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Guns in church schools bill postponed, teacher raises, vaccinations and more

Guns in church schools: A bill that would allow concealed-carry gun permit holders to take weapons into churches that share property with schools has stalled in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The committee postponed consideration of the bill and isn’t meeting again, says the chair, Sen. Keith Perry, R-Tallahassee. A House companion bill is still alive, and is scheduled for a hearing today by the House Education Committee. Gradebook. Florida Politics. WJAX. WJCT. A gun control organization is spending $200,000 on ads urging Florida lawmakers to reject legislation allowing armed teachers in schools. Miami Herald.

Teacher pay raises: Florida teachers have been lobbying the Legislature for pay raises instead of the bonuses now being discussed through a revamped, $200 million-plus Best and Brightest program. A key Republican now says it’s possible that could happen. Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who is the chairman of the House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Committee, says “there’s a chance it (the bonuses) will be a permanent pay raise. … At the legislative level, we should do everything we can to reward deserving teachers.” Tampa Bay Times.

Vaccination exemptions: Almost 25,000 Florida students are now getting religious exemptions to the state law requiring vaccinations to attend schools. That’s up from 6,500 in 2011. Bill Allen, a University of Florida medical ethicist, thinks anti-vaccination groups are encouraging parents to abuse the excuse. “If parents don’t want to vaccinate because they think vaccines cause autism, they’ll claim a religious exemption,” he said. The only other justification is for parents to get a doctor to say a vaccine would be medically dangerous for their child. Gradebook.

New academic standards: The Florida Department of Education is asking for public input on what the state’s new academic standards should be. The current standards are detailed on the new website, and respondents are asked for suggested changes, deletions and additions by September. Those will go to the State Board of Education for review and hearings, with the final recommendations due to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran by December and to Gov. Ron DeSantis by January. The state board would take a final vote in the spring. Earlier this year, DeSantis demanded that the state revise the standards, which are based on the controversial Common Core. Gradebook. WJAX. The Capitolist.

Charter schools: The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to approve a deal on Wednesday that would end a four-year legal fight over the board’s refusal to approve applications from a company that wants to open two charter schools. In 2014 the board denied an application for a K-8 school proposed by Charter Schools USA, saying it was doing so as an act of “civil disobedience.” In 2015 it rejected an application for another school, saying it wasn’t sufficiently innovative. Charter Schools USA filed suit and won in several jurisdictions, prompting the settlement, which states the board will approve both schools’ applications this week. Palm Beach Post.

More choice options: The Hillsborough County School District is broadening its school choice options in an effort to reclaim some of the students that are increasingly choosing charter schools. More than 10 percent of the district’s 220,000 students now choose charter schools, and that number is expected to grow. Gradebook.

Dual enrollment returning: The Manatee County School Board will consider a contract today that would expand the number of dual-enrollment courses high school students can take. The board approved a $200,000 contract with the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee in February to stage dual-enrollment courses for college credits on the campuses of county high schools. Today’s vote would add another math course. Starting in the fall, students can earn high school and college credit in the areas of English, mathematics, science, foreign language, social studies and several electives. Bradenton Herald.

School security: Lee County commissioners want the school district to pay more for the resource officers who provide security in the county’s schools. County Manager Roger Desjarlais says there’s a way the school district can use some of the money from the half-cent increase in the sales tax approved by voters last year for security instead of infrastructure: “They would have the opportunity to use the (half) penny sales tax money for capital projects and release (that money) back into the operating fund.” Fort Myers News-Press. Part-time Citrus County School District police chief Larry Grant is expected to be hired as the school safety specialist today by the school board. He’ll replace Cheri Cernich, who is retiring. The board is also receiving a $500,000 grant from the Florida Department of Education for fencing, gates, cameras, impact-resistant window film and other security measures. Citrus County Chronicle.

Settlement approved: The Leon County School Board approves a $100,000 payout to former superintendent Jackie Pons, ending a long-running dispute with current Superintendent Rocky Hanna. Pons had threatened to sue Hanna and the board for not being rehired after losing the 2016 election to Hanna. The deal would prohibit Pons from seeking employment with the school district, but he could run for superintendent in 2020. Tallahassee Democrat.

Ex-superintendent’s case: The Florida Supreme Court has granted a request from Gov. Ron DeSantis that it promptly hear a motion filed by suspended Okaloosa County superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. Jackson contends DeSantis doesn’t have the authority to suspend her for “neglect of duty and incompetence” because of her actions before her 2016 re-election. No timetable for a decision was given by the court. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Personnel moves: Two new principals are approved by the Okaloosa County School Board. Michelle Heck takes over at Choctawhatchee High School, and Stephanie Wheat at Silver Sands School. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Ex-teacher pleads guilty: A former Clay County teacher has pleaded guilty to distributing a video showing a young child being sexually abused. Christopher Shawn Potter, 50, taught at Clay High School in 2016 and 2017 before he was arrested in a police sting operation. No sentencing date was set, but Potter faces a federal prison term of 5-20 years and a potential life term of supervised release. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Student beaten, parents not told: A Polk County couple filed a police report after their 10-year-old daughter was beaten at Elbert Elementary School in Winter Haven by six boys who bullied her because of her weight. A spokesman for the family says they were never notified of the incident by the school or school district. The Winter Haven Police Department investigated, found probable cause to charge the boys and has forwarded the case to the State Attorney’s Office. WFTS.

Teacher arrested: An Osceola County teacher was arrested last weekend on a driving under the influence charge in Clermont. Janice Santana, 39, then allegedly spit on the arresting officer at the jail. Daily Commercial.

Students arrested: Two Pasco County students have been arrested and are charged with the sexual battery of two underage girls. Deputies say the students, 18 and 17, had sex with intoxicated 15- and 16-year-old girls, took a video of it and posted it on social media. The suspects are players for the Land O’Lakes High School football team. WTSP. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: If you were Indian River County school Superintendent Mark Rendell, would you want to work for a school board acting like this one has? Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. A visit to the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta makes obvious what Florida needs to do: Give more teachers the opportunity to run their own schools and more families the opportunity to select from among them. Let parents rate the schools, require light-touch academic transparency, and stay out of the way. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. With about 20 years in the Legislature, State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, seems an odd messenger for imposing term limits on local school board members. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

Student enrichment: Six Palm Beach County students whose plans to attend prom were dashed because of an overbooked venue are treated to a prom of their own by the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan. Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff