Florida schools roundup: March, Hope operators, security, CRC and more

Student activism: Hundreds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, parents and teachers are traveling to Washington, D.C., for the March For Our Lives rally Saturday. Another 800 or so marches calling for stricter gun laws are planned in cities around the world, and more than a million people are expected to participate. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Other Florida students will take part in local ceremonies. Sun-SentinelOrlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Palm Beach Post. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Bradenton Herald. Naples Daily News. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. TCPalm. Five Stoneman Douglas students who have become national figures in the #NeverAgain movement to change gun laws make the cover of the April 2 Time magazine. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald.

Schools of Hope operators: Two charter school companies apply to become Florida’s first “Schools of Hope” operators. Somerset Academy, which recently took over the Jefferson County School District, and the Texas company IDEA Public Schools were approved by the Department of Education, and the Florida Board of Education votes on their applications Tuesday. Hope operators get a streamlined process to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing schools, and access to low-cost loans for facilities and grants to pay for things such as longer school days. redefinED.

School security: The Miami-Dade County School Board is considering a pilot program giving schools the option of requiring students to wear clear backpacks. Miami Herald. Hendry County schools will require students to wear clear backpacks for the 2018-2019 school year, but Charlotte and Lee counties will not. WZVN. Charter schools are struggling to find money for school security. There’s no road map for agreements between local public districts and charters on finding guards for schools, who those armed guards will be, or who will pay for them. redefinED. The Sarasota County School approves spending more than $1 million beyond what it will receive from the state to place armed law enforcement officers in each of the district’s 21 elementary schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Monroe County School Board is considering asking voters to approve a tax increase to pay for police officers in schools. Key West Citizen. At a town meeting, Hillsborough County parents quiz school officials on what’s been done and what’s being planned to keep students safe. School officials say their plans hinge on funding. Complying with state laws will create a $16 million deficit in security costs for the district, they say. Tampa Bay Times.

Proposed amendments: The Style and Drafting Committee of the state Constitution Revision Commission begins the process of organizing the 25 proposed amendments to see which can be grouped together, which need to be revised, choosing titles and summaries for each, and deciding what order they should appear on the ballot. In 1998, the committee condensed 36 proposals into nine amendments that were on the ballot, and eight were approved by voters. The committee hopes to finish its work by mid-April so the CRC can make its final decisions by May 4. News Service of Florida. The proposal to give high-performing public school districts the same autonomy that charter schools have appears to have enough support to make it to the November ballot. Tampa Bay Times.

Education spending: The U.S. Education Department would get a 5.5 percent boost under $1.3 trillion spending bill approved by Congress today, to $70.9 billion. Most of the increase is earmarked for school safety and early education programs. Associated PressThe 74. U.S. House of Representatives. Much of what Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed for her department was rejected by Congress. Notably shot down were her proposals to boost spending by $1 billion for school choice and voucher programs, and to eliminate funding for after-school programs and grants for student mental health services. Washington Post.

Alternative placements: In a letter to every Florida school district, the ACLU is pointing out that a December court ruling in an Escambia County case has affirmed that districts must provide due process for students who are being moved to alternative schools for behavior issues. The ruling affected about 7,000 students who were involuntarily moved to alternative schools. Data shows that black students are 2.5 times more likely to be placed in such schools. Gradebook.

Turnaround candidates: Four finalists are being considered to take over operation of Evergreen Elementary School in Ocala if the school doesn’t earn a grade of C or better from the state this year. Evergreen has received a D or F for five straight years, and without improvement the state requires the school to close or be turned over to an outside operator. A committee will interview and rate the companies, then make a recommendation to the Marion County School Board. Ocala Star-Banner.

Charter school applications: Three groups file applications for charter schools in Volusia County. Dreamer’s Technical Academy would be open to about 250 at-risk students and high school dropouts, Florida East Coast Charter School would be for grades K-5, and Southeast Volusia School of Science and Technology would focus on STEM subjects. Hometown News. An application for a charter school in Hernando County that was withdrawn last year has been revised and refiled. Michael Maynard, chairman of the proposed Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School, says the application addresses concerns made by school members in 2017. The group will make its presentation to the school board April 24. Tampa Bay Times.

Open meetings query: The Lake County State Attorney’s Office is expanding its inquiry into secret meetings of the Lake County School Board in February to talk about school safety. “We are not yet satisfied that we have answered all of our questions,” says assistant state attorney Ric Ridgway. “We’re going to have to kind of expand the number of people we’re going to be talking to.” Daily Commercial.

School board elections: Alby Clendennin, an 18-year-old senior at Baker High School in Crestview, is running for the District 3 seat on the Okaloosa County School Board. Others in the race are Linda Evanchyk and Joe Slusser. Northwest Florida Daily News. Twelve candidates are running for three Hillsborough County School Board seats. In District 2, incumbent Sally Harris is being challenged by Joseph Caetano and Stacy Hahn. In District 4, incumbent Melissa Snively is running against LaShonda Davison. And in District 6, Scott Hottenstein, Robert Pechacek, Bill Person, Mitchell Smithey, Kelso Tanner, Jessica Vaughn and Henry Washington are competing for the seat being vacated by April Griffin. Gradebook.

District sets drone policy: The Marion County School Board approves a policy on drones that will allow teachers to use them as a teaching tool in certain courses. “We can’t afford to be without a (drone) policy,” says deputy superintendent Craig Ham. “Young people are getting into fields that use drones as part of their jobs.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Teacher certifications exams: The passing rate declines among first-time takers in three of the four sections of the Florida Teacher Certification Exams, according to a report from the Florida Department of Education. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Girls not welcome: Twelve-year-old Armoni Peppers tried out for the Odyssey Charter School’s flag football team and made it. But the Space Coast Christian Athletic Association has told her that girls can’t play on the team. The league’s athletic director says the rule has been in place two years to “keep girls from being grabbed in their genitals or losing their pants by accident.” Palm Beach Post.

Bus driver convicted: A Manatee County school bus driver convicted a month ago of soliciting prostitution is still on the job. School officials say they will ask the school board today to fire Jerome Heaven, 50. WWSB.

Students arrested: A 19-year-old student at Eau Gallie High School is arrested after allegedly bringing an unloaded gun onto school grounds. Florida Today. A 14-year-old St. Augustine High School student is arrested for allegedly scrawling threats against the school on a wall. Florida Times-Union. A 17-year-old student at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County is arrested after telling a teacher he was going to bring a gun to school and use it. Tampa Bay Times. Fifteen students in northwest Florida have been arrested for bringing guns to schools and making threats since the Parkland shootings Feb. 14. WEAR.

Opinions on schools: Most Florida school districts have significant needs; things are tough all over. For that, once again, we can thank the Florida Legislature. TCPalm. One can’t help but be proud of the student activists from Stoneman Douglas High. Also, vaguely embarrassed; these kids are only doing what their elders should have done. Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald. Sometimes, the most obvious solution to a problem is completely out of reach because of red tape and budget constraints. That’s the situation we face in Lake County as teachers, advocates and district officials discuss the problem of teacher pay inequity. Lake County Superintendent Diane Kornegay, Orlando Sentinel. A majority of voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties chose to pay an extra 1 mill in property taxes to support local students and teachers. That’s cause for region-wide pride. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. There are many examples of Republicans in the Florida Legislature undermining and shortchanging public schools in recent years. Here’s another. A provision requires school districts seeking to pass a sales tax initiative to undergo an extensive “performance audit” that must be completed 60 days before the election. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Amir Helmy, a senior at Eastside High School in Gainesville, wins a $10,000 award for his work on a phone app called Seizario that uses phone data to detect a person’s seizures and then alerts emergency contacts. Gainesville Sun. Tyler Feichthaler, a 6th-grader at Oasis Middle School in Cape Coral, qualifies for the state, national and international geography bee competitions. Fort Myers News-Press. The Players Championship golf organization is donating $500,000 over the next five years for character development programs in the St. Johns County School District. St. Augustine Record.