worked at the Ferrell Girls Preparatory Academy in Apollo Beach since 2015, faces charges of lewd and lascivious conduct and unlawful use of a two-day communications device. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS. WFLA.

Student arrested: A 15-year-old Crestview High School student is arrested and accused of threatening to bring a gun to school and kill a classmate. It’s the fourth arrest at the school this year for shooting threats. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR.

School moms arrested: A 32-year-old woman is arrested and charged with aggravated battery for using a broken coffee mug to attack another woman at a North Port school bus stop. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. The 31-year-old mother of a Martin County student is arrested after yelling and cursing in front of staff and students at Palm City Elementary School, then refusing to leave school grounds and resisting officers without violence. TCPalm.

Teacher bitten by K9: A Manatee County teacher required medical treatment after being attacked by the K9 of a sheriff’s deputy who was dropping his son at school. The attack happened at the Imagine Schools North Manatee in Palmetto. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an internal affairs investigation. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Opinions on schools: Just as Florida should be embracing its vibrant immigrant community, its new education plan is set to make life harder for students learning English. Conor P. Williams, The 74. A video discussing sexual consent shown to Sarasota County high school seniors was not offensive; it was realistic. And as the controversy swirling around it shows, realism is often unwelcome. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Approval of a sales tax increase for Hillsborough County schools couldn’t have come at a better time for a district that has had its share of headaches in the last few years. The new school board now can go forward with some certainty about where the money is coming from and what the priorities going forward need to be. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. Tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ students should be taught in the halls of schools every day. Terri Friedlander, Tallahassee Democrat. A new EdChoice analysis that argues vouchers create substantial savings for public schools simply replicates the flaws of a 2016 study. Luis Huerta and Steve Katsivalis, National Policy Education Center. Now that there’s agreement to extend the Volusia County elementary school day by 30 minutes, it’s up to educators to make every minute count. Daytona Beach News-Journal. If the St. Johns County School District is looking to grow a crop of potential substitute teachers, it might till the fertile fields of our senior population. St. Augustine Record.

Student enrichment: Bishop Verot High School senior Claire Sattler won Wednesday in the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament, and advances to the finals next week. The grand prize is $100,000. Fort Myers News-Press. The Nassau County School District sends school supplies, clothes, and a Thanksgiving meal to Holmes County students affected by Hurricane Michael. WJHG. Pensacola News Journal. Fifteen 2nd- and 3rd-graders from the Horace O’Bryant School’s sewing club make 106 port pillows for cancer patients. Key West Citizen.

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BY NextSteps staff