Florida schools roundup: Cold closing schools, diploma options and more

Cold-weather closings: With winter storm watches and warnings posted across north Florida, several school districts have announced schools will close. Alachua County won’t have classes today or Thursday, and Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson and Hamilton school officials are closing schools today. Other school districts and individual schools are monitoring the weather and some have already curtailed extracurricular activities. Much of northern Florida is expected to have freezing temperatures today and Thursday, with a chance of snow and ice. Miami HeraldWCTV. Tallahassee Democrat. Gainesville Sun. WJAX. WEAR. WTXL. WTLV. WOKV. Ocala Star-Banner.

Graduation options: An agreement is reached that will give the 10,000 or so Puerto Rican students who fled to Florida and enrolled in schools after Hurricane Maria the option to graduate with Puerto Rican diplomas. The Florida Department of Education and Puerto Rican Department of Education have agreed that all high school juniors and seniors from the island will now have the option of earning a diploma from schools here or from the island. Many educators worried that the displaced students might struggle to pass exams that are given in English and required for graduation in Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. WDBO. WFTV. Gov. Rick Scott says 280,000 Puerto Ricans have sought refuge in Florida, and more are expected. Florida Times-Union. WLRN. WPLG.

Legislative priorities: The permanent expansion of Bright Futures scholarships and the “Hope Scholarship” that would provide money for bullying victims to switch schools are among the top priorities for legislative leaders this year. The Legislature convenes Jan. 9. Sunshine State News. Another bill that the Legislature will consider is the “Sunshine Scholarship” program, which would pay tuition balance at trade schools and community colleges for low-income students after they’ve run out of federal and state financial aid. WLRN.

ESSA plan revision: The Florida Department of Education is still weighing what kind of extension to request to respond to the U.S. Department of Education’s concerns about the state’s plans to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The deadline is Thursday, but state officials asked for an extension. Now the federal government is asking the state how long it needs. One of the points Florida is being challenged on is its policy that requires testing be done in English. Gradebook.

School reopening: Brevard County school officials are still trying to figure out school zones, application deadlines, curriculum, leadership and renovations for its reopening of South Lake Elementary School for the 2018-2019 school year. South Lake was closed in 2013, but growth pushed the school district to reconsider. South Lake will reopen as a K-6 choice school specializing in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Florida Today.

New technical school: The Santa Rosa County School District is considering the creation of a technical high school called Innovation High School, which would prepare students for careers in such fields as cybersecurity, information technology, aerospace and engineering. Pensacola News Journal.

Teachers unions: A proposed bill could lead to the dissolution of the St. Johns County teachers union. If passed in the legislative session that begins next week, H.B. 25 would decertify several public sector unions if they don’t have 50 percent of their potential members paying dues. About 49 percent of the 2,500 teachers are members of the St. Johns Education Association. Unions covering first responders such as police officers and firefighters would be exempt. St. Augustine Record.

Board candidate arrested: Michael Aday, a candidate for the 5th District seat on the Pasco County School Board, is arrested and charged with driving under the influence. He was stopped for driving 85 mph in a 50 mph zone, and troopers say he had a blood alcohol concentration that was almost twice the legal limit of 0.08. Gradebook.

Opinions on schools: Schools should do more to hold bullies accountable, and to keep bullying from happening in the first place. That’s a no-brainer. But bullying victims shouldn’t have to wait while schools figure it out. Annie Bullins-Jones, TCPalm. I believe that every student comes into your classroom with the potential to become a successful learner, and it’s up to the teacher to provide an environment where the students feel safe and where they can allow their natural curiosity to direct their learning. Teacher of the year Tasha Umstead, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. There are many advantages to dancing education as a part of a school’s weekly educational curriculum. Bill Hoatson, Tallahassee Democrat. The Legislature has an opportunity to fix a problem it created. It needs to provide in law the local option for alternative paths at the high school level leading to graduation. Citrus County Chronicle.

Student enrichment: Students at several Palm Beach County schools are hearing personal stories about human trafficking. A bill is pending in the Legislature that would require all middle and high school students to be taught about the dangers of human trafficking. Palm Beach Post. About 20 math teachers in the Alachua County School District will soon receive an updated version of Algebra Nation, an online program to help student understand math concepts. The software was updated by the Virtual Learning Lab with an $8.9 million federal grant. Independent Florida Alligator. Music teachers in three Alachua County schools allow students to choose the music they wish to study. They say it’s a promising way to engage students. Gainesville Sun. The Sarasota chapter of national black fraternity Sigma Pi Phi is providing select students at Booker High School with paid internships at several local organizations, including the police department. The Gamma Xi Boule internship program is in its second year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.