Storm recovery, security and mental health in schools, proposed pay raises and more

Still recovering from storm: A year after Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida Panhandle, school districts in Bay and Jackson counties are still struggling to recover. The storm damaged every school in both counties, money for repairs and rebuilding has been slow to arrive, and students are still traumatized. “All of our mental health professionals told us that nearing the year anniversary we would see an uptick in certain things,” said Coy Pilson, principal at Rutherford High School in Bay County. “True to form, were seeing an uptick in some behaviors and some mental health issues.” Associated Press. WEAR. WTVY. Panama City News Herald. NPR. Tallahassee Democrat. ABC News. CBS News.

Security in schools: A new report raises questions about how the information on students collected through the Florida Schools Safety Portal questions will prevent school violence. CNBC. The Duval County School District will receive $500,000 from the Community Oriented Policing Service grant program through the federal STOP School Violence Act to develop violence prevention programs and secure schools. The program has handed out $175 million in grants since being passed early last year. Sunshine State News. More than 70 St. Johns County students are involved with the anti-suicide program Be Resilient And Voice Emotions just a week after it was launched by the school district and Flagler Health+ with a $1 million donation from the Players golf tournament. WJXT.

Proposed pay raise: Reaction from educators to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call for a $47,500 starting teacher salary continues to be muted. Their biggest concern is that the proposal does not help veteran teachers, and will leave some of them making less than first-year teachers. Florida Times-Union. Spectrum News 13. Tallahassee Democrat. Fort Myers News-Press. Hillsborough County teachers union president Rob Kriete talks in a podcast about the governor’s proposal to raise starting teacher pay to $47,500, and why teachers have greeted it with questions, doubts and criticisms instead of joy. Gradebook.

Superintendent search: The Escambia County School Board will hold five community forums in the next couple of months to hear from residents about what characteristics they want to see in the next superintendent. Voters agreed last year to switch from electing superintendents to appointing them. The board hopes to identify and interview finalists by next August, and choose a superintendent by Sept. 1 to replace Malcolm Thomas, who is retiring when his term ends in November 2020. WUWF.

Legislative agenda: Lake County educators are urging their legislative delegation to promote K-12 education spending equity and higher salaries for teachers to improve retention. “As you may know, Lake County public school student funding ranks 61st out of 67 Florida school districts,” Superintendent Diane Kornegay told members of the delegation. “Lake County Schools is funded $457 per student less than the state average.” Daily Commercial.

District branding: The Leon County School Board’s decision to pay $58,400 to hire a public relations firm to rebrand the district prompts some parents to wonder why a school district needs a brand, and whether that money would be better used in classrooms. Tallahassee Democrat.

Affordable housing project: The Monroe County School Board is asking for proposals for an affordable housing project for school employees beside the Sugarloaf School. The proposal would build 20 apartments with average monthly rents of $1,500. Key West Citizen.

Workforce training: Community leaders are lobbying the St. Johns County School District to continue the First Coast Technical College’s welding program in the western part of the county. Classes at the Barge Point campus is Palatka are scheduled to end in December, which would leave classes only at FCTC’s main campus in St. Augustine. St. Augustine Record.

Superintendent vs. board: The latest dispute between the Marion County School Board and Superintendent Heidi Maier centers on her legal bills. Board member Nancy Stacy says board policy does not allow the district to pay the superintendent’s legal fees when the school board attorney can handle them. Maier’s attorney, Henry Ferro, says the board has launched an investigation into Maier’s actions, creating a conflict of interest for board attorney Paul Gibbs. Ocala Star-Banner.

Student tragedies: A mother is blaming the Palm Beach County School District for the choking death of her disabled son during lunch at William T. Dwyer High School. Kedar Williams, 19, choked to death trying to eat chicken nuggets. His mother, Megan Williams, said it wouldn’t have happened if the paraprofessional assigned to Kedar had cut his food into manageable sizes and had him take a drink after each bite, as outlined in the plan she and school officials had agreed to follow. Palm Beach Post. The family of Kaleb Simmons, a 14-year-old suicide victim, is suing the Suwannee County School Board. He killed himself Oct. 25, 2017, after being “regularly and systematically bullied, verbally abused and publicly intimidated” by a teacher at Suwannee High School, the suit alleges. Superintendent Ted Roush denied the allegations and said the teacher, Jerry Jolicoeur, is “a highly requested and sought after high school science teacher.” WTXL. Politico Florida.

Personnel moves: Cynthia Falardeau, the longtime CEO of the Education Foundation of Indian River County, is leaving next week to become the senior director of the Women Corporate Directors chapter in Stuart. TCPalm.

Teacher arrested: A Gadsden County teacher was arrested Monday and accused of possession of a controlled substance. Police say Guy Raynak, a 44-year-old science teacher at Shanks Middle School in Quincy, took drugs before school, passed out at a restaurant at lunchtime and was taken to a hospital, and was masturbating in the hospital examination room. He’s been placed on administrative leave without pay. Tallahassee Democrat.

Students and the law: A 16-year-old student at Palmetto High School in Manatee County has been arrested and charged with making an online shooting threat against the school. Bradenton Herald.

Fires at high school: Astronaut High School in Titusville was evacuated Thursday when fires were started in several trash cans in the school’s commons area. Police are investigating. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: The governor’s bold plan to raise starting teacher pay to $47,500 is full of holes. The biggest question: Where’s the money coming from? Sun Sentinel. It’s a great idea for the governor and the Florida Legislature to consider hiking teacher pay to attract more qualified candidates and reward them for the tough jobs they do. But the devil is going to be in the details. TCPalm. Florida does an excellent job getting to students to learn the basics. The fact that students then coast from 4th to 8th grade, but still achieve better long-term outcomes, is nothing to panic about. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED. Not a single Manatee County school superintendent in the past 10 years has been untouched by controversy or scandal. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Responsible citizens and public policy-makers everywhere should recognize the need for a recommitment to our children’s safety and well-being, in schools and elsewhere. James F. Lawrence. Gainesville Sun. Career and technical education programs are critical in ensuring that all Alachua County residents have the opportunity to land good-paying jobs. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun. Far too many LGBTQ students are tormented in far too many schools of all types. They, too, need and deserve educational choice. Ron Matus, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Performing artists from several Miami-Dade County schools raise $70,000 in a benefit concert to help victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. Miami Herald. Champions for Learning delivers 136 grants to teachers in 42 Collier County schools. Naples Daily News. Helena Jiang and Anna Kwon, both seniors at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, are competing this weekend in the national Math Prize for Girls contest at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gainesville Sun. Best-selling author James Patterson’s foundation donates more than $1 million to 4,500 teachers in Florida and around the country to buy books for their classroom libraries. Palm Beach Post. More than 1,600 students were paired with environmental partners Thursday at sites spreading over 40 miles to study and log data the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem. Florida Today. A Palm Beach Gardens man pays off the $944.34 outstanding lunch debt of students at nine schools in Jupiter. WPEC.

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BY NextSteps staff