Florida schools roundup: ‘Schools of hope,’ testing and religion bills and more

‘Schools of hope’: In Florida, 77,000 students attend public schools that have received grades of D or F from the state for three years or more. Those are the schools House Republicans plan to improve with their “Schools of Hope” legislation, which would set aside $200 million to bring in well-regarded charter schools to offer those students an alternative. Nearly half of the struggling schools are in south Florida and the Tampa Bay area. Critics say the legislation is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. Miami Herald. Backers of the bill find support in a ruling last year by a Leon County judge. Circuit Judge George Reynolds tossed out a suit claiming that the state’s funding of public schools did not meet the constitutional requirement to provide a “high quality” education system. Reynolds’ ruling also warned of school boards’ seeming complacency in accepting long-term F schools, something the new bill aims to address. redefinED.

School testing: Most legislators share the opinion that the state testing system needs to be reformed. What’s unclear is which of the competing bills will be chosen by the Senate to move forward. One compresses the testing schedule into the final three weeks of the school year and requires results back within a week. The other would also move testing later in the school year, eliminate some exams and allow districts to administer the tests in paper and pencil. School officials say either bill would present practical challenges. Tampa Bay Times.

Religious expression: The House will vote Tuesday whether to proceed with the original Senate bill guaranteeing students and employees freedom of religious expression in public schools or adopt the House’s shorter and amended version. Gradebook.

Disappearing seniors: The Manatee County School District is among 10 districts that have drawn the attention of the state Department of Education for their high number of likely-to-fail seniors who transfer from public high schools to alternative schools. Since the 2013-2014 school year, at least 515 Manatee County seniors who would not have graduated have transferred to Smart Horizons, an accredited online private school. Manatee Superintendent Diana Greene says anyone who thinks the district is “cooking the books” to improve graduation rates doesn’t understand the numbers. Bradenton Herald.

School recess: The Leon County School District isn’t waiting for legislators to make up their minds about school recess. The district is adopting a policy that makes 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary students mandatory “except, in limited circumstances, when in the professional judgment of the teacher or administrator it is not possible.” Superintendent Rocky Hanna says, “We are more than test scores, our kids are more than data points, and they have to have that physical activity. We need to let kids be kids.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Budget concerns: Optimism among Volusia County school officials about education funding from the state next year has soured as details of the legislative budget plans are revealed. Even under the more accommodating Senate budget, Volusia would be about $4 million short of covering the 2.5 percent raises it has promised school employees. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School upgrade: The Monroe County School District is planning a $23 million upgrade to the Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Marathon by the fall of 2020. The main building will be torn down and rebuilt, and two others will be renovated. Keynoter.

City may get a high school: The Aventura City Commission approves a plan to build a charter high school by August 2019. The city plans to hire Aventura Charter Schools USA to manage the school, which could eventually enroll 800 students. The proposal requires the approval of the Miami-Dade County School Board. Miami Herald.

Educator honored: Rosette Brown, principal of the McNair Magnet Middle School in Rockledge, is named a regional principal of the year by the Magnet Schools of America, a national association with eight national regions. Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands make up Region 3. Space Coast Daily.

Confederate cannon removed: An organization that gave Orlando’s Lee Middle School a Confederate cannon removed it after the school was renamed College Park Middle. The school was named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, reportedly as a protest against school desegregation. The cannon was moved to a cemetery. Orlando Sentinel.

Textbook criticized: A world history textbook used in Brevard County’s schools is drawing criticism from ACT for America’s Space Coast chapter for portraying the religion Islam in a positive light. ACT calls itself a “national security organization,” but the Southern Poverty Law Center recently calls it a hate group. Superintendent Desmond Blackburn doesn’t expect to change the materials, saying, “I do believe that we take ourselves down a slippery road, perhaps a slippery road backwards when we censor or manipulate the materials.” Florida Today.

Personnel changes: Carlos Muniz of Tallahassee is nominated by President Donald Trump to become general counsel for the U.S. Department of Education. Muniz has been deputy attorney general for Florida and deputy general counsel to the governor. Tampa Bay Times.

More allege abuse: Eight more people are claiming former Tate High School football coach Charlie Mabern Hamrick sexually abused them. Hamrick was arrested last week and accused of 40 counts of child sexual abuse between 1997 and 2016. Pensacola News Journal.

Coach arrested: Dimitric Salters, the Tallahassee Lincoln High School basketball coach who was suspended in January when financial irregularities were discovered, has now been arrested. Salters is charged with fraud, grand theft and passing a forged document. He’s accused of depositing more than $13,000 meant for the basketball team into a personal account. Tallahassee Democrat.

Theft from school: A worker for the company that cleans St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton is arrested and accused of stealing $29,000 worth of electronics equipment. Christopher Overstreet is accused of stealing 48 iPads and 36 charging cords. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

No ticket for bus driver: A judge has rescinded a traffic ticket for a Hillsborough County school bus driver whose bus full of children plunged into a retention pond in 2015. No one was injured. Lenoir Sainfimin said there was nothing he could have done to stop the accident. He was cited for careless driving and fired by the school district. Tampa Bay Times.

Student arrested: A 13-year-old student at Fort Myers Middle Academy is arrested and accused of biting, kicking, throwing rocks at and threatening school employees. Fort Myers News-Press.

Students suspended over sign: Two students from Monarch High School in Coconut Creek are suspended after a photo of their racially insensitive prom proposal sign hit the Internet. The sign read: “You may be picking cotton, but we’re picking you to go to prom with us.” The girls said it was an inside joke. WPLG.

Opinions on schools: Although it may be too much to hope for, we as a society must see through the smoke screen of so-called school accountability. To do that requires asking a lot of “why” questions precisely to deconstruct the common-sense acceptance of punitive high-stakes testing in the first place. We should all be calling our legislators and asking them why. James Burns, Orlando Sentinel. Education is a contentious issue in Tallahassee. There are many issues that could be argued. But we don’t believe spending money on the kids is one of them. St. Augustine Record. We already have religious freedom in schools, and it’s working very well. We don’t need to canonize it with the “Florida Religious Freedom Amendment” now moving through the Legislature. Pierre Tristam, Flagler Live. “Hire great principals, pay them well, give them the tools to do their jobs and then get out of their way. Americans will be positively amazed at how quickly students start learning more.” The statement by Bob McClure, president of the free-market think tank, the James Madison Institute, correctly points to one of the shortcomings of American education: Principals need more power. John L. Evans Jr., Orlando Sentinel. Must computer programming compete with math and science? Shouldn’t they coexist, perhaps even in the same courses? Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Duana Daniels, a math teacher at Royal Palm Beach’s Crestwood Middle School, imparts a message of manners, etiquette, community service, self-defense, self-esteem, anti-bullying and more in her after-school program Educating Ladies Intellectually Through Experiences. Palm Beach Post. Thirteen-year-old Jamarion Styles, a armless student at Boca Raton’s Eagles Landings Middle School, becomes an Internet sensation when video is posted of him sinking two shots in a school basketball game. Styles lost his arms as a baby due to a bacterial infection. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Twenty students at Ponce de Leon Middle School in Coral Gables are taking a college-level class as part of a dual-enrollment program with Florida International University. Miami Herald. Students from eight south Florida high schools will get lessons in financial literacy this month from workers at the Miami office of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Associated Press. More than 40,000 books are distributed to students in Leon County through the First Book organization. WTXL. Coastal Community School in Satellite Beach, a school that combines traditional and home schooling and has grown from 30 students to 70 in three years, chooses a dolphin as its mascot. Florida Today.