Coronavirus concerns, panic alarm contract, consolidating colleges, vaping lawsuit and more

Coronavirus fears: Two presumptive cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Florida, said Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has declared a public health emergency. Both cases are of adults, in Manatee and Hillsborough counties, who have been placed in isolation. DeSantis also said state labs that are now set up in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami can test for the virus and produce results within 24 to 48 hours. Previously, tests had to be done in federal labs and results might not be known for three to five days. The state is monitoring as many as 170 people for the virus. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Phoenix. WUSF. WPTV. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. Meanwhile, school districts continue to announce their plans to respond in case there’s an outbreak, and K-12 chancellor Jacob Oliva said daily updates will be posted on the Florida Department of Education website. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Florida Today. WPLG. WALA. WOFL. Associated Press. Nine thing all school officials should know about the coronavirus. Education Week. There are legal and logistical issues in closing schools to block the spread of the virus. Education Week. Some education experts say the spread of the coronavirus could lead to a massive but unplanned experiment in home-schooling. Foundation for Economic Education. Several south Florida parents of Asian students say their children are being bullied and accused of carrying the coronavirus. School officials said they’ve had no reports of students being harassed, but many parents are posting anecdotes on social media about bullying. Sun Sentinel.

Panic alarm contract: There’s a lot of legislative support for proposals to require panic alarms in all Florida K-12 schools. But  controversy has developed over the details of how that gets done, and who might get some of the business from the $8 million contract. “It’s amazing, when there is money attached to a bill, the kind of folks that come out of the woodwork to get a piece of it,” said state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who chairs the House’s pre-K budget committee. The issue is the form a panic alarm system takes. Limiting the form to a mobile app, instead of considering a physical alarm, cuts several companies from the bidding. A lobbyist for one of them charged last week that the bill was being written for a single company with close ties to a former Senate president. Both the Senate and House versions are ready for floor votes. Politico Florida.

Consolidating colleges: Republican legislators say merging New College and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida will right a wrong committed years ago by Republican legislators. “We have a bad habit in the Florida Legislature of giving retiring legislators a parting gift, and we gave one of them his own university,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican who was in the state House in 2012 when Florida Poly was split off from the University of South Florida through the lobbying by then state Sen. J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales, who thought it wasn’t being cared for properly by USF. New College was split off from USF in 2001 through the efforts of the Senate president at the time, John McKay of Bradenton, who also argued the school needed to be independent to prosper. Tampa Bay Times.

Vaping lawsuit: Pinellas County School Board members will consider joining a class-action lawsuit against Juul Labs Inc., a leading manufacturer of electronic cigarette devices called vapes. District officials said about 20 percent of the county’s students between the ages of 11 and 18 vaped in 2018, double the number in 2016 and 4 percentage points above the state average. If the board agrees to join the lawsuit, it will be the fourth in Florida. About 100 U.S. schools have already joined. Board member Nicole Carr said vaping could have long-term effects on students’ health, and also disrupts the school day. Tampa Bay Times. Florida’s Senate and House members agree something needs to be done about student vaping, but have taken different approaches that threaten the chances for an agreement before the scheduled end of the session in two weeks. News Service of Florida. Do U.S. school districts have a chance of winning a lawsuit against an e-cigarette manufacturer? Education Week.

Vouchers and academic success: A study of Florida students who use K-12 state scholarship to attend private schools showed that 57 percent enroll in college, compared with 51 percent of their public school peers, and that the longer those students stay in the scholarship program, the more likely they are to earn college degrees. A satisfaction survey of parents of children on scholarships shows that 90 percent are happy with their schools. But some critics of voucher programs question whether private schools that accept voucher students really offer a “great opportunity” for students. Orlando Sentinel.

5-year-old in database: When 5-year-old kindergarten student at Choices in Learning Elementary School in Seminole County told a classmate, “I wish someone killed you,” officials at the charter school quickly called in the Threat Assessment Team to talk with the boy about what happened and then interviewed him without first asking his parents. They determined the threat was not credible, but still entered the incident into the countywide Threat Assessment Database, which will keep that information for the next 25 years. The boy’s mother criticized the process. “You just went straight into putting a child, a 5-year-old, in a database, saying he’s threatening [someone’s] life. Do you understand the ramification of what you’re doing?” Orlando Sentinel.

Math teaching concerns: The latest worldwide school testing results show U.S. students doing well in reading, ranking ninth in the world of 79 countries in proficiency, but lagging in math at 31st. Experts say it’s because in the United States, students are taught formulas and procedures, and in other countries they learn to think creatively to solve problems. Some school districts are trying to make a change, starting with integrating subjects such as algebra, geometry, statistics, probability and data science into single courses called Math 1, Math II and Math III to deepen students’ understanding of the connections. They also want to change the way math is taught in elementary schools, and to emphasize real-life math uses to high school students. USA Today.

Educating immigrant children: When the Miami-Dade County School District discovered a dozen children hidden in a squalid, undocumented immigrant camp, they didn’t call federal authorities. Instead they enrolled them in school. Most of the children are from Guatemala, and had never been inside a classroom. Now they learn English and math during the day and eat free meals. “I came to this country at 17 from Portugal. I overstayed my visa,” said school Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “I was poor. I was, in the eyes of some, illegal. … I can relate to them and I really wanted to help.” Miami Herald.

FAFSA requirements: A Senate bill that would require high school seniors to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in order to graduate is drawing concern from some legislators who worry about the effect on students whose parents aren’t very involved with their child’s education. “I would hate to see that hold up that child’s graduation who is working hard in every other aspect, but this does require that parent participation at a level that’s different than before,” said state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. The sponsor of S.B. 1550, Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said she’s open to making improvements to the bill. WFSU.

Charter school applications: Two groups have applied to open charter schools next fall in Polk County. One would be a dual-language Montessori school for English and Spanish learners in the Lakeland-Mulberry-Bartow area, and the other would enroll students who have dropped out but want to return or are struggling to graduate. School staff will continue to research the schools’ applications, and board members expect to vote at their April 28 meeting. Lakeland Ledger.

Graves on school land? Forty-four potential graves of African-Americans have been located under a Clearwater parking lot that is owned by the Pinellas County School District. It’s the third time since August that such lost or forgotten graves have been discovered in the Tampa Bay area. Cardno, the private archaeology firm hired by Clearwater and the school board to conduct the search, will now dig around the site to confirm they are graves. Tampa Bay Times.

District selling property: Lake County School District officials say only a question of oil and mineral rights remains to be resolved in the proposed sale of part of the Leesburg High School agriculture farm. They expect the issue to be resolved soon and the closing of the sale of about 27 acres for $4.53 million to happen in November. The buyer, the New York-based company Benchmark Group, plans to to develop the land for commercial use. Daily Commercial.

School board elections: Two school board seats are up for election this year in St. Lucie County. In District 4, incumbent Kathryn Hensley is running for re-election for a seventh term. She’s being challenged by Jason William Palm, a pastor and former district teacher, and Jennifer Anne Richardson, a property agent in Stuart. In District 2, incumbent Carol Hilson has not yet decided to run, but two others are in the race: a Palm Beach County assistant principal, James Anthony Monds Jr., and Lennox Clement Wyllie. TCPalm.

PB&J plan killed: The Leon County School District has reversed its previously announced plans to add peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school cafeterias. Parents whose children have peanut allergies objected, and the district backed off. “It’s not worth it, it’s not worth the peace of mind for these parents,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. WCTV.

Old school bus sales: The Pinellas County School District made about $80,000 in an auction of 33 used school buses that were being replaced. Interested buyers included charter schools, churches, camps, after-school program and even people who want to turn them into homes. Tampa Bay Times.

School bus driver shortage: The Palm Beach County School District said it has a shortage of 75 school bus drivers, about double what it typically has this time of year. Officials said the shortfall has been accelerated by the October opening of an Amazon warehouse just west of West Palm Beach. Amazon has been recruiting aggressively and pays at least $15 an hour. School district bus drivers started at $14.57 an hour. Palm Beach Post.

Anti-Semitism alleged: An assistant principal in the Palm Beach County School District who was transferred to the transportation department after he and his principal were accused of improperly changing students’ grades now says he’s a victim of anti-Semitism. Laurence Greenberg, who worked at Palm Beach Central High in Wellington, has filed a discrimination charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He’s still under investigation, while the principal, Darren Edgecomb, was reinstated after six weeks. Sun Sentinel.

Employees and the law: Flagler County School District records show that Jeffrey “Rocco” Paffumi, a special education teacher at Buddy Taylor Middle School in Palm Coast who was fired last week by the school board after physically throwing a student out of his classroom last month, had previous violent incidents in 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2014 that prompted district intervention and professional evaluations. Each time he was told his behavior would not be tolerated. Flagler Live. A Duval County teacher has been arrested and accused of stealing prescription pills from another teacher’s purse. Megan Mary Jones, 28, who teaches at the Duval Charter School at Southside, has been placed in a pretrial intervention program. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Students injured by pepper spray: As many as 60 middle school students in Duval and Volusia counties were injured when classmates set off pepper spray, which can cause eye irritation, breathing issues and vomiting. About 40 students at Highlands Middle School in Duval County were treated and released at hospitals after unidentified classmates released the spray. And almost 20 students were slightly injured when a student sprayed mace at DeLand Middle School in Volusia. He was arrested. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WKMG.

Opinions on schools: We need a leader who will stand up for all families, who will fight for every American child equally. Because the fact is, every child deserves a better education, and our current system isn’t offering that. We need people who can bring us together rather than continuing the bad practice of pitting parents against each other, then siding with the groups that want one form of schooling to be the only form of schooling. Chris Stewart, redefinED. Florida’s Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) grant program is demonstrably one of the most high-yielding, as well as economical, investments of taxpayer dollars in our state. Yet last year the Legislature cut funding for the program, and this year it’s considering restricting access to the grants. Anne B. Kerr, Lakeland Ledger. It’s the time of year when high school students and their parents are choosing courses for the 2020-2021 school year. If there is any chance that your student or child presently in high school might want to pursue a career in architecture, biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, meteorology, or the health professions (including medicine, dentistry and physical therapy), you should sign her or him up to take physics and chemistry in high school to prepare. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The Hillsborough County Commission should support an impact fee increase as a fair investment in the school system by new residents whose children are arriving at the classroom door. Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: A 7-foot robot named Bob roams the hallways at Lockhart Middle School in Orange County, serving as an example of the value of STEM classes and as a hall monitor to remind students they’re supposed to be in class. WJXT. Students from about 80 north Florida schools attended the World of Nations in Jacksonville, which is a celebration of food, education and entertainment from countries around the world. Florida Times-Union. Students from the Rochelle School of the Arts in Lakeland perform in an anti-bullying music video created by Lakeland resident Alessandra Stillinger. Lakeland Ledger. Lauren Chesrown, a science-lab teacher at Jensen Beach Elementary in Martin County, uses video from her close encounter with great white sharks from inside an underwater cage last August off Mexico for her classes. TCPalm. Deltona High School psychology teacher Joseph Brennan uses sensory deprivation walks, music between classes and humor to engage his Volusia County students. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Students at Cypress Bay High School in Broward County are helping the city of Weston develop marketing plans to reach out to residents about the 2020 census. WLRN. Wimauma Elementary School in Hillsborough County now has an interactive learning and play space thanks to a grant from Walden University, the alma mater of 3rd-grade teacher Tennith Scott. WTVT. Five students from Umatilla High School in Lake County have won the Real World Design Challenge in Florida by solving complex engineering problems, and will compete nationally in April. Daily Commercial.