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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco Zephyrhills High drops its restroom escort policy

Under pressure from the Pasco school district administration, Zephyrhills High has dropped its controversial policy requiring students to get escorts to the restroom during class periods.

With the new procedures, students still may not get passes during the first and last 10 minutes of their classes. But no one will be denied access to the restroom otherwise: Students will have to show their planner or pass to hall monitors, and are expected to be courteous.

The administration and staff will continue to monitor the hallways during all class periods, as in the past.

Principal Andy Frelick came up with this new way to handle disciplinary troubles after meeting with some students, faculty and parents. He advised families of the changes in a phone alert this evening, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

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Senate panel delivers blow to Florida school guns bill

A contentious proposal that would let designated teachers bring their guns to school suffered a serious setback Tuesday when a Senate panel declined to vote on it.

Because the Senate Education Committee won't meet again, the bill (SB 180) won't have another opportunity for a committee hearing. It could still be incorporated into another proposal, but Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg said he would raise strong objections.

"It would be a large lift knowing that the Education Committee [deferred] it," the Trinity Republican said.

Legg said he has "significant concerns" with the bill, which would allow school employees with law enforcement or military experience to carry concealed weapons on school property.

"Deputizing private citizens to protect a school is not an avenue I want to go down," he said.

Both the Senate and House are considering a separate proposal that would allow permitted individuals to carry concealed weapons on college campuses (SB 176/ HB 4005).

The so-called campus carry bill has found support in both chambers. Legg says he supports the proposal because it is about "individual protection." …

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Bill to expand Florida school choice 'for the kids,' but faces adult issues

A measure to give Florida families more choices among public schools continued to surge forward in the state House on Tuesday. Representatives professed strong support for HB 1145, stressing the need to further empower children and their parents in finding the best education fit.

"Parents do know what is best for their child," said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach. "Not government. Not bureaucrats."

The details that school districts would face in implementing the proposed changes, which include allowing student transfers across county lines, still matter, though. And if bill sponsor Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, can't resolve some of those concerns before the bill hits House Education, chairwoman Rep. Marlene O'Toole warned, "it will stop."

"I support the policy of this 150 percent," said O'Toole, R-Lady Lake. "This is just an administrative set of burdens that need to be worked out for other taxpayers. I believe in it, but we have some administrative stuff we need to fix."

Those issues, raised by representatives from Palm Beach and Orange county schools, included: …

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Changes in the works for Zephyrhills High restroom plan

Plans to curtail student restroom access during class time at Pasco County's Zephyrhills High School are up for an overhaul just days after officials implemented them. The concept ran afoul of superintendent Kurt Browning, who deemed the approach to controlling the hallways excessive. Many parents also complained.

Principal Andy Frelick met with select students on Friday, and staff members on Monday, before heading to the district office to update the top brass.

"It is with the safety and best interest of the students that we came up with the policy," Frelick told a parent via e-mail. "We will work to come up with a plan that can also ensure the safety and best interest of the students."

Kat Burgess, the school's United School Employees of Pasco building representative, expressed disgust that the superintendent would gut the principal's effort to clamp down on student misbehavior. She said the faculty have attempted in vain to get their school administration to handle student discipline better, only recently getting action. …

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Should Florida schools require uniforms?

When the Florida House K-12 committee first started talking about student uniforms as a safety measure, the issue appeared low on the priority list for counterparts in the Florida Senate. Senators were focusing on testing and technology.

As the legislative session nears the point where committees stop considering new bills, though, the two chambers remain far apart on testing proposals. And suddenly Senate Education chairman John Legg has amended his bill on school district improvement plans to include a whole section on student uniforms that's pretty close to the bill the House unanimously passed.

Legg's amendment doesn't include the $10-per-student piece that the House held out as an incentive. But it does the same thing otherwise, of allowing districts to create uniform standard attire "to provide a safe environment that fosters learning and improves school safety and discipline." …

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Florida education news: Arrests, one-room schoolhouse, art tests and more

YOUTH ARRESTS: Florida lawmakers move forward with a proposal to provide law enforcement officers with alternatives to arresting youthful offenders.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Palm Beach school district releases a preliminary list of candidates for superintendent, WPTV reports.

ONE-ROOM SCHOOL: Manatee's Duette community will raise funds to support Florida's last remaining one-room schoolhouse, the Bradenton Herald reports.

ATTENDANCE BOUNDARIES: The Bay School Board selects a rezoning option among six choices, saying it's the least disruptive, the Panama City News Herald reports.

AIMING HIGH: Students from a struggling Volusia middle school visit Bethune-Cookman University to get a feel for college life, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

TESTING: The Florida Department of Education is asking students to rate their online testing experience, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • Testing in non-standardized subjects like art proves elusive for Florida schools, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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To market, to market the Hillsborough schools

Hillsborough County School Board members will sit together three times on Tuesday: First to go over policy, then to discuss a marketing plan for the district, and finally for their recognition meeting.

All three events are open to the public.

The 9 a.m. workshop, generally held in a second floor conference room at school district headquarters in downtown Tampa, will give the board a chance to go over policy revisions. Topics include the athletic transfer policy, medical leave for employees, social media and wireless devices.

The social media policy seeks to clarify what teachers can and cannot do amidst an ever-changing landscape. They're being told, essentially, to use official district and school social media for any communication with their school communities. It should be professional and appropriate. Teachers' personal accounts should be off-limits to all current Hillsborough County Public School students.  …

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Opting out? National group is keeping tabs on the movement's strength

Florida school districts continue to administer the Florida Standards Assessments, and with each passing test period they receive letters from families that don't want their children to participate.

The Florida Department of Education isn't keeping track of the opt-outs. But United Opt Out, which had its national conference in Fort Lauderdale this year, is trying to map the opposition online to show how widespread the movement has become.

It's self-reported, but the map is pretty interesting, with hot spots in central Florida as well as Denver and New York.

Have you tried opting out your children? Did your school have a "sit and stare" policy, or handle it some other way?

UPDATE: Bob Schaeffer of FairTest says the United OptOut map "seriously underestimates" the sweep of the opt-out participation nationwide.

He noted that reports from New Jersey estimate opt-outs at close to 40,000 -- well above what the map shows. The numbers are also well higher in New Hampshire than the self-reported map indicates. …

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Will Florida bills on uniforms, guns in schools make a difference?

A lot of noise has surrounded legislation moving through the Florida Legislature involving student uniforms and concealed weapons at public schools.

The big question is, if they even become law, will they matter?

SB 180, which heads to the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, would allow superintendents to designate employees to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. School Board approval also would be required.

HB 7043, which passed the House last week, would give school districts $10 per student if they adopt student uniforms.

The key thing about each bill is, despite the political points and rhetorical claims, neither requires schools to do anything. Lawmakers can say they acted, while actually leaving the heavy lifting to school districts.

Action doesn't necessarily follow.

Consider the 2012 passage of the bill allowing school boards to create policies permitting students to offer "inspirational messages" at school functions. Critics called it the "school prayer bill" and fretted over the can of worms the new law would open. In reality, no school districts adopted "inspirational messages" policies. …

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Pasco superintendent chastises local House members over charter school funding

Superintendent Kurt Browning, one of Pasco County's most popular and prominent Republican officials, is taking to task two of his local House members for their position on charter school funding.

Specifically, Browning spoke to a measure sponsored by Miami Rep. Erik Fresen, which would require school districts to share their capital improvements property tax revenue with charters. Lawmakers have been pushing for a couple of years to funnel more taxpayer money to charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded. (See stories from 2013 and 2014 for examples.)

Already, Browning noted, the state cut districts' maximum local property tax for construction and other capital needs. Many districts including Pasco have turned to sales taxes to boost their funding for projects. But that hasn't been enough, the superintendent said in e-mails to speaker-in-waiting Richard Corcoran and newly elected Danny Burgess. 

Forcing districts to give up a portion of what they have to charters, whose leaders should have anticipated their own needs before opening, rubs the wrong way, Browning wrote. Here's his full e-mail: …

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Pasco superintendent chastises Florida House delegation for charter school funding move

Superintendent Kurt Browning, one of Pasco County's most popular and prominent Republican officials, is taking to task two of his local House members for their position on charter school funding.

Specifically, Browning spoke to a measure sponsored by Miami Rep. Erik Fresen, which would require school districts to share their capital improvements property tax revenue with charters. Lawmakers have been pushing for a couple of years to funnel more taxpayer money to charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded. (See stories from 2013 and 2014 for examples.)

Already, Browning noted, the state cut districts' maximum local property tax for construction and other capital needs. Many districts including Pasco have turned to sales taxes to boost their funding for projects. But that hasn't been enough, the superintendent said in e-mails to speaker-in-waiting Richard Corcoran and newly elected Danny Burgess. 

Forcing districts to give up a portion of what they have to charters, whose leaders should have anticipated their own needs before opening, rubs the wrong way, Browning wrote. Here's his full e-mail: …

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Pasco superintendent chastises Florida House delegation for charter school funding move

Superintendent Kurt Browning, one of Pasco County's most popular and prominent Republican officials, is taking to task two of his local House members for their position on charter school funding.

Specifically, Browning spoke to a measure sponsored by Miami Rep. Erik Fresen, which would require school districts to share their capital improvements property tax revenue with charters. Lawmakers have been pushing for a couple of years to funnel more taxpayer money to charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded. (See stories from 2013 and 2014 for examples.)

Already, Browning noted, the state cut districts' maximum local property tax for construction and other capital needs. Many districts including Pasco have turned to sales taxes to boost their funding for projects. But that hasn't been enough, the superintendent said in e-mails to speaker-in-waiting Richard Corcoran and newly elected Danny Burgess. 

Forcing districts to give up a portion of what they have to charters, whose leaders should have anticipated their own needs before opening, rubs the wrong way, Browning wrote. Here's his full e-mail: …

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Florida education news: Concealed weapons, computerized testing, teacher raises and more

ELECTED VS. APPOINTED: Voters should choose the Florida Board of Education, the Palm Beach Post editorializes.

GUNS AT SCHOOL: Some north Florida residents see no problem with measures allowing selected school officials to carry concealed weapons, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

TESTING: Some experts say Florida should stick with computerized testing despite high-profile problems with the systems, WLRN reports.

STUDENT RIGHTS: A St. Lucie student is suspended for making a video of a teacher being mean to a classmate, WPTV reports.

TEACHER PAY: Raises to Duval teachers will total $40 million over three years, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CHALLENGES: The principal of Orange County's Evans High identifies with her students' problems, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SIMPLY THE BEST: Santa Fe College leaders talk about how the school won the nation's top honor for community colleges, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida education news: Virtual school, color guard, principal training and more

VIRTUAL SCHOOL: The University of Florida online campus struggles to meet its enrollment projections, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Florida lawmakers should take more care in their zeal to expand charter schools, the Palm Beach Post editorializes.

BOYS TOO: High school color guards are no longer for girls only, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

REACHING HIGH: Florida International University offers a full scholarship to a 14-year-old, the AP reports.

BUDGETS: The Florida Senate and House differ in their education spending proposals, the Florida Times-Union reports.

GETTING READY: The Manatee school district launches a leadership training academy for principals and assistant principals, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CONSTRUCTION: The Fort Myers News-Press looks into how much building a new high school costs and why. • The St. Johns school district explores how to deal with enrollment growth without new schools, the St. Augustine Record reports.

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Florida education news: Achievement gap, rats, student-athletes and more

ON THE FLOOR: The Florida House approves measures on class size, charter schools, dress codes and school leadership with little conversation.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Jeb Bush gets it Mostly True with his comments that Florida has led the nation in decreasing the gap, Politifact Florida writes.

TESTING: Florida House and Senate leaders differ on key points in legislation to change the state's testing rules, WFSU reports. • Jacksonville-area school districts see an increase in parent interest in opting out, the Florida Times-Union reports.

RATS: Rodents disturb classes at a Collier high school, NBC 2 reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A struggling Palm Beach charter school may be forced to close, the Palm Beach Post reports.

STUDENT-ATHLETES: Some high school officials worry that top athletes could become free agents under a bill moving through the Florida House, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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