Board term limits, choice support, mental health services for schools and more

School board term limits: A bill that would ask Florida voters to limit county school board members to eight years in office has been approved by a third and final House committee. It now goes to the full House for a vote. The Senate’s companion bill is awaiting a vote by the education committee. If a final bill is approved by the Legislature, it will appear on the November 2020 ballot as an amendment to the constitution, and will need 60 percent approval to be enacted. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. GradebookWWSB. WUWF.

Support for DeSantis, choice: Gov. Ron DeSantis has a 54 percent approval rating in a new poll by Florida Atlantic University, with only 19 percent disapproving and 27 percent unsure. His call to expand voucher programs for middle-class families to attend private schools is one of his most popular proposals: 52 percent approve and only 29 percent oppose. Respondents do not like the push to arm teachers in schools: 50 percent disapprove, and 38 percent approve. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. redefinED.

Mental health services: A week after the suicides of a current student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and one who graduated last year, Gov. DeSantis is pushing state officials to do more to improve mental health services and suicide prevention. “I’d like to say this is just like a little blip; it will go away. It’s not going to go away,” DeSantis said. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says intervention for students with mental health problems isn’t enough; he wants schools to help students who go through traumatic events that could trigger emotional issues. Associated Press.

Amendments fight: The House Judiciary Committee approves a bill that would make it more difficult for citizen-led constitutional amendments proposals to get onto future ballots. Two citizen-led initiatives were among the 11 amendments approved by voters last November. Among other things, the bill would require 766,200 valid signatures on a petition, would make it illegal to use out-of-state petition-gatherers or to pay them by the number of petitions they collect, and would force the amendments to state if the changes  “may require increased taxes or a reduction in government services that are currently funded.” Progressive groups say the bill is an attempt to “thwart the will of the people.” News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Homeless students: Nearly six months after Hurricane Michael devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle, the number of homeless students in Bay County schools continues to rise. About 5,500 students have been put out of their homes, and more continue to be found. More than 130 are unaccompanied high school students. Kay Daniel, the school district’s liaison for homeless students, says, “They’re staying in tents, they’re staying in houses that have been condemned, they’re staying in horrible, horrible situations. Of course, what they need is housing, which, as a school district, we can’t provide.” Panama City News Herald.

NRA and conspiracy theory: A National Rifle Association officer suggested a conspiracy theory about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings last year, according to emails. Mark Richardson, a training instructor and program coordinator with the NRA, emailed a prominent Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist a day after the Feb. 14 shooting to suggest that Nikolas Cruz, the accused shooter, had assistance in getting into the school, and later falsely wrote that there was a second gunman. Seventeen people were shot to death. Huffington Post.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County School District and its teachers union reach an agreement on a 1.1 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees. The sides could not agree on training time for teachers at schools in the state turnaround program, and didn’t address their disagreements over performance evaluations. Those items will go to mediation. Gradebook.

FLVS interim leader: Dhyana Ziegler, who has been on the Florida Virtual School board of trustees for nearly 19 years, is named the interim chief executive of the online public school that serves more than 200,000 students. Robert Porter, who had been president since December, died last week. Board members will begin searching for a permanent president at their April meeting. Orlando Sentinel.

School safety push: The Lee County School District is partnering with several other local organizations to raise $100,000 to buy flashing LED lighting that students can place on their backpacks. The drive was prompted by the death of 8-year-old Layla Aikens, who was struck by a pickup truck Monday as she waited in the dark at her school bus stop. Fort Myers News-Press. Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White is asking the commission to set aside $1 million to put crossing guards at crosswalks near every public school in the county. The move comes a few days after a 12-year-old boy was hit by a car as he tried to cross a street to get to Barrington Middle School in Riverview. Florida Politics.

School start times: The Orange County School District’s student advisory council is surveying classmates to gauge their interest in later school starting times. The county’s 20 traditional high schools begin at 7:20 a.m. The students are helping Superintendent Barbara Jenkins collect data to present to the school board, which asked Jenkins for the cost and logistics of moving starting times for high schools to later in the morning. Orlando Sentinel.

Questions of full credit: Pasco County school officials are asking the school board to consider giving full credit on makeup work from students with unexcused absences. The board rejected a similar proposal four years ago. Superintendent Kurt Browning says some students don’t have control over their presence in school or whether a parent has submitted a note with a valid excuse, and shouldn’t be penalized. Gradebook.

Education podcast: Fed Ingram, president of the state’s teachers union, the Florida Education Association, talks about the difficulty of having influence when so many policy-makers disagree with his organization’s philosophy. Gradebook.

New charter schools: A new charter school, Riverview Academy of Math & Science, is opening in Hillsborough County in the fall for grades K-7, with plans to add an 8th grade later. It’s owned by Charter School Associates and will open in the Riverview area of south-central Hillsborough. The Observer News. The Okaloosa County School Board is expected to decide next week whether to approve the application of the Destin High School charter school. If approved, the school plans to open in August 2020. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School loses state funds: Barnabas Christian Academy has been stripped of state funding from the Florida Department of Education, including money from three scholarship programs. The state cites the school’s boarding of international students without a license, its failure to check the backgrounds of employees or to verify its teachers’ credentials or inform the state of its new name, director and address within 15 days of changes. The private school, apparently now located in Martin County, has 15 days to appeal. TCPalm.

Personnel moves: John Ward, the emergency management director for Clay County for the past decade, has been hired as the school district’s director of operations, safety and security. He replaces Bruce Harvin, who is retiring. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Notable deaths: Walter Miller, a former assistant superintendent in the Leon, Manatee and Pinellas school districts and a 12-year member of the Manatee school board, has died at the age of 83. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Amazing recovery: A Westminster Academy lacrosse player is walking just three weeks after suffering a traumatic spine injury in a game March 2. Doctors thought the injury might paralyze him from the waist down, but surgery and weeks of physical therapy put 16-year-old Chase Lalonde back on his feet. Sun Sentinel.

A visit from FLOTUS: First Lady Melanie Trump visits West Gate Elementary School in West Palm Beach to promote her Be Best initiative that focuses on well-being, social media use and opioid abuse. Palm Beach Post.

Reading program success: School officials are reporting significant reading gains for Alachua Elementary School students who are using a program developed at the University of Florida. Winning Reading Boost is an intensive 90-day program that boosts reading fluency with the use of made-up words to help sound out real ones, memorizing letter sounds, writing in brightly colored workbooks, and singing rap songs about the relationships of certain letters to others. WUFT.

BB gun found at school: Duval County school officials say a pellet gun was confiscated  from a student Thursday at Garden City Elementary School. The discovery comes a day after someone shot a pellet gun at a school bus, breaking a window and wounding a student. Florida Times-Union.

Students hurt in bus crash: Four Hillsborough County students are hospitalized after their school bus smashes into the back of a car at a Mango intersection. None of the injuries are believed to be serious. The bus was taking them home from McDonald Elementary School. Associated Press. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: Perhaps applying some health care reform concepts to public education could help us clarify where we agree and disagree on how to improve public education, and maybe help us find common ground. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. St. Lucie County voters have the opportunity to boost teacher pay and hire school resource officers. We recommend voting “yes.” TCPalm. If the Indian River County School Board wants Superintendent Mark Rendell to leave, now or in 2020, it shouldn’t decide based on emotion, politics or presupposing people’s intentions. It should put together a dossier of data articulating why he should go. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm.

Student enrichment: Three Florida school districts have been chosen as 2019 Best Communities for Music Education by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation. Orange, Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties were honored for prioritizing music as part of the core curriculum. WKMG. Twelve grand prize winners are chosen at the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida held in Lakeland. Lakeland Ledger. More than 2,000 students are competing in the south regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition today and Saturday in West Palm Beach. Palm Beach Post. About 200 Lake County 5th-graders graduate from the sheriff’s DARE program, the first graduating class in six years. The program had been cut for budget reasons in 2013 before before restarted by Sheriff Peyton Grinnell. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff