Legislators vow to make security changes, civics projects and testing approval bills, and more

Security in schools: Florida legislators say they agree with a statewide grand jury’s scathing criticisms of flaws in school security and will act on its recommendations when the legislative session begins Jan. 14. The report urged Florida lawmakers to give the Department of Education more authority to enforce state laws. “We gave them some ability to withhold pay from superintendents, but I think that there’s more that needs to be done,” said State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. “They suggest criminal charges, sanctions, going after school board members and I think that we need to start looking at that.” The report accused some districts of, among other things, manipulating data on crimes committed by students, ignoring their responsibility to provide armed guards for charter schools and not keeping radio communications system updated. Sun Sentinel. Capitol News Service. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix. News Service of Florida. WLRN. WKMG. Associated Press. Florida Politics. How school shootings are changing the basic needs of school classrooms. Tribune News Service.

Civics literacy: A bill that would create opportunities within U.S. history courses for students to participate in local civics projects has gotten the unanimous approval of the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. State Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, the bill’s sponsor, said the voluntary program would provide insight and practical experience to students in ways that classroom instruction and testing cannot. “This bill is part of an important, continuing and bipartisan effort … to ensure our students are learning the skill of citizenship,” Diamond said. Gradebook.

Standardized testing: School districts would need to get the approval of students’ parents before giving Florida Standards Assessments tests to students under a proposed bill filed in the Legislature. H.B. 929 is sponsored by state Rep. Shevrin ones, D-West Park, who said, “Current testing requirements lead to lost instructional time and narrowing of the curriculum, ultimately hurting our students. Beyond these costs, the burdensome assessments cost Florida taxpayers millions of dollars each year as the booming for-profit standardized testing industry continues to profit at our expense.” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has also expressed concerns about overtesting.  Florida Politics.

Mental help for students: First lady Casey DeSantis has announced another initiative aimed at supporting student mental health. She’s labeled it HOPE, which stands for helping organizations, professionals and educators. The measures are intended to make schools more inclusive for isolated students by having HOPE “ambassadors,” identify best practices for helping students with emotional struggles, and recognize students and staff who show compassion. “It might seem simplistic,” DeSantis said. “But really, something as simple as saying hello, how are you doing, are you doing okay, you want to sit with me? … can change everything.” An aide said no new funds would be needed to get the program started. Gradebook. Florida Politics.

Community school: Orange Park High School in Clay County will become a community partnership school, where health and social services combine with academics and parent education programs to benefit students, their families and others in the area where the school is located. The school district, Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHS), Orange Park Medical Center, Palms Medical Group and the St. Johns River State College are partners in the 25-year program. Orange Park High has received an $80,000 grant to begin the transformation. The Community Partnership Schools model was started by CHS, the Orange County School District and the University of Central Florida. Clay Today.

Educators honored: Trikia White, an 8th-grade language arts teacher at Raa Middle School, has been named the Leon County School District’s teacher of the year. WFSU. WCTV. Finalists for the Gulf County School District teacher of the year are Rebecca Pittman-Smith from Port St. Joe Elementary School, Jae Glass from Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High, Jessica Williams from Wewahitchka Elementary and Chevon Johns from Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High. Port St. Joe Star. The Florida teacher is named Floridian of the year by Florida Trend magazine, which cited the contribution of the 177,000 state educators in improving schools. Florida Trend.

Contract negotiations: The Polk County School Board has approved a contract with school-related employees that calls for a wage freeze this school year. It mirrors the tentative deal with the teachers union. The biggest roadblock to raises were steep increases in health insurance premiums, which are costing the district an extra $10 million. School officials and employees expressed their unhappiness with the deal. “I’m never happy when our employees don’t get a raise,” said Larry Millhorn, president of the union representing school-related employees. “We looked at the budget, the (teachers’ union) looked at the budget and we came together and knew there was nothing else we could do.” Lakeland Ledger.

Education budget: The 2020-2021 Florida education budgets were discussed this week in both the House Pre-K Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee, with legislators peppering Florida Department of Education officials with questions about pay raises, bonuses, funding, transportation, early education and more. Florida Politics.

Vape sensors in schools: Indian River County School Board members are considering installing vape sensors in school bathrooms. The sensors, which cost about $1,000 each, look like smoke detectors and would alert school officials when vape smoke is detected. Some school board members are concerned about privacy issues, since sensors that detect vape smoke would be tied into the school security cameras. TCPalm.

Medical marijuana in schools: Leon County School Board members will vote next month on a proposed policy that would allow students with prescriptions to receive medical marijuana treatment at schools. The proposal would require a caregiver or parent to bring the drug to school, administer it, then take it off campus. Tallahassee Democrat.

Education podcast: Haley Manigold, a senior at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County, talks about the experience of lobbying legislators on behalf of a bill that would allow English language-learners to graduate even if they can’t pass the required 10th-grade reading test. Gradebook.

District buys property: The Santa Rosa County School Board approves the purchase of 41 acres of land in Navarre as a future site for a new school. The decision was made in spite of protests from surrounding residents, who said they worried about the impact on traffic, the environment and residential safety. No timetable for development has been announced. Pensacola News Journal.

School calendars: Broward County School Board members approve a 2020-2021 school calendar that begins Aug. 19, ends June 9, 2021, and gives students a week off for Thanksgiving. Sun Sentinel.

School choice choices: Applications for school choice transfers in the Manatee County School District must be submitted by the end of this month. Previously, the open enrollment period was between January and March. Bradenton Herald.

Personnel moves: Tricia McManus, the assistant superintendent for Leadership and Professional Development and School Transformation since 2016 in the Hillsborough County School District, is leaving to become deputy superintendent for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina. Winston-Salem Journal.

School norovirus: St. Johns County Health Department officials have confirmed that a norovirus was the culprit for more than 1,600 students being absent from Creekside High School in Jacksonville last Friday. Attendance is back to normal this week. WTLV.

Employees and the law: An Okaloosa County teacher has been arrested and charged with soliciting/engaging in lewd behavior with a student and failing to report child abuse. Deputies say Joseph Michael Sparks, 48, who teaches Spanish and world history and is the boys soccer coach at Meigs Middle School, exchanged hundreds of sexual text messages with a 13-year-old female student. The messages from the girl included references to her bad home life, drinking and pill-taking, which Sparks did not report as required by law. Northwest Florida Daily News. A Manatee County School District employee has resigned and is under investigation for allegedly sending nude photos of himself to a student. School officials say Ozanda Gray, 50, a registrar at Horizons Academy in Bradenton, admitted taking the boy to dinner and having conversations with him that were sexual in nature. Both he and the student denied having a physical relationship. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Opinions on schools: What the Baker Act does wrong from the start is put the power to involuntarily commit students in the hands of people who don’t even have the right tools to evaluate the question. Tampa Bay Times. As Florida considers how to improve teacher salaries, both recruitment and retention should be addressed. Citrus County Chronicle. What is the mission of our K-12 schools? Is it just to make sure every student can read at the middle school level and answer rote questions about the U.S. Constitution before graduating from high school? Or should Florida’s schools provide every student, regardless of socioeconomic background, the opportunity to fulfill her or his potential? 2020 may be the year when Florida gives its final answers to these questions. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Reviewing the state of equal opportunity in American K-12 education shows the traditional approach to establishing fairness in American K-12 education — working to create a uniform, high-quality public-school system — has been unsuccessful. Dan Lips, redefinED.

Student enrichment: The third Cathedral Arts Project Golf Tournament raised $102,330 to support arts education for Duval County students. Florida Times-Union.