Mental health services, Promise program, district finances, pay raises and more

Mental health services: Proposed rule changes in deciding who can provide Medicaid behavioral health services could give Florida’s schools greater access to mental health providers. Under the changes being considered by the state Agency for Health Care Administration, clinical social workers and psychologists could be used to provide mental-health services to individuals or groups of students. Since the shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, the state has focused on ways to bolster the mental health services available to students. News Service of Florida. The very public verbal spat last week between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez over funding for mental health services in schools drew attention to a question: Are such services better delivered in or out of school? Tampa Bay Times.

School discipline program: The Broward County School District revises its description of the controversial Promise discipline diversion program so it won’t have to share details about students to law enforcement agencies under a new law. The law, passed last year after the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School, requires districts to share information about students who are entered into pre-arrest diversion programs. Broward is now calling the Promise program an “alternative to external suspension” program, which it says puts it outside the requirements of the law. Sun Sentinel. The Temple of Time in Coral Springs, a temporary wooden shrine to the Parkland victims, is set on fire. The burn is intended to release and transform the pain, said the temple designer, California artist David Best. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Districts’ finances: The Florida Department of Education is demanding that the Lee County School District repay $3.9 million that it improperly spent for things such as groundskeeping, cleaning classrooms and gymnasiums, and maintaining athletic fields, all things districts may not pay for with property taxes. School officials appealed the state audit finding fault, but the DOE sided with the auditor. If the issue isn’t resolved by May 31, the DOE will deduct the $3.9 million from funds the district is supposed to get for the next school year. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX. WINK. Superintendents from Leon, Bay, Okaloosa and Wakulla counties say they’re grateful for the extra money they’ll get from the state this year, but agree it’s still not enough to take care of all their needs. WFSU. Northwest Florida Daily News. Panama City News Herald. A recent study by the Florida Education Association concludes the Alachua and Escambia school districts would lose $11 million and $16.9 million, respectively, in state funding over the next five years because of the new Family Empowerment Scholarship. Gainesville Sun. WEAR.

Magistrate backs union: A special magistrate has recommended the Brevard County School Board dip into its reserves to give teachers raises. Tom Young, called in to help break the negotiations impasse between the teachers union and the district, backed the union’s position that the district could and should use its reserves to give highly effective teachers $2,300 raises and effective ones $1,725. Superintendent Mark Mullins says he objects to the use of reserves for recurring expenses, but says, “We will carefully review the magistrate’s recommendation while deciding the district’s next step.” If Mullins rejects the recommendation, the final decision will be up to the school board. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. In the past three years, 625 Brevard teachers have quit their jobs. Union leaders call it a “silent strike.” School officials say the situation is not a crisis yet, but the district needs to find ways to retain teachers. Florida Today.

Security in schools: Heightened security measures in schools, such as active-shooter drills and the emphasis on the run, hide, fight training for students, are meant to prepare students for the worst. But they’re creating a “generation lockdown,” says Zach Kindy, executive director of the Jacksonville March for Our Lives chapter, a student-led advocacy group for gun control. Florida Times-Union. Trust among students has eroded since the Parkland shootings. Associated Press. Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey says he’s concerned that the Monroe County School District still hasn’t submitted an emergency plan and or addressed the problem of police radios and cellphones not working in two newly built schools. District officials say they’re working on it. Key West Citizen.

Reading program: The Manatee County School District is partnering with United Way to create a plan to improve grade-level reading at 10 Title 1 schools. Seventy-five percent of 3rd-graders at the 10 schools are not reading at grade level, according to district officials. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Graduation problems: Seats at Polk County graduations at the RP Funding Center are in short supply, and some family members of graduating students are unhappy they won’t be able to attend. A recent remodeling of the center cut 1,100 seats. “This is not fair to the kids that have worked hard for 13 years to graduate — some kids are only getting three or four tickets,” said Melissa Nichols, whose son is graduating from Kathleen High School. “Everybody deserves the right to have their family there that day.” Lakeland Ledger.

State of the district: At the annual State of the District breakfast, Lee County school Superintendent Greg Adkins says the district is in a “very strong” position. He cited the highest graduation rate in district history and its success in reducing the number of low-performing schools from 23 to 1. Fort Myers News-Press.

School opening delayed: A Tallahassee charter school has delayed opening for a year because it can’t find a temporary home while the permanent campus is being built. The Tallahassee Classical School planned to open in August, but has postponed that to the fall of 2020. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher shortage: Five southwest Florida teachers talk about why there’s a teacher shortage, why it’s going to get worse, what might be done about it and why they wouldn’t recommend any student follow that career path. About 25 percent of Lee County’s teachers, 18.7 percent of Charlotte’s and 10.7 percent of Collier’s left their jobs last year. WINK.

Notable deaths: Lenora Braynon Smith, who was a teacher and principal in Miami-Dade County for more than 40 years, the county’s and state’s first black teacher of the year and had an elementary school named in her honor, has died. Miami Herald.

School dress code policy: Volusia County School Board members are considering making changes to the dress code policy in an attempt to make it easier for principals to enforce. High school students would be allowed to wear any color pants or polo or collared shirts, and middle and high school students could be prohibited from wearing hoodies without zippers. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student guidance: St. Lucie County school officials credit their use of a progress system called Power BI to keep students from falling behind. The software system tracks grades, absenteeism and discipline and can be accessed at any time for a snapshot of a student’s progress. WPTV.

Board member withdraws: A Lake County School Board member is giving up his board seat at a charter school in Osceola County. Marc Dodd says he wants someone with a vested interest in the Four Corners Charter School to replace him. Daily Commercial.

Placement complaint: The Sarasota County School District is accused of placing a special-needs student into an alternative school program without the permission of his mother, according to a complaint filed with the Florida Department of Education. As a 4th-grader, the student was put in the program for children with severe cognitive disabilities, and the mistake wasn’t discovered until the boy was put back into general education classes and immediately began to struggle. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Board upholds firing: The Okaloosa County School Board unanimously agrees to uphold the firing of Andy Johnson, the program director of student services, discipline and athletics. Superintendent Marcus Chambers based his recommendation on Johnson’s “evasive and contradictory sworn testimony” to a grand jury that was investigating problems in the school district under former superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. Northwest Florida Daily News.

District apologizes: Broward County school Superintendent Robert Runcie is apologizing for a misplaced robocall that went to every parent in the district instead of the intended few. The call was to inform some parents of an incident earlier this month in which a teacher and an aide at Pasadena Lakes Elementary School in Pembroke Pines were caught in an audio recording making profane remarks toward autistic students. WPLG.

Testing coach disappears: A testing administrator for the Miami-Dade County School District has disappeared. Kameela Russell, 41, has worked at Miami Norland Senior High since 2014. She was last seen Wednesday by her family. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Student shot at game: A 16-year-old Duval County student suffered a life-threatening gunshot wound in a parking lot at Terry Parker High School just before the end of a spring football game at the school Friday. The Raines High School student is in critical but stable condition. Deputies say the shooting is likely gang-related. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

School threat: A Tampa woman has been arrested after allegedly threatening to “shoot everyone” at nearby Egypt Lake Elementary School. Deputies say Juliana Cote, 26, admitted making the post on Facebook. WTVT.

Teacher arrested: A Hillsborough County teacher has been arrested and accused of slapping a 13-year-old student in her classroom at Giunta Middle School. Sheila Vakili, 63, faces a charge of child abuse. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times.

Student arrested: A 17-year-old Flagler Palm Coast High School student is arrested after deputies say they found her in possession of drugs and $816 in cash at school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School buses collide: Thirty-four Pasco County students and three adults were treated at a hospital for minor injuries they received when two charter bus carrying students from Pasco County collided in Polk County. Ninety-one students and seven adults were on the buses from Pepin Academies, which serves students with learning- and learning-related disabilities. Tampa Bay Times.

Senior prank problems: Two seniors at Santa Fe High School in Alachua County are arrested after driving dirt bikes through school buildings as a prank. They’re charged with aggravated fleeing or eluding a law enforcement officer, as well as disruption of a school function. WCJB. Some seniors at Baldwin Middle-Senior High School will be disciplined for pulling a prank that turned into vandalism. Several classrooms were described as “trashed,” and the senior class will be required to pay for the damages. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: Just two years ago, I was so hopeful and enthusiastic about teaching as a career. Now it is killing me, and I’m quitting. Bianca Goolsby, Tampa Bay Times. Public schools are not failing — the Legislature is. Public schools are the laboratory of democracy, and as a teacher I donate time every day to try and preserve them. Fred Kilgallin, Florida Today. The Legislature earns a C for its work on education. On the plus side, there was a $243-per-student funding increase; on the minus side, more money is being devoted to vouchers for private schools that aren’t held to the same standards as public schools. TCPalm. Those who claim that Florida’s private-school scholarships lift students out of poverty are disingenuous at best and flat out deceitful at worst. Vanessa Skipper, Florida Today. The community partnership school at Howard Bishop Middle School deserves all the support it can get. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun. Once again, Florida lawmakers have failed to meet the obligations of a ballot initiative on funding pre-K program, so Alachua County should step up to ensure its children have a high-quality early learning opportunity. Gainesville Sun. As state funding for school facilities has decreased, voters in counties throughout Florida have chosen to invest local dollars in their schools. Duval residents deserve the same opportunity. Diana Greene, Florida Times-Union. A genuinely bipartisan K-12 reform movement cannot afford to dismiss either of the major political parties and is at risk of obsolescence from the sort of groupthink that comes with a lack of political and intellectual diversity. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. If there is a compelling reason City Hall could deny the Duval County School Board the chance to get more money for aging schools, it’s because City Hall needs more money for its own wish list of downtown redevelopment projects, special interests and infrastructure — and both can’t get what they want, not at the same time. Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union. Legislators have an amazing ability to find money for their pet projects all the time. And yet it seems unreasonable that we are asking our schools to trim money from an already stretched budget. Cortney Stewart, Citrus County Chronicle. The intensifying shortage of math and science teachers in Florida is threatening to limit the state’s economic future, and a new report on economic growth from the Florida Council of 100 should have said so. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Here’s what some of the 150 graduating seniors from Hillsborough County schools competing in an essay contest say about arming teachers. Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Helena Jiang, a student at Gainesville’s Buchholz High School, win a best in category award at the world’s largest international pre-college science competition for her chemistry project. The project uses sensors that change colors when they detect pollutants. Gainesville Sun. The Dixon School of Arts and Sciences in Pensacola receives a $1.25 million donation from Kim and Julian MacQueen, the founders of Innisfree Hotels. The private school will use the donation to move to a new location. Pensacola News Journal. Two Marion County 9th-graders, Sophie Zedler and Jacob Bohorquez of the Ambleside School of Ocala, join about 100 students from around the world to sing an African spiritual at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Friday. Ocala Star-Banner.