Florida schools roundup: Hope Scholarship rules, security and more

Hope Scholarship rules: Florida school districts are asking the state to clarify the rules to determine how bullied students can qualify for Hope Scholarships to attend private schools. “The way the statute reads, we would have to make the scholarship [notification] available even if the allegations were not merited,” Santa Rosa County assistant superintendent Bill Emerson said during a conference call with Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice officials. Those officials did not disagree with the interpretation. Local school officials have expressed concerns that the rules could be abused by parents who are more interested in getting the scholarship money than protecting a child. News Service of FloridaGradebook.

School security: The city of Miami Beach agrees to place police officers at the six schools in the city, starting in August. It’s the first city in the county to come to such an agreement with the Miami-Dade County School Board. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he expects to reach similar agreements with other municipalities in the next few weeks. Miami Herald. WPLG. Two Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School security watchmen have been barred from campus and reassigned after reports that they saw confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz come on campus Feb. 14 but did nothing to intervene. Sun-Sentinel. Broward County parents are offering to buy metal detectors for Stoneman Douglas High and nearby J.P. Taravella High School. The detectors cost about $3,500 each. Sun-Sentinel. The NRA sends questionnaires to politicians asking if they will repeal the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed by the Legislature after the Parkland shooting. The law created a three-day waiting period to buy guns and raised the legal gun-buying age from 18 to 21. Sun-SentinelTampa Bay Times. St. Johns County officials seem receptive to Superintendent Tim Forson’s proposal to have the school board pay for resource officers and armed security guards for schools, and the county pay for the SROs’ cars and equipment. St. Augustine Record. WJAX. WJXT. The Gulf County School Board rejects Superintendent Jim Norton’s recommendation that the district participate in the state program to arm school employees. Port St. Joe Star. The Green Cove Springs City Council approves an agreement with the Clay County School Board to supply resource officers for the two schools in the city, with the board paying the $143,000 cost. WJXT. An active shooter training exercise at Bayshore High School in Manatee County convinces at least two school board members that there should be a sworn officer in every school, instead of the current plan for a mix of armed guards and sworn officers. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A study by the Police Executive Research Forum, commissioned by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, suggesting that the sheriff’s office and school district’s force should merge is rejected by both. The consultant’s report also concludes that the first officer to arrive at a mass shooting should move in to confront the shooter before backup arrives. Palm Beach Post.

Promotions opposed: Duval County School Board member Scott Shine is calling on interim superintendent Patricia Willis to rescind promotions for her son and niece. “I learned of this relationship from the article in the Times-Union this morning,” Shine wrote in an email to Willis. “This certainly has the appearance of impropriety. With about 26 days left in your term, this decision should be reversed and left to the incoming superintendent.” The board approved 19 appointments, but several board members said they were not aware that two of the candidates for principal jobs were related to Willis. Florida Times-Union.

Mental health services: The Palm Beach County School Board approves a $3.9 million expansion of mental health services for students. Schools will get additional mental health experts and some will get behavior coaches, new district students will be required to report previous mental issues and the district will have to answer with plans, schools will have threat assessment teams and staffers will be trained to deal with an active shooter. Sun-Sentinel.

Contract agreement: The Hillsborough County School District and the teachers union reach a tentative agreement on pay, which had been the biggest difference between the sides. The deal gives some two groups of teachers the $4,000 raises they had been promised by school officials in 2013. The district also will prioritize those same raises for teachers who are scheduled to receive them in the 2019-2020 school year. Others will get bonuses, and aides and paraprofessionals get a 6.25 percent increase and a small bonus. District officials said cutting expenses – including phasing out 800 jobs – freed up enough money for the raises. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WUSF.

School safety commission: In its first public hearing, the federal commission on school safety gets an earful about its decision not to focus on the role guns play in school violence. Alessia Modjarrad, a graduating high school senior in Montgomery County, Md., asked U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the commission chairwoman, to reconsider that decision. “I would ask to please consider the possibilities that guns are the most important aspect of the purview of this commission,” she said. CNN.

Charter schools: The Palm Harbor Academy charter school has yet to respond to a letter from the Flagler County School District asking the school to explain its decision to transfer 13 student to a private school on the same grounds, which kept them from taking state assessments tests and having their scores count toward the school’s grade from the state. School board attorney Kristin Gavin is recommending the board issue a 90-day termination notice to the school. Palm Coast Observer.

No warning on background: A Chicago teacher who resigned under a cloud of sexual allegations was hired in the Hillsborough County School District after a Chicago Public School system human resources clerk falsely said the teacher had not resigned and offered no further details. Stephen Stapanian taught in Hillsborough from 2011 to 2014, then in neighboring Pinellas from 2014 until 2017, when the state of Illinois finally suspended his license and he resigned after the Pinellas district accused him of falsifying his application. Chicago Tribune.

Early learning center: A $12.75 million donation from the Bethesda-based Bainum Family Foundation will be used to build an early learning center for 150 children in the West Lakes neighborhood of Orlando. Florida Hospital is partnering in the project, and will provide health-care and other services. The opening is expected in August 2019. Orlando Sentinel.

Rezoning challenge: A Pasco County parent files another challenge to the westside school boundary changes recently approved by the school board. This time, Jim Stanley is taking the issue to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and Inspector General, alleging the board wrongfully considered the race and socioeconomic status of students when redrawing the middle and high school boundaries. Gradebook.

District tracking violations: The Pinellas County School District is tracking the top locations where cars are illegally passing stopped school buses. School officials say they want to show legislators how prevalent the problem is so they might consider toughening state laws. WFTS.

Personnel moves: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be getting a second principal in the fall. Ty Thompson, who has been principal at the Parkland school since 2013, will share duties with Teresa Hall, the principal at West Broward High in Pembroke Pines. Thompson is expected to lead the school’s recovery efforts after the Feb. 14 massacre in which 17 died, while Hall will probably handle day-to-day duties. Sun-Sentinel.

School board elections: Steve Moss says he’s running for re-election to the District 5 seat on the Bay County School Board. Panama City News Herald.

School property: Flagler County School Board members are considering whether to accept an offer of $2.5 million for a 7.44-acre piece of property in Palm Coast. The district bought the land in 2001 for $3.5 million. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Firing and suspension: The Duval County School Board votes to fire a teacher’s assistant, Tiffany Bullard, who hit a student with a Lysol can at Oak Hill Academy, and suspend Westside High School science teacher Asante Dean, whose experiment went awry when a student’s shirt caught fire. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: It’s time to end the double standard of accountability for Florida private schools that are educating students with public money. Orlando Sentinel. Tallahassee politicians take the credit for doing something on school safety. But the locals have to find a way to pay the bills. Randy Schultz, Sun-Sentinel. Florida has a choice. It can keep struggling with a funding formula that’s so illogical that a $485 million increase in education funding boils down to a per-student raise so paltry it can’t even buy them each a Coke. Or lawmakers and local school officials can work together to strip off the decades of sticky mandates, and rebuild a formula that is fair and flexible. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The tentative deal between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers does little to convince the public that the district deserves support if it asks voters for an increase in taxes. Tampa Bay Times. Duval County School Board nember Ashley Smith Juarez has a suggestion worth considering: Instead of hiring safety “specialists” for every school, the district should use the security funding from the state to hire 33 sworn officers who would visit the district’s elementary schools on a secret rotating schedule. Florida Times-Union. Interim Duval superintendent Patricia Willis’ decision to promote her son and niece was not only wrong, it was underhanded. And the school board should have never allowed her to do so. St. Augustine Record.