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Florida education news: Reading lessons, teacher salaries and LGBTQ rights

A roundup of stories from around the state.
Tyanaliz Gonzalez, 10, right, completes her worksheet while reading a chapter from the book Esperanza Rising as part of her class curriculum at Forest Hill Elementary School in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 19, 2019. Forest Hills Elementary School is taking part in a new pilot program with materials and curriculum designed by Harvard University to help students improve their reading and writing skills.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
Tyanaliz Gonzalez, 10, right, completes her worksheet while reading a chapter from the book Esperanza Rising as part of her class curriculum at Forest Hill Elementary School in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 19, 2019. Forest Hills Elementary School is taking part in a new pilot program with materials and curriculum designed by Harvard University to help students improve their reading and writing skills. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Oct. 9

TEACHER PAY: Gov. Ron DeSantis has called on lawmakers to increase Florida’s starting teacher pay to $47,500. But can the Legislature set salaries? State law gives that power to school boards, as part of the constitutionally protected collective bargaining right. Still, the Polk County School Board is urging lawmakers to put funding toward raises rather than bonuses, the Ledger reports. The need is clear, many say. Another analysis puts Florida’s teacher pay near the bottom nationally, Miami Today reports.

READING LESSONS: A consultant finds Hillsborough County schools need better materials to help boost student reading skills, particularly among minority children.

SCHOOL ZONES: A proposal to reassign hundreds of Pasco County children to different schools receives minimal reaction from parents, many of whom say they’ll focus on trying to minimize the effects of the change. • The Manatee County school district considers redrawing its attendance zones to minimize the time students spend on buses, the Herald-Tribune reports. Officials say the plan would not lessen diversity on the campuses.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: The Hernando County School Board calls for an increase in school impact fees placed on new home construction. County commissioners aren’t so sure they want to approve the hike.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart announces her reelection bid. • Marcus Chambers, appointed Okaloosa County superintendent by Gov. DeSantis after the incumbent was removed, prepares to seek election to the post, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. • Richard Shirley, Sumter County’s school superintendent since 1996, will seek another term, the Villages News reports.

SUPERINTENDENT SCANDAL: The Florida Education Practices Commission rejects a proposed settlement for Manatee County superintendent Cynthia Saunders, accused of inflating graduation rates by improperly reassigning students to home education, the Bradenton Herald reports. The commission fond the offer too light. Saunders predicted she will eventually be exonerated of the allegations, the Herald-Tribune reports.

LGBTQ ISSUES: The Orange County school district declares October to be LGBTQ+ awareness month for the first time, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Advocates cheer the move, a first in central Florida, as a way to help gay and transgender students feel more welcome in school.

NO JOKE: The Miami-Dade County school district reminds parents and students that making threats of violence against schools carries severe legal consequences, even if just joking around, WBFS reports.

HELPING HAND: Southwest Florida students with special needs find supportive peers in school through the Best Buddies program, WINK reports.

ON THE BUS: School districts in Duval and several other urban counties will be able to purchase electric and alternative-fuel buses under a state plan using money from the VW emissions scandal, WJXT reports. • Alachua County parents complain about consistently late school buses after classes end, the Gainesville Sun reports. • The St. Johns County school district increases pay for bus drivers in training as a way to attract more people to the job, the St. Augustine Record reports.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: The Lake County School Board will consider adopting a policy allowing parents to administer medical marijuana to their children in designated school spaces, the Daily Commercial reports.

TAKE A BREAK: State Rep. Susan Valdes files legislation to allow students to claim one ‘mental health day’ break per semester, Florida Politics reports.

STUDENT THERAPY: A Brevard County family is fighting the school district after its nonverbal child, who is on the autism spectrum, is denied access to privately paid therapy in his classroom, WFTV reports.

ELECTED VS. APPOINTED: The Jacksonville City Council delays action on a proposed local bill to convert the Duval County schools superintendent job to an elected post, Florida Politics reports.

MARKETING MESSAGE: A consultant tells the Leon County school district it needs a new branding initiative to improve its identity, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

ICYMI: Yesterday’s Florida education news roundup

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Pasco School District headquarters in Land O' Lakes
    The sides have not set a new date for negotiations.
  2. Tony Pirotta, right, meets with his Armwood High Ought to be a Law student club and state Rep. Susan Valdes to talk strategy for the group's latest legislative proposal. They presented their bill to state senators on Dec. 9. [JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  3. Florida's Baker Act was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, a 65-year-old grandmother and a freshman Florida legislator from Miami-Dade County, seen here in a 1965 photo. [Associated Press]
    The law was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, then a freshman legislator from Miami-Dade County who pushed for the rights of people with mental illness.
  4. Sarah Henderson with her son, Braden, who was committed under the Baker Act after a joking remark at school. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A cop car comes. A child is handcuffed and taken to a mental health facility. The scene is all too frequent at public schools across the state.
  5. Three Armwood High School students testify before the Senate Education Committee on Dec. 9, 2019. Left to right are seniors Maria Medina, Haley Manigold and Madison Harvey. [Emily L. Mahoney | Times]
    “The people who are cynics about politics are also the ones who complain the most,” said one student, who said democracy requires participation.
  6. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.
    The idea is part of Florida leaders’ pitch to address low teacher pay, though there is still disagreement over how to do so.
  7. The government program provides free lunches in schools that qualify, regardless of a student's family income. The idea is to erase a stigma.
    One manager lost her job, accused of taking advantage of the program she oversaw.
  8. Sally Henderson, a Hillsborough County teacher, is one of the few Florida educators to earn National Board certification since 2015.
    The state still has more teachers in the program than all states except North Carolina.
  9. Staci Plonsky holds art from son A.J., who has autism, that depicts his memory of being taken by the school resource officer to a mental health facility under Florida's Baker Act law. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Chanell Newell, a reading teacher at Woodson K-8 School, is a finalist for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year. [HCPS  |  HCPS]
    The winners will be announced on Jan. 23.
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