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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida lawmaker again proposes ending third grade retention law

A Florida lawmaker wants to stop mandatory retention of third graders who do not pass the state's reading test.

Times (2010)

A Florida lawmaker wants to stop mandatory retention of third graders who do not pass the state's reading test.

A court challenge of Florida's third-grade retention law may have failed, but that isn't stopping one state House member from continuing his effort to rewrite the rules.

Rep. John Cortes, a Kissimmee Democrat with no education committee assignments, has refiled legislation seeking to end the practice of holding back third graders who don't earn a passing score on the state reading test or receive a good cause exemption. His effort last year did not get a hearing in its first committee of reference.

HB 161, submitted this week, still leaves room for having students with reading deficiencies repeat the grade. But it would remove all references of "mandatory retention" from the law, leaving more room for teacher discretion.

Cortes could not be reached for comment.

His proposal comes as some families who sued over the law have said they are contemplating whether to refile the case in local county courts. No action has been taken yet.

Florida has held back third graders who do not pass the state reading test for more than 15 years. Its practice has become a model, with 14 other states implementing similar rules, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Betsy DeVos rescinds Obama-era rules on campus sexual assault

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

New York Times

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has said over and over again that sexual assault on campus is an issue she wants to get right.

On Friday, her department rolled back Obama-era guidance and released new steps that will “treat all students fairly,” DeVos said, as schools investigate and adjudicate thorny cases of sexual misconduct on campus.

The new guidance allows schools to use a "clear and convicincing" standard of evidence, and allows students to pursue mediation rather than an investigation. It also lifts a fixed time frame for conducting investigations and stresses that both parties should be able to use advisors, evidence and cross-examination in an equitable way. It will also let schools decide which appeals they want to hear. They are allowed to hear appeals only from the accused, and not accusers, if they so choose.

"Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug,” she said in a news release. “But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes." …

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Florida education news: Makeup days, accountability, charter schools and more

With students back in school after Hurricane Irma, schools across Florida begin scheduling makeup days for missed classroom time.

Times (2017)

With students back in school after Hurricane Irma, schools across Florida begin scheduling makeup days for missed classroom time.

MAKEUP DAYS: The Pasco County school district alters the daily schedule of 11 schools to make up teaching time missed because of Hurricane Irma, avoiding the need to cancel vacation days. • The Collier County school district, which missed more time from the storm, will consider converting five non-student days to class days, the Naples Daily News reports. • Lee County school officials are looking at adding six days of classes to the calendar, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Polk County schools cancel early release days to account for the missed time, the Ledger reports.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Despite not asking for waivers, the Florida Department of Education hasn't changed its intentions in its Every Student Succeeds Act plan. More from The 74.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Indian River County school district agrees to pay its local charter schools $2.5 million in tax revenue after a court rules the district short-changed the charters, TC Palm reports.

PRIORITIES: The Duval County School Board asks for more money to support teacher salaries in its legislative agenda, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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11 Pasco County schools get schedule changes to make up missed time from Irma

Pasco County teachers welcomed back their students on Monday, after six days off for Hurricane Irma.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Pasco County teachers welcomed back their students on Monday, after six days off for Hurricane Irma.

First, the good news. Pasco County families won't see their Thanksgiving break shortened to make up time missed from school during Hurricane Irma. 

Nov. 20-21 had been on the school district calendar as potential hurricane makeup dates.

In fact, the district won't be canceling any planned days off at all. Still, some but not all schools must add extra time into their schedules, even after the Florida Department of Education waived two of the required 180 days of instructional time for 2017-18.

Those 11 schools will adjust their bell schedules for the remainder of the academic year to meet the mandated student contact time. Some will shorten their passing periods between classes, while some will shorten the time students have for lunch. Others will change their start or end times, none except Marchman Technical College by more than five minutes.

The changes, which take effect Monday, are: …

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A little more on Florida's ESSA plan

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Associated Press

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

After Florida submitted its ESSA plan late Wednesday, it quickly became clear that the waivers the state Department of Education planned to seek were no longer there.

A closer read of the final version, though, reveals that while the state did not request any formal waiver of the rules, its plan to work around those rules still exists. The ideas are instead woven into the general application.

The proposal continues to make provisions to not use native-language proficiency tests for English learners. It would still report subgroup performance, including the addition of English learners, but base the school grade on all students, rather than separate groups.

"By bringing all subgroups together into the lowest-performing 25%, Florida schools and LEAs focus on the students in each of these subgroups most in need of assistance," the plan states. "In addition, using the lowest-performing 25% avoids the double and triple counting of students that fall into multiple subgroups." …

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Pasco school rezoning Sunshine case set for trial

Pasco school district attorney Dennis Alfonso questions superintendent Kurt Browning during a February administrative hearing over west-side school rezoning. That case remains on appeal.

Times (2017)

Pasco school district attorney Dennis Alfonso questions superintendent Kurt Browning during a February administrative hearing over west-side school rezoning. That case remains on appeal.

Having failed to reach a deal in mediation, lawyers for the Pasco County school district and the parents challenging a recent revision of west-side attendance zones went to court this week to schedule a trial.

They scheduled four days -- Dec. 4-7 -- to argue the case, which focuses on whether some advisory committee members violated the state's open meetings law by privately discussing items they would later vote upon as their recommendation to the superintendent.

Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd did not offer any indication of her thoughts on that issue in August, when she denied a temporary injunction against the rezoning plan. She had encouraged the sides to try to settle the disagreement outside court.

With the matter headed for a formal hearing, school district lawyer Dennis Alfonso said he worked to ensure that he would have enough time to present a case. During the injunction hearing, which was split over several non-consecutive days, Alfonso's arguments were made almost entirely during cross examination of the plaintiff's witnesses. …

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Gradebook podcast: The 'Is Hurricane Irma finally over?' edition

The Hillsborough County school district created a video celebrating its employees as heroes of Hurricane Irma.

YouTube video

The Hillsborough County school district created a video celebrating its employees as heroes of Hurricane Irma.

Schools across Florida began preparing for Hurricane Irma long before it ever arrived, its veering path creating anxiety for just about every Floridian at one point or another. Cafeteria workers, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, administrators and others jumped into action, often putting civic duty ahead of personal needs. District officials took no time in letting the public know of their important role. Reporters Jeff Solochek and Marlene Sokol discuss the districts' marketing effort, the complaints that surfaced over the part charter schools played (or didn't) in hurricane relief, and other issues that spun off the storm that tormented the state for more than a week. To see the video Marlene talks about, click here. Plus, conversations about Lee Elementary School after its fire, and the HB 7069 lawsuit: Who's in? Who's out? Who won't say? Welcome to the Gradebook podcast.

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Florida education news: Accountability plan, post-Irma, turnarounds and more

High Point Elementary teacher Kristen Bierman works with English language learners on their reading skills. The state wants to test all students in English, saying it's Florida law.

Times (2017)

High Point Elementary teacher Kristen Bierman works with English language learners on their reading skills. The state wants to test all students in English, saying it's Florida law.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The Florida Department of Education submits a revised Every Student Succeeds Act plan without the waiver requests it had originally proposed. Experts and advocates are reviewing the latest version to see what's in it.

AFTER IRMA: A Pinellas County middle school teacher returns to her classroom after it was used as a hurricane shelter to discover several books and games are missing. • Pinellas County schools announce part of their plan to make up missed days. Manatee County schools might use part of Thanksgiving break to account for the missed time, the Bradenton Herald reports. Volusia County schools set their makeup days, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Pasco County school district hires a consultant to help prepare its reimbursement claim to FEMA. The Flagler County school district has estimated its costs at about $500,000, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • Collier County schools are ready to reopen Monday, the Naples Daily News reports.

TURNAROUNDS: Pasco County School Board members raise concerns about a quick transformation of Ridgewood High School to a technical and career magnet. …

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Florida submits its Every Student Succeeds Act plan

Times (2016)

After months of planning and feedback, the Florida Department of Education submitted its federal Every Student Succeeds Act accountability plan on Wednesday.

The plan had been due Monday, but the state won an extension because of Hurricane Irma.

Originally, the department had intended to request waivers relating to percentages of students tested, assessment exemptions for English learners and the use of demographic subgroups to differentiate accountability.

"Florida is ahead of most of the nation in our policies that feed into the ESSA State Plan," commissioner Pam Stewart told superintendents in a May memo. "We will seek the opportunity where necessary to request waivers and continue current practice where we believe as a group it is best for Florida."

In August, a coalition of civil rights organizations urged the state to reconsider its plan, taking into account the needs of the poorest and most needy children. …

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Pinellas announces Hurricane Irma make-up day

Residents make their way into Joseph L. Carwise Middle School to shelter ahead of Hurricane Irma Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 in Palm Harbor. The storm is forecasted to affect the Tampa Bay area overnight with winds subsiding Monday.

CHRIS URSO | Times

Residents make their way into Joseph L. Carwise Middle School to shelter ahead of Hurricane Irma Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 in Palm Harbor. The storm is forecasted to affect the Tampa Bay area overnight with winds subsiding Monday.

The Pinellas County school district has announced how it will make up one of the seven school days missed by Hurricane Irma.

The first make-up day will be Monday, Oct. 16. The date is marked on the 2017-18 school district calendar as a non-student day that could be used as a hurricane day.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced Monday that she will waive two days from the state requirement that districts hold 180 days of classes.

That leaves four days for Pinellas to make-up. School district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf wrote in an email Tuesday evening that the district's calendar committee will determine when it will make up two more days by Sept 29. She said the district may have enough instructional hours to cover the remaining two lost days. 

It's possible Pinellas' week-long Thanksgiving holiday will be affected. Nov. 20 is listed on the district calendar as another possible hurricane day.

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Four Hillsborough schools will get chillers with money that was earmarked for air conditioners at Lee Elementary

Hurricane Irma toppled a large tree in front of Westshore Elementary School. This image and others are being assembled as the Hillsborough County School District prepares its claim to FEMA.

HCPS

Hurricane Irma toppled a large tree in front of Westshore Elementary School. This image and others are being assembled as the Hillsborough County School District prepares its claim to FEMA.

First: This is what Hurricane Irma did to schools in Hillsborough County. This slide show, shared at a meeting Wednesday of the School Board's facilities committee, does not, of course, include the fire that consumed Lee Elementary on Sept. 12.

And yes, the district considers the Lee fire an Irma casualty, as it began shortly after power was restored to the surrounding Tampa Heights neighborhood.

About the second most dramatic event was a tree that came through the roof and into a school district office building in east Hillsborough.

All of this, and more, will be reported to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the pictures in the slide show will be included in the evidence.

In fact, the claim will include a variety of expenses, including the time and materials that were used to get Lockhart Elementary School ready to take in Lee's 329 students and 49 employees. The portable classrooms that will be added to Lockhart's campus for that purpose? Also included in the FEMA claim -- as well as the cost of adding an extra daily bus run.

There are no estimates yet of how much the storm cost or how soon the money will arrive. …

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Manatee County School Board won't join HB 7069 lawsuit

Manatee County School Board member John Colon

Observer

Manatee County School Board member John Colon

While the Pinellas County School Board was voting unanimously Tuesday to join the constitutional challenge of HB 7069, its neighbor to the south was taking a decidedly different stance.

The Manatee County School Board narrowly defeated a proposal to give $6,000 to the yet-to-be-filed suit, calling it a waste of time and money.

"I don't think it is a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on a frivolous lawsuit. And I do think it is frivolous," said vice chairman John Colon, a former State Board of Education member appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. "I don't think it is going to change anything."

Colon told his colleagues that he had spoken with lawmakers from both parties, including Sarasota Republican Rep. Joe Gruters and Pinellas Democrat Rep. Wengay Newton, and each had offered to file legislation to improve the measure if the district has specifics it wants to present. …

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Pasco County school district to hire consultant to help with FEMA claim

Custodians wiped down the walls at all Pasco County schools that served as shelters as part of the storm cleanup. All staff that worked during Irma got paid time and a half.

Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times

Custodians wiped down the walls at all Pasco County schools that served as shelters as part of the storm cleanup. All staff that worked during Irma got paid time and a half.

During Hurricane Irma, the Pasco County school district opened 22 schools to more than 22,500 residents and 2,000 pets. District staff worked the shelters, fed the evacuees, transported home those who needed a ride, then cleaned up afterward.

The employees who volunteered to work during the storm earned 1.5 times their regular salaries for their effort, which residents and officials alike roundly praised.

These were not Red Cross activities or expenses. The district put forth all the money, with an email reminder from assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn to keep receipts, time cards and all other documentation for eventual reimbursement from FEMA.

Now, chief finance officer Olga Swinson told the School Board, the district has 30 days to initiate a claim, and 60 days to file it. Staff will be working hard, Swinson said, but also have their regular load to handle.

To help, she asked the board to approve hiring a consultant at a fee of up to $10,000 to oversee the filing, which superintendent Kurt Browning said would be "incredibly complex and documented."

"We want to maximize our reimbursement," Browning said, refusing to guess how much money the district spent, or the cost of damages. …

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Permanent pay raises key for future success, Pasco school officials argue

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning

With the Florida Legislature's committee meetings less than a month away, Pasco County school district leaders set forth the priorities they'll be pushing during the 2018 session.

Improved pay for teachers and staff was high on the list.

"I think we ought to be increasing teachers' salaries, and I think we need to do that with the state's help," superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board on Tuesday.

He noted that lawmakers focused in 2017 on providing bonuses for teachers with strong performance evaluations. But he and others suggested such one-time payments are not enough — even if lawmakers said they would provide the bonuses over several years. 

"The key is recurring," School Board vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said. "Bonuses, you just can't count on them from year to year. ... It's not fair."

The board adopted a budget on Tuesday that Browning said included "an amount" for raises, but did not detail how much or what percentage those raises might be. We have requested the specifics and will update this post when they become available.  …

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Florida education news: Irma makeup days, HB 7069, charter schools and more

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart

The Florida Channel

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart

MAKEUP DAYS: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart waives two of the required 180 days of instruction to help districts complete the academic year after missing several for Hurricane Irma. District leaders say they are reviewing their calendars to determine how to make up the rest of the time. They could add days back to the calendar, or adjust the daily schedule to add minutes. Some districts, such as Escambia and Santa Rosa, won't have to make changes at all, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. More from the Gainesville Sun, Fort Myers News-Press, Orlando Sentinel • Some Monroe County schools will remain closed for the foreseeable future, the Miami Herald reports. More from the Keynoter. • One Palm Beach County school cancels classes midday as power fails, the Palm Beach Post reports.

HB 7069: The Pinellas County School Board joins about a dozen other school boards in a planned lawsuit challenging Florida's new education law that requires them to share tax revenue with charter schools, among other controversial provisions. Board members agree to drop out of the suit if lawmakers change the law to address their concerns. …

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