FLVS changes urged, vaccination threats, lagging construction work and more

Virtual school recommendations: A Florida Department of Education report is recommending that the Florida Virtual School should get a new board appointed by the governor, new ethics standards for employees and a new inspector general for internal audits and investigations. FLVS has been “plagued in recent years with recurring leadership crises that threatened to destabilize what was otherwise a school with high quality educators, curriculum and innovative online course delivery,” according to the report, which was requested by legislators after a scandal over improper spending and behavior that led to the resignation of school general counsel Frank Kruppenbacher. FLVS has a budget of about $240 million and about 200,000 students. Orlando Sentinel.

Vaccination threat: Almost half the schools in Florida fail to meet the state’s goals for vaccinating students, according to data from the Florida Department of Education. Only 45 percent of traditional public and charter schools met the 95 percent vaccinated goal for kindergartners in 2018, and just 72 percent met the goal for vaccinating 7th-graders. This comes at a time when the number of U.S. whooping cough and measles cases are on the rise. “We’re approaching dangerous levels,” cautioned Lisa Gwynn, associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “All it takes is a couple of kids coming down with something, and it could lead to something really bad.” Sun Sentinel.

Lagging renovations: Five years ago, Broward County voters approved an $800 million bond to repair aging schools. Today, just eight of the district’s 233 schools have gotten the promised repairs while 65 others are under construction, and a review of the program shows that the reasons for the delays go beyond those commonly cited by district officials. Sun Sentinel. A timeline of the bond program. Sun Sentinel.

Electing superintendents: Both the Duval County School Board and the Jacksonville City Council voted against a proposed local bill for the legislative session that would ask voters to switch from an appointed superintendent to an elected one. But Duval’s delegation is going ahead and introducing it to the Legislature, which begins its session Jan. 14. “I’ve got a son in public schools,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville. “I believe public schools belong to the public. That’s why I think voters should decide.” Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. Pasco County school Superintendent Kurt Browning has announced he will run in the 2020 election for a third term. He will have at least one challenger: Cynthia Thompson, 38, a Bayonet Point Middle School graduation enhancement teacher. Tampa Bay Times.

Baker-Acting students: More than 250 Polk County students were Baker-Acted from schools during the 2018-2019 academic year — more than twice as many as the year before. School officials point out that law enforcement officials, not school administrators, make the decisions to commit students involuntarily. School board member Sarah Fortney has said she would like to have a psychologist at each of the district’s 150 schools, but that would require tens of millions of dollars that the district doesn’t have to spare and the state won’t provide. Lakeland Ledger.

District faulted on bonuses: The Gadsden County School District improperly distributed almost $39,000 in bonuses for the 2018-2019 school year under the state’s Best and Brightest Scholarship Program, according to a state audit. The district handed out $13,238 to preschool teachers, counselors and assistant principals who were not eligible to receive them, improperly paid 146 teachers each nearly $100 too much, and gave about $12,000 to teachers who had left the district during the year. News Service of Florida.

Esports in schools: Volusia County school officials say they are concerned about the violence students at five high schools are seeing in the esports game Overwatch, and are considering whether to pull the plug. Students at the high schools have gaming and simulation programs, competitive teams playing the game and learn how to create video games. Now, Superintendent Tim Egnor says the district made a mistake in approving use of the program. “Once schools sponsor it, then we’re responsible for the content,” he said. “I don’t think that was fully vetted before because it was so new and seen as so innocent. But now you really can’t send messages out about killing and body count and how much better of a killer you are than someone else, without that generating a lot of attention.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

A principal’s job: An attorney for the Palm Beach County principal who was fired last week called the district’s reasoning “desperate contrivances” made up to justify a predetermined outcome, and said he would appeal. Spanish River High School principal William Latson told a parent in 2018 that he couldn’t say if the Holocaust was a historical fact. He was removed when the remarks were made public nearly a year later. Last week he was fired by the school board, but the reason cited was for not taking his bosses’ calls and messages when the story exploded while he was in Jamaica, not for making the statement. Palm Beach Post.

A superintendent’s job: The Sarasota County School Board meets Tuesday to discuss the results of an external investigation into the way sexual harassment allegations against the district’s chief operations officer were handled by Superintendent Todd Bowden. The report blames Bowden for the slow response by the district to the allegations. But Bowden’s contract requires a 4-1 board vote to fire, suspend of reprimand him, and so far only two of the board members have called on Bowden to step down. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Testing results: The number of Florida students taking and passing the Advanced Placement computer science exams continued an upward trend in 2019, according to the College Board, while students taking the AP physics 2 exam dropped significantly. Bridge to Tomorrow. Smaller Orange County high schools generally outperformed larger schools on the 2019 SAT tests, according to data from the Florida Department of Education. Orlando Business Journal.

Teaching climate change: Climate change experts says Florida is not teaching the subject properly in schools. State K-12 schools integrate climate change instruction less than schools in other states, they say, barely mention human activity as a case, and don’t follow science standards used by more than 40 states. Bradenton Herald.

Medical marijuana in schools: A bill is filed for the legislative session that would prohibit Florida school districts from obstructing a student’s rights to be treated with medical marijuana in schools. S.B. 720, filed by state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, would require a “county-designated” caregiver to administer the medication to students. Florida Politics.

Bill would help district: State Rep. James Buchanan, R-North Port, has filed a bill that would direct $1.4 million to a Sarasota County School District summer learning program. The earmark for the Summer Learning Academies would fund reading help for K-3 students and provide job skills training for their parents. Florida Politics.

Legislative wish-list: Nearly two-thirds of the 34 Leon County residents who spoke at a meeting with their legislative delegation said they want legislators to improve teacher pay and increase funding for public schools. Tallahassee Democrat.

School choice time: The 2019-2020 school year is not yet half completed, but it’s not too soon to start thinking about school choice options for the 2020-2021 school year. Gradebook.

Teacher honored: Anne Cullison, who teaches Advanced Placement human geography at Sunlake High School in Pasco County, is one of 50 U.S. teachers to be chosen as a 2019 American Geographical Society teacher fellow. This is the second time in her 15-year career that she’s been honored by the society. Tampa Bay Times.

School bus recall: More than 220 school buses in the Palm Beach and Broward school districts are part of the nationwide recall by Thomas Built Buses. About 200 Palm Beach County buses and 26 in Broward are part of the recalls for seat padding that may not adequately protect students in case of a crash. Sun Sentinel.

Unfunded ‘man date’: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend poked fun at the Florida Legislature by dressing in a tuxedo and offering legislators a rose as an inducement to raise funding for schools in a tribune to “Unfunded Man Date, A Halloween romantic horror story in four acts.” Lakeland Ledger.

‘Disturbing’ costume: Orange County school officials are investigating reports that a Winter Park High School student dressed as Adolf Hitler for Halloween last Thursday and gave the Nazi salute to classmates. Appropriate discipline will be applied, they said. WESH.

Teacher’s license revoked: Florida’s Education Practices Commission has permanently revoked the license of a former Columbia County teacher who allegedly talked about her sex life in graphic detail, sprinkled colleagues with “holy water” and repeatedly touched male teachers at Lake City Middle School in 2018. Yessenia Gallardo was a Spanish teacher until she was “released” by the school district in August 2018. WJAX.

Sentencing postponed: Sentencing has been postponed until March for a Florida school official who acknowledged his role in a national college admissions scandal. Mark Riddell was the former director of college entrance exam preparation at Bradenton’s IMG Academy. He was accused of taking college entrance exams for students, and pleaded guilty in April to charges of fraud and money laundering conspiracy. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Students and the law: An 18-year-old Pasco County student has been arrested and accused of soliciting a hitman to kill an employee at Fivay High School. Deputies say Nicholas Godfrey offered $100,000 for the hit through an Instagram account. Godfrey told officials he was joking. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. A 13-year-old Pinellas County student has been arrested and accused of threatening to commit a shooting at Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg. Tampa Bay Times. A 15-year-old student at Coconut Creek High School in Broward County has been arrested and accused of body-slamming a classmate, pro wrestling style, during a fight. The victim was hospitalized. Miami Herald. A 14-year-old Pinellas County student has been arrested and accused of making social media threats against Countryside High School. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: There is an education revolution ongoing in Florida, and that’s not necessarily bad. But it’s not unreasonable to make public, private and charter schools all play by the same rules. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. An assertion that the Family Empowerment Scholarship drains money from public schools is false. In fact, several studies have concluded, it saves money that can be reinvested in public schools because the value of the scholarship is less than what taxpayers spend per student in district schools. Scott Kent, redefinED.

Student enrichment: At Orange City Elementary School in Volusia County, all kindergarten students eat free breakfast every day, but in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria. It’s a new program the district is testing. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Special-needs students from a Hillsborough County charter school, Focus Academy, have opened a cafe in the Temple Terrace Family Recreation Center. All proceeds go to the Project Focus foundation. WFTS. The Florida Health Department in Flagler County is partnering with the organization Florida Heiken to provide free eyeglasses to disadvantaged elementary school students. Flagler Live. Students Working Against Tobacco chapters in 10 Clay County schools are getting student pledges to not use tobacco or vape products. WJXT. Fifty-six programs in Citrus County schools are sharing $84,419.09 in grant money from the Citrus County Education Foundation. Citrus County Chronicle. Nearly 130 schools in Martin and Palm Beach counties have been named “green schools” by the Pine Jog Environmental Education Center at Florida Atlantic University. WLRN.

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BY NextSteps staff