Florida schools roundup: False alarms, grading concerns, bullying and more

Fixing fire alarms: Broward County school officials are asking the state for an exemption to fire alarm tests at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the rest of the school year as a way avoid false alarms that students say are causing trauma to students. At least 10 alarms have gone off at Stoneman Douglas since school started, and only three were planned. “In the case of Stoneman Douglas, you’re causing trauma every time you have an alarm, and we don’t want to do that,” says Superintendent Robert Runcie. The district also wants to upgrade the alarm systems, with some incorporating a delay mechanism that would allow school officials to decide if a fire alarm is valid before triggering a schoolwide alarm. Sun-Sentinel.

No-zero grading policy: A St. Lucie County teacher says she was fired for handing out zeroes to students who didn’t turn in their assignments. Diane Tirado, an 8th-grade history teacher at West Gate K-8 School in Port St. Lucie, says she refused to follow the school handbook that states “No zeroes – lowest possible grade is 50%” and was let go. Tirado was still in her probationary period, and no cause for her dismissal was listed in the letter from the principal. Tirado left a message on the classroom whiteboard when she left that read: “Bye Kids, Mrs. Tirado loves you and wishes you the best in life! I have been fired for refusing to give you a 50% for not handing anything in. ???? Mrs. Tirado.” District officials say there is no policy prohibiting teachers from giving a grade of zero. Associated PressWPTV.

Bullying up, study says: One-third of U.S. students say they were bullied in school last year, an increase from about 25 percent two years ago, according to a report from the nonprofit YouthTruth. The group surveyed 160,000 students in middle and high schools in 27 states over the past three school years. Other key findings: Middle-schoolers are bullied more often than high-schoolers, majority-white schools have higher rates of bullying, and in those majority-white schools, the rate of bullying of students of color was higher than for white students. USA Today. Marion County student Walter Hoffman shaves his eyebrows and writes “skin deep” in their place after seeing a friend at Forest High School get bullied because he has no eyebrows. WUFT.

Pay raises process: An independent audit of Brevard County School District pay raises, prompted by a complaint from a whistleblower, determines that there are conflicting interpretations between the administration and the school board on the approval process for pay raises. “I commend the employee who spotted this irregularity and brought it to light,” says Superintendent Mark Mullins. “I will immediately seek input and direction from the school board to ensure clarity and will take necessary and appropriate action to change procedures regarding approval of individual pay increases.” Space Coast Daily.

Teacher bonuses: The Bay County School Board approves bonuses for teachers at Oscar Patterson Elementary School after its grade from the state rose from D to C. “The last thing we want to do is get the ‘C’ and then relax and then fall back to a ‘D’ or ‘F’,” says Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “We want them to keep moving forward.” The board also approves an agreement with its previous health-care services provider, the Florida Department of Health, to provide oversight in reporting health data to the Centers for Disease Control. Panama City News Herald.

Improvement plan for charter: The Pinellas County School Board approves a plan of improvement for Plato Academy Pinellas Park, a charter school that received a grade of D from the state last year. School officials say they will work on bolstering student attendance and the school culture. Gradebook.

Contract negotiations: The Lake County School Board approves a plan to raise the pay of 187 non-instructional employees who aren’t covered by a union contract. The decision will cost the district about $196,000. Daily Commercial. Pasco County school officials say a plan to trade higher teacher pay for a longer school day is just one of several options they’re considering to boost salaries. Teachers reacted negatively to that plan. Negotiations resume next month. Gradebook.

Board’s legislative goals: The Manatee County School Board is asking its legislators to provide adequate funding for school security, remove restrictions on funding it gets from the state, reduce testing, waive the waiting time for retired state employees to fill positions in the district, and authorize technical colleges to award associate of arts degrees. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Incorrect flu shots: Confusion over consent forms leads a health company to incorrectly give flu shots to some students in Santa Rosa County. The company administering the shots, Healthy Schools LLC, blames conflicting information on the consent forms for the mixup. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Bottled water for school: Tests show the water at Reddick-Collier Elementary School in Marion County is fine to drink, but because it “looks bad” the district will continue to supply the school with bottled water at a cost of $8,000 a year. Bottled water for the school has been the routine since 2010, when the state found a newly dug well had been contaminated by surface water. Ocala Star-Banner.

Longer lunch times: More than 1,200 people have signed a petition calling for the Collier County School District to lengthen school lunch times from 20 minutes to 25 or 30. “They’re being told to hurry up, told, ‘Come on, you got to eat. You got to hurry up. We got to go,’ or even to be like, ‘Nope, you didn’t finish that. You got to throw it away,’ ” says parent Stacey Izaguirre. “Most adults get 30 minutes. Why can’t we give that to our kids?” WZVN.

School renamed: After receiving a $5 million donation from the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation, Pinellas County School Board members vote to change the name of Pinellas Technical High School to the Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School. The donation will be used to build a veterinary science building at the Seminole campus. Jacobson, a Clearwater businessman and philanthropist, died in 2016. Gradebook.

New district headquarters: Ground is broken for the new St. Lucie County School District administration headquarters in Port St. Lucie. The $24 million building is expected to be open for the 2019-2020 school year. TCPalm.

Private school moving: Geneva Classical Academy, a private school in Lakeland that started in 1996 with five students in one room, buys the 72,000-square-foot former Lakeside Baptist Church and is renovating it as a school that will open next fall. Geneva now has 160 students. The school emphasizes Christian orthodoxy, teaches Latin by 3rd grade and incorporates the works of Greek and Roman philosophers into its curriculum. Lakeland Ledger.

School traffic problems: Citrus County School Board members are considering installing a roundabout to smooth traffic problems at the Roger Weaver Educational Complex in Lecanto, The school has everyday traffic problems at dropoff and pickup times, and school officials say there’s also a need to improve emergency evacuation routes in and out of the complex. If the design is approved, the $900,000 project would begin next summer. Citrus County Chronicle.

Personnel moves: Antonio Burt, who was director of school transformation at the Pinellas County School District from December 2015 until May 2017, is named chief academic officer of the Shelby County (Tenn.) School District. Chalkbeat.

FHSAA playoffs proposal: The Florida High School Athletic Association is scaling back its proposed changes to state playoffs. The new plan retains district play, aligns schools based on enrollment and eliminates the 8A and 9A school classifications. The original proposal would have eliminated districts and divided schools above 1A into six classes based on power rankings instead of school enrollment. Orlando Sentinel.

Football game security: The Pasco County School District’s tightening of rules governing security at school sporting events will be tweaked after some parents point out flaws. Parents will now be permitted to enter games after the third quarter, gums and mints will be allowed at games, small wallet purses will be permitted and a bag check process will be created. Gradebook.

Coaches suspended: The football coach at Pensacola High School is placed on leave after a player is beaten in the team’s locker room by three teammates. Mike Mincy is on paid administrative leave and three players are suspended after the incident. School officials are investigating. WEAR. The football coach at North Bay Haven High School is suspended after the team practiced on Sunday, a violation of state rules. Andy Siegal is on suspension while district officials investigate. WJHG.

Teacher aide arrested: An instructional assistant for students with special needs at Wesley Chapel High School in Pasco County is arrested and charged with child abuse. Sheriff’s deputies say Derek Bray Simpson, 35, pushed a restrained special needs student down by the back of the head multiple times on a school bus, causing injuries to the student’s back. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Students arrested: A former student who had been expelled from Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School in Broward County a year ago is arrested and accused of attacking the school principal. Deputies say Jacob Paul Springer, 18, was driving in Weston on Saturday when he saw Richard Jean, the principal who expelled him, in a car. Springer tried to cut off Jean’s car, and when Jean pulled over to avoid a collision Springer attacked him, say deputies. WPLG. Sun-Sentinel. WSVN. An 11-year-old student who threatened to shoot up Walter C. Young Middle School in Pembroke Pines has been arrested. He’s charged with making a false report concerning the use of a firearm in a violent manner. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. A 15-year-old freshman at Crestview High School is arrested after sending threatening texts to another student, according to Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputies. He’s been charged with writing or sending a threat to kill or injure. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Gun and schools: A Stuart man is arrested for having a handgun at the Martin County High School football field last Friday. Cameron Jackson, 22, was charged with carrying a firearm on a school campus. TCPalm. A couple of bullets fired during a feud between two Delray Beach families Monday night hit a window and a wall at nearby S.D. Spady Elementary School. No one was injured at the school. Sun-Sentinel. A man is arrested when he shows a gun to a student during dropoff at Baker County High School in Macclenny. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: The city of Fort Lauderdale is shirking its responsibility to help pay for school resource officers at city schools. We, the parents of the elementary schools in the city, find this unacceptable. David Rubin, Sun-Sentinel. Whether school resource officers or guardians are preferred in each of the individual 67 Florida school districts is a decision better left in the hands of local sheriffs, superintendents and school boards. The right thing for the Legislature to do now is embrace Gov. Rick Scott’s request to free $58 million from the guardian program so districts can use it to secure schools. Naples Daily News. It’s time Martin County switches from an elected school superintendent to an appointed one. Ted Astolfi, TCPalm. Improving working conditions and supporting teachers in their first few years in teaching — either through mentoring or support from their principal — might reduce the rate at which they leave the profession. Christopher Redding, Gainesville Sun. Florida’s legislators must start prioritizing public schools over private charter schools. Citrus County Chronicle. Florida education has prospered under Gov. Rick Scott. Nancy Smith, Sunshine State News.

Student enrichment: Parents and students are painting messages of positivity in the bathrooms of Imagine School at Town Center. Daytona Beach News-Journal.