School safety bills advance on 6th anniversary of Parkland school shooting, flag bill, and more

School safety bills okayed: On the sixth anniversary of a gunman killing 17 students and employees at a Broward County high school, the House Education and Employment Committee unanimously approved two bills intended to improve school safety. HB 1473 would require all school doors and entry points to be locked unless they’re being guarded, and allow the Office of Safe Schools to conduct unannounced inspections of schools to ensure their compliance with safety requirements. The other, HB 1109, would provide state funds for security cameras, fencing and hiring guards at Jewish day schools. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix.

Also in the Legislature: A bill that would restrict what flags could fly in schools and other public buildings is one of several “culture war” proposals that Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, suggested are “effectively” dead for this legislative session. On Wednesday, she said that bill and three others “ran out of time” and she was “not going to have another committee meeting for a bill, for any bill for that matter.” The other bills she’s referring to would have prohibited the removal of Confederate memorials, placed regulations on the use of pronouns, and rolled back age restrictions for firearms purchases. News Service of Florida. USA Today Florida Network. The House Ways and Means Committee gave its approval Wednesday to that chamber’s $647.3 million tax cut bill. News Service of Florida. High school dropouts could still qualify for tuition waivers to pursue diplomas or workforce credentials at Florida colleges under a bill approved Wednesday by a House committee. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Ceremonies marked the sixth anniversary of the Parkland school shootings, Miami-Dade school district officials appear to be reconsidering their position on requiring parental permission for some events, Miami-Dade’s school board approves several reforms to the use of district credit cards by board members and other district officials, Polk schools have been rocked by the deaths of 21 district students since last June, Pinellas school board members extend Superintendent Kevin Hendrick’s contract by three years, and Lake County schools announce their teacher of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School district leaders appear to be reconsidering their position of requiring paental approval to let their children hear guest speakers on topics such as black history. “It will be an ongoing process to make sure we seek the clarity required to make sure we only use parent permission slips for when they’re needed, regardless of African American history, (the) Holocaust, (or) Hispanic heritage,” said Superintendent Jose Dotres. “Whatever it is, we need to strike the correct balance in clarity period on the parent permission slip.” Politico Florida. Several reforms in school board members’ spending with district credit cards were approved by board members this week. Changes were proposed after former board member Lubby Navarro was arrested and accused of spending more than $100,000 in a year with her district credit card on personal expenses. A monthly spending limit of $6,000 has been imposed, and charges by board members, the general counsel, chief auditor, superintendent and chief of staff will be reviewed each month. WLRN. Two weeks after his wife was fired as Doral city manager, school board member Danny Espino is being evicted from his satellite office in Doral City Hall. He has 30 days to leave. Miami Herald.

Broward: Seventeen students and staff who died in the shootings six years ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were remembered in a series of ceremonies Wednesday around the district. They were eulogized by families and friends, with their names spoken out loud, candles lit, white doves released and more. And in those ceremonies was comfort, said families of the victims. “Surrounded by love and support, that’s what helps us heal,” said school board member Lori Alhadeff, whose 15-year-old daughter Alyssa died in the shootings. “Every day is heartbreaking without our beautiful Gina,” said Tony Montalto of his 14-year-old daughter also murdered that day. But, he added at a gathering, “Knowing Gina is not forgotten is helpful.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ. WFOR. WLRN. A Plantation High School teacher has been arrested and accused of having a romantic relationship with a 15-year-old student. Police say Gabriel Mohammed, 25, is charged with soliciting or engaging in sexual conduct as an authority figure. He’s been reassigned away from students pending the conclusion of the investigation. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

Orange: A school resource officer used pepper spray on a 12-year-old Lake Nona Middle School student Wednesday when the student “became verbally aggressive and physically violent with school staff and the … officer.” The child faces charges of battery on a school employee, battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting with violence, disruption of an educational institution, and depriving an officer of means of communication. WKMG. A Cypress Creek High School student was hospitalized with a cut to the head during a fight at the school Wednesday. District officials said, “The altercation between two students resulted in a cut on a student’s forehead that may have been caused by a vape device.” Sheriff’s deputies are investigating. WESH. WKMG. WOFL.

Pinellas: Superintendent Kevin Hendrick’s contract was extended three years, until June 2028, by the school board this week. Hendrick has run the district since 2022 after replacing the retiring Michael Grego. Other terms of the contract, including his $290,000-a-year contract, remain the same. WUSF. Three Tampa Bay area students finished atop the Scripps regional spelling bee in St. Petersburg last Saturday to qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee that will be held over the Memorial Day weekend in Maryland. The winners were 8th-grader Jordin Oremosu, 7th-grader Bruhat Soma and 5th-grader Amara Chepuri. WFTS.

Polk: At least 21 district students have died since last June, leaving the school community shellshocked and looking for answers. “Someone told me when you lose someone, you don’t just lose a person, you don’t just grieve that person, you grieve their purpose,” said Harrison School senior Taylor Maher, whose friend Julia Black died of cardiac arrest on Oct. 27, 2023. At least nine of the deaths were in traffic accidents, and three were by murder. Lakeland Now.

Lee: A North Fort Myers High School social studies teacher has resigned after his classroom library of more than 600 books was removed. School officials boxed up the books and told Mike Andoscia to take them home. The collection consisted of history, social studies, philosophy and fiction, he said, and students were free to check them out. Last May, teachers were ordered to enter all titles into a database so they could be vetted. When the pace of the reviews dragged, Andoscia said, the school told him to cover the books. Instead, he decided to resign. Fort Myers News-Press.

Volusia: Arin Hankerd, a former district high school teacher who was arrested last year and charged with having sexual relations with two students, has decided to take a plea deal instead of risking a longer jail sentence if he would be convicted at trial. Hankerd’s sentencing is scheduled for May 17. He faces a minimum of 18.6 years in prison, and a maximum of up to 190 years. WKMG. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV.

Lake: Cindy Bellamy, an agriculture teacher at Mount Dora High School, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible for the statewide award. Daily Commercial.

Okaloosa: Jordan Berry, the assistant principal at the Lewis School, was recently named the principal at Bluewater Elementary School in Niceville. Also promoted was Lisa Kimbrough, from a teacher on special assignment to assistant principal at Crestview High School. Okaloosa County School District.

Alachua: Seventy-five families whose children are in the magnet program at Williams Elementary School in Gainesville said they will move those students if the school follows through with its plan to begin an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme in the fall. They said the decision was rushed and they have unanswered questions about the impact the IB program would have on the magnet program for high-achieving students. WUFT.

Hernando: A driver hit two school crossing guards in Spring Hill on Wednesday afternoon and then drove away. The crossing guards were hospitalized with undisclosed injuries. Deputies later found and arrested the driver. WTVT. WFLA. WTSP.

Citrus: A proposal to raise the pay of substitute school bus drivers by $1 an hour was approved this week by the school board. Bus operators who work extra or on field trips will also get a boost from $15 to $16 an hour. District officials hope the move will help them recruit and retain drivers. Citrus County School District.

Monroe: District 3 school board member Mindy Conn has filed the paperwork to run for another term. She was first elected in 2016, and is unopposed so far. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Construction has begun on a 521-bed dormitory for honors students at the University of North Florida, the first new on-campus housing construction in 15 years. It’s expected to open in the fall of 2025, and is part of the school growth that  President Moez Limayem expects to boost student enrollment by about 50 percent, to 25,000, by 2028. Florida Times-Union.

Opinions on schools: The idea behind using public funds for private schools was to provide an option for students. Florida shouldn’t be in such a hurry to invalidate public schools by propping up money-hungry private schools at the expense of the more worthy goal of providing students with an excellent education. Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff