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Second half of the legislation session, teacher testing, student suicides and more

Legislative session: The second half of the legislative session begins today, and education-related issues are among the most pressing topics. The Senate and House are $500 million apart on budgets for K-12 education spending, are still debating updates to security in schools, including arming teachers, and are considering the creation of a new scholarship financed by state taxes to relieve the waiting list for tax credit scholarships. Associated PressTallahassee Democrat. redefinED. Orlando Sentinel. A bill that would add K-12 and college student vaccinations to the Department of Health registry is moving through the Legislature. WFSU. A bill adding information about human trafficking to health instruction in schools is being considered by a House subcommittee today. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics.

Teacher certification: Legislators think they can fix the state’s teacher shortage by making it easier to get certification, either by giving aspiring teachers longer to pass the general knowledge of the test or creating a two-year mentoring program that could allow principals to decide if teachers deserve to be certified. But there are prominent opponents to the relaxation of the certification standards, ranging from state teacher union president Fedrick Ingram to Patricia Levesque, chief executive of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which doesn’t agree often with the teachers union. “If even after three years this person has not been able to train himself or herself, that is troubling to me,” Levesque says. ‘It’s one thing to give people more time to pass. It’s another thing to waive (the test) completely.” Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher shortage: Since Aug. 2, 93 teachers have resigned from the St. Johns County School District. Most of those positions have been filled, but the districts still expects to have to fill as many as 55 openings by August. “I do think 93 resignations is high,” says Michell Dillon, president of the teachers union. “We like to call these resignations the silent strike. Teachers are simply leaving the profession.” St. Augustine Record. Only five of the 13 teachers at the financially struggling St. Augustine Public Montessori School have teacher certifications from the state, according to records. St. Augustine Record.

Student suicides: Suicide has claimed at least five south Florida high school students in the past six months, and doctors say the number of attempts is escalating. It’s part of disturbing national mental health problem that experts struggle to explain. The rate of suicides for children between the ages of 10 and 17 went up 70 percent between 2007 and 2017, and about 5,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 kill themselves every year. In Florida, the rate for children between the ages of 12 and 17 went up 77 percent between 2007 and 2017. “Suicide does not discriminate. It is not about color or money … that doesn’t matter,” says Debbie Schopp of Weston, whose son Dylan killed himself four years ago at age 20. “It’s about mental health, mental illness.” Sun Sentinel. The legislative focus on suicide and mental health is a welcome change from some previous budget years, says Jane Johnson, director of advocacy and outreach for the Florida Council for Community Mental Health. Sun Sentinel.

School security: After charter schools in Palm Beach County were denied help in hiring school guardians by the school district, some hired private companies and some struck deals with local law enforcement agencies. Eventually the charters sued the district, and were supported earlier this month by a judge who declared that security in schools was the responsibility of the school district. The state’s 650 charter schools and 67 school districts are closely following the Palm Beach County district’s appeal. Palm Beach Post. The Bradford County School District is planning to expand its school guardian program. It has 13 now, plus nine sworn deputies, and plans to add another 13 guardians before school opens in the fall. WTLV. Wakulla County Superintendent Robert Pearce says he does not support arming teachers. WFSU. Lake County schools focus their active-shooter drills on fleeing. Daily Commercial. Forty state and national organizations are pushing a platform of 10 principles to make sure school security measures don’t violate student privacy. Florida Phoenix.

Administrators removed: Two Palm Beach County school administrators are removed from Palm Beach Central High School for changing students’ grades. Principal Darren Edgecomb and assistant principal Laurence Greenberg improperly changed grades for at least 11 students between 2016 and 2018 without telling the teachers or their supervisors, which is a violation of school policy, according to an investigation by the district. Palm Beach PostSun Sentinel.

School start times: The Volusia County School Board has approved new starting times for its schools, beginning in August. Elementary schools will be in session from 7:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while high schools go from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and middle schools from 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Teachers are unhappy with the change, which coincides with a 30-minute extension of the elementary school day. Daytona Beach News-JournalWKMG. Orlando Sentinel.

District’s strategic plan: Hernando County Superintendent John Stratton talks about the district’s strategic plan, which emphasizes student achievement, employees, facilities operations, communication and community engagement, fiscal responsibility and organizational effectiveness. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter school contracts: Two Pasco County charter schools are asking the school board to allow them to increase enrollment, and a third is asking for a renewal of its charter. Dayspring Academy wants to boost enrollment by 9 percent, to 900, and Countryside Montessori wants to add 15 students to the 350 it has now. Learning Lodge Academy, which is asking for the renewal, has been in business five years and has received grades of mostly A and B from the state. Gradebook.

Church school sues county: Sarasota County is being sued by a church school for discrimination after it was denied a zoning exemption. Zoning laws allow any church to operate a school as long as it has 25 students or fewer. Englewood Christian School at Crosspointe Church had grown to 50 students and was seeking the zoning exemption to continue operating. Church officials allege that the county commission is illegally applying one standard to charter schools and another for religious schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District land purchase: The Lee County School District is proposing to buy a 10-acre property in Estero for $2.5 million as a site for a new school. The sale hinges on a study of the feasibility of the site to be a school, and the approval of the school board. Fort Myers News-Press.

Future school planning: Bradenton City Council members are cool to a Manatee County School District request that schools be added to all future land use categories. Council member Gene Gallo said he’s fine with the district replacing an existing school, but draws the line at a blanket approval. “I don’t feel comfortable with that,” he says. “They are already exempt from everything else. They walk on the planet by themselves and that’s not a healthy situation. We can’t even send a fire inspector into a school without their permission.” Bradenton Herald.

Vaping concerns: School officials in Oakloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties say the number of disciplinary cases for vaping-related offense in schools is skyrocketing. “We’ve got to do something; the data is telling us that we’ve got a problem so we can’t deny it,” says Jason Weeks, high school director for Santa Rosa schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher skip day: About a third of the teachers at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale called in sick or took a personal day Friday to protest the rising cost of health care benefits. Forty-four of the school’s 132 teachers stayed home. The archdiocese said the health care cost increases were “modest.” Sun Sentinel.

Electronics ban: Pasco County school officials are considering a recommendation that the student code of conduct be amended to ban the “use of ear buds, headphones, Bluetooth speakers and/or any similar accessory” in schools. The code already prohibits students from using phones, unless authorized by teachers. Gradebook.

School turnaround: School officials are crediting the revival of the agriculture program for helping improve Hawthorne Middle/High School’s grade from the state and saving it from being closed or turned into a charter school. Of the school’s 349 students, 126 participate in the agriculture program. WUFT.

New fields for school: The village of Wellington and the Palm Beach County School District are working on a deal that would provide new recreational fields and courts for Wellington High School to use. The $12 million project would be funded by the village’s share of the half-cent sales tax hike approved by voters last year. Palm Beach Post.

Principal wanted: Okaloosa County school officials aren’t finding any takers among current high school principals for the job of Choctawhatchee High School principal, so they’re opening up the search to assistant principals at high schools and principals at middle and elementary schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Principal ordered reinstated: A federal judge has ruled that a Collier County principal fired last April should be temporarily reinstated at Manatee Middle School. Pamela Vickaryous was fired after allegations of abuse and bullying were lodged against her by teachers at the school. Her suit alleged that the school district violated her First Amendment rights and Florida’s Whistleblower Act. Naples Daily News.

Student dies in crash: Seventeen-year-old Chandler Lancaster is killed when the car he was driving slammed into the back of a Lafayette County school bus Friday morning. Three others in the car were hospitalized with serious injuries. None of the students on the bus was hurt. Gainesville Sun.

Player critically hurt: A Lake Minneola High School football player is critically injured when he collides with another player in a scrimmage. Freshman Jonah Zerblas fractured his skull and was rushed to a hospital, where he underwent surgery and was placed in a medically induced coma. Daily Commercial.

Abuse investigation: The Escambia County School District is investigating an allegation of child abuse at the Escambia Westgate School in Pensacola. A teacher is on paid administrative leave while the district investigates. The alleged victim is a 5-year-old autistic child. WEAR.

Teacher sentenced: A Tallahassee music teacher is sentenced to 20 years in prison for his conviction on charges of enticement of a minor, production, and possession of child pornography. Nicholas Hughes, 34, the music teacher at Coast Charter School in St. Marks, was convicted in January for the incidents that happened during the 2016-2017 school years. WTXL. Tallahassee Democrat.

Student pepper-sprayed: Parents of a Jacksonville student are angry that their 13-year-old was pepper-sprayed by a school resource who was trying to break up a fight at Highlands Middle School. The boy was taken to a hospital with a first degree burn on his check. Duval County school officials are not commenting. WJAX. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Being prepared to escape, indeed run for their lives in the face of death is now a routine part of going to school. Welcome to childhood in the 21st century. Brad Rogers, Ocala Star-Banner. If Florida lawmakers are trying to kill public schools by expanding school choice, they’re failing miserably. Our public schools are better than ever. Ron Matus, Tampa Bay Times. We see the expansion of school vouchers sending Florida’s public school system down a path of ruin. Citrus County Chronicle. Addressing teen suicide poses its own difficult challenges, given the reluctance of many to discuss the issue and the stigma too often associated with seeking help. The Legislature should increase funding for mental health for schools and continue to raise standards to hold school districts accountable. Tampa Bay Times. If you think cursive writing is no longer needed because we have computers that print, and our children only need to know how to print, then maybe we don’t need artists to paint pictures, or musicians to write music, because the computer can do it. Aatoinette Kimball, Ocala Star-Banner. As Florida continues to devalue the teaching profession, we’re losing the lynchpin of learning. St. Augustine Record. Charter schools are successful because they are different. Kay Abbitt, Gainesville Sun. If the Legislature passes a law to change the process for teacher certification, Florida would join 13 other states, none of which serve as standouts for their educational performance, allowing teachers in the classroom who can’t demonstrate the very skills they are asked to teach. Kate Walsh, Tallahassee Democrat. In voting unanimously to adopt a new school-day schedule, board members put the educational needs of students first — above the well-founded fear of antagonizing teachers and vocal parents, above the hard work that will be needed to implement the new schedules before the new school year starts in August. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Choice programs help taxpayers by expanding opportunities for families and teachers while relieving overcrowding and allowing districts to focus more funding on the classroom. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Twelve grand award winners are chosen at the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida held in Lakeland. Lakeland Ledger. Two Alachua County schools, Fairview Middle and Deerlake Middle, take the top places at the state MATHCOUNTS competition and three Tallahassee students will represent Florida at the national competition. Tallahassee Democrat. About 200 student volunteers from Pine View School in Sarasota County hand out about 40,000 pounds of donate food to families that live at or below the federal poverty line. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff