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Florida education news: Parent rights, tax-credit scholarships, and a school’s crackdown on fights

A roundup of stories from around the state.
Janessa Horsford, 5, says goodbye to her parents, Julytsa and Nigel Horsford, on her first day of kindergarten at Lake Magdalene Elementary School.
Janessa Horsford, 5, says goodbye to her parents, Julytsa and Nigel Horsford, on her first day of kindergarten at Lake Magdalene Elementary School.
Published Jan. 24

PARENTS FIRST: Saying ‘parents know best,’ a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers advance legislation to create a new chapter of state law setting forth parental rights in education, health care and other areas of upbringing. Some critics worry that the measure would cause problems for LGBTQ youth, whose parents could have freedom to mistreat them. But the overwhelming sentiment on the House Education Committee was that the government should not be telling parents how to raise their children. More from Florida Politics.

CRACKING DOWN: Pasco County’s Fivay High sees five students and one former student arrested after two lunchtime fights break out. New principal Jason Joens, who took over the school this academic year, says he’ll do what he can to ensure the students don’t return, as he works to curtail the fighting and violence that have plagued the school.

TOP TEACHERS: Brooker Elementary fourth-grade teacher Miranda Harwood is Hillsborough County teacher of the year. • The Pinellas County school district announces its 10 finalists for teacher of the year. • The Miami-Dade County school district introduces its four finalists for teacher of the year, the Miami Herald reports.

ANTI-LGBTQ, AND STILL GETTING FUNDS: More than 100 Florida private schools have policies discriminating against LGBTQ youths, including refusal to admit them. They continue to receive money through the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, the Orlando Sentinel reports. And legislative efforts to force a change are falling flat. Meanwhile, many companies with gay-friendly policies contribute to the scholarship fund, the Sentinel reports.

BOOK CHALLENGE: Some Palm Beach County parents want to see the novel “Little and Lion,” which includes scenes of bisexuality and abortion, removed from their children’s high school lessons. At least one called the book “smut,” the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TEACHER PAY: Senate Appropriations chairman Rob Bradley says the Legislature is making progress toward an agreement on improved teacher compensation, Florida Politics reports.

CONTRACT DEAL: Sarasota County teachers reach a tentative contract agreement that would provide raises up to 4.25 percent, the Herald-Tribune reports.

SCHOOL GRADING: Labeling schools has done little to decrease the achievement gap in Alachua County, the Independent Alligator reports.

CULTIVATING FAITH: A rural Marion County Catholic school uses agriculture to help raise students’ faith, National Catholic Reporter reports.

GETTING THERE: A group of Tallahassee parents pushes for added school zone signs and crosswalks outside their children’s school, which sits along one of the city’s busiest streets, WXTL reports.

NEW SCHOOLS: The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee will open a new school to serve children with special needs, WEAR reports.

CLIMATE SURVEY: Nearly two in three Manatee County school district employees say they feel valued at work, but an even higher percentage say they are underpaid, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SOFTWARE STRUGGLES: The Manatee County school district continues to face problems with its new business software more than 18 months after its implementation, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SECURITY: Charlotte County school district officials seek permission to purchase a $5 million one-touch alert and lockdown system, the Charlotte Sun reports. • Hundreds of students stand outside their Miami-Dade County school for two hours while law enforcement look into a campus bomb threat, the Miami Herald reports.

RIPPED OFF: Law enforcement search the home of a South Carolina man while investigating a cybercrime scheme to defraud the Sumter County school district, the Associated Press reports.

LEFT BEHIND: The Wakulla County school district looks into improving its procedures and training after a kindergarten student is left alone and unsupervised in her classroom, WCTV reports.

UNDER INVESTIGATION: A Martin County high school music teacher is accused of bullying and harassing students, TC Palm reports.

SENTENCED: A former Miami-Dade County teacher is headed to prison after his conviction for sexual activity with minor students, CBS 4 Miami reports. More from the Miami Herald.

TODAY: House PreK-12 Appropriations, 8:30 a.m. (District cost differential)

ICYMI: Yesterday’s Florida education news roundup


  1. Chicken and vegetable dumplings with soy sauce were offered to students to test during the 2nd Annual Student Food Connection taste-testing, Wednesday, February 19, 2020 at Pinellas Technical College. Twenty-eight new food items were tested and rated.  Some will be added to next year's school menus.
  2. Patrick Suiters, 10, left, and Gabriel Stanford, 9, both fourth-graders at San Jose Elementary School in Dunedin, fill out a survey after tasting falafel tots and nuggets during the 2nd Annual Student Food Connection taste test at Pinellas Technical College. About 120 students tasted and rated 28 new food items that could be added to school breakfast and lunch menus next year.
  3. Pasco School District headquarters in Land O' Lakes
  4. The Pinellas County school system is offering driver education camps to hundreds of students like this one over the summer. The program will be held over two sessions at nine high school campuses across the county.
  5. Incoming Superintendent Addison Davis (center) and School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) sign Davis' contract with the Hillsborough County School District after it was unanimously approved by the school board on February 18, 2020.
  6. Incoming Hillsborough School Superintendent Addison Davis (center), School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) and the other board members pose as Davis signs his contract with the district on Tuesday night. The board unanimously approved the contract beforehand.
  7. Jarvis Delon West was arrested on child neglect charges after he didn't report an employee at AMI Kids who slammed a boy to the ground, according to police.
  8. Associate professor of biology Caitlin Gille leads the Pasco-Hernando State College faculty union, which challenged the school's public comment rules.  (Photo Courtesy of Caitlin Gille)
  9. Prekindergarten students at James B. Sanderlin IB World School in St. Petersburg, show the peace sign during an assembly in 2012. New state data show children in prekindergarten are better prepared for kindergarten than those who don't attend.
  10. Leon County fifth-grader Ingrid Hanley asks the Senate Education Committee not to adopt legislation that would get tougher on D-rated schools, during a Feb. 17, 2020, session.
  11. Nadia King, 6, is smiles for a photo. The special-needs student was taken from school Feb. 4 and placed in a mental health facility under Florida's Baker Act, and now her mother and a team of attorneys are asking why.
  12. 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.