Florida schools roundup: Schools of excellence, toll penalties and more

Schools of excellence: Eighty-eight more Florida schools may be added to the 630 already designated as “school of excellence” by the state Board of Education at its meeting Thursday. Those schools earn the label by being in the 80th percentile or higher in points for Florida’s school grading system, then maintain it by getting an A or B grade the next year. Designated schools’ principals are permitted greater autonomy, and the schools are exempt from daily minimum reading requirements and may calculate class size as a school average, among other benefits. Gradebook.

District’s toll violations: The Broward County School District has been billed almost $10,000 for 34 toll violations by school buses on the Florida Turnpike dating back to 2009. If the violations had been paid on time, the bill would have been less than $50. A school spokeswoman says at least some of the violations are in error, and it’s asking for clarification from SunPass. “I’m at a loss for words,” says school board member Robin Bartleman. “That is unbelievable that this slipped through the cracks.” Sun-Sentinel.

Schools reopening: All the school districts that closed after Hurricane Michael struck Oct. 10 in Mexico Beach now have announced plans to reopen. Holmes and Gadsden students return to schools today. Franklin and Gulf students head back to class Tuesday, Washington on Wednesday, Liberty and Jackson Oct. 29, Calhoun on Nov. 1, and Bay County no later than Nov. 12. WJHG. Florida Department of Education. Hurricanes like Florence and Michael are devastating financial blows to school districts. Many have to tap reserve funds for quick repairs, and hope for reimbursements later from insurance and FEMA. Education Week.

Access to classes: Millions of high school students in Florida and around the country do not have access to classes considered critical for college and work, according to a new report by the nonprofit education reform group Foundation for Excellence in Education. About 22 percent of Florida high schools don’t offer algebra 1 or higher level course, 24 percent don’t offer geometry or higher courses, and 58 percent don’t offer calculus. “Without access to essential math and science classes in high school, many students will graduate from high school unprepared for post-secondary learning and the opportunities it offers,” the report concludes. Florida Phoenix.

AP test results: The rates at which Florida high school students take and pass advanced placement exams remains at the national average in most math and science subjects, according to scores released by the College Board. Some improvement was seen in calculus BC, computer science A and biology. Bridge to Tomorrow.

School security: The Lake County School Board is considering a five-year plan to harden schools. The plan, developed by district security specialist Jimmer Roy, must be approved and sent to the Florida Department of Education by Oct. 31 to qualify for a $1.5 million grant. Among the changes are a new app to report threats and act as a panic button, more security cameras, upgraded radio systems, single-access entry, scanners and more. Daily Commercial. The Volusia County School District has adopted the FortifyFl app to anonymously report school threats, and has hired most of the school guardians needed to cover schools, it’s still trying to hire people for its mental health services teams. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A Sarasota parent questions whether tips made through the FortifyFl app are really anonymous. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School shooting documentary: A documentary about the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people died, is being released Thursday. Survivors of the massacre who got a preview of Parkland: Inside Building 12 say they’re “just glad that our voices are finally getting out there.” Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher vacancies: The number of teacher jobs open in the Manatee County School District is going up again, despite a voter-approved tax hike for higher salaries to make the district more competitive. The number of vacancies went from 219 in August to 143 in September, but was back up to 190 this month. “We have a teacher vacancy problem in this district,” says Garin Hoover, a member of the Citizens’ Financial Advisory Committee that was appointed to oversee the use of the money collected from the referendum. Bradenton Herald.

Driverless shuttle halted: The federal government has ordered Transdev North America to stop transporting Charlotte County’s Babcock Ranch community children to school on its driverless shuttle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration called the shuttle illegal because it’s a “noncompliant” vehicle. “Innovation must not come at the risk of public safety,” says Heidi King, NHTSA deputy administrator. Metro Forensics.

LGBTQ policies: The Palm Beach County School Board amends district policies to include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or “questioning” students, and to state that its mission is “to show school board’s commitment to eliminating race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or socioeconomic status as predictors for academic success.” Palm Beach Post.

Education and politics: The state’s school superintendents are considering how the outcome of the governor’s race will affect the ways the districts use the money they will get if voters approve property tax increases on Nov. 6. “If the budget looks better for us from the state, then we will we would strongly consider a different type of ask in the next four-year cycle,” says Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy. WLRN.

Empowerment zone: The Gainesville For All community initiative is considering establishing an “empowerment zone” in northeast Gainesville to direct help to Metcalf and Rawlings elementary schools, two of the lowest-performing elementary schools in the county and state. Gainesville Sun.

School celebrates 150th: Graduates and school officials celebrate the 150th anniversary of the historic Fessenden Elementary School in Marion County. The school opened in 1868 for black students, was sold to the school district in 1951, and was designated a historic school by the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Ocala Star-Banner.

Social media policy: Charlotte County School Board members are considering a ban on teachers engaging with students on social media. Board member Kim Amontree says the board agrees with the proposed policy, and she expects it to be approved at a meeting Nov. 13. Charlotte Sun.

District bids for land: The Santa Rosa County School District revises a bid to buy property from the city of Gulf Breeze. The latest offer is $1.28 million for 30.5 acres at the Tiger Point Golf Club. The district wants to build a school there to ease overcrowding at other schools. Pensacola News Journal.

A.D. requirement: In the Okaloosa County School District, only high school head football coaches may be considered for the job of athletic director. That requirement has been in place for more than 20 years, says school board member Rodney Walker. The Florida High School Athletic Association’s Kyle Niblett thinks that requirement is exclusive to Okaloosa, and the Florida Department of Education’s deputy director of communications, Cheryl Etters, says she thinks the district is committed to removing the rule. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teachers and porn: A former Miami-Dade County teacher pleads guilty to child pornography possession. Gregg Donshik, 47, was a teacher at Ben Gamla Preparatory Academy Charter School in Hollywood. Homeland Security found the images on his computer after being tipped that Donshik was a member of a website that sold child pornography. Miami Herald. Jordan Schemmel, the program coordinator of the international baccalaureate program at Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville, is arrested and charged with distributing child pornography. Schemmel, 37, has taught in Duval and St. Johns counties since 2005. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. WTLV. WJAX.

District sued: A student who mangled his fingers while using a table saw at a Pinellas County high school in 2016 is suing the district for negligence. The suit claims the district had a responsibility to “adequately supervise and instruct” the Northeast High School student and failed to “maintain its table saw in a reasonably safe condition.” Gradebook.

Opinions on schools: Florida students need to return to classes as quickly as possible, even in temporary or distant facilities while schools are repaired or rebuilt. Besides losing educational continuity, missing the regular, essential routine of going to school can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and frightening uncertainty which began with the original trauma of the disaster. Irwin Redlener, Daily Beast. Teachers play an extraordinary role in educating today’s children to be tomorrow’s community leaders and engines of economic growth. And yet the lack of respect for them is visible in many ways, including declining pay and a lack of recognition compared with police and firefighters. USA Today.

Student enrichment: Former NBA star Ray Allen’s foundation helps open a computer lab at the Fienberg K-8 Center in Miami Beach. It’s the fourth computer lab opened with the help of the Ray of Hope foundation. WPLG. Rebecca Hinson, a South Grade Elementary School teacher in Lake Worth who has self-published a series of children’s books for grades 3-8 that celebrates diverse cultures, gets a grant from Florida International University to expand the series. Palm Beach Post.