Florida schools roundup: District sued, bathroom fight, letter grades and more

florida-roundup-logoDistrict suit: The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing the Collier County School District in federal court, alleging the district is denying immigrant students access to public education and discriminating against those with limited English skills. The SPLC says as many as 300 immigrant students, ages 16 and 17, who moved to Collier in the past three years could have been denied access or discriminated against by the district. Naples Daily News.

Bathroom fight: State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, thinks the Obama administration’s directive on bathroom rights for transgender students is an encroachment on states’ rights. She and other conservatives want Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott to fight the directive. Bondi’s office responded: “We do not issue legal opinions on federal law.” Adkins is leaving the Legislature and running for Nassau County schools superintendent. Miami HeraldMiami New Times. Florida Times-Union. Equality Florida is rallying for support against Clay County School Superintendent Charlie Van Sant Jr.’s opposition to the bathroom directive. Florida Politics.

Letter grades: Parents are lobbying the Palm Beach County School District to go back to letter grades for elementary students. Standards-based grades, in which students are given “performance codes,” began several years ago and is now the practice in all the county’s elementary schools. Parents say they aren’t getting a clear picture of how their children are doing, the system doesn’t promote higher achievement and students might struggle to adapt to letter grades in middle school. Sun-Sentinel.

Pay raises proposed: The Volusia County School Board is offering pay raises for the district’s teachers – if the teachers agree to pay more for their health insurance. Teachers reacted negatively to the proposal. The pay increase would be 4 percent over two years. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Seminole County School District and its workers’ unions reach a tentative agreement on pay increases averaging 5 percent over two years. The unions will vote on the contract Tuesday, and the school board is expected to vote May 27. Orlando Sentinel.

Bright Futures: Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says he wants to find additional money for the merit-based Bright Futures scholarships, which had been slashed during the recession. News Service of Florida.

Teachers staying on: Seventy-seven of the 111 Orange County teachers with a May 31 retirement date will continue working at their current rate of pay through the end of the school year on June 8. Orlando Sentinel.

Administrator’s new job: The Palm Beach County School District’s director of school accountability transformation is the choice to become superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Anthony Hamlet had been a principal in the Palm Beach County School District for almost eight years before being promoted to his current position, in which he supervises 25 low-performing schools and a $170 million budget. Palm Beach PostPittsburgh Post-GazettePittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Residency question: Duval County school officials are not commenting about an email sent to the school board that alleges member Constance Hall does not live in her district. Her attorney, Noel Lawrence, says Hall spends some time in her home in the district and some time in a condo outside the district. “The law doesn’t say you have to spend 10 percent or 5 percent or 100 percent of your time there,” he says. “You can go anywhere you want.” Florida Times-Union.

Shirts issue: At least six Immokalee High School students are sent home for wearing shirts with the Haitian flag to commemorate Haitian Flag Day. School officials said the students were asked to remove the shirts and were sent home when they refused. A Collier County School District spokesman says the district’s Student Code of Conduct allows students to wear or display just four flags on campus: the U.S. flag, the POW-MIA flag, the State of Florida flag and official school flags. Naples Daily News.

Expansion plans: The Miami-Dade County School District is making plans to expand two high schools in the northeast area of the county. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s proposal calls for spending $27 million to add room for 1,000 more students to Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High and the MAST Academy at FIU. Miami Herald.

Land purchase: The Manatee County School Board is expected to approve spending $2.3 million for land in Parrish for a new high school. Bradenton Herald.

Schools merger: Wakeland Elementary School and Johnson Middle School parents meet with principals and Manatee County School District Superintendent Diana Greene to discuss the plan to close Wakefield and merge with Johnson in the 2017-18 academic year. The school board votes on the proposal Tuesday. Bradenton Herald.

Teacher suspended: Palm Beach Lakes High School officials have suspended a teacher who sued the principal after his contract was not renewed. Malik Leigh claimed he and others were fired in retaliation for their complaints about the school administration. School officials say Leigh was suspended because he tried to give his students a “wholly inappropriate” final exam. Palm Beach Post.

Ex-administrator loses: A Brooksville judge rules that Ken Pritz has no claim under the state’s whistleblower law to return to his former job as assistant superintendent of the Hernando County School District. Pritz says he was fired after he disclosed that Superintendent Lori Romano had sent an email in his name after demoting him in 2013. Pritz’s claim for back pay and retirement benefits is scheduled for a jury trial early next year. Tampa Bay Times.

Ex-teacher sues district: A former first-grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary has sued the Leon County School Board for wrongful termination. Christine Clark says she was targeted for taking sick leave to tend to her daughter. Tallahassee Democrat.

Lawsuit settlements: The Manatee County School Board is expected to approve settlements in two lawsuits. Former professional standards investigator Troy Pumphrey, who says he faced racial discrimination in the workplace, will settle his suit for $27,500. And $25,000 will settle the suit claiming retaliation that was brought by district employee and former parent liaison Steve Gulash. Bradenton Herald.

Opinions on schools: The trick in the issue of bathroom choice by transgender students is protecting the rights of that small minority of children without infringing on the rights of others. But it might require more subtlety and more time than the Education Department’s directive suggests. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times.  I think we should build schools without bathrooms and contract for portable toilets. Just line them up on the edge of the playground and everybody gets a stinky, private plastic restroom. Terry Dickson, Florida Times-Union. The federal government’s guidance on bathroom rights for transgender students is heavy-handed. Brent Batten, Naples Daily News. There is room for improving Polk County’s schools, but suggesting that Lakeland secede from Polk County and become a charter system is not the answer. Hunt Berryman, Lakeland Ledger. The Lee County School District’s cancellation of a contract to purchase property for a Bonita Springs high school should be viewed as a setback, not a conclusion. Naples Daily News.

Student enrichment: Three homeschool students from the Tampa Bay area place second in the national Bright Schools Competition, which “encourages students in grades 6 to 8 to explore the correlation between light and sleep and how it influences student health and performance.” On the team were Catie Tomasello of Land O’Lakes and Sophia and Grace Nobles of New Tampa. Tampa Bay Times. Thirty students from Miami-Dade and Broward counties are named 2016 Silver Knight winners for their academic achievements and community service. Miami Herald. Students in the Kanapaha Middle School creative writing club publish and sell a 32-page magazine of students’ literature, poetry and artwork. Gainesville Sun. An Alumni Hall of Fame has been created for Lake County School District graduates. The initial class of eight includes Commodores founder Thomas McClary and astronaut David M. Walker, both graduates of Eustis High School. Daily Commercial.