College consolidation changes, district destroys owl habitat, alternative school closed and more

College consolidation: The latest version of a college consolidation bill would fold both New College and Florida Polytechnic University under the University of Florida. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Beach, made the change from his original bill, which would have placed New College under Florida State University. “UF is closer than FSU to New College,” said Fine. “Two, UF is the highest ranked, and then third there would be more cost efficiencies if both go to one than split them up.” Both New College and Florida Poly oppose the bill. Another revision removes a proposal that would have restricted grants for students to attend private colleges through the EASE and ABLE programs by creating a means test for eligibility. Florida Politics. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

City rips district over owl habitat: The Broward County School District destroyed the burrows of several owls last week, according to North Lauderdale city officials. The burrows were under a fenced 10-foot by 10-foot strip of land, which the city maintains, at the North Lauderdale Pre-K-8 School. On Friday, crews from the district took down the fences, filled two of the mounds with sand and used heavy equipment to level out the strip. “They damaged our owls,” said Mike Sargis, assistant city manager. “I’m very mad. We’ve cared for these things for 10 to 15 years. It’s very disturbing.” District officials acknowledged the work was a mistake and are “taking corrective measures.” Sun Sentinel. WPLG.

Alternative school closed: An employee of a Pinellas County alternative school who is accused of body-slamming a 12-year boy, seriously injuring him, has turned himself into authorities and the school has been closed by the state. AMIkids, for boys 11-15, was ordered shut down by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice while the department investigates. The employee, Dontae Antonio Thomas, 34, has been charged with aggravated child abuse for injuring the boy on Feb. 11. A school supervisor also was arrested and charged with child neglect and failing to report child neglect. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Schools and projects: A conflict between state law and the Orange County charter has put up to 20 new residential projects on hold. The county charter requires developers to pay school districts to get permission for developments that would add students to already crowded schools. In 2019, those fees totaled $2.92 million. But a new state law bans such fees, and since it went into effect in July the district has not approved any projects. Developers say it’s a problem that needs to be fixed, but that could require a court fight or changes in either the state law or the charter. Orlando Sentinel.

Settlement meeting: Duval County School Board members meet with their attorneys today to discuss the city of Jacksonville’s effort to settle a lawsuit between the two agencies. The board sued the city council over its refusal to place a half-cent sales tax hike referendum before voters to raise money for repairing and replacing schools. A circuit judge recently supported the board’s argument that it had the right to have the tax issue put on the ballot and to hire an outside attorney to sue the city council. A bill that is likely to pass the Legislature this year requiring districts to share funds from tax levies with charter schools on a per-student basis seems to have satisfied the council’s concerns, and council members will consider a bill Tuesday that would add the tax measure to the ballot. Florida Times-Union.

School bus safety bill: The House has approved a bill that would increase the penalties for motorists who drive past stopped school buses. The fine would jump from $100 to $200, and to $400 for drivers who pass buses on the side where children get out. The Senate’s version has been approved by three committees and is headed to the full Senate for a vote. News Service of Florida.

Mental health instruction: Pasco County students will get their state-required five hours of instruction on mental health issues during their English classes, district officials have announced. The officials acknowledge it might seem to be an odd pairing. But, said Matt Wicks, who oversees health and physical education for the school district, “really the only course that all kids are guaranteed to take in grades 6 through 12 is English-language arts. So they will get the instruction in that class.” English teachers will receive three hours of training to provide students with information about substance abuse, human trafficking, and recognizing signs of mental illness and knowing where to turn for help. Gradebook.

Security in schools: Gulf County School Board members are considering installing panic alarms under the badges of every school employee, which when activated would direct district officials and school resource officers to the location of the emergency. District officials said they would apply for a federal grant to cover 75 percent of the costs. WMBB. Jill Renihan, the safe schools director for the Hernando County School District, recently provided an update to school board members on how the district is complying with the state laws on school security. Hernando Sun.

Kindergarten readiness: The percentage of Escambia County students considered ready for kindergarten rose slightly in 2019, but is still under 50 percent. Just 47 percent of students passed the skills assessment test in the first 30 days of kindergarten, up from 45 percent in 2018. In Santa Rosa County, 57 percent of students hit the target assessment, which was down from 60 percent in 2018. The state average in 2019 was 53 percent. Pensacola News Journal.

Public funding, private schools: A recent controversy over allegations that some private religious schools won’t admit LGBTQ students who get state-supported scholarships has prompted a newly created faith-based group called Pastors for Florida Children to question why any public money goes to private schools. Other faith-based groups, including the Florida African American Ministers Alliance for Parental Choice, have argued the scholarships are a critical education option for low-income black and Latino children. Orlando Sentinel.

Bid to curb I.G. power stalls: The chair of the Palm Beach County School Board has dropped his efforts to limit the authority of the board’s inspector general. Frank Barbieri was acting on behalf of a group of principals who protested the inspector general’s report last year that a principal and assistant principal at Palm Beach Central High School had improperly improved the grades of 11 students. They were removed from the school, which led the principals’ group to ask Barbieri to restrict the inspector general’s authority to financial matters. Barbieri was not able to gather enough support from the board to limit the role, and said the discussion will be postponed until a new inspector general is hired this spring. Palm Beach Post.

School calendar: Collier County schools will start the 2021-2022 school year Aug. 10 and finish June 2, according to the school calendar approved by the school board. Students will be off Thanksgiving week, unless there are hurricane days to be made up, and eight half-days have been scheduled. The 2020-2021 school year begins Aug. 12 and also ends June 2. Naples Daily News.

School upgrade: Design plans have been released for a rebuilt Clearwater High School. Construction is scheduled to begin in March 2021, take about 30 months and cost about $54 million. Classrooms, administration buildings and the cafeteria will be rebuilt, and the auditorium and football field will be upgraded. WTSP.

Superintendent searches: The Monroe County School Board is expected to offer Theresa Axford, the district’s director of teaching and learning, a one-year contract to become superintendent. She would replace Mark Porter, who is retiring July 31. Key West Citizen. Martin County’s next school superintendent should be a good listener and problem-solver who can establish good relationships with the school board and parents. That was the consensus from those who attended the second in a series of community forums to discuss the search with district officials. TCPalm.

Rehearing request denied: An appeals court has denied a request for a rehearing of a former Manatee County charter school’s complaint that the school district wrongly took over the school. The Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school has been fighting the district’s decision to terminate its contract because of financial problems and irregularities. Bradenton Herald.

Employees and the law: The Broward County School District wrongly fired a teacher who was accused of choking a student in 2018, according to an administrative law judge’s ruling. Ava Williams, 56, was fired last June as a 3rd-grade teacher at Watkins Elementary School in Pembroke Park. But the judge called the accuser a chronic liar, and said he didn’t believe the corroborating statement of another teacher who said Williams admitted the choking. He is recommending that Williams be rehired and receive back pay. The school board will make the final decision. Sun Sentinel. A school security specialist for the Broward County School District won’t be charged with knocking a teenage girl down during a fight at a basketball game. Prosecutors said Bennett Wyche, 43, was defending his daughter during a fight at a community center in September. Sun Sentinel. WPLG.

Opinions on schools: Charter schools have 99 problems, but private choice is not one of them. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. If public schools must carve out mandatory periods to facilitate prayer, then houses of prayer should carve out mandatory periods to facilitate academics. I think math is the most appropriate subject, seeing as how it, too, is a search for answers. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Florida’s Reading Scholarship Accounts provide much-needed help for students struggling with reading and a boost of funding for schools at a time when “choice” often feels to some people like a loss for public education. Sara Clements, Florida Politics. A state senator says few private schools that receive state vouchers have policies discriminating against LGBTQ students, but even one school is one too many. State Sen. Darryl Rouson, Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Student teams from Atlantic Coast High School and A. Philip Randolph Career Academies in Jacksonville are analyzing a simulated crime scene for the Duval County School District’s first forensic science competition. The teams present their findings Feb. 28 to a simulated grand jury, and a judge and two prosecutors will determine the winner. Florida Times-Union. The Bolles Lower School’s 5th-grade robotics team has developed a wheelchair beach access plan and presented it to the St. Johns County Commission for consideration. St. Augustine Record. Norton Elementary School in Gainesville gets a $20,000 upgrade through the University of Florida’s student organization Project Makeover. Gainesville Sun.