Archives for category: Florida

The leader of Paramount Charter School in Broward County, now closed, was indicted for theft of federal funds. The school opened in 2015, promising to provide an education that would meet “the highest academic and personal standards.” Didn’t happen, say parents. After compiling a terrible academic record, the school closed in 2017.

Shauta Freeman, who said she sent three children there from 2015 to 2016, said the lights cut off at times, the water wouldn’t run, and so many teachers were fired that students from various grade levels were crowded into one room. “It was a nightmare.”

Now, the former president of the school, Jimika Williams, has been federally indicted on the charge of stealing federal funds from the school and committing wire fraud.

The indictment accuses Williams of embezzling nearly $389,000 in funds intended to go toward the school’s operating expenses. Instead, the indictment says they were used to buy a new car, pay her rent at a lavish Davie home and other expenses.

According to the indictment, Williams transferred funds from the school’s bank account to a shell account she set up to “deceive” other members of the governing board, auditors, local education authorities and others...

Freeman said the school initially sounded amazing when she first enrolled her children. But shortly after starting school she said her kids reported being left outside for long stretches of time, little to no instruction, days without lunch, and fighting between teachers and students...

According to the indictment, while Paramount struggled to staff classrooms and properly educate students, Williams made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for the school.

Between 2015 and 2017, the indictment says she made almost monthly transfers between the school’s account and a shell account she created for sums ranging from $3,000 to $50,000 at a time.

This kind of behavior can be expected in states where anyone can open a charter school, and where oversight, accountability, and transparency are lax.

Last year, the Orlando Sentinel reviewed the websites of the state’s voucher schools and discovered that scores of them publicly admitted that they do not admit the children of gay families and do not hire gay staff. The legislature then refused to require that voucher schools stop discriminating against gays; mustn’t trample on their freedom to be bigots.

Some voucher schools removed the language from their websites, but continue to fire gay teachers.

https://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/scott-maxwell-commentary/os-op-gay-teacher-fired-florida-scott-maxwell-20201023-mnfwdiqejrd2blf4cermulgeji-story.html

The voucher schools, apples of the eyes of Betsy DeVos and Jeb Bush, skim $1 billion a year of public funds that should have gone to public schools or used for public purposes, where discrimination is prohibited.

Rebekah Ray responded to another Florida teacher who complained the changes by the State Legislature has destroyed the promises made to him when he became a teacher. It’s method of evaluating teachers is one of the worst in the nation. If they don’t teach reading or math in grades 3-8, they are assigned ratings for students they never taught in subjects they never taught.

Ray writes:

I would not sign that evaluation. The first year Florida started its detrimental evaluation system I taught all 11th grade classes. I was asked to meet with the principal and the AP of curriculum (my evaluator) and was told I was a “Needs Improvement Teacher”. I was devastated because prior to that year, I had always received outstanding evaluations. I was also an NBCT teacher. Additionally, for that first year of the insane evaluation system, all teachers on campus who did not teach 9th and 10th grade were supposed to receive the school-wide VAM. I pointed out that I should have received the SW VAM scores because I taught all 11th grade students. The AP looked at me and said, “No, you have one 10th grade class.” At that point, my devil horns came out, and I asked for specific data that they based their scoring on. The principal called the district office and spoke to the one mathematician who did the calculations for each teacher. He stated that I had received that score because over the course of three years of teaching, nine of my students did not pass the FCAT re-takes. I asked, “What about the 300 other students who had passed; don’t they count?” They did not have a clue how to respond. I refused to accept their evaluation and did not sign it. The principal told me to send him an email once I had time to think about the situation, so I did. I asked for all sorts of data on those nine specific students: When did they enroll in my class?; How many absences did they have?; Are they on free or reduced lunch?… and lots more data. I received no response, but the a-holes gave me the SW VAM, and the next year, they moved me to 10th grade in an effort to set me up for failure. At the end of that year, I met with my evaluator to sign my evaluation, and she commented, “You are one of those teachers.” My defense mechanism immediately went into high gear, and I asked, “What does that mean?” She replied, “You are responsible for our A+ rating.” I had no idea because I’m that rebellious teacher who refuses to look at data; I look at the students in front of me and tell them point blank, “I will never treat you like a data point; I will treat you as a human being, and you will work harder in this English class than any other ones you have been in, and you will pass that stupid state test with no problem!!” Then I never mention the test again until a month before its administration. (I also ignore the scripted common core curriculum). Ergo, my students excelled, and for consecutive years, I earned perfect VAM scores (unbeknownst to me). I only learned about it because the department chair told me. (Again, I rarely look at the data; I always look at the child). My next evaluator consistently awarded me with high scores such as 99/100. The following year a new evaluator came on board, an academic with a doctorate in Reading, but zero classroom experience. She tried to lower my rating, but I refused to sign until she changed her scores, explaining, “Nothing has changed; I cannot help that you never came to my classroom to observe those specific activities, and I still have perfect VAM scores, so why do you think it’s okay to lower my score in categories I have always been rated as Highly Effective?” She changed my scores both years she evaluated me.

The tragedy of it all is that I had to consistently fight to get what was rightfully mine from the outset. No teacher should have to suffer such denigration and demoralization at the hands of administrators who have been given district and state directives to assign lower scores because “Too many of your teachers are being rated as ‘Highly Effective’”.

I have five years before I can retire, but my heart is no longer in it, so I will be leaving this profession and the children who I dearly love teaching. The stress that comes with teaching has taken a massive toll on my health, and I am currently on an LOA because of it. (Yes, I also had to fight for my FMLA benefit; it’s always a fight, with the district and admin on one side, and the teachers on the opposite side). It’s not supposed to be that way; we are all supposed to be on the same side, but it’s not like that here.

I have two pieces of advice for anyone thinking of going into education: 1. Don’t do it!! 2. If you really believe it is your true calling, then go straight through and get your masters degree; subsequent to that, teach in the U.S. for a minimum of three years, so you can get some experience; apply to teach overseas where your efforts will be appreciated and rewarded. Most of all, you will be respected and honored everywhere else in the world because you are a teacher.

Some charter schools are like day lilies–they open, they close. Charter advocates say that their instability is a feature, not a bug. They decry the public schools that serve families for generations. Better to have market forces at work. Then you get a situation like the one in Fort Myers, Florida.

The Lee County school board yanked the authorization from the Collegiate Charter School after district staff found serious disorder: overflowing trash bins, kids walking around unsupervised, and only two teachers running the whole operation. District staff said they didn’t know who was working in the school. When staff visited the school, they found two teachers responsible for three classrooms. How do you do that? One teacher responded that she stands between the two classes. This is apparently innovative teaching, but the school board didn’t think so.

The charter was approved last April, even though it did not yet have a facility. That’s what the law says. Just approve the charter and see what happens.

Choice advocates always said that parents know best. Why would parents put their children into a school that is understaffed and chaotic?

Veteran teacher Stephanie Fuhr writes as a guest blogger for Nancy Bailey, explaining why laws that hold back third graders if they don’t pass the state reading test are wrong and should be abolished. She includes a sample letter that you can send to your state legislator.

This punitive idea is part of the so-called “Florida model,” a creation of Jeb Bush and his advisors. It is bad for children but it gives a temporary boost to fourth grade reading scores. The Florida model is a collection of practices that are not grounded in research or practice, but in the belief that punishment is the beat motivator.

A Florida teacher posted this comment. It raises the question of whether it is fair to attract people to become teachers with promises that are later canceled by a nasty, brutish legislature. The legislature passed a law called “the Best and Brightest” that awarded bonuses to new teachers based on the SAT scores they recorded years earlier. It constantly thinks about how to attract new teachers but does nothing to retain the experienced teachers it has. What this teacher describes is the perfidious work of Jeb Bush and his cronies:

I was never a money person. If I was I would never have become a teacher. I honestly believed that we were paid what they could afford to pay us. Seems stupid now but I was a kid. I was a fool. Twenty years ago I signed up to be a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher. I went to college for it. I knew I would never be able to support a family. It was ok, I wasn’t interested in having one. When I first became a teacher, I was shown a “step” system of pay. I saw that every year you’d make a little more. When you finally reached 20 or 25 years in the system the pay took huge leaps higher. Some years as much as a $10,000 increase if you can believe it. I thought I’d be rewarded for loyalty.

That “step” system has long been abandoned. Now we receive increases of around 1.3% a year. I thought the worst indignity came when I actually made less money than the year prior. The state of Florida forced us to contribute 3% to our retirement. Our yearly salary increase wasn’t even that much. This latest indignity is worse. Florida passed a new law raising the minimum teacher salary. Wonderful for new hires and attracting talent. Not so wonderful for those of us that have put the years in. Now, after 20 years of dutiful service I make $5,000 dollars more than a 21 year old, fresh out of college.

I am absolutely and totally morally devastated. The system seems to now be designed to have a perpetual series of inexperienced teachers. I need help. I need for my story to be heard. What do I do? What can I do? They don’t care about me. Now I don’t care about my job. When they showed me that “step” schedule 20 years ago, I believed it to be a nonverbal agreement about how much I would make, roughly, in the future. I was a fool. If I knew then I would never have become a teacher. I feel conned, duped, and lied to and I just can’t take it anymore.

The schools of Sarasota, Florida, have adopted what they call “a concurrent model,” with teachers responsible for both in-person and remote learning. Some teachers say this is like working two jobs at once and wonder whether this is sustainable.

School in Sarasota County started a few days ago, but some educators say they are already overwhelmed and exhausted by the new way of teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers knew this year was going to be a challenge with social distancing, extra sanitizing measures, technology issues, projecting their voices through a face mask for hours on end, and juggling students both in the classroom and at home — something the district is calling concurrent learning.

Four days into the new school year, some concurrent teachers aren’t so sure the teaching model is doable long term.

“I am worried that after a month or two of this, teachers that are really trying their best are going to start breaking down because it is not a sustainable way of teaching and we will burn out,” said Sarasota High School teacher Sarah Sturzu.

President of Sarasota Classified Teachers Association Patricia Gardner tells 8 On Your Side she’s been getting emails and teary-eyed phone calls one after another since school started Monday.

“They are finding they can’t give the attention to both groups. They just don’t feel like they are doing the job they should be doing and they feel the kids aren’t getting what they deserve to get on either side of this,” said Gardner.

The Florida Education Association was disappointed in latest court decision:

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Education Association (FEA) was disappointed today that the First District Court of Appeal reinstated a stay on the temporary injunction against Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s emergency order. We look forward to continuing to press our case in court for the sake of students, educators and local communities.

“We are going to keep fighting because lives are at stake,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “This is not about closing schools or opening schools. This is about allowing local districts to do what is best to protect local families. Who rightfully gets to make these decisions regarding safety? Is that state officials in the Capitol bubble, or people in our communities? That power should stay with the districts, where it belongs. Educators and parents don’t need directives. They need good solutions for educating kids during a pandemic.”

In removing the automatic stay on the temporary injunction, Judge Charles Dodson of the Second Judicial Circuit wrote: “The statewide reopening of school during the month of August 2020, without local school boards being permitted the opportunity to determine whether it is safe to do so, places people in harm’s way.” The judge warned that, under Commissioner Corcoran’s emergency order, students, teachers and communities could suffer “potential irreparable injury.”

Especially since the stay has been reinstated, it is in the best interest of our state that this case be decided as quickly as possible. The Florida Education Association would urge the First District Court of Appeal to take Judge Dodson’s words to heart, and to rule in favor of our students, educators and communities, and against Commissioner Corcoran’s unconstitutional emergency order.

As FEA asserts in Florida Education Association et al v. Ron DeSantis, as Governor of the State of Florida et al, emergency order 2020-EO-06 is counter to Florida’s Constitution, which mandates that Floridians have a right to “safe” and “secure” public schools.

Local districts should hold power in making local decisions that can be life or death. They also should have the best possible information in making those decisions, including accurate, up-to-date data on coronavirus infections and exposures in their schools.

Their ability to get that data appears increasingly doubtful. Duval County Public Schools recently was ordered to stop publishing information about Covid-19 exposures and cases in schools. And after inadvertently publishing statewide data on Covid cases in schools last weekend, the state health department pulled back the report, saying it was in draft form. The data will be available in the “coming days and weeks,” the department said.

Earlier, as school districts began to contemplate plans for fall, county health departments were reportedly under orders to restrain what they told districts in relation to the pandemic, and to provide information but not recommendations on opening or closing campuses.

Now many districts are open and struggling to contain the coronavirus. New Covid-19 cases in schools are reported nearly every day in counties throughout the state.

In Florida, state officials ordered schools across the state to open fully without regard to safety or local officials. The Florida Education Association sued, and a judge blocked them reopening.

A Florida judge Monday granted a temporary injunction against the state’s order requiring school districts to reopen schools during the novel coronavirus pandemic, saying in a harshly worded decision that parts of it were unconstitutional.
Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson, in a 16-page decision, granted the request in a lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association to block the order issued by state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran compelling schools to reopen five days a week for families who wanted that option.

The state also required districts to offer virtual learning.
School districts can now proceed to follow through on starting the 2020-2021 school year as they want, according to the teachers union.


The Florida Education Department said it could not immediately comment on the decision.


The White House, where President Trump has been pushing districts to reopen schools and threatened to withhold federal funds if they didn’t — though he doesn’t have the power to do that unilaterally — said it would not comment on state matters.


Dodson said in his decision that the state did not take many important health considerations into consideration when it issued the order.
“It fails to mention consideration of community transmission rates, varying ages of students, or proper precautions,” he wrote. “What has been clearly established is there is no easy decision and opening schools will most likely increase covid-19 cases in Florida.”


The judge ruled that the plaintiffs had established that the order was being “applied arbitrarily across Florida.” He sided with the plaintiffs, granting a preliminary injunction against the order and striking down parts of it as unconstitutional.



The administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is an ally of the president’s, has for months been pushing districts to reopen. On July 6, Corcoran issued an issue requiring that school districts reopen school buildings, though it gave a few districts in south Florida, which had extremely high coronavirus rates, permission to start the 2020-2021 school year remotely.


Other districts that wanted to start remotely were not given approval, including Hillsborough County, which was threatened by the DeSantis administration with the loss of nearly $200 million if it carried out its plan to open remotely.


The lawsuit said that Corcoran’s order was unconstitutional because it threatened the safety of schools by conditioning funding on reopening school buildings by the end of August, regardless of the dangers posed by the pandemic.

The lawsuit also said the order was “arbitrary” and “capricious” on its face and application.
The state responded, saying the order was a reasonable exercise of emergency powers by the DeSantis administration that balanced the constitutional rights of students to a public education against the risk of harm during the pandemic.

It also said that states had submitted reopening plans that included the opening of school campuses, and that showed the districts wanted to proceed that way.
Dodson didn’t accept that reasoning, saying that districts had no choice but to open buildings because of the order.

That’s a trick question because a Governor Kemp has stiff competition from several other governors, such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis.

Politico interviewed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. He said his early reopening of schools for full-time in-person instruction was going really well, except for the photo that went viral of high school students packed together in a hall while changing classes.

Under Kemp’s abdication of leadership, Georgia is fifth in the nation on the number of cases of COVID-19.

Photos shared widely on social media last week showed hallways packed shoulder to shoulder with students at North Paulding High School northwest of Atlanta. School officials later announced that six students and three staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus, and that the school would be closed Monday and Tuesday while the building is disinfected.

In nearby Cherokee County, 12 students and two staff members from a dozen schools tested positive for the virus during their first week back at school. The Cherokee County school system reported that more than 250 students with potential exposure had been sent home to quarantine for two weeks.

Cherokee County also drew attention because of online photos. Dozens of students at two of its high schools squeezed together for first-day-of-school senior photos. None wore masks.