Corcoran pushes pregame prayers, teacher discipline changes sought, a charter school closes and more

Pregame prayers: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is asking the Florida High School Athletics Association to reconsider its ban on pregame prayers over stadium loudspeakers. The organization denied a request by Cambridge Christian School of Tampa to broadcast a prayer before the 2015 state championship football game against Jacksonville’s University Christian School, saying such a prayer would be considered “government speech.” The school sued, claiming the denial was a violation of its First Amendment rights. A lower court dismissed the case, but an appeals court overturned the ruling in November and sent it back to the lower court. “I expect this to be heard, addressed and updated at the next available FHSAA Board of Directors meeting,” Corcoran wrote in a letter to FHSAA executive director George Tomyn. “Policies that are overbroad or restrictive may deny students their constitutional right to private religious expression. Such policies must be immediately repealed and replaced with policies that are consistent with the religious freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.” News Service of Florida.

Teacher discipline control: Florida’s education commissioner would have greater control of the commission that disciplines Florida’s teachers under a provision in a bill filed by state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah. The bill calls for the education commissioner to select, manage and potentially remove the executive director of the Education Practices Commission. The EPC is a 25-member, now autonomous agency that hears complaints about teacher misconduct and decides on punishments, up to the revokation of state certification. Members are appointed by the state Board of Education and make judgments based on investigations that are conducted by the commissioner’s office.  Gradebook.

Charter school closes: The only charter high school in Marion County, the Marion Military Academy, closed Monday for financial reasons. “The truth of the matter is funding was just not enough to sustain the number of teachers and staff required to continue,” school board chairman and financial backer Charles deMenzes wrote in an email to parents. School district officials say they are working to place the 185 students into district schools. Ocala Star-Banner.

Educators honored: Four finalists are chosen for the Manatee County School District teacher of the year award. They are: Faith Bench, math, Braden River Middle School; Amanda English, science, Bayshore High; Susan Nickerson, 4th grade, Palmetto Elementary; and Jennifer Santora, 3rd grade, Gullett Elementary. Four finalists were also chosen for the support employee of the year award: Christal Cashmore, paraprofessional, Myakka City Elementary; Alison Cooper, clerical assistant, Williams Elementary; Amie Golden, registrar, Witt Elementary; and Martha Stroup, senior school secretary, Freedom Elementary. Winners will be announced Feb. 5. Bradenton Herald.

Charter company cancels jet: A Texas-based charter schools company that has plans to expand into Florida in 2021 agreed to lease an eight-passenger private jet to fly its officials between schools, but reversed the decision after questions were raised about it by a teachers union and a newspaper. IDEA Public Schools, which educates about 53,000 students in Texas and Louisiana, backed out of the eight-year lease on the 2016 Cessna Citation CJ4 jet that would have cost about $15 million. “Opponents of education reform have falsely attacked a prudent management decision, creating a distraction from our core work,” said IDEA founder and CEO Tom Torkelson. “Though at no time public funds would have been used for the aircraft, IDEA has decided not to move forward with the lease.” Houston Chronicle.

Security in schools: The Miami-Dade County School District Police Department swears in 78 officers, bringing the total to 460 for the nation’s largest school district police force. Still, some schools continue to be covered by officers from other agencies to meet the state mandate of an armed officer in every school. “Hopefully, by next school year we will have one of our own in each and every school,” said Chief Edwin Lopez. WFOR.

New leader’s first meeting: In his first school board meeting, new Volusia County Superintendent Scott Fritz was given the authority to hire a deputy superintendent for teaching, leading and learning. The district hasn’t had a deputy superintendent for the past four years. The board also approved an arrangement with the health department to give 6th-graders the opportunity to get the vaccinations they need for 7th grade at schools, and will consider consolidating Osceola and Ortona elementary schools in 2021 or establishing a K-8 school in that area. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Superintendent’s job: Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis is among the 51 people who have applied for the top job with the Hillsborough County School District. Davis has been in the Clay County job, an elected position, since 2016 and has announced he is running again in 2020. He said a search firm encouraged him to apply to replace the retiring Jeff Eakins, and he felt “I could not pass on the possibility to use my skill set to impact more than 220,000 students in Hillsborough County.” WJXT.

School rezoning protests: Parents in east Hillsborough County are organizing against a rezoning proposal that would move students from eight neighborhoods to different schools. They say they are worried about transportation, traffic and safety issues, and question whether this is simply the first of a series of disruptive moves. The changes are intended to ease overcrowding at Barrington and Randall middle schools. Gradebook. WTSP.

School programs: More than 100 students are enrolled in the first fulltime year of the dance academy at Leesburg High School in Lake County. The class got its own studio this year, and is fund-raising to upgrade it. Daily Commercial. Crestview High School in Okaloosa County is home to a new fishing club. The Bass Master’s Club members will practice fishing skills and techniques and attend safety seminars. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Former student honored: A 2019 graduate of Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg who was gunned down at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Dec. 6 was honored in a memorial service at the school on Monday, which would have been his 20th birthday. Sailor Mohammed “Mo” Haitham died trying to stop the shooter. Hundreds of family and friends gathered at the school’s track and took two laps to honor the former track star. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Bathroom privacy concerns: The Hernando County School District has removed the main doors in bathrooms at Frank W. Springstead High School to dissuade vaping, fighting and bullying. “Each stall has a door, but the hand washing takes place in the more open space,” according to a district official. Springstead is the only district school affected. WFTS.

Crimes in Brevard schools: Here are the Brevard County school-by-school crimes during the 2017-2018 school year, as reported to the Florida Department of Education. Brevard Times.

Employees and the law: Charges of failure to report child abuse against Shalimar Elementary School guidance counselor Sharen Burt will be dismissed if she completes the terms of a p[retrial intervention program. According to arrest records, Burt notified the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast instead of police after learning of sexual abuse allegations were made by a 5-year-old. Northwest Florida Daily News. A Polk County school bus attendant and her husband have been arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana. Deputies say the drugs were found in the home of Mary Whitehead, 36, and her husband, Antonio Whitehead, 41, after a tip. School officials say Mary Whitehead won’t be working while the district investigates. Lakeland Ledger. WFTV.

Opinions on schools: Because of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Broward County School District has an acute awareness of safety in all of our schools. We are also, understandably, perceived as “ground zero” by districts around the state and country for how we are making our schools and our educational environment safer. Here is how the district is addressing safety issues noted in the report. Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie, Sun Sentinel. Can parents trust that the number of crimes in schools reported by districts to the Florida Department of Education is accurate? Gil Smart, TCPalm. To improve education in Alachua County, children should be given more opportunities by giving their parents more choices on where their kids are educated. Len Cabrera, Gainesville Sun. We should not view an ideal school system as a forever war over finite seats in desirable schools. Rather, we should aim to create a liberal system of education giving educators the freedom to create education opportunities and families the flexibility to select between them based upon the interests and needs of the students – with meaningful levels of assistance for disadvantaged students. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Verizon has donated $100,000, iPads, speakers and other technology to the Bay Education Foundation to benefit students in public schools. Panama City News Herald. The William G. and Marie Selby Foundation has donated more than $75,000 to the Florida Center for Early Childhood to improve building security and playground safety at Starfish Academy preschools in Sarasota and North Port. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff