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A day to remember those killed at Parkland, budgets approved in Senate and House, civics bill and more

Marking a somber day: Two years ago today, a gunman killed 17 people on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Broward County schools are marking the solemn occasion by releasing students early so they can remember the victims, attend memorial services and participate in community service projects. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WSVN. WTVJ. WPTV. WMFE. More Parkland parents have filed suit against the FBI, alleging the agency didn’t follow up on tips it received about the accused shooter five months before the shootings. Sun Sentinel. Their children didn’t die at Parkland, said mothers of south Florida students and young people who have been shot to death, but they also deserve to remembered. The mothers were standing on a Miami Gardens street corner with signs honoring their children. Miami Herald. Activism driven by social media seems to be on the upswing among students, but can that wave lead to results? Tampa Bay Times.

Senate, House budgets: Both the Senate and House approved their proposed budgets on Thursday, and representatives from each chamber will now begin negotiating to reconcile the $1.4 billion worth of differences between them before the scheduled end of the legislative session March 13. The Senate unanimously passed its $92.8 billion budget, which includes $500 million for teacher raises, and the House also unanimously approved its proposed $91.4 spending plan, which includes $650 million for higher teacher pay. Neither chamber is proposing any money for educator bonuses; Gov. Ron DeSantis had asked for $300 million to replace the Best and Brightest program. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. GateHouse. Florida Phoenix. A bill creating 10-day sales tax holiday on back-to-school shopping for select items was approved by the Senate Finance and Tax Committee. Tax-free shopping would run from July 31 through Aug. 9 and is expected to save shoppers about $61 million. News Service of Florida.

Civics education: A bill that would create options for high school students to engage in a community civics project and service through their U.S. government classes won the approval of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on Thursday. The House companion bill is awaiting a full House vote. Students participating in the project would identify a community need or problem and develop a strategy to work on it, and community service hours compiled through the program would be counted toward Bright Futures scholarship eligibility requirements. Florida Politics.

Scholarship programs: A bill creating another college scholarship program is working its way through the Legislature. The Sunshine Scholarship Program would help qualified, low-income students pay tuition and fees that aren’t covered by other scholarships and grants. HB 55, which is awaiting consideration in the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, was filed by Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park. Students would have to live and work in Florida for the same period of time they benefited from the scholarship or pay it back. WFSU. The reported allegations of bias by private schools against LGBTQ students had a moment during this week’s Florida Board of Education meeting when renewals were approved for two scholarship funding organizations. Board member Michael Olenick expressed concern about the reports, saying, “There is no place in Florida for any discrimination. It should be obliterated. There must be some balance of giving religious freedom while not having any kind of harassment or discrimination.” Board members Ben Gibson and Ryan Petty defended the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and Gibson said schools should not be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. Gradebook.

The politics of school choice: School vouchers and charter schools are issues that have created a fissure among Democrats along racial lines. Can President Donald Trump’s support of voucher programs allow him to make headway among black voters? Tampa Bay Times.

Security in schools: A bill that would require panic alarms in all schools is being considered in the Legislature, but some central Florida school districts are moving ahead with their own versions of alerts. The Pasco County School District is placing an app on every district device that has a panic button to instantly alert law enforcement and school staff in an emergency. In Polk County, officials said they also have a way to instantly alert law enforcement officials, but “do not discuss specific security strategies or tactics.” WTSP. Hernando County school officials say the use of a new interview protocol is showing promise in dealing with students who might be having suicidal thoughts. And more social workers and the use of a health care company’s mobile response team also has the potential to defuse situations and cut down on the number of times the Baker Act is used to commit students for observation. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach County schools are rolling out lesson plays to satisfy the state’s requirement of five hours of instruction on mental health issues. But many teachers worry about making mistakes on such an important issue. “You can give a teacher content to teach, but when a kid comes up with a real-world question, just because I’ve read some lesson plans doesn’t make me a child psychologist,” said teachers union president Justin Katz. “They just don’t want to do it wrong.” Palm Beach Post.

School impact fees: The Hillsborough County School District is asking the county commission to double the impact fees charged for new home construction. In a letter to the commission, Superintendent Jeff Eakins said the higher fee, which is projected to raise $59.3 million a year, is needed to deal with projected enrollment growth. An analysis by an outside expert projected the impact fees on a new 2,000-square-foot home would go from $4,000 to $8,595. The commission could hold a public hearing on the proposal as soon as March 4. Gradebook.

Improvement plans: If Evergreen Elementary School of Ocala fails to get a school grade of C or better this year, the Marion County School District will get one more year with the help of an outside operator to turn the persistently struggling school around. The Florida Board of Education made the decision this week. Ocala Star-Banner.

Principal investment: The Orange County School District is one of about 90 districts across the United States taking part in the use of specific criteria to help develop better principals, assistant principals and other leaders. The initiative is trying to build on a 2011-2016 pilot project in six school districts, including Hillsborough County’s, that showed better academic performance by students whose principals had undergone the training. Susan Abbe, who leads the Orange County district’s professional learning department, said the training is helping identify strengths and weaknesses and develop ideas for projects to improve hiring and development. Education Week.

Scary field trip: Members of the coding and robotics clubs at Coleman Middle School and McLane Middle School got a scare during a field trip Thursday. They were flying on a KC-135 fuel tanker jet from the 6th Air Refueling Wing out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa on a flight to promote women in aviation when a problem was noticed and the plane made an emergency landing. None of the 21 passengers was injured. Tampa Bay Times.

Educators honored: Melissa Martin has been named the Florida Virtual School’s teacher of the year. Other honored were: Jessica Smith of the FLVS Middle School, as the principal of the year; Wil Simpson of the FLVS High School, as the assistant principal of the year; and Alicia Slater, curriculum specialist, as support person of the year. Florida Virtual School.

School for cancer students: A preschool for cancer students has opened in Orlando. The Morgan Center has strict hygiene protocols to protect children’s immune systems and is free. It has 10 children and could accept another 20. Orlando Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: Leon County school officials and representatives from the teachers union have resumed contract negotiations. Union president Scott Mazur said his focus is on raises for all teachers. The next bargaining session is Feb. 26. WFSU.

School board elections: Gail Smith, who represents District 1 on the Walton County School Board, has announced she isn’t running for re-election this year. DeFuniak Herald. Joe Williams has announced that he’ll run against incumbent Kim Amontree for the District 2 seat on the Charlotte County School Board. Charlotte Sun.

Black history event canceled: A white principal of a Brevard County high school that has a black enrollment of just 7 percent has apologized for scheduling a Black History Month event encouraging white students to wear an “African themed head wrap or turban” and “dress up as an inspiring black leader.” Melbourne High School principal Chad Kirk canceled the event after he began receiving complaints, and said he had made an “error in judgment.” Florida Today.

Parking complaint withdrawn: Leon County school administrator Ricky Bell filed, then withdrew a complaint against Chiles High School that centered on a campus parking pass for his son, a sophomore at the school. The school has nearly 2,000 students and 736 parking spaces. Bell, who is the director of student activities and athletics, filed a complaint Jan. 30 that claimed school officials were bullying and discriminating against his son, then withdrew it after being asked about it by a newspaper. Tallahassee Democrat.

School board and city sued: A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Manatee County School Board and the city of Palmetto over the termination of a charter school’s contract. Former officials at Lincoln Memorial Academy claim they “sabotaged the (school’s) administrative operations and funding allocations from the beginning” and illegally terminated the charter. The plaintiffs allege they were racially discriminated and retaliated against. The district took control of the school over its shaky financial status and alleged misuse of funds. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Employees and the law: A Palm Beach County teacher has been arrested and charged with committing a sexual offense by an authority figure toward a student. Deputies said Dean Edward James, 51, kept a 16-year-old junior after class one day and asked her: “Are you trying to have sex with me?” School records indicate James teaches at John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. A Duval County school security guard has been arrested and accused of abusing a student. Gregory Holmes, 32, works at Highlands Middle School in Jacksonville. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Students and the law: What happens to students who are arrested for making threats against their schools? Anecdotally, their parents say the process can worsen the student’s behavior. Statistically, results aren’t known because law enforcement officials won’t release any details, saying that information is exempt from public records laws. WINK. A Manatee County 3rd-grader was questioned by deputies after threatening to shoot students and employees at Blackburn Elementary School in Palmetto. Bradenton Herald. Three freshmen at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach were arrested Thursday after setting off firecrackers at the school, prompting reports of gunfire that brought police officers and deputies to the school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV. A 15-year-old student has been arrested and accused of making a false claim about a gun on the campus of Barrington Middle School in Hillsborough County. WTVT. WFTS.

Opinions on schools: Escape from New York to Florida for more efficient education spending. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. States have a role in setting graduating high school students up for success, and proposed legislation like the Right to Know Act in Florida and five other states is a step in the right direction. Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, The 74. President Donald Trump has stolen an issue only Cory Booker among the Democrats dared to touch — school choice for low-income families. Booker was ready to face the teachers unions. The other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination were not, and now really cannot. John E. Coons, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Two Bay County students have invented an affordable device that can turn text into braille. Rutherford High School students Alex Johnson and Jonathon Walker say their goal is to make the device an alternative for people who can’t pay the $500 to $3,000 for refreshable braille displays now on the market. Panama City News Herald. Teachers in the Franklin County School District and Apalachicola Bay Charter School receive grants from the Florida Education Consortium to buy supplies for their classrooms. Apalachicola Times. Last-minute jitters hit students as they prepare for opening night of Atlantic High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast in part 3 of a four-part series. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff