Education

Dad of slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas student: “I’m a father, and I’m on a mission”

Andrew Pollack’s 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, was among the 14 students shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

Pollack, who watched from the gallery as the Florida House voted 67-50 to approve the school-safety measure sparked by the nation’s second-worst school shooting, that also left three faculty members dead, Wednesday evening.

He praised the House, Senate and Gov. Rick Scott, and called the measure an important first step to ensure the safety and security of school children.

“On a personal note, my precious daughter Meadow’s life was taken and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But make no mistake, I’m a father and I’m on mission. I’m on a mission to ensure that I’m the last dad to ever read a statement of this kind. If you want to help me, and keep my children safe, I want you to follow me cuz there’s strength in numbers, at remembermeadow.com.”

Here’s Pollack speaking to reporters immediately after the vote.

 

School safety measure in House’s hands

All eyes are now on the House, after a sweeping school safety measure squeaked out of the Senate on a 20-18 vote Monday evening.

But could a tweak that may have kept the bill from going down in the upper chamber result in its demise across the rotunda?

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, sponsored an amendment that would exclude individuals who “exclusively” provide classroom instruction from participating in the school marshal program, rebranded by the Senate on Monday as the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.” The controversial program would allow specially trained teachers or other school personnel to bring guns to class.

With the clock ticking down until the session ends Friday, there’s no guarantee that the House, slated to take up the bill (SB 7026) tomorrow, will pass it as is, Senate leaders acknowledged.

“It’s been a very dynamic process. There were even amendments on third reading, which is unusual for a bill of this stature,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters late Monday evening.

“There’s some general consensus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both the House and the Senate had some additional input into the process. But I think on some of the fundamental areas, there’s agreement,” he said.

The Senate plan also includes a provision that requires both school districts and sheriffs to sign off on the plan, while the House’s version would only require the blessing of the school boards.

Gov. Rick Scott has opposed arming teachers, and it’s unclear whether he would support the revised bill.

Sen. Bill Galvano, who’s negotiated with Speaker-Designate Jose Oliva and Scott on the proposal, said that the measure passed by the Senate Monday night “was not a deal with the House,” but was generated from “the discussion” during Saturday’s floor debate.

Garcia was a no vote, Galvano pointed out.

(Translation: If Garcia had joined the opposition on Monday, the bill would have died on a 19-19 tie.)

 

 

Teachers’ union ad sends Corcoran down the drain

Florida’s largest teachers’ union is taking to the airwaves to hammer the latest move by House leaders to tie major education policies to the state budget process.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a 198-page “conforming” bill, which is formally linked to the budget process, that has dozens of changes for the K-12 system. The bill — which includes a voucher-like plan that would let bullied children transfer to private schools — has a measure directly aimed at the teachers’ union, allowing the unions to lose their state certification if the membership drops below 50 percent of the bargaining unit.

This week, the Florida Education Association responded, announcing a media campaign that features  a 30-second spot slamming the House leadership and, in particular, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who may run for governor.

The spot, titled “The Swamp,” is expected to be aired on television channels in the Tallahassee market this week.

“Political insider Richard Corcoran has a plan to divert even more of our tax dollars to unaccountable private schools while slashing the pay of even our best teachers,” the ad says.

“His bully bill wastes more money on failed programs while our schools starve, and our children suffer,” the ad goes on.  “It’s time to drain the swamp…and we know just where to begin.”

The video, not so subtly, ends with a picture of Corcoran disappearing down a street sewer grate.

By Lloyd Dunkelberger.

Brogan faces Senate committee confirmation

Florida homeboy Frank Brogan — a former Sunshine State lieutenant governor, education commissioner and university-system chancellor — appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions on Thursday.

Brogan was nominated in December by President Donald Trump to be assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, noted that the letters of support for Brogan included a missive from Gov. Jeb Bush, Brogan’s top-of-the-ticket running mate in 1998 and 2002.

Brogan left the state in 2013 to become chancellor of Pennsylvania’s university system, a position he held until this past summer.

If you have an hour to kill hearing Senators offer pontificating questions and Brogan’s response, here ya go.

By Jim Turner.

Texas men shouting Nazi slogans arrested after shooting at car in Gainesville

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Tyler Tenbrink

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Colton Fears

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William Fears

Authorities in Florida breathed a sigh of relief after white nationalist Richard Spencer’s speech in Gainesville went off with just minor hiccups on Thursday.

The University of Florida avoided the types of confrontations on other campuses that prompted Gov. Rick Scott to issue a state of emergency in Alachua County earlier this month.

A $600,000 security effort resulted in “a mostly peaceful day” in Hogtown, according to a joint press release issued by various law enforcement agencies involved.

According to the press release, the speech resulted in “minimal acts of violence” and two arrests.

But those arrests didn’t include an ugly off-campus confrontation that wound up with three Texas men, two of them brothers, behind bars.

According to a Gainesville Police Department report issued this morning, the Texans — aged 28 to 30 — a violent argument, which took place shortly after Spencer’s speech ended, resulted in gunfire.

Tyler Tenbrink, 28, of Richmond, Texas; William Fears, 30, and his brother, 28-year-old Colton Fears, both of Passadena, Texas, are all currently in the Alachua County Jail on charges of attempted homicide. Tenbrink is a convicted felon and faces additional charges of possession of a firearm by convicted felon. The Fears brothers are being held on $1 million bond, and Tenbrink is on $3 million bond.

At least two of the three have shown connections to extremist groups, according to a press release issued by the GPD this morning.

Here’s what went down, according to the release:

Shortly before 5:30pm, it was reported that a silver Jeep stopped to argue with a group of protesters and began threatening, offering Nazi salutes and shouting chants about Hitler to the group that was near the bus stop. During the altercation, Tenbrink produced a handgun while the Fears brothers encouraged him to shoot at the victims. Tenbrink fired a single shot at the group which thankfully missed the group and struck a nearby building. The suspects then fled in a silver jeep.
One of the victims amazingly remained calm and was able to get the vehicle tag number and reported it immediately to law enforcement. Due to the Richard Spencer event, law enforcement resources from the local, state and Federal level were still operating in “Unified Command” which allowed local investigators and FBI analysts to quickly identify the vehicle and possible occupants. This information was immediately relayed to area law enforcement to look for the vehicle.

The Texans were nabbed later Thursday night on I-75 by an Alachua County deputy — with help from local police — on his way home from the Spencer event.

GPD spokesman Ben Tobias praised both the victim and the LEO handling of the situation.

“I am amazed that immediately after being shot at, a victim had the forethought to get the vehicle’s license number” Tobias said. “That key piece of information allowed officials from every level of multiple agencies to quickly identify and arrest these persons. This was an amazing team effort by everyone involved.”

Darnell said the incident and quick response “displays the true teamwork that went into yesterday’s Unified Command Center activation.”

“Information was quickly gathered and disseminated to all law enforcement partners involved and a potentially dangerous situation was averted quickly with the arrests,” she said.

UF Prez Fuchs: “Racist” Spencer “failed miserably”

20171019_161721(0)(1)Late last night, University of Florida President Kent Fuchs penned an op-ed for the school’s newspaper, The Alligator, declaring that white nationalist Richard Spencer “failed miserably to divide our community.”

Spencer was shouted down throughout his speech at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where those who disagreed with his identity politics vastly outnumbered his supporters.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Alachua County early in the week, and hundreds of law enforcement from around the state patrolled the campus yesterday. Security costs were estimated to be $600,000.

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Scott, Fuchs and county Sheriff Sadie Darnell were among those who feared a reprisal of violent clashes where Spencer has previously appeared, such as a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August. Spencer supporters carried tiki torches and chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”Heather Heyer was killed and dozens were injured after a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors.

But the anxiety leading up to the Gainesville event might have been higher than the tension on Thursday. A man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Nazi swastikas was punched. Two other men were arrested for non-violent offenses.

Fuchs praised how the university dealt with what he called Spencer’s message of hate.

“The whole world was watching, and the whole world saw how we responded to a hateful and despicable bully,” the university president wrote.

He also discussed why the university couldn’t ban Spencer from speaking, as many students and faculty members urged, or charge him the full $600,000 tab for security. (Spoiler alert: It’s because of a legal doctrine known as the “heckler’s veto”).

Fuchs also advised students to abandon the old-school protest methods that seemed to work pretty well yesterday.

“I argue old strategies of protest, which include shutting down Spencer and chasing his followers out of town, are exactly what white supremacists need to attract attention and followers.  For Spencer and his ilk, I believe the right strategy is to 1) shun the speaker, his followers and his events, and 2) as loud as possible, speak up with acts of inclusion and love and messages rejecting racism and white nationalism,” he wrote.

Read Fuchs’s full piece here.

DeVos leaves students in the lurch

518eq5NjZkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Education Secretary Betsy DeVos literally left a group of kindergartners in the “lurch” during a visit to a Tallahassee school Tuesday.

DeVos read the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go! to students at Holy Comforter Episcopal School.

“You can get all hung up/ in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on/ You’ll be left in a Lurch,” DeVos read, pausing.

“Do you know what a lurch is?” she asked the students.

Several tots said “no.”

And, while DeVos acknowledged the wide-eyed responses, instead of providing an explanation, she plowed back into the book.

“You’ll come down from the Lurch/ with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then,/ that you’ll be in a Slump.”

As Theodor Seuss Geisel would later note in the same story: “On and on you will hike, And I know you’ll hike far/ and face up to your problems whatever they are.”