Florida schools roundup: Unreported crimes in schools, teacher pay and more

Crimes in schools: School districts around Florida are failing to report crimes, even murder, rape and gun possession, as required on K-12 campuses, according to reports districts have filed in the past 10 years to the state Department of Education. An investigation also shows that more than 600 schools reported no crimes at all, some schools file false information to protect their reputations, and some fail to report crimes that aren’t committed by students. Sun-Sentinel. A 7th-grader at Sleepy Hill Middle School in Lakeland was beaten so badly at school last month that he was hospitalized. The attacker was charged by police but never suspended by Polk County school officials. Lakeland Ledger. This year has been the worst on record for gun violence in schools, according to research by the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security that goes back to 1970. Ninety-four incidents were recorded, an increase of 60 percent over the previous record of 59 in 2006. The Guardian.

Teacher pay: Salaries for 20-year teaching veterans in the Palm Beach County School District are about $3,000 a year less today than they were for a teacher with the same experience in 2008, according to an analysis of district salary records. A 25-year veteran earns about $2,100 less, and a 15-year veteran about $1,000 a year less. The anomalies were created in 2010 and 2011 when the district dropped a salary schedule that rewarded teachers with seniority and bumped up salaries for younger teachers, including a 14 percent boost in starting salaries. Palm Beach Post.

Brevard process criticized: An FDLE investigation concludes that the conduct of Brevard County school officials, including then-superintendent Desmond Blackburn, was “highly improper, highly unethical and very disturbing” in manipulating the process for hiring a lobbying firm in 2016. The report suggests that Blackburn did not want Mixon and Associates to win the contract, and another school official change her rankings so the other bidder was hired. But no laws were broken, according to the investigation. Florida Today.

Lead in schools’ water: Testing shows that three Sarasota County schools have levels of lead in their drinking water that is above the level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. McIntosh Middle and Venice Middle schools had high levels of lead in two kitchen faucets, which were replaced. Drinking fountains in Englewood Elementary’s Building 6 also had elevated levels, and will no longer be used. Final reports are expected this week. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Cruz questions on quiz: Coral Gables High School students were given a quiz about the death penalty last week that asked if accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz “deserves to die.” The quiz came from the New York Times Upfront, a magazine for high school students. Officials at the Miami-Dade County school they were alerted to the content by a social media post, and that “the school’s leadership has pulled the assignment, is instituting an approved review process of all such materials and regrets that this incident occurred.” Sun-Sentinel. WSB. WLRN. FBI officials apologize to families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victims for failing to act on a tip about Cruz. Politico Florida.

Science challenges: Citing the makeup of Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ education transition team, some education experts expect an increasing number of science curriculum challenges. One member of the team is Keith Flaugh, managing director of the Florida Citizens Alliance, the group that has made dozens of objections to science textbooks in Collier County. In one of them, Flaugh wrote: “Books that treat evolution as a proven science are discriminating and bully children and families against their religious beliefs.” Education Week. Connie Milito, a longtime lobbyist for the Hillsborough County School District, says she agreed to join DeSantis’ education transition team so public school students and employees have a voice with the incoming administration. Gradebook.

Vaccination exemptions: The number of Volusia and Flagler students getting religious exemptions for vaccination requirements is up 800 percent over the past 15 years. In 2002 in Volusia, just 21 incoming kindergartners used the religious exemption. In 2017, it jumped to 159. Flagler, meanwhile, now has the second-highest rate of exemptions in the state. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sex-less education: High school students in Charlotte and Sarasota counties say their schools could do more to teach them about sex, from how to prevent unwanted pregnancies to sexually transmitted diseases. Many say they’ve had no classes and no assemblies dealing with sex education. School districts have the option of choosing their sexual education curriculum, and Charlotte has picked the abstinence-only approach. Charlotte Sun.

Educators honored: Finalists are named for the Duval County teacher of the year award. They are Sarah Pasion of Sadie Tillis Elementary, Nakeisha Tinsley of Matthew Gilbert Middle, Danisha Love of Raines High, Rachel Duff of DuPont Middle and Joshua Diaz of Hogan-Spring Glen Elementary. The winner will be announced Feb. 15. Florida Times-UnionWJXT. Finalists are named for the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are Nicole Bates of Mendenhall Elementary, Anne Smith of Caminiti Exceptional Center, Dakeyan Graham of King High, Scott Hottenstein of Barrington Middle and Jeffrey Van Hise of Gorrie Elementary. Finalists are also chosen for diversity educator and support employee of the year. Winners will be announced Jan. 24. Gradebook. Caroline Pharmer, a secretary at Forest High School, is named the Marion County School District’s school-related employee of the year. Ocala Star-Banner.

Achievement gap: The Alachua County School District applies for a $1.2 million Unified School Improvement Grant from the U.S. government to help close the gap between successful and struggling schools. WUFT.

Charter wants extension: The Visible Men Academy charter school gets a three-year extension from the Manatee County Commission to expand the school on a 4-acre plot it bought from the commission in 2015. A condition of the sale was that the school complete the expansion by September 2020. But an F grade from the state shifted school officials’ focus to improving academics. After improving to an A grade this year, the school asked for the extension. Bradenton Herald.

Complaints lead to changes: Complaints from parents about a Pinellas County middle school principal, a widening student achievement gap and growing teacher turnover prompted the district to replace him. Dallas Jackson had been principal at St. Petersburg’s John Hopkins Middle School since July 2017. He will now direct the district’s teacher recruiting. Tampa Bay Times.

Drills may change: Seminole County school officials are considering making changes to the way school emergency drills are conducted after an unannounced active shooter exercise at Lake Brantley High School last week caused widespread panic and parent outrage. The district says it will more promptly notify parents when exercises are drills and not real emergencies. Orlando Sentinel.

Legislative requests: Miami-Dade school officials ask their legislative delegation for more funding for education and school security. Florida Politics.

District IG criticized: The inspector general for the Palm Beach County District, Lung Chiu, operated a nonprofit business without getting approval from the school board as required by his contract, according to a review by an inspector general from Pinellas County hired to investigate. Palm Beach Post.

New school urged: Charlotte County Commissioner Joe Tiseo is urging that a new Port Charlotte Middle School be built, both to attract students to the neighborhood and give the county another option for a hurricane shelter. The current middle school was built in 1970, and officials chose not to use it as a shelter last year when Hurricane Irma went through the area because they weren’t sure if it would hold up. Charlotte Sun.

Assistant principal charged: An assistant principal at Stockton Elementary School in Duval County, is arrested and accused of grand theft. Police say Jamall Collins, 34, used money from two checks to the school for rent and an insurance premium payment. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher cleared: A Duval County middle school teacher’s suspension should be rescinded and he should be reinstated and reimbursed, says an administrative judge who ruled that the district did not prove he made inappropriate comments in class. David Swinyar, a Kernan Middle School teacher, was suspended for 10 days after he was accused of using the “N” word in class. Florida Times-Union.

Students arrested: A 14-year-old student at Buddy Taylor Middle School in Flagler County is arrested and accused of bringing a loaded handgun to school. Flagler Live. A 14-year-old student at Workman Middle School in Escambia County has been arrested and accused of aggravated battery for assaulting a classmate in a locker room. The victim’s head and neck were kicked into lockers, and he was hospitalized. WEAR.

Sloth attacks school worker: A sloth brought into an Orange County school for a “learning opportunity” bites a secretary while photos were being taken. The bite required minor hand surgery for the Camelot Elementary School secretary. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: The criteria to become the state’s education commissioner should be more than just sharing the governor’s opinions on charter schools and tuition vouchers. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. With Richard Corcoran as the education commissioner, more disruption is coming to Florida schools. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. The student privacy law, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is well-intended. But it has become a convenient excuse for school and college bureaucrats to withhold information the public is entitled to know about such serious events as a serial rapist on a campus, academic favoritism to athletes, biased admission policies, and accidental injuries and deaths. Sun-Sentinel. The recent election season has shown the need for reform on bundling constitutional amendments, vocational education and school choice. Florida Times-Union. In one day we saw the absolute mess that is the current state of the Okaloosa County School District. Taxpayer money is being thrown away, a custodian is being rehired after being accused by four women of sexual harassment, and a teacher is going to jail. There obviously is a lack of control in the school system, and it starts at the top. Northwest Florida Daily News. The Brevard County School District has 45 technical education programs where students can obtain certification in a trade. Now it just has to convince students to enroll in them. Florida Today. Cynthia Saunders has earned the job as superintendent of the Manatee County School District. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Opponents have fought school choice bitterly in the courts and legislative halls, in Florida and other states. But facile arguments posited by special interests cannot overcome the truth. School choice offers hope and opportunity to students and considerable savings to the taxpayer. Lloyd Brown, Sun-Sentinel. Going to an appointed superintendent doesn’t mean Marion County can’t hire someone who is homegrown. It just means the relationship between the school board and the superintendent is going to change and individuals who may be unelectable might make fantastic superintendents. Brad Rogers, Ocala Star-Banner. Now is the time to make children a priority and take political action before we lose the next generation. We need real solutions to climate change, gun violence, health risks, teacher shortages and bad schools. Sally Butzin, Tallahassee Democrat. One possibly positive message of strikes like these in Chicago is the clarity bestowed upon the truly private nature of charter schools. John E. Coons. redefinED.

Student enrichment: Four students from Hobbs Middle School in Milton are named to the all-state band selected by the Florida Bandmasters Association. Santa Rosa Press Gazette. Students at the Geneva Classical Academy in Lakeland have an elective weekly class on performing card tricks. School officials say it teaches poise and persuasion. Lakeland Ledger. The Frostproof High School choir was chosen to sing Christmas carols last month to President Trump and his wife Melania. Lakeland Ledger.