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Safety in schools bill backed, threats test case, board term limits, moment of silence and more

Safety in schools: A bill that would adopt the school safety recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission has been approved by the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee. S.B. 7040 was introduced by the Senate Education Committee last month. The bill would require all public and charter schools to align their alternative punishment programs with local judicial circuits, and an amendment was offered to expand that to private schools. The bill also strengthens mental health training requirements, sets a minimum number of emergency drills, requires school guardian applicants to be drug-tested and psychologically evaluated, and makes sheriff’s offices the sole provider of training. Florida Politics. A Palm Beach County case moving through the courts is the first major test of the state’s strengthened law dealing with threats against schools. The law targets social media threats with zero tolerance. Arguments will be heard March 10 by the three judges of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, with a decision expected by the summer. Sun Sentinel. The Orange County School District will meet the state-required five hours of mental health instruction with one-hour classes today and Feb. 11, 20, 25 and 27. Students will be taught about mental illnesses, suicide prevention and substance abuse. WKMG.

School board term limits: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee has approved a bill imposing term limits on school board members after the 12-year limit was amended to eight years. The move aligns S.J.R. 1216 with a House bill, H.J.R. 157, which has already been approved by two committees. The bills would put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot asking voters to limit school board members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. “Eight years aligns with the current term limits in place,” said Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who agreed to the change in the bill he proposed. “It would provide consistency among elected officials.” The bill now heads to the Senate Education Committee for a vote. Gradebook. Florida Politics.

Moment of silence: Bills that create a moment of silence in schools are being considered today in the Senate and the House. Both would require teachers to offer students no less than one minute of silence, and no more than two at the beginning of every school day. S.B. 946 has already been approved by the Senate Education and now will be heard by two others. H.B. 737 is getting its first hearing before the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Florida Politics.

Scholarships and social media: School choice advocates have launched a social media counterattack in the ongoing battle over state scholarship money being given to private schools that allegedly discriminate against gay students. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called the withdrawal of support for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program by Wells Fargo and Fifth Third banks a “publicity stunt aimed at earning wokeness points with the radical left.” State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, was critical of state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, who is calling for the state to ban written policies by schools that single out gay students. “Religious liberty is constitutionally protected everywhere! You want equality regardless of religious liberty,” Donalds tweeted. “This is why you’re targeting donors of the scholarship program and hurting poor families in the process.” Scholarship backers are planning a rally today in Tallahassee to support the program. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU.

Schools sanitized: Gymnasiums, equipment, weight rooms, locker rooms, shower areas and wrestling areas at all Broward County high schools are getting a deep cleaning after several wrestlers are suspected of having contracted MRSA, a bacterial infection resistant to normal antibiotics. The district also postponed the Big 8 wrestling tournament semifinals Friday at South Plantation High School. “Our district protocol is that anyone exhibiting the signs or symptoms, or has been diagnosed with MRSA, must have a note from their health care provider to return to work/school,” Western High School principal Jimmy Arrojo wrote in a letter to parents. Sun Sentinel.

Early education: There’s broad agreement that the state’s early education needs improvements and that accountability should be a component of that. But the current bill that would assign preschools grades from A to F, as the state does with K-12 schools, is drawing criticism. Some early education providers think that being graded could push many private preschools out of the state program. Nearly 80 percent of the pre-K providers are private. Orlando Sentinel.

Graduation requirements: A proposal to make the graduation requirements more stringent for a Sarasota County gifted school has been withdrawn after complaints from the community. Pine View School principal Stephen Covert wanted to require students to take eight “highly rigorous” courses, which was  tabled by a school committee after the protests, and take at least 17 of the 26 core classes needed for graduation at school instead of online or through the dual-enrollment program, which was approved and now goes to the school board for consideration. Covert said the eight-course requirement could be tweaked. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Closing needs state okay: Pasco County school officials have announced the closing of Hudson Elementary School this summer. But the state must still approve that plan, and could conceivably go against the district’s wishes to require an outside operator to take over Hudson. Two companies have expressed an interest in assuming that role: Edison Learning, which been a turnaround provider San Jose, Calif., and Baltimore; and Noble Education Initiative, an independent nonprofit with connections to Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA. Gradebook.

Headquarters issue: A replacement is needed for the Clay County School District’s administrative building, school board members were told at a workshop meeting, but the district doesn’t have the money. Between $500,000 and $1 million is spent annually on maintenance and repairs to the district headquarters. Board members liked an option to buy a building in Fleming Island for $15.5 million, but the money isn’t available and district officials said even if voters approve a sales tax hike in November, the building will probably have been sold. Clay Today.

Superintendent search: The 35 applicants for the Flagler County school superintendent’s job include sitting school board member Colleen Conklin and two district employees, executive director of leadership and operations Earl Johnson and Jeffrey Reaves, principal at Matanzas High School. Superintendent Jim Tager is retiring at the end of June. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Community schools: The community partnership school concept, which brings education, health and social services into one place, has worked so well at Gulfside Elementary School in Holiday that the Pasco County School District wants to duplicate it at Northwest Elementary. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter school sold: A charter school company partly owned by former tennis star Andre Agassi has sold the Franklin Academy in Pembroke Pines to Erudite Properties for $60.5 million after buying it in 2015 for $10.1 million. Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities buys properties that it leases to charter schools, then sells them to the operators once the schools meets their enrollment goals. Real Deal.

Teacher honored: Turie T. Elementary academic coach Yoder Milton was surprised at school Monday by a Good Morning America crew doing a live story about her work to help students and the community, Milton also got the day off work with a limousine to drive her, received a bag full of workout clothes and got Disney on Ice tickets for her and the members of the Girls with Class club that she coaches. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Hot spots in schools: The Lake County School District is now offering free Internet hot spots in its high schools. They’re available for schoolwork only, and for a maximum period of three days unless a school projects warrants requires more time. The hot spots are provided by the company Kajeet. Daily Commercial.

Student hit by SUV dies: A 14-year-old Palm Beach County student struck last Wednesday morning by an SUV while walking to his school bus stop has died. The boy, who has not been named, was a student at William T. Dwyer High School in Riviera Beach. No charges have been filed against the driver, but police are still investigating. Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Lawsuit settlement: The Sarasota County School Board is expected to approve a settlement tonight that would end a sexual harassment lawsuit. Cheraina Bonner alleged in the suit that her former boss, the district’s chief operations officer Jeff Maultsby, sexually harassed her and that Superintendent Todd Bowden ignored her complaints. Under the agreement, she would receive $397,241 and her attorney would be paid $75,000. Both Bowden and Maultsby resigned under pressure. “I am glad we finally reached a settlement so that we can move forward,” said board chair Caroline Zucker. “I am sad that it had to come to this.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun.

Ex-principal defends words: A Palm Beach County principal who was fired in October for saying he couldn’t say “the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” defended his right to utter those words Monday at an administrative hearing appealing his dismissal. William Latson, who was removed as principal at Spanish River High School after making that statement to a parent, he said that even though believes the Holocaust happened, he had the duty to “be politically neutral.” The hearing continues today. Palm Beach Post.

Employees and the law: A Palm Beach County 1st-grade teacher has been arrested and charged with child abuse for allegedly slamming a 7-year-old boy’s head into a bulletin board. The boy lost a tooth and had a cut lip. School police said Cynthia Smith, 64, who teaches at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach, was angry that the boy didn’t stop running his hands over the bulletin board when she told him to stop. WPLG. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. A Miami-Dade County School District police officer has been put on leave and is under investigation after allegedly threatening to shoot North Miami Senior High School students while trying to break up a fight. A video of the incident showed the officer with her hand on her gun, cursing at students. “The behavior portrayed in this video is inappropriate for any person associated with Miami-Dade County Public Schools,” district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said in a statement. WSVN.

Aide removed from class: A teaching assistant in the Lee County School District has been removed from Lexington Middle School in Fort Myers for allegedly telling two 8th-graders to “go back to Haiti.” The paraprofessional, whose name has not been disclosed, made the remark after two 14-year-old girls sat down during a moment of silence. Only one of the girls is of Haitian descent, but she was born in the United States. District officials are investigating. Fort Myers News-Press.

Probation for threat: A 17-year-old student at Flagler Palm Coast High School who threatened to kill a teacher has been placed on probation, and ordered to do community service, apologize to the teacher and write a 10-page essay on hate speech. She was convicted last December. Flagler Live.

Opinions on schools: A child’s own distinctive and separate constitutional right to the parents’ educational choice could well be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court justices as a core element of decision in the Montana school choice case, the latest chapter in the battle over the use of public funding for religious schools. Its emergence here as a clear element of our constitutional law would be a recognition of dignity for the low-income parent and a workable application of the 14th Amendment. John E. Coons, redefinED. While the state’s new academic standards are excellent for K-12, it is time Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran recognize that the real barrier to thorough civic literacy education is at the postsecondary level. Bob Halladay, Tallahassee Democrat. State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, has supported a bill to set aside a new, specific pot of money to increase starting teacher pay. But he also suggested that teachers working three or four jobs might be okay. Diane Rado, Florida Phoenix.

Student enrichment: Hollywood Hills and South Broward high school have started mentoring programs for at-risk minority male students using the 5000 Mentors of Excellence blueprint developed in 1993 by then-Miami-Dade County School Board member Frederica Wilson. Hollywood Gazette. Students at the Leesburg High School Construction Academy in Lake County have completed the shell of a house they’re helping to build for Habitat for Humanity. Orlando Sentinel. Leto High School in Tampa is now offering a Rising Educators club for students who are interested in teaching careers. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff