Larry Griffin, Author at Florida Politics

Larry Griffin

After life on Orlando streets, Aloma Charter High gives teen renewed focus

Six months ago, 18-year-old Joseph Tello was homeless and living without much thought or hope for his future.

But after finally finding a friend willing to provide him a stable residence and being referred to  Aloma Charter High School, his hope is being restored and he is getting back on track to earning a high school diploma and accomplishing aspirations of going on to college.

While his future is bright, his origins are fraught with trouble, and he’s eager to move on. Tello’s household offered no real peace — his father struggling with substance abuse issues; his mother was “callous” and “unresponsive” in ways a parent shouldn’t be.

That environment became toxic.

Tello fell behind in the high school he was attending. He became lethargic and depressed, turning to substance abuse, justifying it by saying it runs “in the blood” of his family.

Eventually, he broke ties with his parents, taking to the streets. For a time his only reprieve was sleeping on couches of various friends.

Other things he experienced, he said, were too horrible to recount.

“It’s too personal,” Tello added. “It’s painful to remember.”

Eventually, through a friend who he’s now living with, he found his way out of that life.

“I would talk to people about my life, and they’d try to provide help,” Tello said. “Someone took me in and gave me shelter, they care about my education and goals.”

No longer abusing drugs, Tello is glad to be getting back on track at Aloma High. At 18 years old with less than half of his high school credits earned, the teacher directed technology enhanced classrooms at Aloma High are providing him an opportunity to catch up where he had fallen so far behind. The individualized attention and intensive personal supports are helping him overcome the many challenges he faces while building the resiliency he will need to continue a path toward success.

 Now that Tello has graduation in his sights, he is looking even further ahead. He intends to enroll in college with the ultimate goal of being a doctor. “I’m immensely interested in human biology,” he said. “I want to be a cardiovascular surgeon because of my interests as well as my past.”

He said Aloma High is helping him out in ways his previous schools just couldn’t— a more personal style which suits him. Traditional high school, by contrast (and design), could not accommodate the pressure and stress of Tello’s home life the way Aloma High does.

“At Aloma, everyone helps you plan to get somewhere with your education. It’s changed my view on charter schools.”

Aloma High is one of a network of five dropout prevention and recovery high schools in Orange County. The schools are designed to serve students between the ages of 16-21 who have dropped out of high school or are at high risk of dropping out. With a significant focus on building basic skills, providing intensive social service support, and post-secondary planning, the schools’ mission is to help at-risk students graduate and prepare for post-secondary success.


Chancery High gives hope, future for struggling Orange County students

Estefania Rivera enrolled in her zoned public high school as the new girl, but the bullying became too much for her to handle.

Merciless in their torment, the other kids “mobbed and harassed” her every day. It reached the point where Rivera didn’t want to go to school anymore.

“I had no friends,” she said. “So, they thought there was something wrong with me.”

So, Rivera just quit going to school. When the bus came, she’d wait outside. When her parents were gone, she’d just go back inside and watch TV and do “anything except school.”  She eventually just dropped out.

Eventually, she realized she must do something to continue her education; a year later she went back to her high school and tried to re-enroll. But Rivera was too far behind in her studies to graduate within a reasonable amount of time in a traditional high school setting.

That was where Chancery High School comes in. Chancery is one of several charter schools operated by Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), which is hired by nonprofit boards to run dropout prevention and recovery charter schools.

At Chancery, students who have fallen behind in Orange County public schools can work at their own pace with the assistance of certified teachers. The school is set up for students who, for whatever reason, have fallen so far behind in studies a chance to complete their education.

Coming to Chancery, students voluntarily sign agreement consent for enrollment; parents must sign off as well if the child is under 18.

The bulk of students enrolling are around 18 years old, have typically fallen 4 to 5 years behind grade level in reading and math and have far-below-average GPAs and number of course credits.

Forty-nine percent of the student body at ALS schools in Orange County are pregnant, parenting or responsible for the care of a sibling(s); 44 percent have part-time or full-time jobs to help support themselves or their families.

Angela Whitford-Narine, president of Chancery and other regional schools under the ALS banner, says the school’s ethos is that not every student learns at the same pace. ALS schools offer flexible schedules that help meet student’s needs, she said.

“It’s 100 percent symbiotic with the authorizing school district,” Whitford-Narine said. “Education is not one-size-fits-all. Some students need something different.”

Whitford-Narine boasts that her principals and staff know every student’s name. As she walked the halls and inspected various classrooms — each full of students quietly and diligently learning on computers — she spoke to students personally, using a casual, friendly manner. They all responded in kind.

Rivera said for her, the system works better — she’s not bullied anymore and her attendance is up. She feels better, also, when working at her own pace.

“The kids are mature here,” she said. “There is no bullying.”

After graduation, Rivera wants to attend a technical school and study nursing or veterinary studies.

“I like helping people,” she said. “I like making them feel better.”

Chancery strives to make life easier for those students whose life circumstances don’t allow them the free time to finish their high school education as normal. Whitford-Narine said some of her students are single parents, while others need to care for a sick or disabled parent or a younger sibling.

Some, Whitford-Narine added, can’t make it to school on time because they must wait until siblings get on the bus to go to school, since no one else in the family is available.

Briuna Glover, 18, is the mother of a two-year-old girl; she found Chancery to be a refreshing alternative to balance completing her education with raising a daughter. She’s a member of the schools parenting assistance program, and the school’s flexible schedule allows her to get up and take care of her daughter in the morning, then go to school in the afternoon.

“She’s not a morning person,” Glover said of her daughter. “She doesn’t like to get up so early.”

While Glover attends school, her daughter is at a nearby day care with the childcare fees paid for as part of the parenting program offered at Chancery.

For others, Chancery is simply a better option.

Maria Benenche, 19, didn’t have a dramatic life circumstance preventing her from going to school. She just wasn’t engaged at her previous school.

“I didn’t take school seriously,” she said. “I had a lot of friends. It was hard to concentrate.”

A health problem forced her to miss a significant portion of her junior year. When she came back, the best option for her instead was Chancery.

And the different opportunities offered there, such as more one-on-one time with instructors, have helped her be more interested in learning.

“Regular school classes are 45 minutes,” she said. “There’s no time to take in what you learned. I didn’t retain much. Now if I need help, I can have one-on-one time with a teacher. My friends and family have told me I’m more serious and more determined since I came here.”

When she finishes, she says she wants to go to college to study photography — preferably somewhere on the coast.

Stephanie Murphy bill would make sure National Security Council is protected from partisan politics

Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy‘s first act of legislation in Congress would protect the National Security Council from partisan politics, in the wake of President Donald Trump‘s appointment of his chief strategist Steve Bannon to the council over the weekend.

In doing that, Trump also downgraded the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Murphy’s bill would have two provisions – to ensure that no individual whose primary responsibility is political in nature is on the council or allowed to attend meetings, and to make sure the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have a “standing invitation to attend Principal Committee meetings.”

Murphy, who is a former national security specialist with the Department of Defense and current member of the House Armed Services Committee, had strong words about the importance of keeping the National Security Council bipartisan.

“The security of the American people should be more important than partisan politics,” said Murphy. “It is reasonable and commonplace for presidents to decide who attends security meetings, but I strongly believe the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have a standing invitation to attend all Principals Committee meetings given their importance to national security and expertise. My bill will help depoliticize national security so that we never jeopardize the safety and security of the American people.”

Matt Gaetz’s drafted bill would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency

The Huffington Post reported Wednesday that newly-elected Rep. Matt Gaetz, representing the First District of Florida, has a bill drafted that would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill was talked about in an email Gaetz sent to lawmakers who might co-sponsor the legislation. It was obtained by the Huffington Post and other news outlets like The Hill.

Gaetz’s reasoning is that the EPA represents gross overreach at the expense of taxpayers.

“Our small businesses cannot afford to cover the costs associated with compliance, too often leading to closed doors and unemployed Americans,” Gaetz wrote. “It is time to take back our legislative power from the EPA and abolish it permanently.”

The EPA was established by Richard Nixon 46 years ago, and is responsible for landmark acts such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Superfund Act.

While President Donald Trump said he would abolish the EPA on the campaign trail, he rolled those remarks back and later said he wanted to keep some of its functions.

CAIR Florida files federal lawsuit against Donald Trump over immigration ban

Representatives from Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida announced that they were filing a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, in response to his executive orders barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country over the weekend.

The lawsuit is filed from 20 plaintiffs, including CAIR Florida Chief Executive Director Hassan Shibly and other activists, lawyers and representatives from civil rights organizations, and it claims Trump’s orders were unconstitutional against both the First and Fifth amendments.

“This is the time that we are truly making America great again by challenging this discriminatory, unjust, oppressive, and illegal policy. We will make America great by making sure that it remains a free and just nation for all people, regardless of their race or religion,” Shibly said.

In Orlando, Rasha Mubarak with CAIR called the orders “discriminatory, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim,” and decried them for trying to “criminalize groups of people in an attempt to galvanize the American people.”

“Tens of thousands have been in the streets and airports, worried which minorities will be persecuted next,” Mubarak said. “CAIR is active in the streets and courts defending justice for all Americans. These executive orders are political theater at expense of our civil liberties and national security he claims he is trying to protect. They are feeding into and even adding recruitment material for the extreme groups overseas and abroad. Trump is in a position to trample over civil liberties jeopardizing and undermining safety for all.”

Mubarak said CAIR was now advising people from Muslim-majority countries to consult immigration attorneys before entering or leaving the United States, in anticipation of any problems with doing so.

Speakers recounted both personal stories and tales of helping people at the Orlando International Airport last weekend during the confusion immediately following the ban. Ida Eskamani, an aide to Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, said her own grandmother, who is 84 years old, has now been prohibited from entering the United States.

Alex Barrio, District Director for Sen. Darren Soto, recalled an Iranian UCF student going for a PhD who has been barred from returning due to the executive order.

Other speakers, like Isabel Vinent with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, blasted the United States’ foreign policy even before Trump.

“The fact that we can bomb countries, create chaos and then lock them up and prevent them from coming in is not foreign policy,” she said. “It’s a horror movie.”

Though the ban is only for 90 days so far, Mubarak said it didn’t matter how long it was – it was still discriminatory.

“Regardless if its two hours or one week or a year, it’s offensive and insulting and separating families, it sends an insulting message, a violent message,” she said. “It gives bigotry a green light to cause harm on anyone that looks like they identify as a Muslim.”

Joint House resolution would restore felon voting rights after three years

A new joint resolution in the House would allow felons the right to vote in Florida three years after their sentence is up.

The resolution by Rep. Al Jacquet of West Palm Beach would, if passed on the next general election (or a special election specifically for this) ballot, amend the statutes on voting to extend the right to felons.

A previous resolution failed to even make it on the ballot in 2016 due to not getting the required number of signatures in time by Florida Rights Coalition President Desmond Meade, who spearheaded the movement to do so.

The statutes say that no person convicted of a felony or deemed mentally incompetent shall be allowed to vote or hold office until those rights are restored.

The new, added portion says, “However, a person convicted of a felony shall be automatically qualified to vote three years after the person completes his or her sentence.”

Now it remains to be seen whether the voters in the state of Florida will go for it.

Florida is one of only three states that doesn’t allow felons the right to vote, along with Iowa and Kentucky – and Florida has about 1.7 million felons that can’t vote, making for more than a quarter of the nationwide population of them.

A proposed amendment by the Floridians for a Fair Democracy group goes further than the resolution proposed in the House. In it, the group proposes that felons, except for murderers and sex offenders, will have their voting rights restored after they complete prison and probation.

In March, the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments on a proposed amendment that would allow that to happen.

There was no companion bill in the Senate as of Friday afternoon.

Val Demings on Donald Trump: ‘We’re going to hold him accountable’

At a ceremonial swearing-in for newly-elected Congresswoman Val Demings in Orlando, she and Sen. Bill Nelson, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, spoke out fiercely against several of President Donald Trump‘s actions in his first week of office.

In a letter to Trump, Nelson expresses dissatisfaction with Trump’s freeze on government hiring, saying it will have a negative effect on veterans.

“A hiring freeze at VA will delay veterans’ access to health care and resolution of their disability claims,” he writes. “Which for many of our nation’s heroes provides a sole source of income to them and their families. Our nation’s veterans should not be made to sacrifice any more than they already have while you review federal hiring.”

Nelson says the VA’s inability to hire clinicians and administrative support could prove detrimental to veterans in need of health care, that it will affect appeals for disability compensation – more than 450,000 are currently waiting for benefits, and they’ll wait longer because of the freeze.

In addition, he said veterans seeking jobs will also have a harder time finding them. So he asks Trump to reconsider the freeze and lighten restrictions on veterans.

Nelson spoke to reporters prior to Demings’ swearing-in about a number of other issues – including the infrastructure plan Democrats have proposed after Trump himself expressed a desire for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan on the campaign trail.

“I hope he supports this plan,” Nelson said. “It will be a trillion over 10 years for infrastructure – for the airport, for Port Canaveral, to build roads, to widen roads, rehabilitate bridges with structural deficiencies. We’re taking him at his word.”

On the environment, Nelson, Demings and Pelosi were in agreement against Trump’s actions to silence news from environmental outlets and climate scientists earlier this week.

“Florida is ground zero for sea level rise,” Nelson said. “Records show the sea has risen five to eight inches. The streets of Miami Beach are flooded. How people can say we don’t have climate change mystifies me. We need to listen to our scientists, not listen to the orders to muzzle them.”

Pelosi said the responsibility in the age of Trump would fall to the media to distribute the correct facts.

“In the press, be ever-vigilant,” she said. “What they’re not saying is suppressing any expression of science, evidence, data, facts. That is a very dangerous thing to a democracy. I believe you all are the guardians of democracy. Freedom of the press, freedom to report on those things, and what they’re doing is very bad.”

She also criticized Trump’s false claims that millions of people illegally voted in the election for Hillary Clinton, calling it a deliberate attempt to “destroy the confidence in our system and lay the groundwork for further voter suppression.”

“The first thing the president said was he won the popular vote, that three to five million voted illegally,” she said. “It’s not true. There is no evidence to support that. What’s dangerous about it is, they’re going to use that false three to five million, alternative fact, to repress the vote in our country.”

All three of them also spoke out against Trump and the Republicans’ efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act – especially with no current plan to replace it.

“Mr. Trump telegraphed very strongly what he intended to do if elected, and we all thought it was just political jargon,” Demings said. “To take something away from hundreds of thousands people that depend on it – it’s mind-boggling that that would be his first order of business as president of the United States. This is the greatest country on Earth – to me that means every person should have access, quality affordable health care.”

Demings said in spite of the Democrats losing the election, and in the face of opposition from Trump and the Republicans, her own priorities remained the same.

“My priorities have not changed. My presidential candidate did not win, but my priority has not changed. I still intend to fight for equal protection under the law. There are people in Mr. Trump’s own party who don’t understand what he’s going to do, or how he’s going to do it, or where he’s going to get the funding from. We’re going to hold him accountable.”

She said she had also been working with Republican colleagues to make plans that would “not be in our own personal best interest, but in that of the American people.”

Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon wants Ken Detzner to look into Donald Trump’s voter fraud claims

Florida Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon penned a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Wednesday, urging him to begin an investigation into possible voter fraud alleged by President Donald Trump.

Trump has been alleging ever since his win that his challenger Hillary Clinton‘s popular vote surge was due to millions of illegal votes and undocumented immigrants voting – statements which have never been substantiated by any proof by Trump or anyone else.

Nevertheless, he has continued to make such statements in the first days of his presidency – and now, Braynon wants Detzner to launch an investigation to make sure there was no voter fraud in Florida, saying he’s “deeply concerned.”

“While President Trump has signaled, via Twitter, his intent to probe his allegations, I believe that charges of election fraud by the president of the United States are far too serious to allow more time to elapse,” he says in the letter. “The statute appears to make clear that, on the basis of his allegations, you now have a legal obligation to act.”

He says he understands that other looks into whether there was voter fraud in the election have turned up nothing – but it’s best to be sure.

“But in the interests of reassuring the citizens of this state and Mr. Trump that his election to the presidency was beyond reproach and that no voting irregularities contributed to his success in Florida, I strongly urge you to begin such an investigation,” he writes.

Over 2,000 previously untested sexual assault kits have been analyzed by the FDLE

The Senate Subcommittee on Civil and Criminal Justice heard an update Wednesday on the number of sexual assault kits that were previously untested and are now no longer, learning that over 2,000 cases had now been analyzed.

The issue with sexual assault kits is that, for many years, a lot of them were put into an endless backlog and not tested, thereby not bringing closure for the victims in cases of sexual assault.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill, SB 636, that required sexual assault kits to be tested within 120 days of submission to a state crime lab.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement had completed 2,156 of the cases that were previously untested as of January.

1,228 were completed in-house and 928 by a private vendor.

Since July 1, 2016 when Scott signed the bill into law, the FDLE had received 1,132 sexual assault kit cases, and had completed 559 of them. They were 99.7 percent in compliance with the 120 day requirement, with a 77-day average analysis time.

Civil and Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair Aaron Bean was pleased that the FDLE had presented the numbers to them on Wednesday.

“They’re making an extraordinary effort to attack the backlog,” Bean said. “Everyone wants it done, but it takes a while. They’re going as fast as they can. They’ve made great strides.”

Carlos Guillermo Smith’s ‘Restore Our Bright Futures’ act aims to help more students go to college

Carlos Guillermo Smith, a UCF graduate himself, wants you to have more access to higher education – that’s why his new bill, HB 489, introduces sweeping expansions to the Bright Futures scholarship.

The bill, called the “Restore Our Bright Futures” act, will return the scholarship to the levels of the 2010-11 school year and make it easier for people to enroll in the program and go to college.

It comes after years of raising standards for the test scores required to get into the program, as well as raising the number of volunteer hours one needs to work.

In the 2010-2011 school year, the requirement was a 1270 SAT score or 28 ACT score for the Florida Academic Scholars award, the highest offered by Bright Futures.

Since then, the minimum scores required have gradually gone up – last year, one needed a 1290 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT to get that award.

Smith said the practice of raising the scores needed for the scholarships had disproportionately affected and shut out minority students from reaping the benefits of higher education, because minority students were more often living in poverty and may not have access to the resources needed to score higher on tests.

“Starting in 2010, Republicans leaders hiked standards which slashed the number of Bright Futures recipients in half and shut out a disproportionate number of black and Latino students from the program,” Smith said. “We have seen enough cuts to higher education in this legislature. The time in now to reinvest and expand the Bright Futures scholarship to make good on Florida’s commitment to affordable college for everyone.”

Smith’s bill would lower the numbers for the 2018-19 school year to a 1275 on the SAT or a 27 on the ACT to get the Florida Academic Scholars award. Then, in the 2019-20 school year, the requirement would further go down to a 1270 needed on the SAT and a 26 on the ACT. That would make the standard actually lower than that of 2010-11.

Scores needed for the Florida Medallion Scholars award would also similarly be lowered.

The bill will also expand Bright Futures to include summer courses, offer $200 to $300 for textbooks and reinstate the 100 percent and 75 percent tuition reimbursements, which were previously phased out by Republican leaders.

Smith’s bill comes on the heels of other legislation to expand Bright Futures and increase access to education by Senators Joe Negron and Bill Galvano, both Republicans.

“The bipartisan work already happening in the Florida Senate to improve the Bright Futures scholarship should be applauded,” Smith said. “I urge my House colleagues to join me in working together to strengthen and expand Bright Futures, which has become out-of-reach for too many– especially for black, Latino and low income students.”

There will be companion legislation introduced in the Senate this week by Victor Torres, the press release states.

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