Parents’ rights, church school guns, panic alarms, Baker Act, helping athletes, coronavirus and more

Parents’ rights: The bill that would grant parents the right to determine what their children can opt out of at school, from classes to vaccinations,  is ready to be approved by the Florida House but faces an uncertain path forward in the Senate. The full House is nearly ready to vote on H.B. 1059, but on Wednesday, consideration of S.B. 1634 was postponed in the Senate Rules Committee after Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, questioned the necessity of the bill. “Is there nothing here that’s new?” Lee asked. The last meeting of the committee is scheduled for Monday. Florida Politics.

Guns at church schools: People with concealed-weapons permits could take guns into churches and synagogues that share a property with a school under a bill that was approved Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee. H.B. 1437 gives the religious institutions the authority to let select people carry anywhere on their property they own, or rent if the landlord agrees. “We have to let people protect themselves or we have to protect them,” said Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia. There is no companion bill in the Senate. News Service of Florida.

Panic alarms: A bill requiring all schools to have panic alarm systems was approved Wednesday by the House Education Committee. The House bill differs in several ways from the Senate’s, which moved through a committee Tuesday, most notably by calling for an app-based system accessible through a wifi connection. After questions were raised about the reliability of such connections, and the overall costs to districts, bill cosponsor Rep. Michael Gottlieb, D-Plantation, said he was open to adding “any amendment that would strengthen this bill.” Florida Politics.

Baker Act: School officials would be required to try de-escalation tactics for misbehaving students before using the Baker Act under a bill that was approved Wednesday by the House Education Committee and is now headed for a vote in the full House. The bill is a response to the skyrocketing use of the Baker Act against Florida students. The use of the Baker Act, which allows the involuntary commitment of a student for 72 hours of observation, has increased 35 percent in the state, said Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, the bill’s sponsor. The bill allows an exemption for principals who believe any delay would “increase the likelihood of harm to the student or others.” News Service of Florida.

Protecting athletes: The Senate Rules Committee has unanimously approved a bill that would require school districts to do more to protect student-athletes from heat strokes. S.B. 1696 calls for districts to have a tub or large container with cold water to cool down players during practices and games, and a defibrillator for resuscitation. School employees would receive training to recognize the symptoms of and treat heat-related illnesses. The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, was renamed the Zachary Martin Act for a football player at Riverdale High School in Lee County who died of complications from heat stroke after a summer workout in 2017. Associated Press. Capitol News Service. WTXL.

Compensation for athletes: A bill that would allow college athletes to make money off the use of their “name, image, likeness or persona” has been approved by the Senate Rules Committee. If the bill is approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, it wouldn’t take effect until July 1, 2021. The delay gives the NCAA time to finish a review of its own rules. California has already passed a similar bill, but it doesn’t take effect until 2023. “This is more of a pressure to put on NCAA, that says, ‘The states are moving in this direction. You need to come up with rules so we’re all playing by the same game,’ ” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne. News Service of Florida.

Coronavirus precautions: School districts should be getting prepared for a possible coronavirus outbreak, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Precautions should include districts educating themselves about the virus and the symptoms, making sure school nurses have the resources for screening and masks and gloves to protect themselves, encouraging students and staffers to wash their hands frequently, and even considering digital days of instruction when possible. Education Dive. Education Week. Florida school officials talk about their preparations. WPEC. WSVN. WTVJ. WFLA. WJXT. Miami Herald. WPTV. WTVT.

Valedictorian requirements: A Pasco County charter school is considering widening the requirements to become valedictorian beyond grade point average. Officials at the Classical Preparatory School want to weigh GPA, Advanced Placement test results, ACT and SAT scores and disciplinary records to determine the top graduating student. The school board will consider the request to amend the school’s contract at a meeting next week. If approved, it wouldn’t go into effect for several years. Gradebook.

Home-schooling increase: The number of Hispanic students being home-schooled jumped 68 percent between 2012 and 2016, according to a recent federal report from the National Household Education Surveys Program. That boosted the percent of home-schooled students who are Hispanic in the United States from 15 percent to 26 percent. redefinED.

School construction: Santa Rosa county commissioners have given their approval to the school board to build a K-8 school in Milton. The school is projected to open in the fall of 2022 for as many as 1,200 students. WEAR. A $28 million renovation has been approved for Tyrone Middle School in St. Petersburg by the Pinellas County School Board. The project includes a new classroom building, cafeteria, art room, band room and administrative office, and upgrades for the gymnasium. The work is scheduled to begin next February and be completed by August 2022. Tampa Bay Times. The Gulf County School Board is considering opening a $20 million line of credit to rehabilitate schools that are aging and were damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018. Port St. Joe Star.

School name: Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Orlando is likely to get a new name soon, as the Orange County School Board tries to shed its connection to the Confederate war hero. Simply shortening the name to Jackson was rejected by the board, which then voted to reopen the naming process. One of the names suggested is to honor Roberto Clemente, the late baseball star who was a native of Puerto Rico, where many of the school’s students are also from. The board wants to rename the school before it reopens in August. Orlando Sentinel.

School boundaries: Three public hearings are set next month for the community to comment on proposed school boundary changes being made because two new schools are expected to open in 2021 and 2023. The new schools are both K-8, which will prompting rezonings at both the elementary and middle school levels. The primary focus of the meetings will be on Option 6A to relieve overcrowding at Sawgrass Bay Elementary School, said Lake County School Board members. Daily Commercial.

Teacher wins lawsuit: A former Palm Beach County assistant principal who was demoted after reporting a suspicious lease arrangement between the principal and a semipro basketball team has been awarded $170,000 by a jury for wrongful retaliation under the state’s whistle-blower protection law. Gary Groover was the assistant principal at Boynton Beach High School before helping investigators. Principal Fred Barch later declined to renew Groover’s contract, and Groover took a job as a middle school teacher that cut his pay by $17,000 a year. Palm Beach Post.

Union criticizes superintendent: The Santa Rosa County School District superintendent’s decision to endorse a candidate for a school board seat has drawn criticism from the teachers union. “As a member of the teacher’s union, I don’t want to see our members being pressured into financially supporting a political candidate that’s been endorsed by the superintendent,” said David Godwin, a spokesman for the union. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick defended his endorsement of Buddy Hinote, and blasted union leaders for “(portraying) my letter to administrators as a threat.” Pensacola News Journal.

Transportation service’s debt: A company that transports disabled and disadvantaged people to medical appoints in Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Glades and Collier counties has suspended operations, and the Lee County School Board wants the $8,500 the company owes the district. Under a contract with the district that began last August, Good Wheels Inc. has filled its vehicles’ gas tanks at the school system’s four bus compounds. Fort Myers News-Press.

School meals debt: The Clay County School District has more than $27,000 of unpaid meals this school year, said district officials. Until students pay the money they owe, they receive either a turkey and cheese or ham and cheese sandwich instead of a full lunch. Clay Today.

School mourns student: For the third time since Dec. 30, Deerfield Beach High School students are mourning the loss of a classmate. This time, a 17-year-old girl stepped in front of a train Monday, killing herself in the same manner as a 17-year-old boy did Dec. 30. A month ago, a 15-year-old Deerfield student died in a shooting at his uncle’s funeral. Sun Sentinel. WPLG.

Sergeant ‘didn’t know’ policy: The Orlando police sergeant who allowed an officer to arrest a 6-year-old girl at the Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy last September later admitted he didn’t know the department’s policy on arresting juveniles, according to an internal affairs investigation. Sgt. Douglas Andreacchi was given an eight-hour suspension, and the arresting officer was fired. Orlando Sentinel.

Attempted kidnappings: A 49-year-old North Miami man has been arrested and accused of stalking and trying to kidnap Miami-Dade elementary and middle school girls in December and January. Police said Jackson Etienne tried to lure girls into his car near Sabal Palm Elementary School, John F. Kennedy Middle School and North Miami Middle School. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Teacher fired: A Flagler County teacher has been fired for physically removing a 14-year-old student from his classroom in January, an action that led to his arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge. Jeffrey “Rocco” Paffumi, a teacher at Buddy Taylor Middle School in Palm Coast, is appealing the district’s decision. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Students and the law: Two students have been arrested and charged with threatening violence against their school, Taylor County High in Perry. Deputies said a “disturbing” photo was sent during a class Monday to nearby cell phones and computers via Apple’s AirDrop. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. A 15-year-old student at South Dade Senior High School has been arrested and charged with making a threat against her school. School officers said she made the social media post because “she didn’t want to go to school.” Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: Charter schools have gone from innovators to pariahs since the first one opened in Florida in 1996. Paula Dockery, Sun Sentinel. My charter school is one of thousands across the country providing children with opportunities that aren’t available to them in their zoned, often low-performing schools. We need more charters. Ana Lopez, Sun Sentinel. Swift action is needed to make sure schools have the training and resources — as well as the data to target these resources — to provide appropriate behavioral health services that meet the unique needs of students, especially ones with disabilities. Peter Sleasman, Sun Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Col. Andrew Morgan, who is an astronaut on the International Space Station, led the oath of enlistment into the U.S. Army on Wednesday for about 1,000 future soldiers, including 30 from Oakleaf High School in Clay County, two dozen from Okaloosa County and 21 from Marion County. Florida Times-Union. Ocala Star-Banner. Northwest Florida Daily News. Julien Gasca, a 16-year-old student at First Coast High School, has been customizing and donating shoes to homeless people in downtown Jacksonville. WJXT. Five students at the Bok Academy in Lake Wales question during a roundtable discussion at the school why the world’s adults haven’t done more to fight climate change. Lakeland Ledger. Azalea Elementary School in St. Petersburg is among the U.S. schools honored by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation for its program to make all students feel welcome. WFTS.

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BY NextSteps staff