Florida schools roundup: No names in bills, alternative schools and more

Bill drops name: A bill that would prohibit Florida high school students from leaving campuses for lunch won’t bear the name of a Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School girl who was killed in a car crash during lunch off campus in 1999. Sen. Rene Hialeah, R-Hialeah, removed the name of Mayra Capote from his bill at the request of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who said he didn’t want bills named after people because it puts lawmakers in an awkward spot if they want to oppose them. Miami Herald.

Legislative issues: The expansion of school choice programs, cutbacks in testing and the expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program are among the top issues to watch in this year legislative session, which begins in a week. Orlando Weekly. WFSU.

District denies report: Orange County School District officials deny a ProPublica report last week that the district is using alternative schools to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade. Spokespersons for the district and Accelerated Learning Solutions, a for-profit charter school management company that manages five charter alternative schools in the county, say students choose the alternative schools. One of the schools mentioned in the report, Sunshine High School, is up for contract renewal. District staff is recommending the school board approve the renewal at today’s meeting. Orlando Sentinel.

District criticized: Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group that monitors financial performances of institutions, is criticizing the Broward County School District for construction delays and overruns in its $800 million bond program to upgrade schools. County voters approved the bond in 2014, but many projects expected to be under construction by 2015 still haven’t begun. Sun-Sentinel.

School properties: Orange County School Board members are lobbying county commissioners to approve a bill that would allow the district to build schools on smaller pieces of properties than currently required. The minimum campuses sizes for elementary schools would drop from 15 acres to 7-11 acres; for middle schools, from 25 acres to 12-16; and for high schools, from 65 acres to 40-50. Orlando Sentinel.

Special education: The Manatee County School Board will look into the district’s special education program, which is graduating fewer students than the statewide average. The director of the program wants to start gradually moving special education students into general education classrooms. Bradenton Herald.

A teacher’s job: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa says he doesn’t want to fire Boca Raton High School teacher Samantha Major for her handling of a student’s claim of rape. But he says he had no option when Major refused to accept a transfer to another school. Palm Beach Post.

Single-member districts: Manatee County School Board member Karen Carpenter, who voted against a proposal to ask countywide voters if they wanted single-member districts or at-large elections, changes her mind and now wants the board to reconsider. Board members must now live in and represent specific districts, but are elected countywide. Bradenton Herald.

Zoning hearing: A state Division of Administrative Hearings judge hears seven hours of testimony in a case brought by parents who say they are harmed by a redrawing of Pasco County school boundaries. The hearing resumes today. The judge’s order could be issued in the next 30 days. Tampa Bay Times.

Hurricane costs: The Volusia County School District sustained $3.2 million in damage when Hurricane Matthew went up the east coast in October. The costs will largely be covered by insurance and by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but until then the district is doing a lot of repair work. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

City, charter meet: The Cape Coral City Council and Cape Coral Charter School System Governing Board meet to discuss the charter’s future. No decisions are made, but will further discuss a possible building upgrade of Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, terms of the lease for charter buildings, and technical support from the city. Fort Myers News-Press.

Bathroom access: Collier and Lee county school officials say they won’t change policies on handling bathroom access for transgender students. Both make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Naples Daily News.

Teachers honored: Seventy-two Lake County teachers are among the state’s “highest impact” teachers, according to the Florida Department of Education. The department uses three years of student performance on statewide standardized assessments in reading, math and/or algebra I to determine which teachers are honored. Orlando Sentinel.

Students mourn loss: Counselors are at Lake Gibson Middle School to help students cope with the murders of an assistant principal and a teacher on Friday. Math teacher Lisa Fuillerat, 51, and assistant principal Samara Routenberg, 39, were murdered by Fuillerat’s estranged husband, Vincente Fuillerat, who then killed himself. Lakeland Ledger.

Notable deaths: Betsy Kaplan, a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board for 16 years and a fierce advocate for arts programs in schools, has died at age 90. Miami Herald.

School uniforms: The Volusia County School Board will vote on adding black and gray to the list of acceptable colors for school uniforms. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher fired: A St. Lucie County teacher who was arrested after fighting with two students has been fired. Leah Merrique Germain, 38, was a teacher at the Samuel Gaines Academy in Fort Pierce. TCPalm.

Ex-coach convicted: Benjamin Jenkins, former Titusville High assistant football coach and Imperial Estates Elementary instructional assistant, is convicted in a federal court of drug trafficking. Jenkins faces a prison term of up to 20 years. Florida Today.

Teacher reprimanded: Susan Creamer, a teacher at Merritt Brown Middle School, is officially reprimanded by calling her students “cretins” in a Facebook post. Creamer has since apologized to all her classes. Panama City News Herald.

Opinions on schools: If U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is looking for a true model of choice that benefits students, she should consider a state with strong student achievement, a healthy charter school sector, transparent accountability and a notable absence of voucher programs. That’s not Florida. Laura Jimenez and Samantha Batel, U.S. News & World Report. There are several small steps that could make students safer in schools during an active-shooter situation. Marybeth Bauer, Sun-Sentinel. My goals as Sarasota County school superintendent are to maintain our tradition of excellence, ensure that our tradition of excellence extends to all of our students, and fulfill our commitment to our students, and to this community, beyond graduation. Todd Bowden, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Black students, more than any other racial group, are performing less proficiently, being disciplined more severely, and are enrolled less frequently in high-achieving coursework and programs in Alachua County. But ending racial disparities is attainable. Diedre F. Houchen, Gainesville Sun. It’s distressing that there are no serious legislative proposals on addressing to problem Florida has with recruiting and retaining teachers. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Maureik Robison, a fourth-grade teacher at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, writes a song and makes a video  to get students excited about the Florida Standards Assessments tests. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff

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