Error means bonuses must be repaid, school security, school meal changes, absenteeism issues and more

Bonuses given in error: About three-dozen Palm County School District counselors, media specialists and other school employees have been told they have to repay the $2,500 bonuses they received from the state two weeks before Christmas because of a district error. District administrators say they misinterpreted eligibility requirements for the Best and Brightest educator bonuses, and mistakenly included workers who were not eligible. School counselors have been told that $166 a week will be taken out of their paychecks for 15 weeks to reimburse the state. “Most of the guidance counselors have kids and that’s what they put it toward,” said Cindy Corcoran, a counselor at Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach. “$320 twice a month could mean the difference between having a home and not having a home.” Palm Beach Post.

Security in schools: The Senate Education Committee will consider a bill this week that would incorporate many of the recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission in its report last year. S.B. 7040 would, among other things, require sheriffs to train teachers and other school workers who want to carry guns in schools, add penalties for districts that falsely report school crimes and authorize a health institute to come up with recommendations to improve the state’s mental health system. Florida Politics. Unused funds from the state’s school guardian program could be used by school districts to pay for other security measures under a pair of bills filed in the Legislature. S.B. 304, filed by Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, and H.B. 1167, filed by Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, would permit districts that opt out of the school guardian program to request unused funds for such expenses as paying school resource officers or hardening schools. Not all the money set aside last year was used, but state officials say they are still processing applications. News Service of Florida. Sarasota County School District Police Chief Tim Enos told city and county leaders that active-shooter drills are not realistic re-enactments, and that his officers are spending a disproportionate amount of time investigating threatening comments students make on social media. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School meal changes: The Trump administration is proposing to amend two of the rules promoted by former first lady Michelle Obama to encourage students to eat more fruits and vegetables in school meals. The changes would allow schools  greater flexibility in deciding how much fruit and what kind of vegetables to offer students, and widen the definition of snacks. Nutritionists said the new rules will mean children will eat less fruit and vegetables and more foods like pizza, burgers and french fries. Politico. New York Times. WUSF.

Absenteeism problem: Leon County school officials say high absenteeism rates among kindergarten students are a barrier to improving achievement at the county’s struggling schools. Almost 2,800 kindergartners missed about 30,000 days of school during the 2017-2018 academic year, and the schools with the highest absenteeism rates had the lowest grades. “Let’s say they’re 30 minutes late. If I’m 30 minutes late every day in a week, that means I missed 150 minutes of instruction,” said Oakridge Elementary principal Jasmine Smith. “If I multiply that time … times 180 days of school, for some children, [they] didn’t even need to come to school for the first month or so.” WFSU.

Educators honored: Leena Hall-Young, a 10th-grade language arts teacher at Raines High School in Jacksonville, has been named the Duval County School District’s teacher of the year. Florida Times-Union. Josie Ruth Stumpf, a 5th-grade teacher at Holly Hill School, has been named the Volusia County School District’s teacher of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Joli Hartzog, the adult education director at Florida Panhandle Technical College, was named the Washington County School District’s teacher of the year. Vernon Middle School’s Carol Boswell was named rookie teacher of the year, and Washington Academy of Varying Exceptionalities instructor Senteria Steele school-related employee of the year. Chipley Bugle. Michael Young of Mulberry High School has been named the Polk County School District’s principal of the year. Lakeland Ledger. Thirty-one Lee County teachers have been chosen as Golden Apple award finalists. Fort Myers News-Press.

Superintendent’s apology: Polk County school Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd has again apologized for the way she handled an email from the state that said teachers who missed school to rally in Tallahassee a week ago could be fired. Byrd asked the state Department of Education for guidance after more than 1,300 teachers requested paid time off.  “If I had it to do over again,” Byrd said, “I would make it clear why I had contacted the FDOE in the first place, why I was sharing the email, and that no teacher would face firing or retaliation for taking Monday off.” Two online petitions have circulated calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to fire Byrd, and more than 5,000 people have signed them. Lakeland Ledger.

Costly flooding fix: The cost to fix the flooding problems at Palmetto High School in Manatee County could be more than $25 million, an engineer has told the school board. John Foley said the best short-term solutions could cost just under $1 million, but a permanent solution would require buildings to be bulldozed and the ground elevation raised. Bradenton Herald.

Mental health instruction: Brevard County school officials are rolling out plans to meet the state mandate of five hours of mental health instruction for students. The district has created a series of videos and scripted lessons about mental and emotional education, trafficking prevention and substance use and abuse. Space Coast Daily.

Charters may owe $5.5 million: Two Broward County charter schools should repay the state a total of $5.5 million because they could not verify student enrollment during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Florida auditor general. Imagine Charter in Weston couldn’t prove it had 948 students and Innovation Charter School in Pompano Beach doesn’t have records to verify its 386 students were at the school. Schools receive money from the state based on enrollment. Both schools say they can document their enrollment, and plan to appeal the recommendation to the Florida Department of Education. Sun Sentinel.

New schools: A 24.5-acre property in Pace will be the home for a new Santa Rosa County K-8 school. The school is projected to cost $35 million, hold about 1,280 students and open in the fall of 2022. Northwest Florida Daily News. The Marion County School District is proposing to build a 45,000-square-foot building for the Marion Technical Institute on the campus of the Marion Technical College. The projected cost is $9.7 million. The new building would replace the current one, which is at the former Forest High School and needs significant repairs. Ocala Star-Banner. Construction has begun in Fort Lauderdale on the Baer Family Early Childhood Learning Center, a preschool expected to open this summer. The school, a project of Temple Bat Yam, will be a David Posnack Jewish Community Center preschool partnering with the Susan and Saul Singer Early Childhood Learning. Sun Sentinel.

Superintendent search: The three finalists for the Hillsborough County school superintendent’s job have outlined their plans for their first 90 days on the job. Gradebook. For at least the third time in the past few months, Palm Beach County School District regional superintendent Peter Licata is a finalist for a top job in another district. This time, it’s Hillsborough County. A decision is expected this week. Palm Beach Post.

School-related elections: Shelly Fano has announced her candidacy for the District 9 seat on the Miami-Dade County School Board. She joins Justin Koren, Nancy Lawther and Luisa Santos in the race for the seat now held by Lawrence Feldman, who decided not to seek re-election. Florida Politics. John Legg, a former state senator who now operates a charter school in Pasco County, said he’s evaluating whether to challenge incumbent Kurt Browning and others in the race for the district superintendent’s job. Gradebook. Lisa Mazza, the outgoing vice president of the Pasco teachers union, is running against incumbent Don Pence for the union presidency in the April 15 election. Gradebook.

Education podcasts: Miami-Dade school Superintendent Alberto Carvalho talks about finding the proper balance that will allow the district to make school starting times later. WLRN.

Pro-life students’ group: A pro-life club of students at Gulf Coast High School in Collier County holds its first meeting Monday, six months after the students’ request to form the club was allegedly rejected by school administrators because it would be too political and too controversial. School officials have denied that characterization. Christian Post.

Crossing guard hit: An Orange County crossing guard was hit by a vehicle as she was helping a student cross the street Friday. Margarita Martinez, 78, was taken to a hospital for treatment. The child was not injured. Orlando Sentinel.

Ex-teacher sentenced: David Lee Davis, a former Volusia County substitute teacher, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for his conviction on a charge of sexual battery on a 15-year-old student in 2018. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: The Legislature should approve raises for all school employees this session, but also reconsider policies that make it harder for teachers to do their jobs. Gainesville Sun. Florida lawmakers can make a technical fix to an existing law that would give schools access to more federal dollars for school-based health services. Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, Pensacola News Journal. Pay is not the only thing teachers were marching for. There’s also paying non-instructional and support staff a livable wage, ceasing the continued assault on local control, and collaborating with educators on mandates and funding those mandates. Nick Guy, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. What has government ever done for you? It schooled you. Bruce Anderson, Tallahassee Democrat. President Donald Trump has promised to ensure that students and teachers can pray in school. Actually, they already can, and many do. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post. In order to ensure that children are better prepared for kindergarten, we hope the Legislature will consider providing incentives to attract and retain competent and trained educators in early learning settings. Phyllis Kalifeh, Gainesville Sun. A recent Facebook post that described Florida as the “3rd most populous state, 4th largest state economy, the 45th in state education funding” is rated true. PolitiFact Florida.

Student enrichment: Pine Crest Upper School senior Jordan Zietz, 17, has created the country’s largest esports league for students. Students from more than 20,000 U.S. high schools are competing in the All-Star eSports League for money and college scholarships. WSVN. Fisher Marks, a junior at South Walton High School, is selected as Walton County’s Sunshine State Scholar award winner. Northwest Florida Daily News.

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BY NextSteps staff