Poll shows strong, wide support for school choice, Baker Act and students, contract ratified and more

Support for school choice: A new nationwide poll shows that 69 percent of registered voters support school choice and the ability to send children to schools other than the ones they’re zoned for, and about 70 percent back a federal tax scholarship. Support was strong across gender, racial, ethnic, age group and political party demographic categories. “Once again, a new round of nationwide public polling in 2019 confirms that school choice is incredibly popular with voters in every category, especially a federal tax credit proposal like the Education Freedom Scholarships,” said John Schilling, president of the American Federation of Children. Florida Politics.

Baker Act and schools: Increasingly in Florida, students with autism or who are simply acting up in class are being involuntarily detained for mental health evaluation under the Baker Act, which is intended to be used by police officers and some mental health professionals for people who are having a mental health crisis. The number of children involuntarily committed has doubled in the past 15 years, to about 36,000 a year, and more than 4,000 are under the age of 10. “I’m seeing officers and administrators who use the Baker Act as a tool to get kids out of school,” said Shahar Pasch, an attorney from West Palm Beach. “It’s across the board, across the state, the whole Baker Act system is being abused.” Tampa Bay Times. Parents of students who were detained under the Baker Act share their stories. Tampa Bay Times.

Contract agreement: More than three-quarters of Orange County’s teachers have voted in favor of a contract agreement with the school district that gives most of them $2,800 pay raises, freezes health insurance premiums at their current levels until next fall and gives them more planning time. Teachers will receive the portion of the raises that dates back to the start of school as a lump sum by Dec. 24. More than 5,400 of the district’s 14,000-plus teachers voted on the contract, and 4,117 approved it.  Orlando Sentinel.

Vaping suit: The Seminole County School Board will consider joining the federal lawsuit against the electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs. Superintendent Walt Griffin said the easy-to-hide vaping devices are causing problems for the school district and its students, and he’s recommending the school board join Palm Beach, Brevard and more than a dozen other U.S. school districts in the lawsuit. The board will discuss the request at its Dec. 17 meeting. Orlando Sentinel.

Racial achievement gap: The Volusia County School District has made efforts over the years to close the racial achievement gap, such as hiring specialists, conducting equity reports, providing equity training to new teachers and trying to build relationships with minority students to improve behavior. But little has worked, and experts say greater effort is needed. The achievement gap is 30 percentage points in the pass rate between black and white 3rd-graders on the Florida standardized language arts exam and 10 percentage points in graduation rates. Minority students are more likely to be suspended, and placed in classes for children with emotional and behavioral disorders. New Superintendent Ronald “Scott” Fritz said he wants to shift the district’s focus to helping the students who need it the most. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School reconstruction: Manatee County School Board members are expected to decide this week whether to proceed with a $57.1 million reconstruction of W.D. Sugg Middle School in Bradenton. The plan calls for a two-story building to be built on the Sugg property over the next two years. When the work is finished in June 2022, the old Sugg school would be demolished. Bradenton Herald.

Educators honored: Paul Richardson, who teaches welding and advanced welding technology at the Haney Technical Center, has been named the Bay County School District’s teacher of the year.  Panama City News Herald. Five finalists are chosen for the Hillsborough County School District teacher of the year award. They are: Sommer SanFilippo, a reading resource teacher at Mendenhall Elementary; Chanell Newell, 6th-grade reading, Woodson PK-8; Samantha Hartman, 1st grade, Mort Elementary; Miranda Harwood, 4th grade, Brooker Elementary; and Megan Thomas, biology, Riverview High. Finalists were also selected for the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator award and the instructional support employee of the year. Winners will be announced Jan. 23. Gradebook. Candace Reese, a guidance counselor at Reddick-Collier Elementary School, has been named the Marion County School District’s school-related employee of the year. Ocala Star-Banner. Lake County Superintendent Diane Kornegay has won Star recognition from the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations for her efforts to improve community and business involvement in schools. Daily Commercial.

Medical marijuana in schools: The Leon County School Board is expected to consider a change in policy that would allow students to receive medical marijuana treatment on campuses. The proposal will be discussed by the board Tuesday, with a final vote tentatively set in January. WFSU.

Mental health programs: In the next school year, the Charlotte County School District will have courses for students in grades 6-12 on preventing drug abuse and recognizing signs of suicide to fulfill the state-required five hours of mental health education. The district received $476,918 from the state for the programs, and is hiring outside agencies to conduct the courses. Charlotte Sun.

School in mourning: Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg is mourning the death of Mohammed Sameh Haitham, one of three sailors shot by a Saudi Arabian aviation student Friday at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Haitham, 19, graduated from Lakewood earlier this year. A vigil is planned this week at the school to honor him. WTVT. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

‘Club’ lounge set up for teachers: A teachers’ break room at Mariner High School in Cape Coral has been transformed into  a rock ‘n’ roll-themed lounge that school officials hope will boost staff morale and improve retention. “The Club” has a jukebox, a popcorn machine, and foosball and air hockey tables, and is used for parties and other celebrations. Other schools in southwest Florida are also looking for perks to offer staff. “It’s not just about making people happy, it’s about treating people with respect,” said Mariner High principal Thomas Michel. “They’re human beings, they have things going on in their lives, they have families they go home to. And this job is hard enough, why make it harder?” Fort Myers News-Press.

Officer carried pellet gun: A Hillsborough County school security guard pawned his sheriff-issued .40-caliber handgun six times in less than five months because of financial problems, according to Sheriff Chad Chronister. He said Leroy King, 36, carried a pellet gun at Mango Elementary School while his weapon was in a pawn shop. King was arrested and charged with providing false information to a pawn broker. Tampa Bay Times.

Educators and the law: A Lee County teacher has pleaded guilty to charges that she failed to report child abuse by her husband. Stacey Jo Gridley, 44, a teacher at Varsity Lakes Middle School, was sentenced to 120 days in county jail, a year of community control and four years of probation. Fort Myers News-Press. A teaching assistant in the Collier County School District has been arrested and accused of having sexual contact with students from the Phoenix Alternative School. Deputies said Kristie Rosa, 27, had sex with students and gave them alcohol, nicotine and marijuana. Naples Daily News.

Ex-school PTO officer arrested: The former president of a Monroe County school’s parent-teacher organization has been arrested and accused of stealing $9,800 from it. Police said Vivian Tapia-Smith, 38, took the money from the student activity fund at Poinciana Elementary School. Keynoter.

Students and the law: A 14-year-old Broward County High School student has been arrested and accused of making two false bomb threats against schools. The girl, a student at Boyd Anderson High, made threats against Lauderdale Lakes Middle and Oriole Elementary schools. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. A 12-year-old Broward County student has been arrested for social media posts that threatened violence against her classmates at Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: Comparing Florida’s test results to the nation’s, and the nation’s to the world’s, paints a distressing picture of stagnation. The world is moving rapidly ahead and becoming ever more competitive. Despite happy talk to the contrary, there is little reason to believe that Florida is keeping up, let alone leading the way. Tampa Bay Times. New Volusia County school Superintendent Scott Fritz can make a difference in closing the district’s racial achievement gap by increasing training to help teachers confront their own, often unrecognized biases, closely watching the data, and making it clear that it’s no longer acceptable to leave minority students behind. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Florida has tried and failed with one educator bonus system after another over the past dozen or so years. It should quit trying, and instead focus on raising teacher pay. Tampa Bay Times. The cost of the Sarasota County School District’s Student Assistance Program — in which a “student assistant specialist” offers students support in situations of violence, bullying, or substance abuse and mental health issues — is a fraction of what’s been spent on “hardening” campuses and hiring armed resource officers, and its preventative value is immeasurable. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. It was inspiring to hear a Pasco principal and students speak up for the district’s LGBTQ community at a school board meeting last week. Tampa Bay Times. Thank goodness that ever vigilant fiscal watchdog, the penny-pinching President Donald J. Trump, is cracking down on those shiftless, lazy, free-loading layabouts living high on the hog off the federal purse — schoolchildren! Daniel Ruth, Tampa Bay Times. Making synthetic frogs for students to dissect is one small step for man, one giant leap for frogs that might have become hood ornaments. David Whitley, Orlando Sentinel. New Indian River County school Superintendent David Moore’s pedigree as a positive agent of change and the intensity of his message on serving children make me hopeful that he will succeed. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. In an inexplicable move, the Brevard County School Board voted 4-1 to make the district a guinea pig for a lawsuit over vaping. Bill Mick, Florida Today. It’s clear that without the benefit of lavish enrichment spending and other related advantages, the high levels of spending in American schools appears broadly ineffectual for students of color. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Nalin Isme, an 11-year-old student at Three Oaks Middle School in Fort Myers has written a book, AlphaTales, about animals finding happiness, that incorporate his own paintings. Naples Daily News. Students at Palmer Trinity School donate 70 backpacks to Tanzanian students through the Afrikids Club, which originated with a nonprofit of the same name that was started by a middle school teacher at the school and his wife. Miami Herald. Montverde Academy seniors assembled 20 bikes during a retreat that are being handed out to needy children by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Daily Commercial.