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School safety clearinghouse, gender-neutral graduations, bonuses and more

School safety best practices: Several congressional Republicans are proposing a law that would create a national clearinghouse for school safety best practices. The “Luke and Alex School Safety Act,” named after two students who died in the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, would identify school security measures and resources, create a process for regular updating and identify grants programs from federal agencies. “I am greatful to @SenRonJohnson for announcing the Luke & Alex School Safety Act of 2019 in the memory of 2 great friends Luke Hoyer and Alex Schachter,” tweeted Alex’s father Max Schachter, who said the bill would create “a one-stop shop for all school safety best practices.” Politico Florida. The state commission that investigated the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has become a powerful force in shaping school security policies. WLRN.

Gender-neutral graduations: Palm Beach County School Board members are being asked to consider a gender-neutral approach to high school graduations by having schools choose a single cap and gown color for all students. “We’ve said you can pick whatever color you want to be. … but some students don’t want to choose or don’t want to choose in front of their parents,” said board member Erica Whitfield, who thinks choosing amounts to the unnecessary public disclosure of sexual identity. Just five of the 23 traditional county high schools have one color of caps and gowns for girls, another for boys. Palm Beach Post.

Settlement gets tentative OK: A federal judge has given preliminary approval to a settlement in a lawsuit against the state’s teacher bonuses program. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said the $15.5 million agreement between the state and the teachers suing over the Best and Brightest Scholarship Program “is a fair and reasonable recovery considering all the facts and circumstances.” He’ll hold another hearing in March, and then will consider final approval. The Florida Education Association and individual teachers claimed the bonuses program discriminated against veteran and minority teachers because of its reliance on college-entrance exam scores. That criteria has since been eliminated. News Service of Florida.

Report partially clears Maier: Marion County school Superintendent Heidi Maier violated the school board’s anti-bullying and harassment policy but did not create a hostile workplace, according to a report from an Orlando law firm hired by the board to investigate a whistleblower’s complaint. The report concludes that if the school board wants Maier out, its only option is to ask Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove her. Ocala Star-Banner. Maier says she is taking steps to fire school security employee Chris Smith, who filed the whistleblower complaint against her two months ago. Maier says Smith lied on his application to the district and has been insubordinate. Ocala Star-Banner.

District sued over harassment: The Sarasota County School Board is being sued by a former employee who lodged sexual harassment charges against the former chief operating officer. Cheraina Bonner, the former assistant to COO Jeff Maultsby, alleges she  “was, and is, a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation and she is protected by, and under,” the Civil Rights Act. Maultsby has since resigned, and Superintendent Todd Bowden has been accused of not properly handling the complaint and faces firing or disciplinary action from the board. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School tax favored: An overwhelming majority of Duval County residents support a half-cent increase in the sales tax to help repair and replace county schools, according to a poll from the University of North Florida. And while Duval County school Superintendent Diana Greene has a net approval rate of 16 percentage points from those surveyed, about 70 percent want to switch from appointing a superintendent to electing one. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics.

Federal funds sought: Florida and Connecticut lawmakers are proposing a bill that they say would correct a flaw in federal funding for schools that have added students who fled Puerto Rico after hurricanes caused widespread damage in 2017. They say the current formula doesn’t include those students in deciding funding to teach English-language learners. Education Week.

Contract negotiations: More than 3,000 Brevard County School District support workers will get a raise and improved working conditions after a contract is reached between the district and the union. Florida Today.

Recess, then lunch: Students benefit if they have recess before lunch rather than after, according to a study by researchers at Ball State University in Indiana. “Historically, school administrators schedule recess immediately after lunch,” said Carol Friesen, a nutrition and dietetics professor at the university. “Recent research, however, suggests a plethora of benefits if recess is scheduled before lunch, including decreased plate waste, increased consumption of nutrients, and decreased discipline problems on the playground and in the lunchroom.” Florida Phoenix.

Medical marijuana in schools: The St. Johns County School District is amending its policy allowing students to receive medical marijuana treatment in order to comply with state law. The current policy allows students with prescriptions to be treated with medical marijuana, but only off-campus. The updated policy, which will have to be approved by the school board, will allow students to be treated in schools by a parent or caregiver, who then must take the drug off campus. St. Augustine Record.

Charter school report: Mason Classical Academy officials say a report they commissioned to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the Collier County School District exonerates the charter school. District officials disagree. The district’s general counsel, Jon Fishbane, had accused the charter school of Sunshine Law violations, a breach of contract and a lack of financial oversight. School district spokesman Chad Oliver said Mason has provided a list of changes it intended to make as a result of Fishbane’s report, which he calls an admission of wrongdoing, and can’t now claim exoneration. Naples Daily News. WFTX.

Tackling achievement gap: The Alachua County School Board and the Gainesville City Council are considering ways they can collaborate to reduce the academic disparity between black and white students. The gap in reading levels is 45 percent, according to test scores. One suggestion is to expand after-school programs. Gainesville Sun.

Overtime claims settled: Palm Beach County school bus attendants are getting $156,000 in overtime pay as part of a legal settlement with the school district. The workers sued the district last month, alleging that it had illegally withheld overtime pay. School board members agreed in January to pay bus drivers $361,000 for overtime they worked but weren’t paid for to settle a separate lawsuit. Palm Beach Post.

New life for old school: The Martin County School Board will consider a plan from the Arts Council to preserve the historic Stuart High School and turn it into a cultural center. The school was open from 1922 to 1964, and has most recently been used as the district’s administration center. TCPalm.

Turnaround school: Manatee County school officials throw a party to salute the C grade that Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School received this year to lift it out of the state’s turnaround program for the first time since it opened. It had gotten three D grades in a row from the state, and if it hadn’t improved the district would have had to hire an outside operator to oversee school operations. Bradenton Herald.

School calendar: Lee County School Board members approve a 2020-2021 school year calendar that gives students a full week off at Thanksgiving. Students will start school Aug. 10, and June 2 will be the last day. Fort Myers News-Press.

State of the district: Achieving an A grade as a district and boosting graduation rates are among the Flagler County School District’s achievements, outgoing Superintendent James Tager tells school board members in his final “state of the district” report. Tager is retiring June 30. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Personnel moves: Brent McBrien, who was removed as principal of Martinez Middle School in Hillsborough County after an “inappropriate” photo of him surfaced, has decided to resign instead of going through the termination process. Toby Johnson has replaced McBrien at the school. Gradebook.

School threats: An appeals court clears a 12-year-old Escambia County student who was declared a delinquent and put on probation after declaring on April Fools’ Day that he planned a gun attack in an undisclosed classroom. The judges said the section of the law under which the boy was arrested law does not “reach future-oriented threats like the one uttered by (the boy). Because (his) April Fools’ Day joke threatened future shooting, it was not a ‘false report’ made with intent to deceive, mislead, or otherwise misinform (under the law).” News Service of Florida. The Pasco County School District has already received 13 threats against schools this academic year. It only had four during the 2018-2019 school year. “It is a community problem, and it is having a serious negative impact on our schools,” Superintendent Kurt Browning said in a YouTube video to parents. Gradebook. Threats to Hillsborough County schools have nearly doubled this year over last year, according to district officials, from 80 to 147. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: Polk County School Board members should strongly consider asking voters to approve a property tax increase so the district can give raises to teachers. Lakeland Ledger. When schools must jump through hoops to please both the state and federal government on an issue like students receiving medical marijuana treatment on campuses, something has to change. Tampa Bay Times. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. high school students get less than the recommended amount of sleep on school nights. Early school start times are part of the problem, and are hampering brain development in students. Juliana Bloom, Orlando Sentinel. A magnet school specializing in conservation biology is the sort of place that can sprout when school districts embrace educational choice. Ron Matus, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Students from the PACE Center for Girls in Lakeland, an alternative school for girls in grades 6-12, get a closeup look at what it takes to be a firefighter. Just seven of Lakeland’s 156 firefighters are women, and the fire department wants girls to know firefighting can be a career option for them. Lakeland Ledger. Students at Riverdale High School in Lee County are building a hydroponic vegetable garden with the help of Joe Mallon, an agriscience teacher at Island Coast High School. Fort Myers News-Press.

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BY NextSteps staff