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Florida education news: School choice politics, panic alarms and a day in the life of a high school theater group

A roundup of stories from around the state
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]
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]
Published Feb. 14

A DEMOCRAT DIVIDE? Florida’s ongoing debates over school choice options, from private school vouchers to charter school expansions, have shone a light on differences within the Democratic party. Many African-American Democrat lawmakers and residents of the communities they represent strongly support the programs that their overarching party has fought. It’s raised the question of whether the issue matters enough to lead them to vote for Donald Trump in the fall.

NO PLACE FOR DISCRIMINATION: One of the biggest flash points in the choice debate these days has focused on the state’s tax credit scholarship program. Reports have shown that some of the schools participating in the system have policies allowing them to discriminate against LGBTQ youth and families. One member of the scholarship-friendly Florida Board of Education has stepped up to cry foul. • Here’s how the issue is playing out in Polk County, as the News Chief reports. • An LGBTQ group demands Florida lawmakers and education officials stop using its research to justify their defense of the state’s scholarship programs, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

CONSTRUCTION COSTS: Many Hillsborough County schools are crowded beyond capacity, with homes being built so quickly the school district can’t keep pace. Hoping to generate extra money to help with school construction, district leaders have asked the County Commission to increase impact fees for the first time in 14 years. They’ve got a pretty good chance of getting what they want.

BUDGET DIFFERENCES: The Florida House and Senate must resolve several key issues, including teacher pay proposals, after adopting their own versions of the 2020-21 state budget, GateHouse reports.

SECURITY: Florida lawmakers are moving legislation to require all public schools to have panic alarms available to more quickly report crises. Some Tampa Bay area school districts aren’t waiting, WTSP reports.

SEEKING STABILITY: The Marion County school district wins permission to maintain its outside operator at a struggling elementary school for another year, after district leaders push back against state pressure to convert the school to charter status, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

SUE YOU: The leaders of a recently shuttered Manatee County charter school file suit against the district, alleging racial discrimination amid a concerted effort to cause the charter to fail, the Herald-Tribune reports.

CIVICS LESSONS: Legislation to create a new civics program that would have students participate in hands-on projects continues to move through the Florida Senate, Florida Politics reports.

EARLY EDUCATION: Some prekindergarten providers say the state could be doing more to help the program succeed, WPTV reports. Money tops the list.

CONTRACT TALKS: Leon County teacher and district representatives return to the bargaining table after talks had stalled while waiting to see how state proposals on raises might play out, WFSU reports.

CHANGING STANDARDS: Central Florida school district leaders expect to begin the transition to the state’s new standards with training and materials review, WKMG reports.

PRINCIPALS MATTER: The Orange County school district will participate in a new national principal preparation program, to see if it can be replicated with success on a large scale, Education Week reports.

BAD TASTE? A Black History Month activity at a majority white Brevard County high school is canceled after several parents complained that the initiative was insensitive, Florida Today reports. The principal said the event, which included several dress up days, was devised by the school’s black students.

STUDENT LIFE: The Daytona Beach News-Journal continues its series chronicling a high school’s play production, and the lives of the students preparing it.

PARKING SPAT: A Leon County school administrator files — then withdraws — a complaint alleging his son’s high school bullied and harassed his son over a parking spot on campus, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

BAD ACTS: A Palm Beach County high school teacher is arrested on accusations he propositioned a 16-year-old student for sex, the Palm Beach Post reports. • A Duval County school security guard is arrested on allegations of child abuse against a student, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TODAY: Revenue Estimating Impact Conference, 9 a.m.

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.