Sunday, April 22, 2018
Education

Legislature toughens rules for unregulated children's homes

TALLAHASSEE — In the last gasps of the 60-day legislative session, lawmakers moved to impose new requirements on unlicensed children's homes Friday after a Tampa Bay Times investigation uncovered abuse last year.

A priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, HB 7129 passed the Senate and House and is on its way to Gov. Rick Scott.

It was the last bill lawmakers passed and was entangled by unrelated amendments added at the last minute.

The bill "was important to us," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "We wanted to make sure that took place before session came to a close. We're glad that the Senate worked with us, and we brought it in for a landing."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, adds more oversight of religious homes and boarding schools, some of which the Times found flew under state scrutiny or remained in operation after the state cited them for violations.

The measure makes modest changes to disclosure requirements for the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies, the private, nonprofit accrediting group for homes that have opted to take advantage of a religious exemption from licensing.

The Times investigation uncovered cases of troubled teens sent to homes where former residents said they faced severe punishments, including being kept in secluded rooms for days, tackled and sat on by other residents, forced to eat cigarettes they were caught smoking, whipped with switches and forced to stand up so long they urinated on themselves.

Under current law, the Department of Children and Families does not have authority to regulate or inspect the unlicensed homes.

Among other changes, the bill adds a 24-hour reporting requirement for FACCCA to inform the state of incidents at homes that threaten harm to children in violation of state law; reduces from 30 days to three days the time for which FACCCA must tell the state of homes operating without legally required credentials; and allows DCF to find the group up to $250 per violation for failing to comply with state policy.

The bill also makes changes to boarding school regulations. It clarifies accreditation requirements for the schools, adds more reporting requirements to the state and mandates background checks of employees or contractors that deal directly with students.

The reforms bounced back and forth between the chambers as lawmakers worked toward a final compromise. Joyner allowed senators to add three amendments to the bill, one of which stalled its passage.

The amendment, dealing with neighborhood improvement districts, was opposed by House Republicans and stripped from the bill.

The House approved the measure 110-6 before sending it back to the Senate, where members approved the bill unanimously.

Comments
A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

The young man in a white jail jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled, looked past the throng of reporters pointing microphones toward his face, barely opening his mouth as he answered questions."I shot through the door," he said, looking at a female repor...
Published: 04/21/18
After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

TAMPA — Confronted in late 2017 with reports of misconduct by substitute teachers hired through a contractor, Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins said he would ask tough questions and demand answers. He had his lawyer, Jeff Gibson, ...
Published: 04/21/18
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Published: 04/20/18
Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE — A gunman who carried a shotgun in a guitar case opened fire Friday in a Florida high school, wounding one student before he was arrested on a day planned for a national classroom walkout to protest gun violence, authorities said. It...
Published: 04/20/18
Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins is preparing to reorganize his cabinet — for the third time since 2015 — in an effort to coordinate programs at the district’s highest-needs schools.In an interview this week, Eakins descr...
Published: 04/20/18
Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways. In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall f...
Published: 04/20/18
Hooper: A tribute to my Godby High School instructors

Hooper: A tribute to my Godby High School instructors

Every time I see an algebraic formula, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Landreth and Mrs. McBee flash through my mind.If you say history, I say Mr. Groot and Mrs. Melton. If you say civics, I say Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Hunt.I type using the "home keys" because Mrs....
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Published: 04/19/18
Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

LARGO — Starting soon, Pinellas County public schools could be using a nationwide violence prevention program founded by families of those killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise, with ...
Published: 04/19/18

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teacher aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer p...
Published: 04/18/18