Florida schools roundup: Education suit dismissed, Bush’s return and more

florida-roundup-logoLawsuit dismissed: Florida has not failed to fulfill its constitutional mandate to provide a quality education for all public school students, a circuit court judge has ruled. Judge George Reynolds III dismissed the suit brought by Citizens for Strong Schools and others against the State Department of Education and legislative leaders. The plaintiffs charged that the state’s racial achievement gap, emphasis on testing and lack of adequate funding kept the state from satisfying the terms of a 1998 constitutional amendment. Reynolds disagreed. “The weight of the evidence shows that the state has made education a top priority both in terms of implementation of research-based education policies and reforms, as well as education funding,” he wrote. Gradebook. Palm Beach Post. Orlando SentinelGainesville Sun. WFSU. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.  redefinED.

Bush is back: Former presidential candidate Jeb Bush is elected chairman and president of the board of directors of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He replaces Condoleezza Rice. Bush formed the foundation in 2007 after two terms as Florida governor. He suspended his presidential campaign three months ago. The Hill. Miami HeraldTampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. Sunshine State News.

Discrimination query: Federal grants are being withheld as the Polk County School District’s harassment and discrimination policies are under review by the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice. School Board attorney Wes Bridges says the move is most likely tied to the Obama administration directive saying transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom of their gender identity. Lakeland Ledger.

Bathroom rights: The Obama administration directive on allowing transgender students to use the bathroom conforming to their gender identity could lead to a boom in school bathroom construction. In an email to his colleagues, Sumter County School Superintendent Richard Shirley wrote: “Students will be expected to use group restroom facilities based on their birth gender until necessary remodeling takes place to insure the safety, privacy and comfort of all students in single unisex restroom facilities.” Gradebook.

District sex survey: Citing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases rates, the Hillsborough County School Board agrees to survey students about their sexual behavior. Parents can have their children opt out. Tampa Bay Times.

Charters get help: A powerful state legislator is stepping in to help three Pinellas County charter schools that have been given 90-day termination notices by the school board. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, says he will help the schools fight the shutdown order. The schools are all owned by Newpoint Education Partners, which has been indicted in Escambia County for grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white collar crime. WFLA.

Fiery stunt report: An entertainer acknowledges using the wrong accelerant during a fire-breathing stunt at an Atlantic High School pep rally in March, according to a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Ricky Charles’ face caught fire in front of hundreds of students. He says he used hemp oil and Coleman’s fuel, which caused a backdraft to his face. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Pledge of Allegiance: The new law detailing how to inform students that they don’t have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is inspiring a wider discussion about students’ rights and responsibilities. Orlando Sentinel.

Tax-fee link dropped: The Manatee County School Board drops the link between school impact fees and an extension of the sales tax. The board originally approved the alignment, which would have cut impact fees if the sales tax is approved by voters. Critics called it a giveaway to developers. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District audit: A state auditor says the Leon County School District has flaws in management of its finances and record-keeping. Tallahassee Democrat.

Superintendent’s deal: A four-year contract for Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene is approved by the school board. She’s being paid $189,985 the first year. The board also approves the $2.3 million purchase of land in Parrish to build a high school, agrees to relocate Wakefield Elementary School to Johnson Middle School in the fall of 2017, and approves financial settlements with two former employees. One of those employees, Steve Gulash, has refused to sign the agreement. Bradenton Herald.

Building changes: The Bay County School Board approves spending an extra $300,000 to make several design changes to Mosley High School’s new fine arts center. The changes are expected to add functionality. The ground-breaking ceremony is June 2. Panama City News Herald.

Staffing plan approved: The Polk County School Board approves a district restaffing plan that, among other moves, eliminates the executive secretary position from the superintendent’s office. It had been held by Carol Trudell, who was transferred after telling investigators about then-Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy’s romantic interest in a colleague. Lakeland Ledger.

LGBT hearing: The Brevard County School Board agrees to hold a public hearing about a proposed non-discrimination policy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. A school board candidate also was arrested at the meeting. Dean Paterakis was asked to step away from the speaker’s podium after making what the board chairman called inappropriate comments. Paterakis refused, and continued to object when asked to leave by security. Florida Today.

Insurance changes: The Volusia County School Board approves a proposal that will increase the cost of health insurance for district employees. Some of the savings, estimated to be about $12 million a year, will be passed on to those employees as a 4 percent pay raise over two years. The teachers union says the deal declares war on employees. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Graduation dream: Daniel Campbell, 67, fulfilled a lifelong wish by receiving a diploma Tuesday at Pensacola High School. Campbell, a mentally disabled resident at a health-care and rehabilitation center, completed a GED program in 1971 but never went through a graduation ceremony. Pensacola News Journal.

Sex at school: The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is looking into a cellphone video reportedly shot in a South Fort Myers High School bathroom when a 15-year-old girl had sex with multiple partners. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher resigns: A teacher and volleyball coach at DeLand High School has resigned. Steven Foxworth, 29, had been removed from the classroom after he sent inappropriate Twitter messages to a 9th grade volleyball player. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Ten students arrested: A fight at Tarpon Springs High School ends in the arrests of 10 students. Police say the fight started among four girls, and six boys then joined in. Police don’t know what sparked the confrontation, and no one was seriously injured. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Senior pranks: An Orlando high school principal warns that senior pranks are becoming vandalism, and says students risk getting criminal records if things keep escalating. Dusty Johns, principal at Boone High School, says he is “embarrassed by such actions of our students in the community.” Among them: egging houses, spray-painting mailboxes and smearing syrup on vehicles. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: In a “Dear Colleague” letter, the Obama administration has issued guidelines explaining how public schools should treat transgender students. As a policy, it is good. As a political tactic, maybe not so much. Jac Wilder VerSteeg, Florida Politics.

Student enrichment: Eight schools win state academic championships for overall team grade point averages in varsity sports in their classification for the 2015-2016 school year. FHSAA. Northwest Florida Daily News. Six Chisholm Elementary School fifth-graders are headed to the Odyssey of the Mind Team finals in Iowa to compete against 830 teams from around the world. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Navarre High School construction academy students build the frame for a 360-square-foot house and sell it for $1,000 to a former classmate. Northwest Florida Daily News. Eleven Eglin Elementary third- and fourth-graders travel to Alabama to meet several Tuskegee airmen or their survivors and take a ride in a small plane. Northwest Florida Daily News.