Florida schools roundup: Charter closings, teacher turnover and more

Charter school closings: A watchdog organization reports that 38 percent of charters schools in Florida have closed since 2000, a failure rate that’s 7 percentage points higher than the national average. Of the 1,091 charter schools that have opened in Florida since 2000, 491 have closed (the state Department of Education disputes that number and says 389 have closed). David Armiak, a researcher for the Center For Media and Democracy in Wisconsin, calls the closure rate “alarming.” He says it raises questions about accountability for charter schools, which get funding from the state but have greater operational freedom than traditional public schools. Armiak also noted that the closures disproportionately affected minority students. Gradebook.

Effects of teacher turnover: A new study concludes that midyear teacher turnover has a negative impact on student learning, especially in schools that have large proportions of minority and low-income students. “While it is possible for turnover to be beneficial for school systems, an extensive body of research points to the ways that teacher turnover disrupts … the continuity of a child’s learning experiences, particularly in underserved schools,” write study authors Christopher Redding of the University of Florida and Gary Henry of Vanderbilt. The researchers studied data from 2008 to 2014 collected from of North Carolina schools. Chalkbeat.

Transgender guidelines: The Sarasota County School District releases new guidelines on the rights of transgender students. Among them: Students will be addressed by the name and gender they prefer, all students can use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, and all schools must have a universal bathroom available although no student will be required to use it. The policies were recommended by the district’s LGBTQIA Task Force, according to Superintendent Todd Bowden’s email to board members. That committee met five times and spent more than a year drafting the policy. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA.

Anti-fraternization policy: The Leon County School Board adopts a new policy prohibiting family members and those in romantic relationships from working together in supervisor-subordinate roles. The policy was prompted after a principal was placed on leave for having a romantic relationship with one of his teachers. “This will send a clear message to our employees about what is expected and what is not,” says Superintendent Rocky Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat.

Driver’s license tests: The Lake County School District is considering a partnership with the Tax Collector’s Office that could provide revenue for the school and give residents greater access to driver’s license tests. Under the plan, the school district’s driving instructors would give extra driver’s tests on certain days after the county’s regular testing hours end. Both parties hope to formalize a deal and put it in place by next March. Daily Commercial.

School reopenings: Schools in Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes and Washington counties have reopened or will this week, according to the Florida Department of Education. Tallahassee DemocratWMBB. Capital Soup. Bay County teachers and other school employees are being asked to return to work Monday to prepare for the return of students Nov. 14, or earlier if possible. Panama City News Herald.

District’s five-year plan: Brevard County School Board members commit to a five-year plan that includes building elementary and middle schools in Viera. The board was planning to delay the elementary school, but reconsidered after it was told that a new K-6 charter school, Pinecrest Academy, would open in 2022, not August 2019 as originally scheduled. Florida Today.

Tax hikes on ballot: Miami-Dade and Palm Beach county school districts are asking voters to increase property taxes for the next four years to raise money for schools. Miami-Dade would use 88 percent of the $232 million a year generated to boost salaries for teachers and other instructional personnel. Palm Beach plans to use the $150 million a year raised to improve teacher pay, hire police officers and buy the equipment they use, and expand fine arts, career and technical education and physical education programs, and mental health services for students. WLRN.

Superintendent extended: Volusia County School Board members vote 3-2 to extend Superintendent Tom Russell’s contract by a year. The extension, which pushes the end of Russell’s contract to Aug. 31, 2020, comes five days after the teachers union called on the board to make a change in the district leadership. Contract negotiations between the district and the union are at an impasse. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Superintendent still fired: In a unanimous vote, Hernando County School Board members affirm their June decision to fire former superintendent Lori Romano. Romano appealed the decision, leading to a hearing earlier this month at which her attorney argued the board had no cause to terminate Romano. But board members cited her decision to fire all teachers at a struggling school without consulting the board, and refusing to providing staff email addresses to a researcher conducting a districtwide survey of her performance. Tampa Bay Times.

Board attorney stays: In his last meeting, Brevard County School Board member Andy Ziegler calls on the board to fire attorney Amy Envall, saying she has consistently given the board bad advice. The board voted 4-1 to retain Envall. Ziegler lost his re-election bid in August. Florida Today.

School board elections: Clay County School Board member Ashley Gilhousen is asking a court to kick her opponent, Lynne Hirabayashi Chafee, off the ballot. Gilhousen, who represents District 5, claims Chafee doesn’t live in the district. Ballots have already been printed and early voting begins Friday. Florida Times-Union. Previewing the race for the District 2 seat on the Escambia County School Board. Pensacola News Journal. Manatee County voters will decide whether school board members are elected countywide or by districts. Bradenton Herald. Previewing the race for the District 3 seat on the Polk County School Board. Lakeland Ledger.

Rezoning schools: The Manatee County School District is considering proposals to rezone five elementary schools to ease overcrowding and assign students to Barbara Harvey Elementary School in Parrish, which opens next fall. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Schools of excellence: Fifty-nine Palm Beach County schools have been designated as schools of excellence by the Florida Department if Education, six more than last year and the most of any district in the state. 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. Palm Beach County School District.

Textbooks challenges: The story of an insurance professional settling a challenge of Charlotte County history textbooks by an activist citizens group provides an example of the tensions over what students learn about history, and how difficult it can be to reach a consensus on that question. Education Week.

School shooting records suit: Two newspapers are going to court to force the Broward County School Board, state attorney, sheriff, Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to release records surrounding the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14 The Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald are joining a suit filed by the parents of two slain students parents that seek documents detailing student discipline, school security, the police response and the mental health of the gunman. Sun-Sentinel.

Insurance dispute: Five insurance companies and the Polk County School Board are suing each over over a dispute about hurricane claims. The insurance companies want the board to accept the umpire they chose to help settle the dispute over claims from Hurricane Irma. The board wants the companies to accepts the umpire it chose. “We want the opportunity to inform the court to appoint a true neutral (person),” says board attorney Wes Bridges. “We have an individual in mind who has actually written the textbooks on this. (It’s) an effort to make sure that we’ve got a truly fair shot at recovering all the damages from the storm.” Lakeland Ledger.

Boil-water notice at school: An Indian River County school is under a 72-hour boil-water notice after an underground pipe is turned off for repairs. Students at Gifford Middle School in Vero Beach will be supplied with bottled water. TCPalm.

Sub brings gun to school: A substitute teacher who brought a gun to Anona Elementary School in Pinellas County is escorted off the campus by police and will no longer be a substitute for the district. Jesse Jones violated a district policy that says “a person shall not possess any firearm or weapon … at a school-sponsored event or on school board property.” Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher’s aide fired: A teacher’s aide at a Pinellas County elementary school is fired after giving a special-needs student student a wedgie, announcing it to the class and then refusing to work. Dominique Diamond Armstrong, 25, an aide at Mount Vernon Elementary in St. Petersburg, had been accused three other times of using excessive force since being hired in March 2017. Tampa Bay Times.

School officer investigated: A resource officer at Lee High School in Jacksonville is under investigation after he allegedly choked a female student and threw her to the ground during an altercation. The officer, who was not named, has been reassigned while the investigation continues. WJAX. WJXT.

Students arrested: Two Bartow Middle School students are arrested and accused of planning an attack on the school. School officials say both girls were armed with knives to attack other students. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA. WTSP.

Student hit by vehicle: A First Coast High School student is seriously injured when he’s hit by an SUV while trying to cross a busy street to get to his school bus stop in Jacksonville. Troopers say Michael Chaco, 15, suffered life-threatening injuries. WJXTWJAX.

Opinions on schools: In politically polarized, tribalistic America, education has become yet another binary issue. For some, you are either “for” traditional public schools or you are “against” them. Scott Kent, redefinED. The fight against bullying in schools starts with teachers and students. Terri Friedlander, Tallahassee Democrat. Kids in the low-cost Sun Belt schools are not suffering academically because of low spending, as we’ve been led to believe by many in the media, politics, the education industry and the teachers’ unions, according to a recent study. Lakeland Ledger. Until they can ensure quality and good stewardship of public dollars, state officials can’t claim the charter schools movement has been a success. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: About 150 Pasco County student leaders get training on how to implement the Sandy Hook Promise to reduce bullying and improve safety in schools. Gradebook. More than 150 Collier County students show off and sell their products at the Naples Children’s Business Fair at Gulf Coast High School. Naples Daily News.