Panic alarms: The House has approved a heavily amended bill that would require panic alarms in all Florida schools. The most significant changes remove a requirement that all districts adopt a single, mobile system, but also require that the vendor must be certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which eliminates several potential bidders who claim the bill is written in a way to direct the contract to a company represented by a former House speaker. The Senate version still calls for a single, mobile system. Final votes in the Senate and House are expected today. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Sun Sentinel.
School board term limits: Florida Democratic senators say they’re confident they have the votes to kill a bill that would place school board term limits on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment. To make the ballot, at least 60 percent of the 40 senators have to vote for the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and would limit school board members to eight consecutive years in office. There are 23 Republicans in the Senate, but they need 24 votes. Democratic senators say that all 17 oppose the bill. The House version was passed on a 79-39 vote. Florida Politics.
Back-to-school tax holiday: The House has approved a tax-cut package that includes a three-day back-to-school tax holiday Aug. 7-9. The Senate has a standalone 10-day back-to-school tax holiday bill that is awaiting a final vote. Once the Senate approves its bill, reconciliation negotiations could start as early as this weekend. House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, has already said he expects the Legislature to run a day or two past its scheduled March 13 closing to finalize a budget. Miami Herald.
A historical massacre: The Senate has approved a bill that would require the Florida Department of Education’s African American History Task Force to recommend ways to incorporate instruction about the 1920 massacre of black residents of Ocoee into state history classes. July Perry was trying to register blacks to vote in the town when he was arrested and shot, then dragged out of the jail and lynched. A mob of white residents then set fire to the homes of all black residents, two churches and a meeting hall. An estimated 60 black residents were killed, and the rest fled the town. Associated Press. Florida Politics. WFSU.
Protecting against heat: The Florida Senate has unanimously passed a bill that requires all Florida High School Athletic Association member schools to have large containers or cold immersion tubs with ice and water at all practices and games to protect student-athletes from heat-related illnesses, and to train for employees on how to treat those illnesses. The bill is called the Zachary Martin Act, after a football player at Riverdale High School in Lee County who died of a heat-related illness 11 days after collapsing at a summer workout. The Florida House has also approved its version of the bill. Fort Myers News-Press.
Coronavirus concerns: Today’s headlines include more coronavirus cases being confirmed or presumed in Florida, a change in a district’s attendance policies that allow students to exempt exams, a lack of testing in the state blamed on the CDC for not providing testing kits, a district spending $45,000 on disinfectants, and other preparations being made by districts to fight the virus. News Service of Florida. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. Palm Beach Post. Tallahassee Democrat. WPTV. Gradebook. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Today. Associated Press. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WTSP. USA Today Network. St. Augustine Record. WJAX. Florida Phoenix. WFTV. WJAX. WFTX. Questions and answers about the coronavirus, and links to more information. Florida Department of Health. Miami Herald. Myths making the rounds about the coronavirus. Tampa Bay Times.
Another child handcuffed: A Clearwater mother says her 7-year son with special needs was handcuffed, arrested and Baker-Acted after misbehaving in a Belcher Elementary School classroom. Tyeshia Harmon said school resource officers need more training to deal with special needs students. “It’s very serious because nobody’s kids should have to go through that,” she said. In a message sent to school parents, principal Kristy Moody said, “The student was engaging in dangerous activity that could have hurt the student or others. Please know that restraint of students is only used as a last resort when other interventions have not resolved the issue.” WFTS.
Contract dispute accusations: Contract negotiations about salaries between the Broward County School District and its teachers union have stalled, and now the union has released a 114-page report compiling survey responses from teachers citing cases of wasteful spending by the district. The report, titled “Where’s The Money Going,” concludes it’s not going to teachers. Among the accusations: The district buys new office furniture when some classrooms don’t have enough desks or chairs for students; computers, software and hardware that are replaced a short time later; and wastes money on utilities and maintenance by setting the air-conditioning too low. Lisa Maxwell, the executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association, said, “I really think we need to be careful in assuming that at face value this document is a representation of district waste.” Sun Sentinel.
School name: A Miami-Dade County student has proposed that a new K-8 school in Doral should be named after Andrea Castillo, the daughter of school board member Susie Castillo who died in a car crash in 2012. Others suggested the school be named after Albert Einstein or a nearby housing development. Two other schools also need names: a new high school in Doral and Southside Elementary in Brickell, which has expanded to include middle school grades. District staff will evaluate the suggestions and make recommendations to the school board. WLRN.
Notable deaths: Jovan Rembert, the principal and CEO of the West Park Preparatory School in Broward County, was killed Thursday after he was struck by a car when he tried to walk across a street to check on a motorist who had been in a minor accident. He was 43. WPLG. Sun Sentinel. WSVN.
Personnel moves: The attorney for the Lake Wales Charter School District has resigned, citing a conflict of interest with his work for the city of Lake Wales. Robin Gibson is the attorney but also the deputy mayor of Lake Wales. The charter school district is asking the city to give it or sell it a downtown property where it can place another charter school, Bok Academy North, which is now operating out of a church. Lakeland Ledger.
Zoning proposal tweaked: The St. Johns County School District has revised zoning changes proposed in the northern part of the county for a high school that opens in the fall of 2021. Those changes now are open to public comment, and the board is expected to vote in May. St. Augustine Record.
District’s salaries: Twelve Leon County School District employees are paid more than $100,000 a year, according to district records. Superintendent Rocky Hanna tops the list at $134,465. Tallahassee Democrat.
School board sued: The Lee County School Board is being sued for negligence, failing to protect students, and allowing students to be preyed upon. The suit by a former student alleges that former Mariner High School basketball coach James Harris impregnated her, and preyed on other students for nearly 15 years. Harris was arrested in 2017, pleaded guilty to having sex with the student and is in prison serving an 11-year sentence. WINK.
Ex-school officer rehired: A former lieutenant with the Duval County School District police force will return to work after charges that he had sexual contact with someone younger than 13 were dismissed by Michigan authorities. Sean MacMaster was rehired and returns to work March 16 as a certified law enforcement professional, according to a district official. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.
Deputy mayor can’t volunteer: School volunteering privileges for the deputy mayor of Palm Bay have been temporarily suspended after he was accused of being arrested for texting a lewd photo of himself to an underage girl. A political action committee named the Leadership for Florida’s Future placed an automated call about Kenny Johnson to the Brevard County School District about the arrest, Johnson confirmed he’d been arrested for the 2015 incident but that the charges had been dropped and the record expunged. The district is investigating. Florida Today.
Employees and the law: Holmes County School District officials are investigating allegations that three former employees abused special needs students at Bonifay K-8 School. One of the employees, Andaretta Justice, was arrested and accused of battery after allegedly picking up a 3-year-old by the back of his shirt, dragging him down a hallway and then dropping him. WMBB.
Students and the law: A Duval County 7th-grader received a civil citation after taking what he thought was body spray from another student and spritzing himself last week during a physical education class in the Highlands Middle School gymnasium. But it was pepper spray, and 41 students were taken to a hospital for treatment. The student who brought the pepper spray to school also faces discipline for having a prohibited substance on campus. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. A South Broward High School student was arrested Wednesday after a school resource officer found a gun and ammunition in his backpack. And a student with a pellet gun was arrested at Piper High School in Sunrise. Miami Herald. WSVN. Four Lee County students have been arrested after a fight at Lehigh Senior High School. Fort Myers News-Press.
School bus driver cited: A Volusia County school bus driver has been cited for careless driving after slamming into the back of a car in DeLand. None of the 11 students on board was hurt, but three people in the car were taken to a hospital for treatment. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Opinions on schools: Every time the Legislature convenes to make new laws it has an opportunity to do good. To make Florida better. This year, it could have approved a new law limiting the ability of police to arrest little kids. Orlando Sentinel. Two more national reports show there’s plenty of good news about public school education in Florida. Ron Matus, redefinED. To all elementary school resource officers in Florida: We here at BRAT — Bringing Retribution to Adolescent Troublemakers — are happy to report that your state legislature is backing you up on the matter of arresting 6-year-olds. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. The future of the state’s public schools could be determined by what happens in the Legislature next week. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.
Student enrichment: Culinary students from Eastside High School in Gainesville, the International Studies Preparatory Academy in Coral Gables and Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville are competing to become one of 10 U.S. finalists to prepare a meal for astronauts on the International Space Station. WUFT. The Downtown Doral Charter Upper School in Miami-Dade County has been chosen as one of 20 U.S. schools as finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest for students in grades 6-12. The school won $50,000 for students’ design of a system that alerts officials when sediment builds up in drains threatens to cause flooding, and could claim another $100,000 with a top five finish. Digital Producer Magazine. Sixteen 8th-graders at Bear Lakes Middle School in West Palm Beach are now eligible to begin taking college courses under a high school acceleration program started nine years ago by principal Kirk Howell. WPTV.