Florida schools roundup: Class sizes, schools of excellence and more

Class sizes: A bill that would allow schools to comply with the 2002 class size amendment by using schoolwide averages instead of specific classroom counts passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Schools would be expected to try to get math, reading, science and social studies class sizes to levels required by the constitutional amendment. But there would be no penalties if school averages complied with the law, even if some classrooms did not. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU.

Schools of excellence: A bill that would give top-performing public schools more freedom from state and district regulations passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Public schools with an academic performance among the state’s top 20 percent in their grade range at least two out of three consecutive years would become “Schools of Excellence.” At those schools, principals would have greater freedom to make budget and staffing decisions, teachers would get credit toward continuing-education requirements for their certifications, and the schools would be free from mandates on reading time and have flexibility on class sizes. The bill sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, says “it would encourage innovation.” redefinED.

Religious expression: A bill that would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, and school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression” is passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is now ready for a full Senate vote. The Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee passes a slightly different version of the bill. Florida PoliticsMiami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Sunshine State News.

Testing rollback: A bill that would put limits on the state’s standardized testing passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. The bill cuts the window of testing to three weeks nearer to the end of the school year, authorizes a study to see if the SAT and ACT tests could replace the Florida Standards Assessments, and require results to be returned to teachers in a “timely manner.” Sunshine State News. News Service of Florida.

Sports choice: A bill that gives private school students the option of participating in sports at the public school of their choice is passed by the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Current law allows private school students to play sports at their zoned school. The expansion of choice would align choice for private school athletes with that of students under the state’s new open enrollment law. redefinED.

Bill’s impact on a district: Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says if a bill passes that forces school districts to share local tax revenue for capital projects with charter schools, it will cost the district $83 million. And that, Carvalho says, would mean ongoing maintenance projects would have to stop. Miami Herald.

School cancer study: The Manatee County School Board will work with the County Commission to investigate whether students at the old Bayshore High School were exposed to contamination that causes cancer. Some school alumni allege that contamination from buried diesel tanks are causing higher incidences of cancer among the students and staff from the school. Bradenton Herald.

District’s culture: An annual survey of Duval County School District employees, principals, parents and students shows improvement in the overall culture, but a continuing concern on how teachers handle discipline issues. Teachers graded the overall culture of the district at 7.9 out of 10, a significant improvement over the 7.0 the district received in the first survey four years ago. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Alternative schools: Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said a review has turned up no evidence that traditional public high schools are trying to improve graduation rates by pushing struggling students to alternative charter schools. The news organization ProPublica reported last month that one such school, Sunshine High School, was taking in students unlikely to graduate. Orlando Sentinel. The Volusia County School Board cuts ties with the Catapult Academy after a two-year pilot program. The academy offered an alternative way toward a high school degree for students ages 16-21 who had quit or were at risk of quitting school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Single-member districts: The Manatee County School Board will ask voters to decide if they want single-member district or at-large elections. The vote will be in 2018. Currently, the board has five members who are elected countywide, though each must live in a specific district. Bradenton Herald.

School impact fees: The Citrus County Commission votes to reinstate the collection of impact fees on new homes for the school district. The fee, $1,261 per home, had been suspended for two years. School Superintendent Sandra Himmel said while no new schools are planned in the next 10 years, when money collected from the fees must be spent, the district is growing and things could change quickly. Citrus County Chronicle.

Magnet schools approved: The Brevard County School Board approves a plan designating South Lake Elementary, Palm Bay Elementary and Rockledge High as magnet schools. Brevard Times.

Classroom materials: Leon County school officials say a proposed bill that allows any taxpayer to object to classroom materials is unnecessary in the district. The school board already holds community meetings when changes are made in the curriculum. “I believe the textbook and materials adoption system we have now works well,” says board member Rosanne Wood. “Curriculum decisions are best left with elected school boards, educators and parents of affected students.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Drug prevention: The Orange County School District will begin a new drug-prevention campaign, called “Too Smart to Start,” that is being put together by the superintendent’s student advisory council. It will start in the district’s high schools and later expand into middle schools. Orlando Sentinel.

Band director honored: Gainesville names a street in honor of the late Richard E. Parker, who was a band director for 32 years in the Alachua County School District. Parker died in 2016. He graduated from Florida A&M and was a member of the famed FAMU Marching 100, and adopted that band’s uniform colors and routines during his 20 years at Eastside High School. Gainesville Sun.

Name reconsidered: Orange County School Board members will reconsider the name of a new school in Lake Nona because of its initials. Innovation Park Middle School could become known as IPMS, which is uncomfortable for some parents and students because of its similarity with the initials for premenstrual syndrome. Orlando Sentinel.

New schools: Plans to build an elementary school in Panama City are on hold because of a new law that limits what districts can spend on new construction. The law, which goes into effect later this year, limits construction costs at $17,952 per student for new elementary schools, $19,386 for middle schools and $25,181 for high schools. The Bay County School District was planning to spend $32,500 per student for Beach Elementary School. Panama City News Herald. Ground is broken for construction of Bonita Springs High School. The school, which is scheduled to open in August 2018, will have six career academies, partnerships with Florida Gulf Coast and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical universities and outdoor learning labs. Fort Myers News-Press.

Decision on charter delayed: The Manatee County School Board gives the Manatee Charter School two more weeks to prepare an argument for why its contract with the district should not be terminated. The district announced its intention to terminate the contract on Feb. 9, citing chaotic classes, negative relations between students and teacher and administrative errors. Bradenton Herald.

Teacher fired for biting: Karen Williams, a third-grade teacher at Columbia Elementary School in Palm Bay, is fired for biting a special needs student on the back. Williams was arrested shortly after the incident in December and found guilty of culpable negligence. Florida Today.

Teacher arrested: Napolean Joseph, a former physical education teacher and football coach at Miami Edison High School, is arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. He was fired by the school district after the allegations surfaced in February. Miami Herald.

Guns at schools: A sixth-grader at Port Malabar Elementary School in Palm Bay is arrested and accused of bringing a gun to the school. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: The Hillsborough County School District needs to stop churning out feel-good rhetoric and start talking honestly about problems that Potter Elementary and other struggling schools face, both inside and outside the campus environment. Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Alessandra Maggioni, a student at Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest, is awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for her work with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff