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Florida education news: A superintendent’s apology, active shooter drills and a student pro-life club

A roundup of stories from around the state.
A photo of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sits on a pedestal at the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020  in St. Petersburg. Guests enjoyed music, spoken word, dance and musical performances and concluded with a candle light vigil and song.  [LUIS SANTANA   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times]
A photo of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sits on a pedestal at the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Guests enjoyed music, spoken word, dance and musical performances and concluded with a candle light vigil and song. [LUIS SANTANA | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 20

Today schools and governments across Florida close in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If only for a moment, take time to recall the message he conveyed at his August 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech and think about if we’re there yet: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. (My Lord) I have a dream today.” Hear it here. Then read on for Florida education news.

FIRST 100 DAYS: Three finalists remain for the superintendency of the nation’s seventh largest school district, in Hillsborough County. As part of the interview process, they’ve been asked to expound on what they’d do first if they get the job. Each submitted a document — some more detailed than others — offering insights into where they’d take the system. The board is expected to choose its next chief executive on Tuesday. • Palm Beach County regional superintendent Peter Licata is a finalist for the third time in recent months, the Palm Beach Post reports.

SPEAKING OF SUPERINTENDENTS: Not every school district in Florida appoints its superintendent. Pasco County, just to the north of Hillsborough, is the nation’s largest school system to still elect its leader. And a former state lawmaker who once headed education committees of both legislative chambers is sending signals that he might jump into the race.

UNION LABEL: Pasco County could have a new school employees union president, too. The incumbent has drawn a challenge in the group’s upcoming election — and it’s not the former president who everyone figured would try to regain the seat.

ALL APOLOGIES: Polk County schools superintendent Jacqueline Byrd apologizes for sending a letter to teachers that suggested they could be fired if they participated in the recent rally in Tallahassee that drew thousands of educators, the Ledger reports. “It was never a threat from me, it was never something sent saying I would fire them,” Byrd said. “It was just passing on the information we received."

SECURITY: Two Democrat lawmakers have filed legislation seeking to reallocate funds set aside for training and arming school personnel into other security measures, the News Service of Florida reports. It’s a longshot at best. • The legislature will begin considering proposals from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission when it resumes this week, Florida Politics reports. • Sarasota County schools police chief Tim Enos pushes back against claims that active shooter drills are scary, calling them quick and painless, the Herald-Tribune reports.

ATTENDANCE QUESTIONS: A state audit says two Broward County charter schools did not provide adequate proof that students attended in 2017-18, and calls for them to return $5.5 million to the state, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TOP TEACHERS: Raines High School teacher Leena Hall-Young is Duval County’s 2020 teacher of the year, the Florida Times-Union reports. • Mulberry High principal Michael Young is named Polk County principal of the year, the Ledger reports.

GO TO SCHOOL: High kindergarten absenteeism is affecting several Leon County schools, WFSU reports. “Let’s say they’re 30 minutes late. If I’m 30 minutes late every day in a week, that means I missed 150 minutes of instruction,” explains Oakridge Principal Jasmine Smith. “If I multiply that time...times 180 days of school, for some children, [they] didn’t even need to come to school for the first month or so.”

NEW SCHOOLS: The Santa Rosa County school district plans a new K-8 campus in Pace, where crowding has affected other schools, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

STUDENT CLUBS: A Collier County high school will host the first meeting of its student pro-life club, six months after the school leadership initially barred the club, the Christian Post reports.


  1. In a body cam video from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, two police officers are heard questioning why a school allowed a 6-year-old student to be committed to a mental health facility under Florida's Baker Act.
  2. The Voluntary Prekindergarten room is one feature of the new Bardmoor Branch of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. The location also includes a child-care center and Preschool Academy.
  3. FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, file photo, students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooter opened fire on the campus. School districts continue to improve their security plans in the aftermath. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)
  4. Clay County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis (wearing a pink tie), center, takes photos with the  Hillsborough County Public Schools board members after being voted unaminous as the new incoming superintendent in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.
  5. University of Florida students walk through Turlington Plaza in between classes on Thursday afternoon, February 13, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla.
  6. Chikara Parks, right, along with her children in front of their home in St. Petersburg. In the back is Kamijah Laswon, 14. In front of Kamijah is her sister Tanijah Clark, 12. Their brothers are 7-year-old Tai'jon Carter, left, and Dai'quan Carbart, 9. The four children used to attend Pinellas public schools. Now they are in private schools, using Florida's tax credit scholarship program. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  7. Florida Board of Education member Michael Olenick speaks during a July 17, 2019, board meeting in Polk County. [The Florida Channel]
  8. A new house under construction in Waterset on Big Bend Road in Hillsborough County's Apollo Beach area. Developed by Newland Communities, which also developed Fishhawk Ranch  in Hillsborough, Waterset has had more housing starts in the past year than any other new-home community in the Tampa Bay area. [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times]
  9. Janiyah, left, and Stephanie Davis of Philadelphia, stand as they are recognized by President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
  10. School buses line the parking lot of the Hernando County Schools Transportation Center earlier this month. Detailed bus route information is expected to be available July 31, and can be found on the district website, (select "District," then "Transportation". [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  11. Florida lawmakers are considering changes to the state grant that helps students who attend private colleges and universities such as Eckerd College, whose 2005 commencement is shown here.
  12. Students from Lakewood Elementary School dismiss for the day in St. Petersburg, Monday, February 10, 2020.