Florida schools roundup: New scholarship, arming teachers, pledge arrest and more

New scholarship: Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to eliminate the 14,000-student waiting list for Florida Tax Credit (FTC) scholarships to attend private schools by creating another scholarship. The proposed Equal Opportunity Scholarship program would offer the same amount of money as the tax credit scholarships do – around $7,000 a year – to those 14,000 low-income students. The $100 million set aside for the new scholarship would come directly from the state, while the funding for FTC scholarships comes from companies that receive tax credits for contributing to nonprofits. “If the taxpayer is paying for education, it’s public education,” regardless of what type of school she or he attends, said DeSantis. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the FTC program. Legislators will have to write a bill and pass it into law. News Service of Florida. Associated PressMiami HeraldOrlando Sentinel. redefinED. Gradebook. Lawsuits are likely to follow DeSantis’ call for a new scholarship. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Guns and teachers: A recent statewide poll suggests a minority of Floridians support arming teachers, but the Republican-dominated Legislature is moving ahead with a bill that would arm willing teachers who get the required training. The bill passed last year specifically prohibited arming teachers. Legislators say they have come around on the issue after the state commission investigating the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas  High School in 2018 recommended that willing teachers be armed. “I want to remind members that we had members of that commission who were totally against any armed personnel being on a campus,” said State Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, “and after their serving on that commission they have come to us with this recommendation.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Arrested for pledge protest: An 11-year-old Lakeland student is arrested and faces a misdemeanor charge after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and after being ordered to do so by a substitute teacher at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy. A district spokesman says the 6th-grader was taken into custody “after becoming disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions by school staff and law enforcement” and for threatening to beat up the teacher, and not for declining to recite the pledge. The boy told the substitute that he wouldn’t stand because “the flag is racist and the national anthem is offensive to black people.” Lakeland Ledger. Bay News 9. WPLG. WFLA.

Teachers honored: Sarah Pasion, a 4th-grade teacher at Sadie T. Tillis Elementary School School in Jacksonville, is named the Duval County School District’s teacher of the year. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Kamille Chapman, an 8th-grade math teacher at Mount Dora Middle School, is named the Lake County School District’s teacher of the year. Daily Commercial.

Superintendent’s contract: This week, Sarasota County School Board members will consider a new four-year contract for Superintendent Todd Bowden that would raise his annual $197,000 salary to $222,000 by the 2022-2023 school year, and require the votes of four of the five board members to fire him. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Mental health services: While one Polk County School Board member thinks the district should have a mental health counselor in all 150 county schools, school officials have managed to hire just 10 of the 25 mental health and support positions they have. They blame a national shortage of school psychologists. Lakeland Ledger.

School security: Orange County Sheriff John Mina says there are now resource officers in all the district’s elementary schools. Most of the officers are already-trained deputies who decided to work in schools and were shifted. The department is hiring new officers, and will use overtime shifts to cover for the deputies who transferred. Orlando Sentinel.

High school dress code: The Indian River County School District’s Code of Conduct Advisory Team is again considering a dress code for students in high schools. Last year, changes were proposed but protests from parents prompted the district to hold off implementing them. Those rules will go into effect in August unless the committee makes changes. The code would prohibit words and pictures on clothing and accessories, and leggings and jeggings, or jean leggings. TCPalm.

School’s board resigns: School board members for a St. Lucie County private Christian school have resigned under pressure from school staff. Barnabas Christian Academy of Fort Pierce, formerly known as Nation Christian Academy, is under investigation by the state and is having financial problems. If teachers can’t appoint a new board by Feb. 26, the school will be dissolved. TCPalm.

Notable deaths: Murray Mintz, an exacting drama teacher at St. Petersburg High School from 1987 to 2001, has died at the age of 79 of a heart attack. Tampa Bay Times.

DOE wants license revoked: The Florida Department of Education wants to revoke a Manatee principal’s educator license for two years for helping a teacher under investigation for sexual misconduct land another job. The DOE made its proposal Friday, about a month after a hearing for Lincoln Memorial Academy principal Eddie Hundley. The administrative law judge who presided over the case will issue a recommendation to the state’s Education Practices Commission, which will decide if Hundley should be punished. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Medical marijuana lawsuit: Parents of a 9-year-old Palm Beach County student are suing the district for refusing to administer medical marijuana to the boy at H.L. Johnson Elementary School. The parents say the district’s refusal to treat the boy forces one of them to drive to the school every day. The boy takes THC pills three times a day to help control his epileptic seizures. District officials say state law allows only “caregivers” to administer the drugs in schools. Palm Beach Post.

School food problems: Seventeen Brevard County schools received an unsatisfactory rating from the Florida Department of Health within the last year during a food health inspection. Some schools were cited multiple times. Brevard Times.

More charges against teacher: A former Hillsborough County teacher now faces 579 counts of video voyeurism, production of harmful material of a minor and possession of child pornography, according to sheriff’s deputies. Mark Ackett, 50, allegedly hid phones in a Bloomingdale High School changing room and recorded more than 70 students in various states of undress. He was first arrested last September, and the extra charges came after investigators found more images on his devices. Tampa Bay Times.

Student arrested: A 14-year-old Flagler County student is arrested and accused of threatening a classmate. Deputies say the Indian Trails Middle School student filmed himself with a gun threatening the girl, who had confronted him over rumors he was spreading. He’s accused of written threats to kill or do bodily harm. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. WJXT. A 12-year-old student at Elliot Point Elementary School in Okaloosa County is arrested and accused of threatening to shoot a classmate and a teacher. WEAR.

Opinions on schools: previous statewide grand jury found that Broward County’s School Board had gotten too involved in day-to-day decisions, which led to corruption. But the pendulum has swung too far the other way, raising the specter of another kind of corruption. A reset is needed in the balance of power between Florida school boards and the people they are meant to supervise. Sun Sentinel. We need to tamp down our expectations of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call for a grand jury investigation into the “systematic failures” in school safety and security in Broward County. Three previous grand juries went nowhere after being tasked with investigating possible wrongdoing in Broward County schools. Steve Bousquet, Sun Sentinel. Florida needs to crunch the numbers and decide if the lack of statistics courses in high school is the best option for students’ lifelong success. Jennings DePriest, Tallahassee Democrat. Population growth in Santa Rosa County is prompting an increase in infrastructure needs like schools. Isn’t it time for the county to begin levying impact fees for development? Antonio Apap, Pensacola News Journal.

Student enrichment: Students at Mayport Coastal Sciences Middle School are helping scientists study undersea ecosystems, care for live coral and raise tilapia and koi. Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff