Florida schools roundup: Education bills, absentee students, homeless and more

florida-roundup-logoLegislative bills: More education bills are filed for consideration in this year’s legislative session, which begins in March. Among them are a bill to require Bright Futures recipients to do community service to renew their scholarships, have the Florida Department of Education commission a study of other states with high-performing middle school students in reading and math, and an expansion of charter schools’ ability to enter into financial arrangements. Politico FloridaGradebook.

Absentee students: Almost 13 percent of Pinellas County students miss 21 or more days of school every year, well above the state average of 9.7 percent and highest among the state’s largest school districts. The numbers prompted the district to launch an attendance awareness campaign, and officials say the early results are promising. Tampa Bay Times.

Homeless students: The number of homeless students in St. Johns County is rising. School officials blame damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in October. There are almost 700 homeless now, and district officials expect to end the school year with more than last year’s 807. St. Augustine Record.

Magnet process: Two Marion County magnet elementary schools will begin filling seats through a lottery system, school officials announce. Admission to Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School and Madison Street Academy had been determined by test scores and race. School officials are changing the process to meet state and federal requirements. Ocala Star Banner.

Constitution panel: Two school district superintendents and two former school officials are among those who have applied for one of 37 spots on the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission. Robert Runcie, superintendent in Broward County, and Pasco County’s Kurt Browning hope to get spots on the panel, which meets every 20 years to recommend changes to the state’s constitution. Politico Florida. Miami Herald.

School enrollment: The Volusia County School District expected an increase of about 1,300 students this year. Instead, fewer than 200 more enrolled. The disparity highlights the changing demographics of the county. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teachers, others honored: Kristen White, a science, technology, engineering, arts and math lab and reading intervention teacher at East Milton Elementary School, is named Santa Rosa County’s teacher of the year. Pensacola News Journal. Jeannie Maddox, a counselor at George Marks Elementary School in DeLand, is the Florida nominee for the American School Counselor Association’s school counselor of the year award. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Five finalists are in the running to be named Duval County’s teacher of the year. They are: Holly Hultgren, Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology; Michael Bostic-Jones, Raines High; Caitlyn Stetson, Reynolds Lane Elementary; Latrece Brown, Andrew Robinson Elementary; and Allison Bear, J. Allen Axson School. The winner will be announced Feb. 24. Florida Times-Union.

Discipline disparity: Black boys make up 7 percent of the population in Manatee County elementary schools, but receive 30 percent of the referrals, according to a district report. The school board will get an update on the data Jan. 24. Bradenton Herald.

Principal killed: The principal at Crews Lake Middle School is killed Friday when his pickup truck ran into the back of a logging truck making a turn. Adam Kennedy, 46, began working in the school district in 1999. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

Website rebuild: The Palm Beach County School District will rebuild its website, which students and parents have complained about for years. The district has plans for a mobile app that will send text alerts. Also being retired is Edline, software that many schools don’t use because theyt hink it’s too clunky. “We’re the 11th largest district in the country and we can do better,” says district communications chief Amity Schuyler. Palm Beach Post.

School name change: A school advisory committee is recommending that the name of Robert E. Lee Middle School in Orlando, named after the Confederate general, be changed to College Park Middle School. Superintendent Barbara Jenkins says she’s likely to take the recommendation to the school board for a vote, though no date has been set. Orlando Sentinel.

Lawsuit threat: A Duval County special-needs teacher is demanding $300,000 and an apology from a member of the school board for a threatening letter sent to him by the district. If he doesn’t get either by Feb. 10, Chris Guerrieri says he’ll sue the district and the board. Guerrieri has been critical of school officials on his blog. In September, he received a cease-and-desist letter from the district threatening him with discipline and a libel suit. The board and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti have since acknowledged the letter was out of order. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher protest: Polk County teachers plan to protest the district’s no-raise contract offer and the contract impasse at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Lakeland Ledger.

School construction: The Polk County School Board is expected to decide whether to spend $17.5 million from the half-cent sales tax fund to update Bartow High School. The project would include some renovation and some new construction. Lakeland Ledger.

Rezoning schools: The Escambia County School District is starting to plan for the rezoning that will accompany the opening of new elementary and middle schools in the fall of 2018. Pensacola News Journal. The Flagler County School Board will consider rezoning as one of several options to solve capacity problems at some schools, particularly elementary schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School property deal: Sarasota County and the school district are working on a deal that will make athletic facilities at schools available for the county’s recreation use. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Grant for buses: The EPA is giving the St. Lucie County School District $200,000 to help it buy buses that produce less pollution. The grant will help the district buy 10 of the 24 buses it is buying this school year, officials say. TCPalm.

Report card glitch: A computer has delayed the distribution of report cards in Pasco County. Cards were supposed to be handed out last Tuesday, but data errors were discovered. No date for distribution has been announced. Gradebook.

Storm closes school: Dwyer High School is closed today. The Palm Beach Gardens school was damaged by a tornado Sunday. Palm Beach Post.

Teachers arrested: A teacher at a Venice charter school arrested and accused of sexual battery on a student on school grounds. Matthew J. Minton, 24, is a social studies teacher at the Island Village Montessori School. Police say the battery occurred between December 2015 and May 2016, and the student was 13 or 14. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTSP. A Wakulla County middle school teacher is arrested and accused of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Rhonda Shields had been suspended last February for alleged misconduct “affecting the health, safety or welfare of a student,” and reassigned to a role removing her from contact with students. Tallahassee DemocratWTXL.

School bus crash: A Pinellas County school bus is involved in a seven-vehicle crash in Clearwater. None of the 15 students from Safety Harbor Middle School was injured, but five people in other vehicles were hospitalized. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: It’s time to reduce the number of tests Florida students take, reduce the stakes and restore some balance. Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Department of Education is providing a model for government transparency, not just for our state but for the nation. Paul Cottle, Tallahassee Democrat. The dispute over accounting for the ways Polk County teachers spend state money for materials is an unneeded distraction from the real mission of our schools. Lakeland Ledger. One man’s fight against the Indian River County School District’s insurance bureaucracy was enlightening but unnecessary. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. The Alachua County School Board needs to be willing to address the problem of racial disparities in our education system. Jackie Davis, Gainesville Sun. School choices are plentiful in Alachua County. Christina Miller, Gainesville Sun.

Student achievement: Students at Fox Chapel Middle School in Spring Hill are collecting bottle caps to build a bench in the memory of Dylan Arnold, a popular eighth-grader who died of a heart ailment in 2015. Tampa Bay Times. The nonprofit Pinnacle Kids donates art supplies, whiteboards, learning tools and books for students at South Grade Elementary School in Lake Worth. Palm Beach Post. Two staff members at Palmetto Elementary School in Manatee County launch the Great Kindness Challenge, an anti-bullying initiative. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Students at several Bay County elementary schools send greetings cards to troops overseas. Panama City News Herald. First Academy’s cheerleaders win the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders national championship competition. Daily Commercial.