Parkland deputy arrested, grand jury, scholarship use declines and more

Ex-Parkland cop arrested: Scot Peterson, the Broward County sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the day of the 2018 massacre, has been arrested for neglect of duty. Sheriff Gregory Tony says Peterson, who waited outside the school when the gunfire began instead of confronting the shooter, was booked on 11 criminal charges, including child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury. If convicted of all charges, he faces up to 97 years in prison. Peterson and another deputy were also fired for their actions that day. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WLRN. The 74.

Grand jury testimony: A statewide grand jury will begin hearing testimony as early as next month to determine if school districts are complying with state’s school security requirements. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chaired the state commission that looked into the Parkland shooting, said the grand jury will look into whether students have been put at risk by the failure of districts to follow state laws. Other mmembers of the panel were critical of deputies’ performance, and of the Broward school district for withholding information about students who have been in the alternate discipline program called Promise. News Service of Florida. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics. WKMG. Politico Florida. Superintendents tell the commission that more training is needed to improve the accuracy of student discipline data to the Florida Department of Education. Politico Florida.

Scholarship use declines: The number of Florida students using state scholarships to attend private schools has declined 4 percent in the past year. Officials from Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization that administers the largest voucher program and hosts this blog, said a slowdown in contributions from corporations led to an 8 percent drop in enrollment in the largest program, the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship, during the 2018-2019 school year. The Legislature recently approved a new Family Empowerment Scholarship this year to eliminate the 18,000-student waiting list for FTC scholarships. Orlando Sentinel.

Sales tax initiative: Duval County School Board members vote to move ahead with a request for a special election in November to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to help pay for the repair and replacements of the district’s aging schools. The Jacksonville City Council, which must approve the referendum and the date it goes to voters, has been critical of the request for a special election, citing the cost and expected low turnout. WJXT.

Academic standards: An overwhelming majority of the people responding to the Florida Department of Education’s survey asking what changes should be made in the state’s academic standards are replying “no change needed.” Among those who responded through May 28 as parents, 74 percent don’t want changes in the current language arts standards and 82 percent say the math standards are fine now. Gradebook.

Grading changes: Pasco County school officials have issued new guidelines for grades that remove extra credit and points earned by good behavior from the formula. Leading and Learning director Lea Mitchell says, “students can behave their way up and down a grading scale,” and that can blur how much students are really learning. Gradebook.

Mascots, revisited: Last month, Hillsborough County school officials announced a plan to end the use of Native American mascots and nicknames at a half-dozen schools. But school board members said they have been getting complaints from parents, and want to pause the changeover until they’ve had a chance to discuss the issue. Gradebook. WFLA.

School closing: Duval County school officials say they are recommending that the school board approve the closure of Lake Forest Elementary School immediately. District officials had previously recommended closing the persistently low-performing school losing at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Lake Forest students will be moved to North Shore Elementary. WJAX.

Alternative school: A Howey-in-the-Hills Town Council member says she’s resigned to have an alternative high school in town, and apologized to residents for failing to realize what kind of impact the plans would have on residents. Martha MacFarlane said she will work to make sure district officials uphold their promise that Lake Success Academy will be safe and secure. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial.

Contract approved: The Martin County School Board approves a contract agreement between the district and its teachers that calls for teacher pay raises ranging from $900 to $1,500. TCPalm.

Lawmakers graded: A conservative education advocacy group grades legislators for their work in the legislative session. Legislators were graded on their support for such education initiatives as expanding state scholarship programs, including the creation of one that uses public funds, and providing paths for more charter schools. Most of the Republicans got A’s from the Foundation for Florida’s Future, which was founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, while most Democrats received C’s or worse. Florida Phoenix. State Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, says the past legislative session was noteworthy because “the House, the Senate and the governor were all on the same page,” especially when it came to school choice and other education issues. Florida Politics.

After the storm: Bay County school Superintendent Bill Husfelt talks about what his district learned from Hurricane Michael, his biggest concern as the 2019 hurricane season begins, and what advice he would offer other superintendents about preparing for a storm and what to do after one has hit. Tampa Bay Times.

Education podcasts: Ron Matus, the director for policy & public affairs at Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, talks about developments with school choice in Florida, and how and why those developments are being underreported. School Choice Movement.

School expansion: The Magnolia Montessori Academy is asking the city of Lakeland for permission to construct a new building and increase maximum enrollment from 120 to 180 students. A vote is set June 17. Lakeland Ledger.

Cell towers and schools: The PGA Tour says it will delay activating a cell phone tower that’s near the Bolles Lower School Ponte Vedra Beach campus after school parents asked the St. Johns County School Board to ban towers near schools. WJXT. St. Augustine Record.

Medical marijuana in schools: A Jacksonville parent is asking the Duval County School Board to allow her daughter to use medical marijuana at school to alleviate her chronic pain symptoms. The district, like many across the state, has no policy governing the administering of the drug at schools. A district spokesperson said the district is reviewing the issue. WJAX.

District dress code: A revision of the Volusia County School District’s student dress code got delayed while the board decided to fire a superintendent and how to cope with a projected $10 million budget deficit. The discussion resumes Thursday, with the board still uncertain how to address hoodies and ripped jeans. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Oversight committee: The Marion County School Board is looking for residents to serve for the next four years on the committee that provides oversight for the district’s spending of the 1-mill tax increase that was renewed by voters last August. The tax is expected to collect about $72 million, which can be used to help struggling students, fund art, music, vocational and physical education programs, and hire teachers, aides and librarians. Ocala Star-Banner.

Union chief on leave: Dontay “Donnie” Prophet, a behavioral technician for the Marion County School District and president of a local school-related employees’ union, has been placed on unpaid leave until a felony case against him is resolved. Prophet, who worked at South Ocala Elementary School, was arrested May 15 and accused of lewd and lascivious behavior against a then-12-year-old boy. Ocala Star-Banner.

Teens arrested in attack: Three teens have been arrested and accused of attacking and robbing a Coral Springs High School student as he walked home from school. WPLG. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: As critics prepare what should be a successful lawsuit against Florida’s expansion of school vouchers, more evidence shows how little the Legislature values public education. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel. Parents who were asked why they moved their children from public to private schools say they did so because the public schools had failed their kids. Gil Smart, TCPalm. Florida’s record of setting academic standards and measuring achievement from its own tests is abysmal, and it shouldn’t be trying again. What it should do is study the top schools in the nation and use a combination of those standards and tests. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. Florida should be holding VPK programs accountable, and it should be using assessment tools to assure that the teaching is leading to kindergarten readiness. But they are separate issues, and should not be co-mingled to determine kindergarten readiness. Susan Block, Fort Myers News-Press. Extending the time new teachers have to pass the general knowledge portion of the teacher certification exam probably won’t help more of them pass. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Thousands of students in school districts around the state are expected to receive free snacks and lunches this summer through the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Summer BreakSpot program. WJCT. Lakeland Ledger. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Rishi Desai, a 17-year-old junior in the IB program at Spruce Creek High School in Volusia County, raises $5,000 to pay for 100 free mammograms for women. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff