Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, immunizations, bonuses and more

Religious schools and vouchers: Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week could have implications for the constitutionality of vouchers for religious institutions. Monday, the court ruled that Missouri could not exclude private religious schools from a playground grant program. Tuesday, the court ordered the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that the state’s Blaine Amendment prohibits public funding of religious institutions. redefinED. Education Week. Associated Press.

Voucher studies: Long-term studies in Louisiana and Indiana show that former public school students who keep private school vouchers for several years eventually catch up and sometimes pass their peers in reading and math tests. Earlier, shorter-term studies have shown that those students tend to lag behind their public school peers. redefinED.

Immunizations upheld: Parochial schools can require students to get immunizations to be admitted, the First District Court of Appeal rules. A parent filed the appeal after the Holy Spirit School in Jacksonville refused to admit his child without immunizations. News Service of Florida.

Teaching bonuses: The Manatee School for the Arts is offering bonuses of up to $3,000 fill two 6th-grade math teaching positions, plus higher than expected salaries. The district has sent recruitment letters to the most highly rated math teachers in school districts around the state. Bradenton Herald.

School properties: The Lee County School Board chooses the Gateway property as the site for a new high school. The 55.6-acre property is on the east side of I-75, and north of the airport. Fort Myers News-Press. The Lee County School District reassesses 28 vacant properties it owns, and says six are considered unsuitable sites for future schools and could be sold or traded. Fort Myers News-Press. The Bay County School Board chooses an architect to design a new elementary school in Panama City Beach. CRA Architects will be paid $1.8 million. Panama City News Herald.

Property tax hike: The Manatee County Board of Education can’t reach a consensus on putting a property tax increase on the ballot next year, and postpones a decision on a resolution until late next month. Bradenton Herald.

Bright Futures: There’s $180 million in the state budget to expand the Bright Futures scholarship program for the 2017-2018 school year, but Department of Education officials still haven’t determined how they’ll get the money to students. “There is zero uncertainty as to whether students will receive these benefits. They will,” says department spokeswoman Meghan Collins. “We are simply determining the process.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Athletic trainers retained: Pasco County school officials decide to pay $125,000 to have athletic trainers at high school sporting events next school year. Subsidies from Florida Hospital, which are no longer available, helped pay for the trainers last year. The cost bumps the district’s current budget deficit to about $750,000. Gradebook.

Hiring freeze: The Citrus County School District begins a temporary teacher hiring freeze so it can re-evaluate its needs. Superintendent Sandra Himmel says there are about 90 fewer middle school students enrolled than expected, prompting another look at student-to-teacher ratios. Citrus County Chronicle.

Water testing: The Alachua County School District is working with Gainesville Regional Utilities to create a system for testing lead contamination in drinking water of school properties, with a goal of starting testing this summer. WUFT.

A plea for teachers: Scott Guttery, who was placed on paid leave for 49 days while a hard foul during a pickup basketball game at Fort Myers High School was investigated, urges the Lee County School Board to change its policies and treat teachers with greater respect. Guttery, the basketball coach at the school, says after the incident he was “treated as someone who was guilty of a crime, and was asked what he had to say to defend himself.” He has been reinstated. Fort Myers News-Press.

Second recusal: A second judge scheduled to hear a lawsuit against the Manatee County School Board by a former Manatee High School football coach disqualifies himself. Twelfth Circuit Court Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. removed himself from the case. He was assigned the case after Judge Lon Arend recused himself. Joe Kinnan, the former coach, is suing the board and several others, alleging defamation, breach of contract, negligence, invasion of privacy and abuse of process. Bradenton Herald.

Pre-K enrollment: The group Achieve Escambia, which tries to improve education and career outcomes, sets a goal of increasing voluntary pre-kindergarten enrollment in the county by 2 percent this fall. Pensacola News Journal.

Charter appeal pending: The Indian River County School Board puts off deciding whether to appeal a judge’s decision that the district “wrongfully and illegally” deprived charter schools from some of the money voters approved in 2012 to fund school operations. TCPalm.

Personnel moves: Two Pinellas County schools are getting new principals. Anthony Francois, assistant principal at John Hopkins Middle School, takes over at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School, and Kristina Bauman, principal of Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary, moves to Sandy Lane Elementary. Gradebook. Luke Marabell is named athletic director at Creekside High School in St. Johns. He’s replacing Guy Harris, will become assistant principal at Ponte Vedra High School. St. Augustine Record. Chantel Angeletti, a principal from Chicago, is hired to become principal at Sulphur Springs K-8 School in Hillsborough County. Gradebook.

Open board seats: Six months after the terms of two members of the Florida Board of Education ended, Gov. Rick Scott has yet to appoint replacements. Terms for John Padget and Michael Olenick ended in December, though Olenick has remained on the board until his replacement is named. Gradebook.

School bus drivers needed: The St. Johns County School District is short 40 school bus drivers, and officials say the improving job market and enrollment growth are fueling the problem. “What’s happening is right now there is an invigorated economy in St. Johns, so people have other options,” says Al Pantano, the district’s director of transportation. St. Augustine Record.

Teacher arrested: An Okaloosa County teacher is arrested after allegedly hitting a child in the face twice, once with an open hand and once with a fist. Sybil Suzanne Duenas, 39, is a teacher at the Baker School. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Ex-treasurer arrested: A former treasurer at Boca Raton High School is arrested and accused of stealing more than $23,000 from the school between 2013 and 2015. Lisa Rivera, 47, who is now a member of the Greenacres City Council, is charged with grand theft, official misconduct and organized scheme to defraud. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: If you’re teaching math to your child, try opening a cookbook. Bill Hoatson, Tallahassee Democrat. When Gov. Rick Scott signed the education bill shifting funds to charter schools, it was a win for Republican legislators, but a bigger loss for students, teachers, taxpayers and our public education system. Citrus County Chronicle.

Student enrichment: Mia Caceres-Nielsen, 17, is one of 12 women accepted into the Juilliard dance program this fall. She’s a graduate of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach and has danced with the Dance Alive National Ballet in Gainesville. Gainesville Sun. Twenty students are finishing an Opera Boot Camp staged by the Florida Grand Opera’s Youth Artist Learning Academy. Miami Herald. Forty-one Medulla Elementary School students who scored 5 on the Florida Standards Assessments get surprise congratulatory visits from school officials. Lakeland Ledger.