Schools’ anti-drug campaign, management vote, tax vote, educators honored, logistics school and more

Anti-drug campaign: Florida first lady Casey DeSantis has announced a campaign starting in schools to fight substance abuse by children. The campaign, called “The Facts. Your Future.”, will present scientific information about vaping, opioids and more and offer personal stories from people who have been affected by drug abuse. Just telling students to say no isn’t enough, DeSantis said. “Facts are our secret weapon,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody. “To protect our children, the only way we can do that is to empower them with knowledge.” The campaign will start with informational assemblies for 7th-graders in Seminole County middle schools. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. WESH. Florida Politics.

WLRN vote postponed: The Miami-Dade County School Board has delayed making a decision about hiring a manager for the WLRN radio and television stations. District spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said the delay is meant to give the district time “to exercise all due diligence.” The district recommended that the board award the management contract to South Florida PBS. The only other applicant for the job, a group called Friends of WLRN, is formally objecting to that recommendation. The school district owns WLRN’s broadcast licenses, and there has been conflict between school officials and the station about news decisions and about supervision of news employees. WLRN.

Tax vote opinion: When asked in October by the Jacksonville City Council to give an opinion on whether the Duval County School Board could sue the council to force it to place a school tax referendum on the ballot, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody responded two weeks later, on Nov. 4, by declining because of “pending litigation.” But school officials said they only found out about Moody’s response this week. City officials are arguing to a circuit judge that Moody’s response has no bearing on the suit before the circuit court. “Frankly, the fact that the opposing counsel is trying to spin this as nefarious is ridiculous,” said city attorney Jon Phillips. “But sadly, unsurprising.” The court will hear arguments Jan. 27. Florida Times-Union.

Educators honored: The Citrus County School District’s Sandra “Sam” Himmel is named Florida superintendent of the year by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. She’s now eligible for the American Association of School Administrators’ superintendent of the year award, which will be awarded in February in San Diego. Citrus County Chronicle. Five finalists are chosen for the Duval County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are: Leena Hall, a 10th-grade language arts teacher at Raines High School; Michael Ham, a 6th-grade math teacher at Matthew Gilbert Middle; Renee McNulty, a geometry teacher at Jean Ribault High; Carol Thomas, a 1st-grade teacher at Dinsmore Elementary; and Leslie White, a science and biology teacher at the Leadership Academies at Eugene J. Butler. The winner will be named Jan. 17. WJXT. Florida Times-Union.

Business funds program: A California supply chain company is partnering with the Miami-Dade County School District to create a four-year global logistics and supply chain technology program at Miami Springs Senior High School. San Francisco-based Prologis and the district have converted a school wood shop into a warehouse space and lab that’s fully equipped with the technology needed by the industry. Students will learn the basics of the industry, be eligible for internships and can receive certifications. Miami Herald.

‘Swing school’ plan delayed: The Alachua County School District’s plan to use Westwood Middle School in Gainesville as a temporary home for students whose schools are under construction has been put on hold. Questions about the plan were raised at a community meeting earlier this week by parents who are concerned about traffic and angry they were not consulted before a decision was reached, and school officials say they’ll consider other options. The plan would have put portable classrooms at Westwood to house students while renovations are done at Howard Bishop Middle, Westwood and Littlewood Elementary. Gainesville Sun. WUFT.

Report clears district: Employees who were transferred from Evergreen Elementary School in Ocala in August against their wishes were not discriminated against, concludes a report by an Orlando law firm hired to investigate their complaint. The report also said Superintendent Heidi Maier did not bully the 12 workers who were transferred, though it said the way they were told about their transfers could have been handled more effectively. The eight workers who filed the complaint are black, but the report said they were transferred not because of race, but because of their job performance or poor attitude toward the new principal and outside operator. Ocala Star-Banner.

Contract negotiations: A tentative agreement has been reached between the Lake County School District and its employee unions on how bonus money from the state will be distributed. Teachers who are rated highly effective or effective but didn’t get bonuses from the state’s Best and Brightest program will receive money under the agreement. Recruitment bonuses will also be paid to new teachers of certain subjects. Negotiations continue on the rest of the contract. Daily Commercial.

LGBTQ issues: Today, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta will hear arguments in the case of a transgender student who is suing the St. Johns County School Board for discrimination. Drew Adams, who has since graduated from Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, alleges that his rights were violated when he was not permitted to use boys bathrooms. Metro Weekly. A rare civil discussion about the Pasco County School Board’s LGBTQ policies was held at the board meeting this week. Past discussions have quickly broken down into harsh words. Gradebook.

Education town hall: Student achievement in the Miami-Dade County School District is the subject of a town hall meeting tonight in Miami Gardens. Seventeen county schools are among the lowest-performing in the state, and parents have concerns about the experience of the teachers at many of those schools. Miami Times.

Education podcast: Education choice advocate Virginia Walden Ford, who is the subject of a movie, Miss Virginia, that is being screened in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, talks about her struggle to get educational choices for her children. redefinED.

Spelling bee winner: Manischa Wijayawardhana has won the St. Johns County School District’s spelling bee for the second straight year. She now advances to the First Coast Regional Spelling Bee in February, where she was runnerup last year to earned a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. St. Augustine Record.

School calendar change: The recently approved Palm Beach County School District school calendar for 2020-2021 is about to undergo another change. The district forgot to include March 17, 2020, as a day off because of the presidential primary. Schools are typically closed on election days because many of them are used as polling places. District officials are now proposing to close schools on primary day and make up the time by cutting spring break a day short and scheduling classes March 31. Sun Sentinel.

Legal fees contested: Former Okaloosa County school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson’s bid to have the school district pay her legal fees landed in court this week. Jackson was removed from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January for dereliction of duty, then reinstated in July and allowed to resign. Jackson says her reinstatement makes the school district responsible for her $283,000 legal fees, but the district is fighting that assertion. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Principal removed, under investigation: The principal of Palmetto Elementary School in Manatee County has been placed on administrative leave and is under investigation. According to a police report, principal Michelle Mealor pulled a misbehaving disabled student out of a chair and onto the floor Nov. 1, “causing him to strike his head on a cabinet. (The boy) lay on the floor crying while staff was standing around laughing.” But the officer determined the boy was not abused. The Florida Department of Children and Families and the school district are also investigating. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher loses license: A child welfare investigation revealed that a Manatee County teacher physically abused and disparaged her kindergarten students at Braden River Elementary School. District officials gave Sheri Fink a two-day suspension and transferred her to another school, where she taught until retiring in June. In August, state Department of Education officials said there was probable cause for sanctions against Fink, and she voluntarily surrendered her license. Bradenton Herald.

School librarian arrested: A Duval County School District librarian has been arrested and accused of grand theft. District officials said Pamela G. Drinkwater, 61, the librarian at Cedar Hills Elementary School in Jacksonville since 2014, has been reassigned pending the outcome of the investigation. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Mom arrested in school fight: A woman has been arrested for hitting a student in the head with a taser multiple times during a fight her daughters were involved in at Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg. Susan Mary Strahsmeier, 42, was arrested on charges of child abuse and possession of a weapon on school property. Tampa Bay Times.

Students and the law: A 16-year-old student at Flagler Palm Coast High School has been arrested and accused of making written threats to kill or injure a 15-year-old classmate and his family. Deputies said the boys were arguing about NFL teams, and escalated when the older boy started making violent threats. Flagler Live.

Opinions on schools: A vocal minority of parents are abusing religious and medical exemptions to send their children to school without the immunizations required by law. Florida should listen to the medical and religious experts, and allow exemptions only in rare and justified instances. Sun Sentinel. Freeze out thousands of needy Florida students from the national free-lunch program? It’s a terrible idea. Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: Healy Barrientos, an 8th-grader at West Miami Middle School, has been named the winner of a football cleats design contest. Her shoe design will be worn by the Miami Dolphins in their Dec. 22 game against Cincinnati. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff