Mental health services, student testing, graduation requirements and more

Mental health services: Several state agencies will coordinate their efforts to provide better mental health and substance abuse services for students and state residents, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced Thursday in Tampa. The Hope for Healing campaign includes representatives from the state Department of Education, the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Things got edgy at the news conference when Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez started a question for DeSantis by talking about the lack of funding for mental health services in K-12 schools. That drew a sharp rebuke from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who cut Perez off several times before his wife stepped in. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WJXT. Florida Phoenix. Gradebook. WFLA. The Duval County School District renews a contract with Gaggle to provide digital suicide prevention services. The service monitors student activity on various software programs for harmful content. Florida Times-Union.

Student testing: Instead of adding more testing for students in private schools as a way to increase accountability, two Republican legislators suggest, perhaps the state should reduce the number of tests given to public school students. That was the surprising answer to a question about accountability fairness at a meeting in Sarasota this week. State Reps. William Robinson and Tommy Gregory, both of Bradenton, said the problem wasn’t having too low a standard of accountability for private schools, but too high a one for public schools. “I don’t think the answer is to take these ridiculous burdens and apply them to everyone,” said Gregory. Gradebook. The College Board announces plans to assign “adversity scores” to students’ SAT tests to try to compensate for disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds. Wall Street Journal.

Graduation requirements: One of the little-noticed elements of the new education bill is a change in the math requirements needed to graduate. Currently, students must accumulate four math credits to earn a diploma, and one must be in algebra 1. In the new bill, which awaits Gov. DeSantis’ signature, students could earn two math credits by completing two full-year courses of algebra 1. The potential snag is that a state university may not count both of the courses as credits. Florida Phoenix.

Union sets voucher’s cost: The largest teachers union in the state, the Florida Education Association, says an analysis of a new scholarship shows it will divert $1 billion from public schools over the next five years. The Family Empowerment scholarship, the state’s fifth, will use public funds to send students to private schools. Supporters of the scholarship, mostly Republicans, say the funding is following the student, so if a student leaves a public school that school no longer needs the money. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Florida Times-Union. Creative Loafing. The FEA and other education advocates are holding an education summit Saturday in Orlando to protest the actions of the Legislature and to “unify” the defense of public education. Orlando Sentinel.

Security in schools: School districts across the United States are increasingly relying on technology to help alert students and teachers to an attack and reduce casualties. Associated Press. The Hernando County School District will begin using a new system to improve communications during emergencies at schools. Tampa Bay Times. Three legislators debate the merits of arming teachers and other issues at a Tiger Bay Club meeting in Manatee County. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Contract negotiations: Contract negotiations between the Volusia County School District and its teachers union will reopen after a proposed deal fell through. The agreement on pay was reached in talks between the sides, but district officials said they couldn’t sign it because the deal would last for more than three years. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Graduation costs: Added security will boost the cost of staging 26 graduation ceremonies at the South Florida Fairgrounds in Palm Beach County by $79,000 over last year, district officials say. Costs are spiking because of the decision to add police officers, metal detectors and bag searches. Some schools are helping offset the extra costs by selling the best seats. Palm Beach Post.

Sales tax vote: A meeting this week between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Duval County School Board chair Lori Hershey has not changed Curry’s mind about placing a proposed sales tax hike for the schools before voters in a special election in November. Curry says a special election would cost too much money and have a low turnout, and says November 2020 makes more sense. School officials want to hold the election sooner, so if it passes they can start with the nearly $2 billion job of rebuilding, renovating and repairing schools, and because a new law takes effect in January that requires any vote asking for a tax hike to be held in a general election. Florida Politics. WJXT.

Board’s self-evaluation: Six of the seven Lee County School Board members grade the performance of the board as “unsatisfactory” in evaluations. The highest grade was a C. Board members cite persistent squabbling among members, disregard for board protocols and influence from special interests as problems. Fort Myers News-Press.

New schools: Santa Rosa County school officials say they’ll break ground this summer for a $30.2 million K-8 school in the Navarre area to relieve overcrowding at nearby schools. It will hold almost 1,200 students when it opens in August 2020, and will be the first school built by the district since 2007. Northwest Florida Daily News. Marco Island Academy, a charter school in Collier County, breaks ground on building a new campus. The school has been using portable classrooms. The cost is expected to be about $12.5 million, and the first of three phases should be completed by the fall of 2021. Marco Eagle.

District selling property: The Lake County School Board agrees to sell a 30-acre property that was once Leesburg High School’s agriculture farm for $4.53 million. The land was declared surplus by the district in 2007. Daily Commercial.

Struggling school: A Pasco County school spared from closure because of its importance to the community continues to struggle with enrollment. Lacoochee Elementary School is projected to have just 260 students in August, down from 450 a decade ago and just 45 percent of capacity. Community leaders propose turning the school into a performing arts magnet, but acknowledge that a rebirth also will require more jobs and housing for the community. Tampa Bay Times.

School name: Alexander Dreyfoos Jr. offered $1 million to the school bearing his name if they would agree to tweak it slightly. He wanted the Dreyfoos School of Arts to become the Dreyfoos School of Arts and Sciences in hopes of drawing more science-minded students. The criticism that followed convinced him to drop his offer. Palm Beach Post.

Top school-related employees: The first two of five finalists for the Florida school-related employee of the year award have been named by the Florida Department of Education: Daisy Rios, a secretary at Fellsmere Elementary School in Indian River County; and Jeremy Shaw, who works in user services for the Leon County School District. The winner will be announced Wednesday. TCPalm. Leon County School District.

Interim superintendent: Susan Moxley, who was named the interim superintendent for the Indian River County School District this week, will start the job Wednesday. She’s stepping in for Mark Rendell, whose resignation takes effect May 24. School board members expect Moxley’s tenure to last six months to a year while they look for a permanent replacement. TCPalm.

Education podcasts: The chair of the Hillsborough County School District’s committee that recommended ending the use of Native American mascots and names at county elementary and middle schools talks about the reasoning behind the decision. Gradebook.

Graduation restrictions: Graduating seniors at Walton County High School are told they may not wear pins, cords, or stoles earned through academic clubs at graduation. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Students faint at school: Six students dressed in heavy costumes faint in the cafeteria at Pine Meadow Elementary School in Pensacola and were taken to a hospital for treatment. The students dressed as historical figures to make a presentation when they passed out. Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said the school’s air-conditioning was on and working properly. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Sickness sweeps school: Dozens of employees at Clark Elementary School in Hillsborough County fall ill after a catered lunch at the school May 9. About 100 people attended the luncheon as part of teacher appreciation week, and half of them became ill within days. The Florida Department of Health said one of the caterer’s workers had a norovirus, which is very contagious. Gradebook.

School lunch problems: Sarasota County students who don’t have money in their lunch accounts are being given cheese sandwiches instead of hot meals. Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson defended the practice. “What are we supposed to do so when somebody doesn’t pay and have money in their account?” he asked. “I understand that it’s embarrassing for the child, but we can’t have people not paying for the food.” Charlotte Sun.

School-related arrests: Donnie Prophet, 28, a behavioral technician for the Marion County School District and the head of the support staff union, is arrested and accused of lewd and lascivious behavior involving a then 12-year-old child in 2017. Ocala Star-Banner. Hector Manley, 30, a former teacher at Parkside Elementary School in Collier County, is arrested and now stands accused of molesting 19 children over the past three years, deputies say. Manley was fired in March. Naples Daily News. A part-time office assistant at the Orlando Science Charter School is arrested and accused of asking students to send him nude photos. Jaelen Alexander, 19, left the school in March and was arrested Wednesday. Orlando Sentinel. A former Leon County student is arrested and accused of performing sex acts on a child on a school bus two years ago. Christian Bradshaw, now 22, is accused of two counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a child. WCTV. A 14-year-old student at McLaughlin Middle School in Polk County is arrested and accused of threatening to shoot a teacher. Lakeland Ledger.

Coach suspended: Tim Clark, the head football coach at Branford High School in Suwannee County, has been suspended while school officials investigate allegations that he violated an undisclosed school policy. Suwannee Democrat. WCTV.

Student stabbed: One Flagler County student stabbed another as they got off a school bus Wednesday in Bunnell. Police say a 15-year-old boy stabbed a 13-year-old classmate at Buddy Taylor Middle School. The victim appeared to not be seriously injured, and the attacker faces unspecified charges. Flagler Live.

Opinions on schools: Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter died in the Parkland school shooting, recently made a grim prediction on Twitter: “The next school shooter may be a teacher.” Is it outrageous to think a firearms-trained classroom teacher could commit the very crime the law aims to prevent? We don’t have to look far back in Florida’s history to consider the possibility. Eve Samples, Tallahassee Democrat. The terse exchange Thursday between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez over money for mental health services in schools should have absolutely been handled better by both parties. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Recapping the good and the bad education bills passed by the Legislature this year, from the perspective of the PTA. Megan Hendricks, Gainesville Sun. The only attack on Florida’s public schools is from the FEA and its friends, who consistently refuse to acknowledge the impressive gains made in public education over the last 20 years. Patrick Gibbons, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Tampa Catholic High School gets a $7 million donation from Arnie Bellini, a 1975 graduate who is the cofounder of a Tampa software firm named ConnectWise. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Bay Business Journal. The three-year-old agriculture program at Everglades Elementary School in Okeechobee County has become so popular that it’s spreading to neighboring districts. All 770 of the school’s students feed and clean up after animals, collect eggs, pick vegetables and more. WPTV. Here are the top students at private schools in the Tampa Bay area. Tampa Bay Times. Seventeen Franklin County students join others from two neighboring counties to create a marine-themed mural for the Florida State University Coastal & Marine Laboratory in St. Teresa. Apalachicola Times. Outstanding students from Miami-Dade and Broward counties are honored with Silver Night awards for academic achievement and community work. Miami Herald. Eighteen students from six Alachua County middle schools earn national honors for scoring in the top 10 percent on the ACT or SAT tests. Gainesville Sun. Eva Chapman, a 6-year-old kindergartner at Spruce Creek Elementary in Volusia County, has collected more than 100 jars of peanut butter and jelly to make sandwiches for students who might not have enough food over the summer. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff