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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

School resource officer fired for berating student with autism appeals to get his job back

Pinellas sheriff's deputy Ural Darling is pictured in 1999 in the Ridgecrest nieghborhood, about two years after he joined the Sheriff's Office. He later became a school resource officer at Osceola Middle School, but was fired Friday for mistreating a student at the school with autism.

[Times files]

Pinellas sheriff's deputy Ural Darling is pictured in 1999 in the Ridgecrest nieghborhood, about two years after he joined the Sheriff's Office. He later became a school resource officer at Osceola Middle School, but was fired Friday for mistreating a student at the school with autism.

Ural Darling, a former school resource officer who was fired Friday for berating an Osceola Middle School student with autism, has filed an appeal to get his job back, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Gualtieri said Thursday that Darling and his lawyer filed an appeal of termination on Wednesday. The appeal came after Gualteri said he received an apologetic text message from Darling over the weekend.

"It kind of suprised me," Gualtieri said. "He admitted he was over his head and what he did was wrong. He’s sending me a message, and two days later he’s filing an appeal."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas school officer taunted, berated and threatened a student with autism

Darling, a school resource officer with a sterling record who had been at Osceola Middle since 2001, was caught on a recorder taunting 13-year-old Evan Dowdy, who has the communication level of a kindergarten student. Darling taunted Dowdy with a pair of handcuffs, saying "This is what you've been wanting, right?" and told the boy that he would be put away in a mental hospital for the rest of his life if he threw a book again. …

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Major overhaul considered for Pasco County's struggling Ridgewood High School

Ridgewood High School could face a major overhaul for the coming year.

Times (2016)

Ridgewood High School could face a major overhaul for the coming year.

Long one of Pasco County's lowest performing schools, Ridgewood High School could find itself closed as a traditional campus next fall and transformed into a magnet focused on career and technical programs.

A plan that goes to the School Board for discussion Tuesday would rezone current Ridgewood students to other nearby high schools -- primarily Fivay and Hudson -- and then open the reformatted (and possibly renamed) Ridgewood to choice applications. Rising seniors would be allowed to finish high school at Ridgewood.

The school would target students who are interested in fields such as welding, cybersecurity, neurodiagnostics and commercial driving. It would connect tightly with neighboring Marchman Technical College, and aim to provide graduates with a high school diploma, an associate of science degree and industry certifications by the time they complete twelfth grade.

It would not offer high school athletics, freeing existing field space for additional classroom buildings and work space.

"We want to do something different," superintendent Kurt Browning said, stressing that no decision will be made until further research is done and ample community input has been heard. …

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Update: UT professor initially fired over Harvey tweet resigns instead

The University of Tampa


The University of Tampa

TAMPA — The University of Tampa on Thursday took back its decision to fire the sociology professor who famously drew outrage after his tweet about Tropical Storm Harvey.

But he’ll still be a former employee.

The school said in a statement that after “ongoing discussions” with professor Kenneth Storey it “rescinded his dismissal and accepted his resignation from the university.”

The apparent deal came after the American Association of University Professors called on the school to immediately reinstate him.

Storey said he couldn’t go into the details, but was sad to see his presence on campus become a disruption. The college brought in extra security as extreme reactions to his tweet poured in, he said. Even his father, undergoing chemotherapy, was getting death threats.

“At the end of the day, my actions shouldn’t cause them to be in danger. What I did was wrong,” Storey said. “I teach freshmen and this was the second day of college for them, and they deserve better than that.”

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: UT fires teacher whose tweet blamed Harvey on Texas GOP vote …

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Florida education news: Dreamers, Bright Futures, school start times and more

Associated Press

DREAMING: School leaders from Florida and elsewhere urge the Trump administration to maintain protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Former governor Jeb Bush made a similar plea.

DOUBTERS: Hernando County superintendent Lori Romano and her School Board take issue with the findings of a community survey on Romano's performance

BRIGHT FUTURES: The Florida Senate aims to make permanent expansions to the state's primary scholarship program.

DEVOS VISIT: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos holds a private meeting with education and community leaders in Tallahassee after visiting two non-traditional schools. Sen. Bill Montford, who attended, said she spent more time listening and did not make policy pronouncements. The U.S. Department of Education later released a list of people invited to attend.

START TIMES: A new report suggests Florida could see a $9 billion economic boost over 15 years if high schools started later in the day, the Miami Herald reports.

TERM LIMITS: State Sen. Greg Steube explains his proposal to set term limits for school board members would allow for "fresh blood" on boards, the Herald-Tribune reports. …

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UF braces for legal battle as white nationalist Richard Spencer hires counsel

Richard Spencer

Times files

Richard Spencer

Two weeks after being denied his request to speak at the University of Florida, white nationalist Richard Spencer has notified UF that he has legal counsel and is preparing to fight.

Representatives from Spencer’s National Policy Institute have said for weeks that they will sue. Late Wednesday, UF Present Kent Fuchs emailed students, faculty and staff to let them know legal action is likely on the way.

“We are prepared to vigorously defend our decision,” Fuchs wrote. “The safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority.”

Spencer’s group plans “to pursue efforts to hold this event as originally requested” on Sept. 12, Fuchs said.

Gov. Rick Scott spoke with Fuchs Wednesday evening, the governor's office said, "to ensure they have all the resources they need" regarding the decision to deny Spencer's event. Police have also been preparing for the potential visit in recent weeks. …

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Richard Spencer threatened to sue UF. Where's the lawsuit?

White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks to select media in his office space in Alexandria, Virginia.

[Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]

White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks to select media in his office space in Alexandria, Virginia.

Rejected from a speaking gig at the University of Florida in mid-August, white nationalist Richard Spencer indicated he'd be suing the university. 

Two weeks later, there's no sign of a lawsuit yet.

Emails to the executive director of Spencer's National Policy Institute have gone unanswered. UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said nothing has changed since President Kent Fuchs made the call that letting Spencer rent space on campus would be too dangerous. And a check of federal court documents reveals no lawsuits against UF made by Spencer, his group or any affiliates.

A planned "No Nazis at UF" protest, originally planned for the same day that Spencer would have spoken at UF, is still on, according to its Facebook event page. More than 2,200 people have said they will attend on Sept. 12. 

Rally organizers said they anticipated that Spencer would win in court, were he to file a suit. 

Meanwhile, plenty of other universities are rejecting Spencer's attempts to speak on campus. On Wednesday, for instance, University of North Carolina chancellor Carol Folt announced that UNC denied a rental request from the National Policy Institute, using language that echoed Fuchs' just weeks before. …

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A warm welcome from Walker Middle School

Avant Garde Academy, Aug. 25

MARLENE SOKOL | Times staff

Avant Garde Academy, Aug. 25

Maybe it's a coincidence. Or maybe it isn't.

But another school in the area served by the Avant Garde Academy charter school is reaching out to prospective families.

A parent who used to be affiliated with Avant Garde forwarded us this email and flyer from Walker Middle School, which operates an International Baccalaureate program in Odessa:

Future Team Walker Members,

My name is Anthony Jones and I am the proud Principal of Walker Middle Magnet School. We are a Middle Years International Baccalaureate Program that is excited to share with your family (especially your 5th grader) all the great things about our school. I hope to engage you over the coming weeks with information about Walker to hopefully inspire you to put in for the lottery to join Team Walker later in the fall. Our goal is to give you multiple opportunities this fall to get to know us. …

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Another Bright Futures boost? Florida lawmakers propose higher ed expansions

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in Tallahassee during a Senate committee meeting.

Scott Keeler | TIMES

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in Tallahassee during a Senate committee meeting.

Veto be darned.

Gov. Rick Scott may have nixed a sprawling higher education bill in June, but a few Florida lawmakers have already renewed their push to elevate state universities in the 2018 legislative session.

One key element in their plan: the tuition bills of top students.

Last year, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, pushed to reward Florida’s highest-achieving students by paying 100 percent of their tuition and fees at state universities.

That provision was lost with Scott’s veto, but more than 46,500 Florida Academic Scholars still benefited from the Bright Futures increase because money was set aside in the budget. 

Now Galvano and Negron want to make that 100 percent reward permanent. 

They also want to reward the second tier of students, the Florida Medallion Scholars, who could see 75 percent of their tuition and fees paid by the state.

“It’s going to capture so many more families under the Bright Futures umbrella,” Galvano said. “It’s going to have a greater impact on access.” …

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Pasco County school district plans to call off land deal for east-side site

With land at a premium, and crowding on the rise amid increasing enrollment, the Pasco County School Board has regularly sought to bank land in the growing east side of the county for future school construction.

It thought it had the next location in hand with the purchase of 64 acres in Zephyrhills. The district agreed to pay $5 million for the land owned by Zephyr Egg Company, with plans to eventually place a new high school on the site.

High School JJJ was not in the district's updated five-year plan, but officials have long made clear the need to prepare for new subdivisions popping up along the State Road 54 corridor.

Now, the land deal is falling through.

Just more than a month after approving the buy, the board will vote on a recommendation to terminate the contract.

District planning director Chris Williams has proposed backing out, because a closer look at the property revealed "the site will not meet the needs of the district under the conditions of the contract."

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Florida education news: Class size, food pantries, teacher evaluations and more

Florida school leaders have regularly pushed for relief from rules that cap classroom student counts.

Times (2010)

Florida school leaders have regularly pushed for relief from rules that cap classroom student counts.

CLASS SIZE: Florida voters called for strict class size limits when they amended the state constitution in 2002. At the urging of school district officials, who found the rule inflexible, lawmakers crafted ways around the classroom counts. The favored practice, adopted in 2013, allows the use of school-wide averages for campuses deemed "schools of choice." Pinellas County is the latest to implement that strategy, explaining it hopes to avoid midyear student and teacher shuffles with the change. Some history on the practice here.

BUDGET CUTS: The Hillsborough County school district announces it will shed thousands of jobs through attrition while striving to lure students back from charter schools as a way to balance its budget.

BASIC NEEDS: Publix Supermarkets announces it will fund food pantries at eight Hillsborough County schools serving low-income communities.

EVALUATIONS: Pasco County teachers will see more frequent but less formal classroom observations under a deal negotiated with the district. …

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Pinellas shifts to school-wide averages to meet class size requirements

Instead of adhering to strict class size requirements that can lead to shuffling students and teachers after the start of the school year, the Pinellas County school district has opted this year to assign students to classes based on a school-wide average.

District officials say a new practice of assigning students to classrooms provides a more stable experience for students, rather than assigning newly enrolled children to another classroom with another teacher after the first day of school because a class is a few students too large.

"What we're hoping is that this significant reduces the movement of kids," said deputy superintendent Bill Corbett.

The cap is 18 students in grades pre-Kindergarten through third, 22 for grades fourth through eighth and 25 for high school classes. Districts that do not meet the class size requirements could face financial penalties.  

The new class size averages factor in classrooms that may have smaller student populations, such as exceptional student education programs. Middle schools have high-school class averages because of the high-school level courses students take, like a foreign language or algebra. …

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Principal to Avant Garde families: There's room at Northwest!

This came across the transom: The principal of Northwest Elementary School is inviting Avant Garde Academy families to tour his school in case they want to jump ship, now that the charter school is experiencing construction delays.

Here's the email that was forwarded to us: …

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Food banks come to eight Hillsborough schools


Eight schools in Hillsborough County will launch food pantries, the district announced Tuesday.

Assistance will be offered at Booker T. Washington Elementary, Woodbridge Elementary, Mort Elementary, Potter Elementary, Bing Elementary, Dover Elementary, Cahoon Elementary/Van Buren Middle, and Ruskin Elementary.

Mort, which already has a food pantry, is the model for the other seven.

The effort is funded by Publix Supermarkets, which donated $45,000. At a presentation Thursday, the supermarket chain also donated dozens of bags of food.

District officials hope this pilot will lead to more such programs. 

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Pasco County teachers, district reach deal on evaluations

Pasco County teachers have sought improved evaluations and other job protections for several years.

Times (2016)

Pasco County teachers have sought improved evaluations and other job protections for several years.

As anticipated, representatives of the United School Employees of Pasco and the Pasco County school district have signed an agreement refining the evaluation process  to focus more on professional development, less on penalties.

Most notably, the deal eliminates the two structured classroom observations that had made up 65 percent of past evaluations, replacing them with a series of less formal classroom visits over time. Val Smith, the USEP lead negotiator, said the move would lead to a "more natural cycle of feedback" from administrators to teachers, with a goal of growth in their skills.

"We believe it's going to give teachers more opportunity to demonstrate their effectiveness," Smith added.

Employee Relations director Kathy Scalise said the administration agreed with the USEP on that point. Everyone involved wanted to create a system less subject to the whims of the Legislature, she said, while also less focused on the negative aspects of what happens when a teacher doesn't hit all the marks. …

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In defense of Avant Garde Academy

Avant Garde Academy on Friday, Aug. 25

MARLENE SOKOL | Times Staff Writer

Avant Garde Academy on Friday, Aug. 25

Ann Brock is one of the "ride or die" (her term) parents who support Avant Garde Academy, the charter school that is racing to complete its building by Sept. 5.

Here is a letter she shared with Gradebook.

To Whom It May Concern,

I am a parent of two elementary students attending Avant Garde Academy Westchase for the opening fall semester of 2017. As of April 2017 I have been a strong supporter as a parent of this STEAM charter school coming to our area. For my children, Avant Garde is a match made in heaven. Both of my children have such different interests and different needs; for my son it's more STEM related and for my daughter it's the arts. …

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