Palm Beach district settles suit over funds for charter schools, school zone cameras, mold found at Sarasota High, and more

Around the state: Palm Beach’s school board has agreed to pay $1.1 million to two charter schools to settle a lawsuit over sharing money generated by a voter-approved tax hike, Hillsborough County is considering putting cameras in school zones to catch speeders, Brevard’s school board chair credits better training and an improved reporting process for the 10,000-incident increase in disciplinary referrals, Volusia district officials are asking the sheriff’s office for more resource officers, Alachia school district shows that a revised rezoning plan for elementary schools won’t reduce the number of overcrowded schools, the number of homeless students continues to rise in central Florida school districts, and Duval has new union officials to replace two who resigned a month after the FBI and IRS searched union offices and removed documents. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: County commissioners are considering a proposal to put cameras in school zones to detect speeders. A new law took effect over the summer that legalizes the use of the cameras in school zones. Drivers caught going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in those zones will be fined $100. “This enforcement is much needed in our county in all the counties because there’s so many people that really just speed through the school zone,” said commissioner Gwen Myers. A public hearing Nov. 15 will precede the commission’s vote. WFTS. WTVT.

Central Florida: The number of homeless students is soaring in central Florida school districts. Seminole County is reporting a 93 percent increase since 2021, while Orange County’s rate is up 61 percent and Lake County’s 28 percent. Seminole has responded by offering students and their families school supplies, food, clothes and, in some cases, emergency funds through its Families in Need program. “We’re doing what we can with the resources that are available, but the rising number of students is alarming,” said Jillian Orleman, a liaison for the program. WOFL.

Palm Beach: A $1.1 million settlement to a lawsuit over back-funding for charter schools was approved Wednesday by the school board. Two charter schools, one of which is now defunct, sued the district, arguing that they were entitled to a share of the $200 million a year generated by a voter-approved property tax hike for school safety initiatives and higher teacher pay. The district sold the tax as being “dedicated for operational needs of non-charter district schools.” In 2021, an appeals court agreed with the charter schools, and since then the district has paid charters $60 million. At issue in the lawsuit was how much the district would pay retroactively. Palm Beach Post. School board members met Wednesday with the county’s legislative delegation to lobby for more funding and freedom from excessive regulation. Board members could not agree on chair Frank Barbieri’s request to give districts discretion on how to discipline students who bring stun guns on campus. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: Tammie Brooks-Evans has been named president and Jessica Reyst vice president of the teachers union, replacing the leaders who recently resigned about a month after the FBI and IRS searched and removed materials from the union’s headquarters. Brooks-Evans has been working for the union as a staff consultant and chief negotiator, and Reyst as a consultant and professional development coordinator. Jacksonville Today. A 5-year-old nonverbal autistic student from Biscayne Elementary School was mistakenly dropped off this week at the wrong school by his school bus driver. Fortunately, a teacher at Garden City Elementary recognized the boy. Student Transportation of America, a company that provide busing for the district, is investigating. WJAX.

Polk: An 18-year-old man was arrested Wednesday and accused of having a weapon on the campus of Resurrection Catholic Church and private school in Lakeland. The man was seen holding a gun, which turned out to be fake, in the parking lot. He claimed he was at the church to pray when he noticed the gun in the back seat, and picked it up. He’s been charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing/interrupting school function. WFLA.

Lee: New school zone signs with flashing lights have been installed near 15 schools throughout the city of Cape Coral. Florida Department of Transportation workers installed the signs, while the city will pick up the maintenance costs of about $40,000 a year. WBBH.

Brevard: School board chair Matt Susin said the 10,000-incident jump in discipline referrals in the past year is due to better training of staffers and an improved referral process. Staff must now report referrals within 24 hours, and suspensions on the same day. “Those two things have been exceptionally helpful as far as coaching our staff,” said director of student services Chris Reed. Some school board members said they were concerned with the disproportionate rates of discipline among black students and non-gifted special education students. Pamela Dampier, assistant superintendent of student services, said the district would closely monitor that. Florida Today. Three Melbourne High School students were suspended Wednesday for writing a racial slur and an obscenity on the back of a classmate’s T-shirt. A photo of the shirt was posted on Facebook and circulated on social media. Once the student with the shirt realized what the others had written, he went to the office and asked to change shirts. “These types of behaviors will never be tolerated, will never be allowed to go unchecked and unpunished,” said district spokesman Russell Bruhn. Florida Today. WKMG.

Volusia: District officials are asking the sheriff’s office to provide seven deputies and a supervising sergeant to work as resource officers at middle schools that are currently protected only by school guardians, who are armed but are not sworn law enforcement officers. The presence of sworn officers significantly reduces the number of school safety incidents, district officials said. WKMG. WFTV.

Collier: A contract agreement was reached Wednesday between the union representing teachers and the school district. The deal offers a higher starting pay for teachers and what district officials called a 12.5 percent raise. Union officials contend that few teachers will get the full raise amount, but agreed to the district’s terms. Union members and the school board still have to approve the agreement. WINK.

Sarasota: A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found mold in buildings 13 and 14 on the campus of Sarasota High School. The inspection was done after the agency got anonymous complaints that teachers and students have experienced respiratory issues, headaches, nose and ear bleeding, and sinus infections attributed to mold in the buildings. District spokesman Craig Maniglia said the district has complied with all recommendations from the agency and responded to every complaint received about the mold issue. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Okaloosa: A student at the Baker School was treated for fentanyl poisoning Wednesday after being found by a classmate slumped in a bathroom. The girl had ingested gummies that she thought were Sour Patch Kids. The 15-year-old who found her carried her to the school nurse, and she was then taken to a hospital for treatment. She’s expected to make a full recovery. WMBB. WEAR.

Alachua, north-central Florida: The latest school rezoning plan for elementary schools is not going to resolve overcrowding issues, according to data released by the district. Fifteen schools are now at or over capacity, which the district defines at 90 percent or higher enrollment, and the latest proposed changes would result in 17 schools being overcrowded. Nine of the schools are now at 99 percent capacity, and that would increase to 11 schools under the new plan. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled Nov. 14, and the school board is expected to take a final vote Dec. 5. Gainesville Sun. Main Street Daily News. A shortage of school bus drivers persists at school districts in north-central Florida. Alachua has cut “courtesy” busing for students who live within 2 miles of their schools, while Marion and Putnam are focusing on higher pay and retention strategies. WUFT.

Bay: A student at the Deane Bozeman School in Panama City fell into the school’s drainage system through a grate that had shifted during a physical education class Wednesday. The student was quickly pulled out and taken to a hospital for evaluation. WMBB. WJHG.

Hernando: A 10-year-old student at Challenger K-8 in Spring Hill was detained after a pellet gun and a pocket knife were discovered in her backpack, according to sheriff’s deputies. “The student did not make any threats to other students and/or to staff members,” deputies said. WFLA. WTVT. Hernando Today.

Colleges and universities: State officials are expected to provide an update next week on what comes next in the search for a president at Florida Atlantic University. The search, which was suspended in July after state officials said there were “anomalies,” was further muddled this week after Attorney General Ashley Moody said the search committee broke the Sunshine Law while trying to whittle the field from 60 to 20. It’s possible the search will have to be restarted, though FAU officials said they wanted to resume the search and the three chosen finalists say they’re still interested in the job. Politico Florida. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Wednesday that if he’s elected, he would create a federally funded online university that awards free degrees. He said it would be paid for with a tax on the investment income of the nation’s wealthiest private universities. Politico.

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BY NextSteps staff