Help for charter schools, Parkland lawsuits filed, school crime stats issues and more

Help for charter schools: A new bill in the Florida House would require school districts that are receiving extra local property tax revenue from voter-approved levies to share the money with charter schools. The bill was created Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee in response to contradictory court rulings on the question. The bill would penalize districts that don’t comply by withholding money from the state, and would affect as many as 15 districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas and about a dozen others that have successfully pushed through tax increases. “When they are squeezing us and fertilizing charters,” said longtime Pinellas board member Carol Cook, “it starts to be a problem.” Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald.

Parkland shooting lawsuits: More than 20 lawsuits are filed against the Broward County School Board, sheriff’s office, other agencies and some individuals by parents of children who were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018. The suits allege negligence by the sheriff’s office, the school board and Henderson Behavorial Health, and “willful and wanton negligence” against former school resource officer Scot Peterson and campus monitor Andrew Medina, who did not intervene to try to stop the accused shooter. The amount of damages sought was not disclosed. One of those parents is Mitch Dworet, whose son Nick died. “They failed,” he said. “They failed me that day.” Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. WLRN. Bills that would have created a $160 million compensation fund for the families of Parkland victims have not gotten a hearing in the Legislature and are not expected to pass. Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he thinks the judicial process should conclude before the state considers payments for claims. Sun Sentinel.

School crime stats: Members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission say inconsistency in the way crimes at schools are reported make them unreliable and a “not a good measurement” for how safe schools are. The members, meeting for a second day in Broward County, pointed to such discrepancies as a single school in Alachua County reporting 72 physical attacks of students last school year while none were reported at any Miami-Dade County school. “It defies common sense. It defies logic,” said Bob Gualtieri, chair of the commission that is investigating the massacre that killed 17 people. Sun Sentinel. Families of the Parkland victims tell the commission that the haphazard way they were notified about their loved ones being killed was “torture.” Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Improvements have been made in training for Broward deputies, commission members are told. Sun Sentinel.

Principals recovery network: Seventeen former and current K-12 principals from schools in 11 states where shootings have occurred — including Stoneman Douglas High School — have formed the Principal Recovery Network to help each other deal with the tragedy and provide support in recovering. “This is the network each of us wishes we had when the shooting occurred in our school,” says Frank DeAngelis, the principal of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., during the 1999 shooting. Associated Press.

School board term limits: A bill that would limit local school board members to eight consecutive years in office is approved by a Senate committee, but not without concerns voiced by several senators. Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, said he worries about taking away local control and suggests that 12-year limits would be more acceptable. The bill still has to get through the rules committee before a full Senate vote. The House’s companion bill has cleared all committees and awaits a floor vote. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Associated Press.

School funding: The Polk County School Board is encouraging the public to lobby their legislators to boost funding for public schools. The Florida Senate’s proposal is the most generous for Polk with an increase of $44.3 million, or about 5 percent. Proposed budgets from the House and Gov. Ron DeSantis provide for an increase of just 2 percent. “It does matter that our representatives hear from us in phone calls, letters, emails — they mentioned it in every office we visited,” says board member Sarah Fortney. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter schools: The Palm Beach County School Board approves the applications of four charter schools. Two were approved as part of a settlement in a long-running legal battle two charters brought against the district for denying their applications. The largest of the four, a school that will focus on renewable industries and sustainable energy, is expected to enroll up to 1,500 students. Also approved is a school for at-risk students. Palm Beach Post. A Winter Haven charter school that serves special-needs students delays a vote on severing ties with a company that provides its physical, occupational and speech therapy services. The board of Language and Literacy Academy of Learning is reconsidering its association with Special Kids Innovation Program, whose director is involved in a lawsuit over her financial dealings at a charter school she used to run. Parents of children at the academy urged the board to maintain the continuity of services. Lakeland Ledger.

Hirings questioned: Some Lee County School Board members are questioning Superintendent Greg Adkins’ hiring of a transportation director because of a lawsuit in his job history, and why a national search wasn’t conducted before hiring a chief financial officer. The debate was unusual because the board typically doesn’t get involved in the details of such personnel decisions. “Our role is clear and getting involved in personnel matters is not part of the responsibilities of board members,” said board member Mary Fisher. “That’s the superintendent’s job.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Leadership vacuum: Florida Virtual School has had a crisis of leadership since a scandal broke last year over the actions of its former lawyer. Since then, six members of the board of trustees have resigned, one CEO resigned, her controversial replacement died after just a few months in the job and controversy has followed his replacement. The board has upgraded harassment policies, eliminated the in-house general counsel position, is more closely supervising senior managers and has closed “holes” in the procurement process. The Orlando-based school received $182 million from the state last year. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher bonuses: Preschool teachers in Broward County who received “highly effective” ratings on their evaluations say they received an email from the school district in December that they would be getting bonuses from the state’s Best and Brightest program in March. Just days before the money was expected, they got another email informing them that they were not eligible for bonuses after all because state law excludes preschool teachers. Teachers union officials are pressuring the district to pay the promised bonuses out of the general revenue. WSVN.

Cameras in classes: An Okaloosa County woman is lobbying the school district to put cameras in classrooms, especially rooms where students with disabilities are taught. Bettye Mendez is the grandmother of a special needs student in another district, but was prompted to make the pitch after a child abuse scandal enveloped the district and led to the suspension of the superintendent. “We cannot afford not to videotape and assure, not only the teachers are believed, but the students are believed,” Mendez said. School board chair Lamar White says doing so may be a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School calendars: If their respective school boards approve, Broward and Palm Beach school districts will start classes earlier than in past years. Broward is scheduled to start Aug. 14, which is about a week earlier than it did in 2016 and 2017. Palm Beach would start Aug. 12, and move it up to Aug. 10 in 2020 and 2021. The proposals have some parents grumbling that it cuts their summer vacations short. Sun Sentinel.

Boards, public interaction: The Volusia County School Board is limiting the amount of time people can speak about non-agenda items at its meetings to 15 meetings before and after the meetings. There will also be time for people to speak about each item the board is about to vote on. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Pasco County School Board will consider a proposal next week to livestream its meetings. The board has resisted in the past, citing costs and potential preening before cameras. Gradebook.

Firings urged: Marion County school Superintendent Heidi Maier is urging the school board to approve the firings of three employees for not stopping a special-needs students from banging his head against a door 30 times. Paraprofessionals Brandi Stephens and Shivonne Bennett and behavior technician Ronisha Johnson have been suspended from their jobs at Sparr Elementary School. All three dispute Maier’s allegations and are requesting a hearing before the school board. Ocala Star-Banner.

School employees arrested: A Broward County middle school music and choir teacher is arrested on charges of trespassing and threatening a public servant. No details were provided by deputies. Larry Brewer teaches at Pioneer Middle School in Cooper City. WPLG. A South Dade Senior High School employee has been arrested and accused of having sex with a 15-year-old boy. Victor Brantley, 45, is a computer technician at the school. He met the boy on an Internet dating app. WPLG. Miami Herald. A Marion County teacher’s aide is arrested and accused of child abuse. Police say Terrence Kennedy pushed a student and pinned him on the ground at New Leaf Center, an alternative school. Ocala Star-Banner. Child abuse and child neglect charges are filed against three employees at an Okaloosa County school. Special education teacher Margaret Wolthers and two aides, Diana Lacroix and Carolyn Madison, are accused of abusing three autistic children at the Silver Sands School in Fort Walton Beach. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR.

Students sickened by drugs: Two Monroe County students are hospitalized after taking the anti-anxiety medicine Xanax at school, according to sheriff’s deputies. The boys, 13 and 14, are in stable condition. A 14-year-old classmate at Key Largo School has been arrested and charged with felony drug distribution. Keynoter. Key West Citizen.

Students arrested: A Miami-Dade County School District student is arrested and accused of attacking a 13-year-old classmate at Cutler Bay Middle School. The victim suffered two broken knuckles, scratches and injured her back. Her mother says she wasn’t notified of the incident by the district, but a district spokesperson disputed that. WPLG. A Bay County student’s handgun is confiscated at Bay High School, according to a school resource officer. Police are investigating. Panama City News Herald.

Opinions on schools: The Duval County School District’s plan to renovate and replace many outdated facilities won’t work if it lacks community buy-in. Florida Times-Union. True constitutionalists have waited a long damn time for Senate Bill 7030, which would let us educators pack some decent heat. Those socialists from the teachers union can just shut the hell up. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix. It’s good that people get alarmed at the thought of Angela’s Ashes going up in smoke at the school library. It’s also good that people want to police what their kids are exposed to. Not all critically acclaimed books belong in school libraries. David Whitley, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: The ACT test company is offering free breakfast to students from 11 high schools in Bay, Clay, Miami-Dade, Orange and Pinellas counties before they take the test this week. Florida Phoenix. Students at Pine Ridge Middle School in Naples create a time capsule and in the process, discover another one from June 1988. Naples Daily News.

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BY NextSteps staff