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Florida schools roundup: School safety proposals, sickness at school and more

New security proposals: The state commission investigating the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has a 99-page draft list of sweeping recommendations to improve security at the state’s schools. But panel chairman Bob Gualtieri says the immediate focus will be on things that can be done quickly and cheaply without requiring changes to the law, such as guarding open gates and better training teachers for emergencies. “We have to accept that we can’t prevent another one of these,” says Gualtieri. “It is going to happen again. The question is when and where, and the ultimate question is what have we done and implemented as quickly as we can to mitigate the harm?” Sun-SentinelPolitico Florida. Nine months after the Feb. 14 shootings at Stoneman Douglas, in which 17 people died, few people have faced consequences for their decisions before and during the massacre. Sun-Sentinel.

27 fall ill at school: Twenty-six students and an employee at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale are hospitalized after reporting seizures, shortness of breath, headaches, nosebleeds and fainting Monday. All were treated and released a few hours later. The cause for the outbreak is unknown. “There is no rhyme or reason at this time,” says Stephen Gollan, a spokesman for Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue. “We really don’t know. It’s very, very weird.” Sun-SentinelMiami Herald.

New schools: The St. Johns County School District starts zeroing in on possible sites for new schools that are needed to handle the county’s explosive growth. The district plans to build three schools in the next five years. WJAX.

Reviving an old school: Davenport city commissioners approve a Polk County School District plan to revive the old Davenport Elementary School, which was built in 1927 but has been mostly empty the past 10 years. The district wants to renovate the old building and add a 16-room building, at a cost of $20 million, so the school can accommodate up to 835 students. The proposal goes before the school board next month and if it’s approved, construction could begin in the spring. Lakeland Ledger.

Legislature meets: The Florida Legislature meets today to certify election results and get organized for the session that begins March 5. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent’s tense year: Volusia County School District Superintendent Tom Russell looks back over a difficult year filled with tense labor negotiations, a disappointing showing by the district’s elementary schools in school grades from the state, and criticism from the school board about his leadership. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher’s hiring questioned: How did a man with a substantiated finding of child sexual abuse in another state get hired to teach in Lee County? Because he wasn’t charged by New Jersey authorities, Steven Biczel passed the criminal background checks in Florida and was hired in 2014 to work at Varsity Lakes Middle School. After the district received an email in 2016 from a woman who says Biczel sexually abused her son in New Jersey, district officials confronted him. Biczel acknowledged he had been fired from a job in that state while under investigation and resigned from the Lee district. WINK.

After-school counselor sentenced: Austin Hunter, a 19-year-old Collier County after-school counselor, is sentenced to 25 years in prison for molesting a 6-year-old girl in a bathroom at Mason Classical Academy a year ago. Naples Daily News.

Opinions on schools: Given the pressure from some conservatives at the national level and the general misunderstanding of and discontent for Common Core within the state, I still worry Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis will feel pressure to scrap our standards and force Florida to reinvent the wheel. Lane Wright, The Capitolist.

Student enrichment: Some Duval County middle school girls get hands-on experience in several STEM fields at an event sponsored by the American Heart Association. Florida Times-Union. Seven Charlotte County teachers win mini-grants from Alpha Delta Kappa, a group of women educators, to help finance projects not covered by school funds. Charlotte Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff