Florida schools roundup: Graduation help, religion classes, LGBTQ students and more

Graduation paths: Florida’s high schools are graduating more seniors than ever, but some legislators want to find even more alternative paths to a diploma. “It’s still a big goal of mine,” says state Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, the chair of the House PreK-12 Innovation committee. Several bills have already been filed. One would allow students to graduate even if they can’t pass the required tests as long as they meet other criteria. Another would focus on subject mastery in middle and high schools as ways to assign grades and credits, and another would require all high schools to have advisers to counsel students with a grade point average under 2.0 about alternative graduation pathways and technical training. Gradebook.

Teaching religion: A bill is introduced into the Legislature that would require all high schools to offer students an “objective study of religion.” State Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, who filed the bill, said examples are courses on the Hebrew Scriptures and Old Testament, the New Testament or a combination of all three. Florida Politics. Daniels also said Wednesday she is willing to agree that she broke state law by filing false financial disclosures if the Florida Commission on Ethics turns the case over to House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, to decide if further action is necessary. Florida Times-Union.

LGBTQ student safety: Almost 75 percent of LGBTQ students in Florida middle schools and high schools say they have been verbally harassed at school in the past year, according to a survey conducted by a nonprofit organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Florida Phoenix. WLRN. Gradebook.

Solemn anniversary: The Broward County School District says it will mark the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 with a “day of service and love,” according to principal Ty Thompson. Survivors of the shooting are exempted from attending school that day, but are encouraged to donate time for community service. WLRN.

Contract negotiations: The Pinellas County teachers union and school officials reach a tentative agreement that includes a 2.55 percent pay raise for 7,000 teachers, a boost in the starting teacher pay to $43,089, changes in the evaluation process, plus more autonomy for teachers on lesson plans and fewer required meetings. The deal must be approved by the membership and the school board. Gradebook.

A question of ethics: The chair of the Palm Beach County School Board rejects an independent inspector general’s recommendation that the board penalize a member who is accused of an ethics violation. Newly re-elected member Debra Robinson profanely threatened to punish a radio station that didn’t support her candidacy, according to the investigative report, which recommended the board sanction her. But board chair Frank Barbieri says it isn’t the board’s role to police its members. “I believe it’s up to Dr. Robinson as an elected official to comply with the code of ethics,” he said, “and I’m sure she will.” Palm Beach Post.

Superintendent’s term: After getting an opinion from the Florida Attorney General’s Office, the Marion County School Board says it will honor the elected term of Superintendent Heidi Maier. Maier was elected in 2016, and her term ends Nov. 16, 2020. But in November, Marion voters decided to switch from an elected superintendent to an appointed one. Maier has offered to leave in June 2020 if she gets the final 20 weeks of pay in her term as a severance package. Ocala Star-Banner.

Security in schools: At least 215 U.S. school districts have advocated arming teachers or school staff since 17 people were shot to death last Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, according to a review of state and local policies. That brings the total of U.S. districts allowing teachers to be armed in schools to at least 466. Vice News. The Lake County School Board hires a private company to provide security at two alternative schools for students. Daily Commercial.

After the storm: Gulf County school officials say they may have to hire a consultant to work through insurance issues from damage caused by Hurricane Michael. They also are worrying about the future financial impact from the storm: lower enrollment means less money from the state, and property damage means lower values and less tax revenue. Port St. Joe Star.

Teacher recruitment: The Lake County School District is offering “Become a Teacher” information sessions as part of its teacher recruiting efforts. Targeted are professionals who want to change careers and high school graduates who are looking for a way to get into teaching. Earlier this week, school officials reported that teacher turnover in the district is about 15 percent per year. Daily Commercial.

School board elections: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend files paperwork to run for re-election to his District 1 seat in 2020. Also on that ballot are the District 2 seat held by Lori Cunningham and Sara Beth Reynolds’ District 4 seat. Lakeland Ledger.

Coach nominated posthumously: Aaron Feis, the assistant coach and security monitor who died in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High, is nominated by the Miami Dolphins for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award. The award is given annually to the coach “who best exhibits character, integrity, leadership, dedication to the community, commitment to player health and safety and on-field success.” Miami Herald.

A question of choice: Pastor Robert Ward, founder of the private Mt. Moriah Christian Fundamental School in St. Petersburg, talks about why school choice should be nonpartisan and how it empowers parents. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships most of his students use. redefinED.

Notable deaths: Altamease Nickson, a longtime teacher and Head Start coordinator for the Hillsborough County School District, dies at the age of 95 in Tampa. Tampa Bay Times.

Busing changes: The Polk County School District is considering eliminating busing to charter schools and for students who live within 2 miles of their choice, though school officials say they may recommend keeping busing within 2 miles for students in elementary schools. The move could save the district $130,000 a year. Lakeland Ledger.

Principal’s hearing: A Manatee County principal defends himself against charges that he recommended a teacher to the Sarasota County School District even though he knew the teacher was under investigation for sexual misconduct. Lincoln Memorial Academy Principal Eddie Hundley says since no formal charges were filed against the teacher, “what was I supposed to say?” The administrative law judge will make a recommendation to the Florida Department of Education. Hundley could lose his educator’s certificate. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student hit by car: A 15-year-old Pasco County student is in critical condition after he walked into the path of a car driven by a teacher as they were both headed to Gulf High School in New Port Richey. Police say charges are not likely to be filed. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Three students OD: Three Martin County High School students are hospitalized after overdosing while smoking THC vape pens laced with an unknown substance. The students, two from Martin County High and the third from South Fork High, are recovering. WPTV.

Student arrested: An 11-year-old student is arrested and accused of threatening another student with a knife at Rymfire Elementary School in Palm Coast. WOFL. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. St. Augustine Record.

School vandalized: Jupiter Elementary School in Palm Bay was ransacked by vandals over the holiday break. At least two classrooms were vandalized, with fire extinguishers shot off and thermostats smashed. Florida Today.

Bat infestation at school: Middleburg High School in Clay County is infested with bats, school officials say. About a dozen got into the school gym Monday night, forcing the cancellation of a basketball game. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: Our aim should be to build a common vision of Florida schools as nurturing places where students can learn, grow and develop, surrounded by loving communities. Let’s not start by adding guns to teachers’ classroom supply lists. Fedrick Ingram, Sun Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Jett Forsythe, a senior at Cutler Bay High School in Miami-Dade County, is honored by the city for saving 10 people in distress while boating. Miami Herald. Gannon Thomas, a student at Jacksonville’s Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, wins $10,000 for being one of 719 teen artists from 44 states invited to the 38th annual National YoungArts Week. Thomas is a finalist in theater. Clay Today.