Florida schools roundup: Amendment 8 suit, charter schools, unions and more

Amendment 8 lawsuit: Amendment 8 is misleading and should be removed from the ballot, the League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center argue in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Leon County. The lawsuit focuses on the part of the proposed amendment that would allow allow entities other than school boards to “operate, control, and supervise” public schools. “Voters will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county,” says LWV president Patricia Brigham. The amendment would also limit school board members to eight years in office and require the teaching of civics in public schools. redefinED. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouse. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Politico Florida.

Charter school appeals: The Florida Charter Schools Appeal Commission is recommending that the state Board of Education override the Palm Beach County School Board’s decision to deny two charter school applications. And Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is recommending the board go along with the appeal commission’s advice when it meets next week. Charters that don’t fill a specific niche have been getting turned down by the Palm Beach board for the past five years. But as Stewart points out in her memo to the state board, “The school board’s determination must be based on good cause.” Gradebook.

Union membership: Teachers unions in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties say membership is on the upswing since the state passed a law requiring unions to have at least 50 percent membership of eligible workers or risk being decertified. Union officials in all four counties say the recent swell has pushed each past the 50 percent threshhold. Teachers unions in 13 districts have membership below 50 percent but most have been adding members, according to Joanne McCall, president of the statewide Florida Education Association. Orlando Sentinel.

School security: The Secret Service issues a report recommending that U.S. schools set up “threat teams” to prevent mass shootings. The report suggest the teams be made up of teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, mental health authorities and law enforcement who would watch closely for troubling behavior and social media threats, and coordinate reporting. “The threshold for intervention should be relatively low so that teams can identify students in distress before their behavior escalates to the point that classmates, teachers, or parents are concerned about their safety or the safety of others,” the report concludes. USA Today. Associated Press. The Palm Beach County School District and its police union agree on a 5 percent pay increase for the district’s officers. The deal would increase officers’ hourly pay to $26.81. The district is looking for 75 new officers for its expanded police force. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

School shooting developments: The chief of the state’s Firearm Eligibility Bureau tells the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission on Thursday that the state’s gun and mental health laws probably wouldn’t have stopped accused school shooter Nikolas Cruz from buying the AR-15 allegedly used in the Feb. 14 massacre, even if the laws had applied to him. Associated Press. Sun-Sentinel. WFLA. Miami Herald.

Virtual school legal fees: Florida Virtual School is paying private lawyers more than state law allows to deal with the recent data leak of its students’ personal information. State officials say FLVS also needed to get preapproval from Attorney General Pam Bondi before hiring the lawyers. FLVS officials dispute that, and say the law does not apply to them. Politico Florida.

Computers not tax-exempt: Computers, laptops and tablets have been removed from the list of items that may be purchased without paying taxes during the state’s back-to-school tax-free holiday Aug. 3-5. Sun-Sentinel.

Property tax proposal: Several weeks after Miami-Dade County School Board members approved language for a property tax referendum that would pay for improved school security and higher teacher pay, Superintendent Albert Carvalho added the words “and innovative programs.” Board members objected when the new language was posted on the agenda for the July 18 meeting, saying they were surprised by the addition and calling it vague. Carvalho says the addition will be removed. Miami Herald.

Charter schools: Nearly 25,000 Hillsborough County students are projected to attend charter schools in the coming school year, according to district officials. That’s more than 10 percent of the district’s 216,000 students. Three new charter schools are opening in August. Tampa Bay Times. The push to create a charter school in Waldo is in jeopardy after the project director discovers the projected 100 students aren’t enough to successfully apply for a critical $525,000 state Public Charter School Program grant. “There is no conceivable way to spend that kind of money on equipment and supplies for so few students,” says Neil Drake. “The state is looking for groups that want to start a school for 500 or more students at a per student cost of $1,000 or less (per student).” WUFT.

Mental health treatment: Parents have questions about how much they have to disclose about the mental health of their children under a new state law, and worry that the disclosures will stigmatize those students. Florida Phoenix.

New school backup plans: Approval to build a new elementary school in Boca Raton has been delayed by the state, and Palm Beach County school officials are developing a backup plan to put temporary classrooms for Addison Mizner Elementary students on the new school’s site beside Don Estridge Middle School. Boca magazine.

Contract negotiations: Teacher evaluations are the focus of Thursday’s contract talks between the Pasco County School District and its teachers. Teachers want more timely evaluations, an annual review of the evaluation model, and more help for teachers who need it before an review goes onto a teacher’s record. Gradebook.

School board elections: Seven candidates for three Okaloosa County School Board seats talk about how they would find money for $150 million in district projects, and whether they support a local optional sales tax for schools. Destin Log. A dozen candidates running for four Pinellas County School Board seats talk about school security, educational inequality, the achievement gap and teachers retaliating against students. Gradebook. Three candidates for the District 1 seat on the Leon County School Board discuss charter schools. WFSU.

Personnel moves: Bobby Bossardet is named principal of Buddy Taylor Middle School in Bunnell. He replaces John Fanelli, who has taken a job on the district’s management team to work with student and community engagement. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Superintendent’s school talk: Incoming Brevard County School Superintendent Mark Mullins talks about the district’s new vegetarian and vegan food offerings, school security and teacher pay at a Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida meeting. Mullins assumes the job Aug. 11. Florida Today.

Principals meeting: Seth Daub, principal of Orange County’s Catalina Elementary School, talks about the challenges for principals at the National Association of Elementary School Principals conference in Orlando. WMFE.

District dress code: A new dress code for Indian River County students is drawing criticism from some parents who say the restrictions were announced after back-to-school clothes shopping was done, that they are too severe and should be phased in over time. Clothing may no longer have most words and graphics, and leggings have also been banned. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: The Broward County School District’s alternative discipline program, called Promise, needs to be reformed. Sun-Sentinel. Close encounters over the teaching of alternatives to evolution seem bound to continue, and demonstrate that votes matter. Gil Smart, TCPalm. Florida is doing a better job providing for the well-being of children, but still has a long way to go. TCPalm. A “C” is not the end of the world, but it’s certainly not a grade anyone wants. And so we imagine the school district — and parents — were not thrilled when school and school-district grades released in late June showed seven of Citrus County’s school grades had dropped to C’s from B’s. Citrus County Chronicle. Is the Florida “teaching gap” narrowing? Not in math and science. The shortage of teachers in those subjects is desperate in Florida, and is becoming more so. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: The Freedom 7 Elementary School of International Studies in Cocoa Beach is the top-ranked elementary school in the state of Florida, according to the state Department of Education. Brevard Times. Two Florida students win championships at the National Speech & Debate Association tournament. Jacob Coby Ackerman, from the American Heritage School in Plantation, wins for original oratory, and Sebastian Frazier, of NSU University School in Davie, for the Lincoln-Douglas debate. And Errol Evan, of Attucks Middle School in Hollywood, is named the national middle school principal of the year. Markets Business Insider. Nine-year-old Ry’Ael Holmes of Bradenton reads a book she wrote, Small Tales From Ry’Ael: A Series of Short Stories (Volume 1), to Emma E. Booker Elementary School students as part of the National Summer Learning Day. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.