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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of May 27, 2019

A collection of news and views from the past week.
Students arrive for school during one year anniversary of the shooting death of 17 at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl. on Thursday, February 14, 2019. The building in background is where much of the shooting took place.
Students arrive for school during one year anniversary of the shooting death of 17 at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl. on Thursday, February 14, 2019. The building in background is where much of the shooting took place.
Published Jun. 1, 2019

School’s out. The legislative session has past. The time has come for the nuts and bolts of building budgets and implementing new laws, while also kicking off summer offerings — primarily for students who need to catch up before the fall arrives. One of the key issues that remains in the spotlight is security, as officials continue to debate whether to allow teachers to participate as armed guardians, while the state struggles to get in place a new database aimed at preventing future shootings. • Don’t miss our weekly highlights of the news, views, reports and more. You can keep up daily with our conversation on Facebook, hear our podcast, and follow our blog to get all the latest Florida education news. All tips, comments and ideas welcome. Send a note to

Top of the Times

College admissions scandal: Who’s Mark Riddell, the Florida man and ‘really smart guy’ who took tests for kids?, Susan Taylor Martin

“One day last July, a tall, trim man in his mid-30s boarded a plane in Tampa, flew to Houston and checked into a hotel. There, he was given a copy of the ACT college entrance exam. Guided by a handwriting sample from a California high school student, he took the test in the student’s name. The score: 35 out of a perfect 36. The payment to the test-taker: $10,000. On July 18, a year after that trip to Texas, Mark Edward Riddell is scheduled to be sentenced for his role in the biggest college admissions scandal in U.S. history.”

Pinellas’ sheriff blessed arming teachers. But will his school board go along?, Megan Reeves

“State leaders have already allowed the arming of teachers. But that topic is still being debated in Pinellas County, whose sheriff helped make the Florida law a reality. The Pinellas County School Board has maintained for more than a year that arming school staff is not an option. But on Tuesday, after an emotional, three-hour presentation by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, some board members say they’re reconsidering that stance.”

U.S. Supreme Court move bolsters Pasco school district’s stance on transgender students, Jeffrey S. Solochek

“With a two-sentence order Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court left intact a Pennsylvania school district’s procedure allowing transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The Court denied a request to hear the Boyertown Area School case, in which some students at the school said their rights might be violated because transgender students may see them change. A similar situation has been playing itself out in Pasco County, although not in court, since fall 2018.”

Is it time to tweak sex education in Florida schools?, Megan Reeves

“Earlier this year, Seth Barack’s life science teacher announced a class project. She told the fifth-graders at MacFarlane Park Elementary to find a partner, choose a body part and give a presentation on it. Seth, 11, chose the urinary tract — an innocent move that didn’t align with school district guidelines, said his mother, Lynda Barack. The boys could do the presentation. But they couldn’t use visual aids like the other kids. The body part they chose was too close to the genitals, Seth’s teacher said.”

Visit for more education news from the Times staff.

Around the State

Florida Plan for a Huge Database to Stop School Shootings Hits Delays, Legal Questions, Education Week, Benjamin Herold

“It was supposed to be operational six months ago, part of Florida’s wide-ranging effort to prevent the next school shooting: a sprawling new database that would merge people’s social media posts with millions of records on individuals who have been bullied, placed in foster care, committed a crime, or even been mentioned in unverified tips made to law enforcement. The plan, however, has sputtered, an Education Week investigation found.”

Underpaid, undertrained, unlicensed: In PBC’s largest charter school chain, 1 in 5 teachers weren’t certified to teach, Palm Beach Post, Andrew Marra

“Renaissance Charter Schools grew into Palm Beach County’s largest charter school chain with seven years of promises about cutting-edge classrooms and innovative teaching. But as the schools market themselves to parents with personalized lessons and extended school days, their classrooms are staffed with an extraordinary number of temporary and uncertified teachers, a Palm Beach Post investigation found.”

School district won’t show controversial active shooter video next year, St. Augustine Record, Travis Gibson

“An active shooter training video shown to St. Johns County School District students at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year that received blowback from parents and school board members will not be shown to students when school begins again this fall.”

University High valedictorian barred from giving speech; Orange schools later apologize, Orlando Sentinel, Leslie Postal

“University High School’s valedictorian was prevented by administrators from delivering her commencement speech at Tuesday’s graduation, an action the Orange County school superintendent later apologized for, writing that she was ‘deeply saddened’ by the ‘unfortunate mistakes’ that kept the student from speaking.”

For the latest roundup of Florida education news, visit the Gradebook weekday mornings.

Other Views

Teachers have enough stress. Arming them will only make it worse — much worse, Miami Herald columnist Bea Hines

“How can placing a gun in the hands of teachers, who are already strapped with too many burdens, help keep our children safe in the classroom? I can’t believe that anyone would think that giving them a gun would ease their already stress-filled school days.”

Editorial: Research disproves hysteria about arming teachers, Ledger

“Back in late April, as the Legislature was wrapping up a bill that would allow Florida’s school districts to arm their teachers, Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd slammed the door shut on the idea.... Yet at roughly the same time as Byrd’s announcement, John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and one of America’s foremost researchers of gun ownership and gun crime, released a study that, had it received wider attention, might have poured cold water on some of the critics’ arguments.”

Florida’s teacher shortage is state’s most urgent education issue, TC Palm guest column, FSU physics professor Paul Cottle

“The most important element in any elementary, middle or high school classroom is the teacher. A teacher who is an expert in the subject she or he is teaching, understands the research on how students learn that subject, and is comfortable engaging with students is the most valuable asset our education system has. That is why Florida’s intensifying teacher shortage is the most urgent issue facing the state’s K-12 system –—and perhaps the most urgent issue facing the state altogether.”

Remember the rebels, Redefined, Ron Matus

“Lots of folks know Ruby Bridges. But Khaliah Clanton-Williams? Maybe one day. The original Opportunity Scholarship students, their parents, and the five private schools that welcomed them have never gotten their due. After an epic legal battle, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the school choice program unconstitutional in 2006, and the decision in Bush v. Holmes seemed to close the chapter. But it didn’t. Many of those whose lives were touched by the scholarship have untold stories, with some still unfolding in ways that attest to the power of that experience.”

Reports of Note

K-12 Funding Still Lagging in Many States, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

“Some states still provide much less K-12 funding per student than in the 2008 school year, when the Great Recession hit, according to new Census Bureau data and state budget documents. In seven states, combined state and local school funding in the 2017 school year was at least 10 percent below pre-recession levels in inflation-adjusted terms, Census data show. Florida, the deepest-cutting state, was down 22.7 percent.”

Does Online Course-taking Increase High School Completion and Open Pathways to Postsecondary Education Opportunities?, Caroline Heinrich and Jennifer Darling-Aduana, Vanderbilt University

“We find positive associations between online course-taking in high school and credits earned (progression toward graduation), high school graduation, and college enrollment. Despite these gains, our results leave room for questioning whether online course-taking contributes to student learning that will lead to longer-term postsecondary education and labor market success.”

How school segregation affects whether a black student gets labeled as having a disability, Chalkbeat (review)

“In Florida schools where almost all students are black or Hispanic, 13% of black students were classified as having a disability. Yet in schools where the vast majority of students were white, nearly 22% of black students get classified that way. It’s a striking divide, and one that researchers say probably shouldn’t exist. The more accurate number is likely somewhere in between. The result: Lots of black students may be going without services they need, and other black students are getting services they don’t — and potentially being pulled out of regular classrooms in the process.”

Coming Up

June 12: Education Practices Commission, conference call, 3 p.m. Phone Number: (605) 313-4486 Passcode 841279

June 11-13: Florida Board of Governors, University of South Florida, Tampa

July 17: Florida Board of Education, Polk State College, Lakeland

Sept. 16-20: Florida Legislature interim committee week

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