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Governor proposes civics exam, trafficking education bill, costume earns suspension and more

Civics exam proposed: All graduating high school seniors will be required to take an exam measuring their knowledge about U.S. government, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday. The test will be similar to one that immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens. “I would like initially to just understand where we are,” said DeSantis. “You see some of these national numbers where they do surveys and it’s pretty bad. I kind of think we would do a little better than that.” He said it’s possible the state could someday require high school seniors to pass such an exam to graduate. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “But I think my main goal with this is just to see if we are okay.” Florida already requires middle-school students to take a civics course and pass a standardized civics exam, and high school students to take American history and U.S. government classes and pass a standardized exam. Naples Daily News. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. WGCU. WTSP. News Service of FloridaFlorida Phoenix. WINK. Florida Politics.

Legislative bills: A bill that would require Florida public school students to be educated on the signs and dangers of human trafficking has been approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. S.B. 154 “will include, but is not limited to information on warning signs of human trafficking, terms used by traffickers, red flags that would indicate a trafficker’s malicious intent toward a student, websites that are popular with traffickers and details on how students may get help,” according to its sponsor, state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. It had already been approved by the Senate Education Committee, and the next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee. Florida Politics. A bill to improve the safety of Florida high school student-athletes gets a hearing today before the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. The bill, filed by state Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, would require defibrillators to be available for all games, practices, workouts and conditioning sessions, with an employee or volunteer trained to use it, and amend guidelines for when schools should have cooling zones or cold-water immersion tubs available. Tampa Bay Times.

Costume merits suspension: Broward County School Board members reject Superintendent Robert Runcie’s recommendation to demote an administrator for wearing a risque Halloween costume to school. Instead, the board voted to suspend Mary Coker, the director of director of procurement and warehouse services, for seven days. Runcie had recommended she be demoted to a managerial position that pays about $44,000 less a year for wearing the costume that consisted “only a black coat and hat, with a tight fabric underneath which replicated a naked female body” and for “flashing” children, staff, and colleagues at a work brunch. Board members said they were alarmed by the costume, but they thought the district’s investigation was rushed and that Runcie’s recommendation didn’t follow the normal policy of progressive discipline. Sun Sentinel.

Interim superintendent: Mitsi Corcoran, the Sarasota County School District’s chief financial officer, has been appointed interim superintendent. She had been the acting superintendent since Nov. 19, when Todd Bowden resigned after being accused of mishandling a sexual harassment accusation. The board wanted former Seminole County superintendent Bill Vogel to act as the interim, but he withdrew his name from consideration last week. Corcoran is expected to lead the district for at least a few months as the board looks for a permanent replacement for Bowden. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. Patch. WFTS.

Board appealing ruling: The Sarasota County School Board has voted to appeal a judge’s ruling that the board pay for private schooling for a student who was, for six years, wrongly placed in a program for students with severe cognitive abilities. District officials say there could be as many as 112 other students who were improperly placed in the program and could ask for the same financial consideration. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Contract negotiations: Collier County School Board members approve a contract agreement that will provide raises between $950 and $3,150 for every district teacher. It’s the highest pay raise in five years for teachers, and will cost the school district more than $9 million. Naples Daily News. Contract negotiations between the Pasco County School District and its teachers have been postponed indefinitely. The biggest sticking point is teacher pay. The district wants middle and high school teachers to have an extra class every day in return for an 8 percent pay hike over two years. Teachers have rejected that. Gradebook.

School choice in Florida: A Florida Department of Education official outlined the benefits of the state’s school choice programs this week to the House Education Committee. Eric Hall, the chancellor for innovation, said choice is helping close the racial achievement gap and boost graduation rates, especially for students with disabilities.  Florida Politics. Improving access to quality schools and schools of choice is one of the priorities of the Department of Education’s strategic plan for 2020-2025. DOE wants to see more students exercise choice options including open enrollment, dual enrollment, charter schools, career and professional academies, IB programs, lab schools and private schools through the state’s various scholarship programs, with an overall goal of making Florida No 1 in the nation on this and other metrics by 2025. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers several of the state’s scholarship programs. redefinED.

Medical marijuana in schools: The Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee school boards have approved policies that will allow students with prescriptions to receive medical marijuana treatment at schools. A caregiver must bring the drug to the school and remove it after it’s administered. WTSP. WFLA.

Security in schools: The Charlotte County School District’s request for $24 million for security from a proposed extension of a 1-cent sales tax makes it through a initial cut by county commissioners. District officials want the money to help pay for an “one-button” lock down and video security system for schools. Commissioners are asking for more details before the next meeting of the county’s advisory committee Jan. 22. Charlotte Sun.

School start times: Indian River County School Board members say they may reconsider later school start times. District officials have discussed changing start times several times, but never went ahead with a plan. “I know this district has been committed to having start time models that maximize the use of buses and keep our costs down,” said board member Tiffany Justice. “But we do know that there are times where putting the best interest of students is important and may cost money.” TCPalm.

Spelling bee changes: After the discovery that a Palm Beach County student appeared in the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice without winning a regional competition, the event’s organizers are changing the vetting process. A program known as RSVBee began two years to give some local bee winners who lost at the regionals an opportunity to advance to the national championship if they paid a $1,500 participation fee and their own travel expenses. Last year, there were 294 RSVBee entrants and just 271 sponsored regional winners. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press.

School expansion: The Hernando County Commission has approved a private school expansion plan to grow from a storefront operation to a 5-acre parcel in Brooksville. For Each 1 Reach 1, which helps students with disabilities and special needs and those with some minor legal problems, plans to build two 6,550-square-foot classroom and administration buildings, a 7,000-square-foot activity center and gymnasium, and a 900-square-foot equipment building for up to 135 K-8 students. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel moves: Four new principals are named for Hillsborough County schools. They are Alan Black to the planned Elementary “D” in the Apollo Beach area, Connie Chisholm to Burney Elementary, Richard Shields to Lamb Elementary and Colleen Faucett as a principal coach. Gradebook. The Hillsborough County School District is looking for a new principal at Jackson Elementary School after Jarrod Haneline left the position. He had been principal there since 2018, and the school’s state grade improved from a D to a C this year. Gradebook.

Body spray empties bus: A Manatee County school bus was evacuated this week because of a noxious scent caused by a rider who had applied an excessive amount of Axe body spray, according to school officials. The bus was taking students home from Buffalo Creek Middle School. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

District bus contract protested: About 200 Duval County school bus drivers are protesting the school board’s decision to hire Student Transportation of America to transport students on Jacksonville’s north side. STA is hiring drivers at $13.50 an hour for the 2020-2021 school year, while the current company, First Student Inc., just agreed to pay starting drivers $15.50 an hour. WJXT.

Teachers’ jobs: A Broward County teacher who was arrested two years and accused of molesting a 12-year-old girl has been fired. Wyman Gresham, 50, had also been accused of being inappropriate with two other girls. He was removed from his job as a reading teacher at the Lauderhill 6-12 school in December 2017 and arrested in February 2018. Sun Sentinel. A teacher at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami-Dade County has resigned during an investigation into allegations that she was involved in a sexual relationship with a student. No criminal charges have been filed against the teacher, whom the district has not identified. WSVN. The Palm Beach County School Board will vote today on a recommendation to fire a teacher who threatened to kill someone. A district investigation found that Raymond Berger, 56, a physical education teacher at Eagles Landing Middle School in Boca Raton, cursed and yelled the threat in front of students. Palm Beach Post. A teacher at Englewood High School in Jacksonville has been reassigned while the Duval County School District investigates undisclosed allegations. WJAX.

Guns at schools: Leon County deputies arrested a Tallahassee man for taking a loaded gun to W.T. Moore Elementary School on Tuesday. Ronald Doss, 31, has been charged with possession of a firearm on a school campus and driving with a suspended license. Tallahassee Democrat.

Students and the law: Alachua County sheriff’s deputies arrested 15 students after a fight during lunch at Eastside High School in Gainesville. Gainesville Sun. Melbourne police say 10 Palm Bay High School students students were arrested after a “large-scale brawl” broke out Tuesday afternoon. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: There is absolutely no reason that the Trump administration should limit who qualifies for the federal food stamps program when that decision could put nearly 200,000 Florida children at risk of losing their direct enrollment in free school lunches. Tampa Bay Times. The legal mess over the improper assignment of a Sarasota County student to a program for students with severe cognitive disabilities is threatening to become a spreading stain, and the cleanup should not be left solely to the lawyers and the money people. The district must apologize, and prevent this from happening to more students in the future. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. If the Alachua County School Board wants buy-in for its decisions, parents and other residents need to be given an opportunity to have their voices heard and have their input taken seriously. Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Ten students from Hollywood Middle School in Broward County who were taking a tour of the Broward County Courthouse sat in on a hearing Tuesday for accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. Teacher Fenoune Sainvil said the opportunity just “popped up” during the tour. WLRN. Shayna Singer, a 17-year-old senior at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, wins the first prize in the Schmidt Vocal Competition for high school singers that was held in West Palm Beach. Sun Sentinel. Downtown Doral Charter Upper School is one of 300 U.S. schools chosen as finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, which encourages middle and high school students to creatively use STEM  skills to solve a community challenge. Miami’s Community Newspapers.

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BY NextSteps staff