Mental health system concerns, Bowden faulted, free meals in jeopardy and more

Commission’s recommendations: The state’s mental health system needs an overhaul and better funding, according to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission’s draft report about the 2018 Parkland school shooting to the Legislature. The report concludes that because the system is one of the worst-funded in the country, it too often releases people without appropriate treatment. Commissioners also are recommending that the Legislature close a loophole in the school safety law that doesn’t allow charging people with making threats against schools unless the threats are in writing. Associated Press. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. The Florida Division of Emergency Management hires longtime state health official Darcy Abbott as its first mental health coordinator to focus on residents’ psychological needs after natural disasters and emergencies. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

Superintendent faulted: Sarasota County school Superintendent Todd Bowden did little to address a sexual harassment complaint lodged against the district’s chief financial officer earlier this year, according to an outside investigation. Sproat Workplace Investigations found that Cheraina Bonner, an administrative assistant, had been sexually harassed for months by her boss, chief operating officer Jeff Maultsby. When she went to Bowden for help, he “did not take prompt or appropriate steps to investigate Bonner’s complaint,” the report concludes. Bowden says he will respond after the report becomes a public record in 10 days. The school board has hired an outside lawyer to defend the district against the expected lawsuit from Bonner. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Free meals in jeopardy: Nearly a million U.S. students could lose their automatic eligibility for free meals under a Trump administration proposal to cut the number of people who receive food stamps, according to an analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If the rules are changed as planned, almost 500,000 students would have to pay a reduced price of 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast. After protests against the cuts, the administration extended the public comment period on the plan by 14 days. New York Times. Associated Press.

Honoring Parkland victims: Broward County students will get a half-day off school every Feb. 14 as a way of honoring the 17 victims of the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Students will be encouraged to use the time to volunteer in the community. Sun Sentinel.

Teaching internships offered: The Duval County School District is offering 40 teaching internships under a new program as a way to fill classroom jobs. The deadline to apply for the six-week internship program, called Jumpstart 2.0, is Nov. 1. Those accepted will work four weeks with district teacher development specialists, then shadow a master teacher for two weeks. They’ll be paid $650 a week, and interns who complete the program will be given fulltime jobs in January. WJAX.

Employees overpaid: Auditors have discovered that the Manatee County School District accidentally overpaid employees by $321,000 during the 2018-2019 school year. About $242,000 has already been repaid, according to the district’s internal auditor, and school officials are working to collect the rest. Employees may pay it back in a lump sum or, if that’s not possible, can negotiate repayment terms. Bradenton Herald.

Security in schools: The Palm Beach County School Board votes unanimously to hire Dan Alexander as director of the school police force. He’s second in command to Chief Frank Kutzerow in the 288-person department . WPTV. More than 300 threats against northeast Florida schools have been investigated in the past year. WJXT. The Duval County School District’s police force has received nearly $5 million in grants to improve security at schools. The money will be used for better lighting and fencing, walk-through metal detectors, more surveillance cameras and a student ID badge system. WJAX. Realistic gunfire and screaming teachers are part of active-shooter drills Monday at Woodlawn Beach Middle School and Pace High School in Santa Rosa County. Organizers of the exercise say they tried to make it as realistic as possible. Students were not in school during the drill. Pensacola News Journal.

VAM evaluations: Florida Department of Education officials were grilled Wednesday by members of the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee on the effectiveness of the controversial value-added model for teachers. Teachers at low-performing schools have complained about the use of VAM in determining whether they are transferred, and districts say the timing of when they receive the scores can disrupt the learning process. Gradebook.

Vaping investigation: Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says her office is investigating whether about 20 vaping companies are marketing their products at young people and students. Youth vaping rates are skyrocketing, and 68 cases of vaping-related lung diseases have been reported in Florida this year. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendent appointed: Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed Shirley Joseph as the permanent superintendent of the Madison County School District. She was named the interim district chief when previous superintendent Karen Pickles resigned in April after complaining that the school board was “micromanaging” her. Joseph has worked for the district for 37 years. The superintendent’s position is an elected one, and will be on the 2020 ballot. WCTV. Gradebook.

Therapy plan worked out: Brevard County school officials say they expect a nonverbal 7-year-old student to have his privately paid registered behavioral technician with him in his class at Enterprise Elementary School within a few weeks. The RBT had been denied access because the state law doesn’t list it as a therapist permitted in class. Until the law is changed, the district is moving ahead with a rigorous application process for allowing RBTs that has been used in Broward County, which had also banned them. Florida Today.

Help for teachers: Educators from five state school districts will tour classrooms in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in February as part of a “learning walk” to pick up tips for improving teaching. Travel expenses for the teachers are paid by Impact Florida and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. WLRN.

Hurricane makeup days: Brevard County students will have to make up just one of the three days schools were closed when Hurricane Dorian threatened the state. The school board approved Feb. 17 as the makeup day. It had been a student holiday and a teacher professional development day. Florida Today.

Grants helping districts: The Gulf County School District is receiving a $1.125 million grant from the Volunteer Florida Foundation to fix the heating/air conditioning systems at the county’s two high schools. Port St. Joe Star. The St. Lucie County School District will add more counselors after receiving a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. WPEC. The Clay County School District has received a $40,000 grant from the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations to use for projects focusing on STEM, arts and literacy. Clay Today.

Notable deaths: Lee Benjamin, a teacher, coach, principal, assistant superintendent and, after he retired, a five-term member of the Pinellas County School Board, has died at the age of 92. Tampa Bay Times.

Student sues school board: A former St. Lucie County High School student is suing the school board for allegedly mishandling her claim of being sexually assaulted in May 2018 by a former teacher. The girl, who was a junior at the time, said Alexander Marcial Rivera showed her a nude photo of himself and asked her for nude photographs. He continued to work at the school until he was arrested in August 2018 on charges of possessing child pornography. TCPalm.

School deputy fired: A Pasco County sheriff’s deputy whose gun discharged during lunch period April 30 in the Weightman Middle School cafeteria has been fired. Corporal Jonathan Cross was fidgeting with his gun when it went off, according to a sheriff’s office investigation. Students were nearby, but no one was injured. Tampa Bay Times. WUFT. WFLA.

Ex-teacher pleads out: A former Escambia County teacher has pleaded no contest to charges of having sex with students. Mark Lua, who was an English teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, faces up to 20 years in prison on the charges of promoting the sexual performance of a child and unlawful sexual activity with minors. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Student arrested: A 14-year-old Seminole boy has been arrested and accused of threatening to shoot up his former school, LiFT Academy. Pinellas County deputies say the boy specifically targeted two classmates and a member of the faculty. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions in schools: Gov. Ron DeSantis is on the right track in proposing a pay increase to attract new teachers, but veteran teachers also deserve higher compensation for the important work that they do. Gainesville Sun. Florida’s tests are not a substitute for sound educational practice and effective student evaluation. What takes place for each student within the school district is far more worthy. Norm Goldberg, Charlotte Sun.

Student enrichment: Horizon Academy, a magnet school in Marion County, names its new Little Free Library after a student’s father who died in a car crash in January. Ocala Star-Banner.

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BY NextSteps staff