Student testing, mental health, scholarship support, school funding formula, panic alarms and more

Testing requirements: A bill that shakes up the testing requirements for Florida K-12 students has won the approval of the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. The proposal would eliminate the high school reading test and the end-of-course geometry test, but require all high school students to take either the ACT or SAT. It also would have all high school seniors take a civics literacy test, though passing it would not be a requirement for graduation. Another change could put low-performing schools into the state’s turnaround process after just one year of receiving a D or F grade instead of two years. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Anyone who wants to comment on the state’s proposed new academic standards will need to hurry. The Florida Board of Education is scheduled to vote Feb. 12 on the 216-page math and 220-page language arts standards. Gradebook.

Students’ mental health: A proposal adding restrictions to the use of the Baker Act on students was passed by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee on Tuesday. H.B. 1083 would require school officials to try to de-escalate situations before resorting to using the Baker Act, under which students may be involuntarily removed and admitted to a hospital for a mental examination. It “is my contribution to helping ensure that we are saving the Baker Act for those kids who truly need it and we are not Baker Acting children who would be better addressed by other means,” said state Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, the bill’s sponsor. A Senate version of the bill, S.B. 1062, was approved by the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. The House PreK-12 subcommittee also approved a bill that would give students a mental health day off every semester. It needs to clear two more committees before being heard by the full House. News Service of Florida.

School scholarship programs: Members of the Florida African American Ministers Alliance joined the chorus of voices expressing support for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program on Tuesday at a rally in Tallahassee. The program has come under attack in the past week by some politicians after a newspaper report alleged that some of the private schools discriminate against LGBTQ students. Among the speakers was St. Petersburg pastor Robert Ward, who said lawmakers “should be reaching across the aisle searching for win-win solutions.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. President Trump lobbied Congress for an expansion of tax credit scholarships in the State of the Union speech on Tuesday. “Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act — because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school,” he said. The 74. U.S. News & World Report. Education Dive. About 73 percent of 1,000 likely voters recently polled by the National School Boards Action Center agreed with the statement that “we should not take away public funds from our public schools to fund private, religious and home-school education.” Sixty-four percent support higher spending for public schools, and 65 percent said local school boards should have oversight of charter schools. Education Dive.

School funding formula: A bill that would change the Florida school funding formula will be heard today by the House Appropriations Committee. Any change in the formula, which is also known as the district cost differential, could result in a significant shift in the way money is distributed to districts. House officials have not detailed what’s in the proposal, though it has considered tying the formula to a comparable wage index. The DCD uses a price index to determine how much districts receive. Some districts, such as Volusia County’s, have complained that the formula unfairly shortchanges them. News Service of Florida.

School panic alarms: “Alyssa’s Law,” a bill named after a victim of the 2018 Parkland school shooting that would require all public and charter schools to install panic alarms, has been approved by a House subcommittee. H.B. 23, sponsored by state Rep. Michael Gottlieb, D-Plantation, is named after Alyssa Alhadeff, who was among the 17 people killed when a gunman attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Florida Politics.

Moment of silence: Bills that create a moment of silence in schools were approved Tuesday by committees 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 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and H.B. 737 was unanimously approved by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Florida Politics.

Posing with guns: A bill that would allow police to arrest juveniles who post photos of themselves holding guns to social media has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under S.B. 656, sponsored by state Sen. Jason Pizzo, R-Miami, the juveniles would be charged with illegal possession of firearms. Florida law declares it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to have a firearm unless they are target shooting or hunting with an adult. Miami Herald.

School start times: Osceola County School Board chair Kelvin Soto is proposing a flex schedule that would allow some students to start school as late as 3 p.m. “For students, starting class in the afternoon, could give them time to take college classes, or work at a job earlier in the day. Or students could just get more sleep,” said Soto, who said he read about a similar program in Michigan. He said such a schedule could make better use of facilities and ease overcrowding in schools and on buses. WESH. WFTV.

Alternative school acceptance: Howey-in-the-Hills residents were unhappy last summer when they learned that an alternative school for suspended and expelled Lake County School District students from 6th to 12th grade would be opening in their town of 1,600. But at an open house Tuesday for the Lake Success Academy, many of those residents say they have been pleasantly surprised. “It’s been a fantastic transition,” said resident Fran O’Keefe Wagler. The school has 28 students right now, but 55 have passed through since it opened in August. Orlando Sentinel.

School data concerns: Too many Pasco County School District employees have access to private student data, according to a recent state audit. “The existence of unnecessary IT user access privileges increases the risk of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive personal information and the possibility that such information may be used to commit a fraud against current or former district students,” the auditor reported. District officials said they will review access privileges. Tampa Bay Times.

Principal’s firing defended: A Palm Beach County principal had to be fired after making the comment that he couldn’t say the Holocaust was a factual event, then pouring “gas on the flame” by blaming a school parent, school Superintendent Donald Fennoy testified Tuesday at an administrative hearing. Fennoy said William Latson, formerly the principal at Spanish River High School, created a chaotic situation with his statement to a parent, then compounded the problem by blaming the parent, who was asking for more Holocaust education at the school. The hearing continues today. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel.

Superintendent searches: The Sarasota County School Board takes the first step toward finding a new superintendent by hiring the Florida School Board Association to lead the search. The decision was criticized by some educators, who pointed out that the FSBA also handled the search that led the board to hire former superintendent Todd Bowden, who resigned last year after he mishandled allegations of sexual harassment. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin is taking a leave of absence from the board while her bid to become the new superintendent is under consideration. She is among 35 applicants to succeed Jim Tager, who is retiring in June. Flagler Live. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Meanwhile, Tager has been named one of two finalists for the same job with the Franklin West Supervisory Union Board in Fairfax, Vt. Saint Albans Messenger.

Personnel moves: Troy Smith, an assistant principal at Valrico Elementary School in Hillsborough County, has been appointed as principal at Walden Lake Elementary. He replaces Dina Wyatt, who has moved to Jackson Elementary. Gradebook.

Spelling bee winner: Kate Thompson, an 8th-grader at Creekside Middle School in Port Orange, has won the Volusia County School District’s Spelling Bee. She and the runnerup, Beatrice Meckley, now advance to the regional competition in Orlando in March. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Illnesses and schools: A private school in Fort Myers will be closed today after 22 percent of the students and 14 percent of employees became ill with flu-like symptoms. Principal Sarah Barrow said the De LaSalle Academy, which has about 145 students with students with mild to moderate learning disabilities in grades 1-12, will undergo a deep, disinfecting cleaning. Fort Myers News-Press. A student at S.P. Livingston Primary Learning Center in Jacksonville has tested positive for hepatitis A, according to Duval County school officials. Vaccinations will be available at the school today for students and employees who have been in contact recently with the student. WJXT.

Homeless students: As the number of homeless students stands at its highest point ever, even relatively affluent counties are feeling the effects. In Santa Rosa County, which ranks 22nd in Florida with a per capita income of $42,909 in 2017, about 1,000 of the school district’s 28,000 students experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a recent report from the National Center for Homeless Education. Those numbers are down slightly because of an improved local economy and district programs, but a lack of affordable housing is keeping them higher than they should be, said Karen Barber, the district’s director of federal programs. New York Times.

Student identified: The 14-year-old Dwyer High School student who was struck by an SUV last week while walking to his bus stop in Riviera Beach and died Monday has been identified by his mother as Aden Williams, an honors student who wanted to be an engineer. Edithe Delhomme said she would hold a vigil for him today. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher fired: A Broward County teacher who was accused of molesting a student in 2018 has been fired by the school board. Brandon Sutton, 34, was a social studies teacher at Parker Middle School until his arrest in October 2018 on a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct. His criminal case is pending. Sun Sentinel.

Harassment suit settled: Sarasota County School Board members approved the payment of nearly $400,000 to a woman who filed a sexual harassment claim against the board. Cheraina Bonner, an administrative assistant, said chief operations officer Jeff Maultsby sexually harassed her and then-superintendent Todd Bowden ignored her complaints. The payment covers her compensation and legal fees. WFLA. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTVT.

School vandalism: Brevard County school officials are investigating a pair or troubling incidents last week at Rockledge High School. In the first, a video was posted on social media showing three female students making racist slurs and obscene gestures. Three days later, vulgar graffiti was spray-painted throughout the school. The incidents prompted principal Burt Clark to send emails assuring parents the school was working to “identify the responsible parties, administer appropriate corrective actions and provide opportunities to continue productive conversations around social issues.” WKMG. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: If testing means so much, shouldn’t the Legislature at least consider ways to ensure students can take the tests in a language they understand, while continuing to learn English? Orlando Sentinel. There’s nothing in the job description of a Palm Beach County school principal that requires the nurturing of history-denying anti-Semites. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. An analysis of course enrollment data posted by the Florida Department of Education shows that the Seminole County School District remains the best in the state in preparing high school students for college STEM majors. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. There is much more to like than not like in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan for schools. Charlotte Sun.

Student enrichment: Anik Willig, a 17-year-old senior from Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami, and Dominic Fouche, a 14-year-old 8th-grader at Walker Middle Magnet School in Tampa, have been named the state’s top youth volunteers by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Eight other students were chosen as finalists. Prudential.

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BY NextSteps staff