Florida schools roundup: School shooting is top AP story, panic alarms and more

School shooting is top story: A gunman’s murder of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14 is voted the top story of the year in the Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors. The shooting spurred security reforms at schools across the country and launched a student-led movement, March for Our Lives, that helped organize walkouts, peaceful protests and a campaign for stricter gun laws. Associated Press. The dozen biggest K-12 education technology stories of the year. Education Week.

Panic alarms bill: State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, files a bill that would require at least one silent alarm, also known as a panic button, in every public school building that would instantly alert local law enforcement. Book calls S.B. 174 “Alyssa’s Law,” in memory of Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old student who was killed during the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High. News Service of FloridaOrlando Weekly. Sun Sentinel.

Achievement gap: Black leaders in Pinellas County say it’s time for the black community to accept a share of the blame for the achievement gap between black and white students. “The (school) district has shown they just can’t do it,” says NAACP St. Petersburg president Maria Scruggs. “They have done what they can do, but now it’s time for the community to step in.” Despite the school district’s emphasis on closing the learning gap, fewer than 25 percent of black students were considered proficient readers last year and more than half of all black students were in remedial programs. Tampa Bay Times.

Information about choice: A University of Florida study suggests that charter schools and traditional public schools of choice withhold information from certain students to discourage their applications. The research shows that public schools of choice are less likely to encourage applications from students with records of low achievement and behavior problems, while charter schools withhold information at a higher rate from special needs students. Education WeekUniversity of Florida.

Sheriffs dissent from arming teachers: The movement to arm teachers and other school employees may be gaining momentum after a push from Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who worked the recommendation into the report by the state commission investigating the shootings at Stoneman Douglas. But some Florida sheriffs are going on record to call it a bad idea. Tampa Bay Times. The school guardian at the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto is armed with a military-style rifle strapped across his chest and a handgun. Principal Bill Jones says the heavily armed guardian sends a message. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Palm Beach County School Board approves the state-required safety assessment of all schools that was completed more than a month after it was due. Palm Beach Post.

School shooting report: Broward County prosecutors release a 425-page sheriff’s report on the Stoneman Douglas shootings. Among the findings: Accused shooter Nikolas Cruz was obsessed with guns and that disgraced deputy Scot Peterson appeared to acknowledge in an interview with a detective that he knew a gunman was inside the freshman building at the school. He and his attorneys have publicly maintained that he did not know where the gunshots were coming from. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel.

Graduation rates: More reports on 2018 high school graduation rates from school districts around the state. Florida’s rate hit a record high 86.1 percent, according to figures released this week by the state Department of Education. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach PostGradebook. Florida Times-UnionBradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Fort Myers News-Press. WCTV. Tallahassee Democrat. Lakeland Ledger. TCPalm. Naples Daily News. Ocala Star-Banner. Panama City News Herald. Citrus County Chronicle.

Medical marijuana policy: The Osceola County School Board approves a policy that allows parents or guardians to administer medical marijuana at schools to students with the approved registry ID card. No marijuana products will be kept at schools. Health News Florida.

Lead in schools’ water: Hillsborough County school officials say testing for lead in water at county schools has concluded, and the approximately 300 fixtures that tested positive with more than 15 parts per billion have been fixed. School-by-school test results are on the district’s website. Gradebook.

Contract ratified: Miami-Dade teachers overwhelmingly approve a contract with the school district that calls for raises ranging from $5,000 to $16,000 with a 5 percent bonus to be paid in the first half of 2019. Miami Herald.

Broward officials resign: Two Broward County school officials who played key roles in the troubled $800 million bond program have resigned. Leo Bobadilla, the district’s chief facilities officer, had been overseeing bond-funded projects to renovate old schools, which has been troubled with delays and cost overruns. Chief information officer Tony Hunter has faced criticism for the quality of computers purchased under the bond program. Sun Sentinel.

Florida’s education future: More school choice and charter schools are likely in Florida’s education future after the election of Ron DeSantis as governor and his subsequent appointment of Richard Corcoran as education commissioner. Here’s a recap of the education policy discussions that have already taken place, and the concerns of critics. Gradebook.

Blaine Amendment: A Montana court’s decision to strike down a state tax credit scholarship program is expected to be appealed and could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and settle the issue of the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the use of public funds for religious schools. Seventeen other states, including Florida, have tax credit scholarship programs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer Florida’s. redefinED.

Drug testing ruled okay: A federal appeals court rules that the Palm Board County School Board’s policy of requiring drug tests for people who apply to become substitute teachers is not a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. News Service of Florida.

Personnel moves: The state’s incoming education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, has selected Alex Kelly as his chief of staff, according to reports. Kelly has been vice president of advocacy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, or ExcelinEd. Politico Florida.

New school’s design: The renovated Lee Elementary School, which was severely damaged by a fire in September 2017 and has subsequently been renamed Tampa Heights Elementary School, will have a restored facade, technological upgrades that include smart science labs, a three-story addition and special learning corridors. Hillsborough County school officials released the plans this week. Tampa Bay Times.

New charter school: Officials of the Tallahassee Classical School say their new charter school on a 14-acre parcel in southeast Tallahassee is expected to be completed by January 2020. The school will open next fall in a temporary, undisclosed location. Tallahassee Democrat.

School health services: Members of the Bay County School Health Advisory Committee are developing a health plan for students in the school district, in collaboration with the district, the Florida Department of Health in Bay County and PanCare. WJHG.

More than a meal: Two Palm Beach County students sent home from school with four government-issued meal kits find that one of them contains matches and chemical-filled, just-add-water heating pouch. The kits are the same ones being distributed to people in the Florida Panhandle whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Michael. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher arrested: A Hillsborough County business technology teacher and football coach is arrested and charged with soliciting or engaging in sex with a student. Deputies say Melvin Jenkins, 35, inappropriately touched and solicited a student in class at Spoto High School in Riverview. Tampa Bay Times.

Student arrested: An 18-year-old student at the Henry D. Perry Education Center in Miramar is arrested and accused of making threats against the school on the social media platform Snapchat. WPLG. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Parents should be leading the movement toward school choice. Virginia Walden Ford, redefinED. The appointment of Richard Corcoran as education commissioner smacks of political patronage. If that’s the way Florida is headed, why not return to the pre-2002 days of elected education commissioners? They at least were accountable to voters. TCPalm. If parents really want the best schools for their children, they must be educated consumers who ask questions — and get answers corroborated independently. TCPalm. It’s gratifying to know graduation rates are on the rise. But the truth is, the improvement occurred in spite of Gov. Rick Scott, rather than because of him. St. Augustine Record. The sciences that form the foundation for engineering, meteorology and similar disciplines continued to decline in Florida’s public high schools during the 2017-18 school year. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: A satellite designed and build by students from the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens is launched into space. The 2.2-pound satellite is carrying extremophile bacteria, and the experiment is to see if the bacteria can survive in space. The satellite was launched from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that went up Dec. 3 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Palm Beach Post. Fourteen schools in Escambia County, seven in Santa Rosa, four in Bay and two in Okaloosa are chosen as Five Star Schools by the Florida Department of Education for incorporating family and community members into the schools. WEAR. Panama City News Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff