Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
- Mahatma Ghandi

Welcome to LIFE of Florida!

Our secular and inclusive Florida-wide Informal Education support group acts as a resource center and clearinghouse for homeschoolers, informal learners and alternative educators interested in enriching their learning environments and maximizing their learning opportunities, as well as an advocacy center for Curiosity Driven Learning.

There is no cost to be part of LIFE of Florida -- just join in at our email discussion and announcement list, Florida LIFE, where you can download your membership card -- good for educational discounts throughout FL -- and stay informed and updated on events, issues and resources, and connect with other informal learners throughout the state.

If you're just getting started in homeschooling, be sure to check out our LIFE of Florida Quick Links, our list of Useful Docs, and our enormous collection of resources in the side columns, and visit our Inclusive Homeschool Support Groups page to find a group near you.

If you'd like your regional inclusive support group to be networked with LIFE of Florida, drop us a line with a group description, contact and other relevant information and we'll add you, free of charge, to our directory. All your group members will be automatically considered members of LIFE of Florida, and are entitled to membership cards and all the benefits we offer. Virtual school families are also welcome to enjoy our resources, support and camaraderie.

We're all inclusive and free of charge, and we're here for you!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

House Bill 363 - Liability Waivers and Parental Authority

Some of you may have seen this making the rounds. But it didn't seem clear to me, just what the actual issue was when the consulting and lobby group, Home Education Foundation, sent out an “Immediate Alert Info” email about House Bill 363, so I sought some clarification.

The bill, endorsed by Walt Disney World but applicable to all family activity providers, expands the waivers and personal injury release forms that parents sign before doing things like renting theme park boats, going on certain rides, or field trips or participating in certain activities, to cover negligence on behalf of the activity provider. That means if you sign a waiver before going on a ride, for instance, and the ride breaks and your child gets hurt or worse, even though it's the provider's fault (and not yours or your child's for horsing around or using the equipment improperly), the provider is not at fault.

A competing version of the bill in the Senate (SB 886) does not cover provider negligence. The Legislature has only two weeks to resolve the issue before its 2009 session ends May 1. HEFs position is that this bill affect home educators directly because we participate in a variety of activities that require waivers. HEF believes, reasonably enough if seems, that those providing such activities shouldn’t be immune from responsibility or liabilty if a parent signs a waiver.

From the Home Education Foundation:
http://www.flhef.org

Homeschoolers have a well-rounded curricular experience which often includes field trips and extracurricular learning opportunities. In recent months, the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida Legislature have moved to better define which activities may not only put students at risk but also whether or not those providing such activities should be immune from responsibility or liability should a parent sign a waiver.

Some see this as an assault on parents' rights to make decisions regarding whether they believe an activity puts their student at "risk". Others feel this is a necessary step in order to better define, for activity providers, what guidelines should be in place to ensure a safe experience for all involved. Without this important legislation, providers may not carry insurance should negligence occur, and all costs of injury or death would be borne by the parents.

…The amendment being put forward by Rep. Llorente better defines what is currently proposed in the Florida House and will conform the House bill to the Senate bill. This issue will not be easily settled, but homeschoolers have an opportunity to weigh on this issue by asking House members to include Rep. Llorente’s amendment (# 344949) in HB 363

The bill - without the amendment - will allow the commercial activity providers cover for any negligence on their part. A parent would have to sign a waiver, which under the current version of HB 363, would waive the inherent danger as well as any negligence on the part of the activity provider.

The Llorente amendment would not allow the vendor to be immune for negligence.

The language of the Llorente amendment is:

(b) In addition to the authority granted in paragraph (a), natural guardians are authorized, on behalf of any of their minor children, to waive and release, in advance, any claim or cause of action against an activity provider and its employees for the inherent risks involved in any activity; however, any waiver or release by a natural guardian on behalf of any of his or her minor children does not grant civil immunity to any person or entity whose negligence, gross negligence, or intentional conduct causes injury to a minor child sustained in the course of an activity. As used in this section, the term “negligence” means doing something that a reasonably careful person would not do under like circumstances or failing to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under like circumstances. Waivers and releases under this subsection are disfavored and must be strictly construed against a party claiming to be relieved of liability due to such a waiver and release. Such waivers and releases are enforceable only where and to the extent that the intention to be relieved of liability was made clear and unequivocal in the waiver and release and the wording of the waiver and release was so clear and understandable that an ordinary and knowledgeable person would know what he or she would be contracting away. Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to relieve an activity provider or its employees or agents from liability for any claim based on a violation of state or federal law.

(c) Notwithstanding the authority granted in paragraph (b), natural guardians are authorized, on behalf of any of their minor children, to sign waivers or releases in accordance with chapter 773, regarding equine, activities and s. 549.09, 33 regarding motor sport activities.

You can comment to the committee members listed at http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=40275&SessionId=61 or to your congressional representatives.

You can learn more this bill and see other views at these links:

Bill info : Last Event: Added to Unfinished Business Calendar on Friday, April 24, 2009
http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/SEctions/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=40275

Panel Approves Florida Child Liability Law
http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20090324/BREAKINGNEWS/90324053/1086

Florida Attractions Association
http://capwiz.com/floridaattractions/issues/alert/?alertid=13181296

Florida Arbitration Law:
http://floridaarbitrationlaw.com/blogs/index.php?blog=5&title=pre_injury_waiver_bill_hb_363_sb_886_sup&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

Parental Authority Bill Threatened by Trial Lawyers
http://www.racerxonline.com/article/parental-authority-bill-threatened-by-trial-lawyers.aspx

Dilemma: How to let kids take risks, be safe from negligence
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/custom/tourism/orl-bizwaivers17041709apr17,0,7999089.story

Liability Waivers: Trial Lawyers v. Theme Parks, Florida Supreme Court vs. Legislature
http://www.floridalawcommentary.com/2009/04/22/liability-waivers-trial-lawyers-v-theme-parks-florida-supreme-court-vs-legislature/

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

St. Petersburg Times: Don't cut back on online courses, Florida Virtual School supporters say

Read the complete story, by Jeffrey Solochek, at the St. Petersburg Times:

__________________________

A proposal to scale back Florida's successful virtual school has incurred the wrath of the powerful homeschooling community and drawn national scorn from education reform advocates.

"Virtual schooling is one of the really promising innovations that has happened in K-12 in the past 10 years, and Florida is the leading state," said Bill Tucker, managing director of the Washington D.C., nonpartisan think tank Education Sector. "That's why some of these proposals in the Legislature are really puzzling and troublesome."

The Senate wants to cut as much as 15 percent from Florida Virtual School's $116 million annual budget. Lawmakers also want to reduce the types of courses the school offers, and limit the number of alternate providers that could step in to fill the void.

Visit http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/article996232.ece to read the rest and comment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Huffington Post: Don't Stifle Florida's Education Innovation

In Don't Stifle Florida's Education Innovation, the Huffington Post adds its voice to the chorus of Florida residents trying to preserve the integrity and value of Florida Virtual School:

Florida has been a leader in education innovation over the last decade, but one bill currently under review by the state senate's Policy & Steering Committee on Ways and Means--Senate Bill 1676--threatens to wipe much of that out with one misguided and foolhardy swipe.

In its present form, the bill restricts the Florida Virtual School (FLVS)--one of the bigger policy and public education innovation success stories--in such ways that, as its president, Julie Young, said, "[it] would drastically impact our long-standing commitment to support the educational needs of all students of this state."

This would be tragic, as FLVS possesses many of the hallmarks of an innovation that has the opportunity to help transform public education from its present monolithic, one-size-fits-all form into a far more student-centric experience. ...

Complete story at:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/clayton-m-christensen-and-michael-b-horn/dont-stifle-floridas-educ_b_187325.html

Saturday, April 18, 2009

LIFE of Florida Pleased to Offer Member Access to Microsoft DreamSpark tools for High School students

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft Corp. announced the expansion of its successful Microsoft DreamSpark student program to include high school students worldwide. DreamSpark, originally available only to university students, makes professional-level developer and designer tools as
well as training available to students at no charge to support and advance their learning and skills through technical design, technology, math, science and engineering activities.

Learning is for Everyone has been approved to participate in this program, and we're happy to offer 200 access keys for LIFE families' high school students. The access key enables students to download professional Microsoft developer, designer, and gaming software through DreamSpark at no charge, to help students" unlock your creative potential and set you on the path to academic and career success by advancing your learning in the areas of technical design, technology, math, science, and engineering! It doesn't matter what classes you're taking right now, just as long as you're a current student in a verified, accredited School and use the tools in pursuit of
advancing your education in one of these areas."

Now LIFE of Florida homeschooled high school students can download the following Microsoft tools from DreamSpark:

* Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition
* Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition
* Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition
* Microsoft Expression Studio 1.0
* Microsoft Expression Studio 2 Trial Edition (includes Web, Blend, Media,
and Design)
* Microsoft Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard Edition
* Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition
* IT Academy Student Pass
* MS CCR & DSS Toolkit

In addition, in the spirit of cool things to download and "one-stop shopping", you can also download software (currently available on www.microsoft.com at no charge) like:

* SQL Server 2008 Express Edition
* Visual Studio 2008 Express Edition
* XNA Game Studio 2.0 (with 12-month Creators Club Student trial membership)
* Virtual PC 2007
* Visual Basic 2005 Express
* Visual C++ 2005 Express
* Visual C# 2005 Express
* Visual Web Developer 2008 Express
* Visual Basic 2008 Express
* Visual C++2008 Express
* Visual C# 2008 Express
* MS Robotics Developer Studio

LIFE is pleased to offer this great resource to homeschooled high school students in FL.

(You must be a member of LIFE of Florida to enjoy this opportunity, or a member of a Microsoft verified public or private high school.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Florida Virtual School Update and Call for Comment

Dear FLVS Supporters,


As you know from recent news reports and from internal updates, the budget passed out of the House removes the support we receive from the class-size reduction amendments. Some state leaders are making the case that we do not need this support because we don’t have four walls; others are claiming that by providing this support to us is akin to double dipping. If we cannot communicate to our state leaders the importance of this funding, the proposed House budget will have a dramatic impact on FLVS operations.


Can you help us by reaching out to state leaders to help them better understand how class-size supports both virtual and traditional classrooms?


The budget passed out of the Senate would limit FLVS to the core courses, removing electives like AP Computer Science, Personal Fitness, and many more. The Senate proposed budget also limits funding for students removing the after school and summer choices for students who want to accelerate or make up credit. If we cannot communicate to our state leaders the importance of these choices for Florida students and parents, the proposed Senate budget will have a dramatic impact on FLVS operations.


Can you help us by reaching out to state leaders to help them better understand the importance of the choice options for elective courses and taking courses in addition to the regular school day?


Please FAX your letters to your local representatives and senators and to as many others as possible. Fax numbers are listed below.


Florida Virtual School- FLVS

http://www.flvs.net

Office: 386.478.4201

Cell: 386-569-1675

FLVS 407-513-3587

fax: 1-888-771-5641

________________________________


To find your local legislators:
http://www.flsenate.gov/Legislators/index.cfm?Members=By+Last+Name

http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/representatives.aspx


Click on Image for clearer, enlarged view




Sample Letters:

Below you can find the sample letter for the House and for the Senate:

Sample letter to members of the House of Representatives:

Dear XXXXX,

I’m writing out of concern about the recent budget passed by the House that would cut a substantial portion of Florida Virtual School’s financial support. From what I understand the House, and possibly the Senate, are considering deep cuts for FLVS, including taking away the support the program receives for class-size reduction.

As you may well know, class size support was designed to bring equity to all school districts across the state. When the provision was passed, it was seen as an equalizer and designed to provide equitable funding to all districts. It was also a way for districts to hire enough teachers to keep class sizes at an appropriate level. FLVS is considered a district and has successfully served hundreds of thousands of students over the past decade. The program receives funding from the state using a weighted FTE (full time equivalent) model — just like all districts do. However, there are a couple of distinct differences in FLVS funding formula: 1) it is performance-based: meaning the program is funded only for students who successfully complete the course; and, 2) removes funding for programs not offered at the online program, including Supplemental Academic Instruction, ESE Guarantee, Safe Schools, Transportation, and School Recognition programs.

Today’s funding formula was built using sound, school-finance principles and to bring equity among the school districts. FLVS should not be singled out in today’s budget crisis. The state and subject certified teachers at FLVS work tirelessly to deliver individualized instruction to students and while their classrooms may not have four walls, their students are real and the classrooms exist.

Class-size support is a key element used to determine FLVS’ funding allocation. If the state legislature takes this support away, I’m afraid students will lose.

I implore you to reconsider such drastic actions and consider alternative ways that our state can continue to lead the country in delivering high-quality, online instruction.

Regards,



***************************************************************

Sample letter to Senate:

I’m writing out of concern about the recent budget passed by the Senate that would cut a substantial portion of Florida Virtual School’s financial support. From what I understand the Senate, and possibly the House, are considering deep cuts for FLVS, including taking away the support the program receives for elective courses, courses for acceleration and credit recovery, and for class-size reduction.

Florida Virtual School was started to serve students in rural districts, high minority schools, and low-performing schools. Many of these students would not have access to AP, advanced, honors, and elective courses without FLVS. FLVS has been funded for students who need to take courses after the regular school day and during the summer. Without FLVS many students will not be able to accelerate or make up credits for courses during the summer.

A case for FLVS elective courses from one of the FLVS AP Computer Science instructors:

• 90.1% of FLVS APCS students made a qualifying score (3, 4, or 5) on the 2008 exam compared to the Florida average of only 40.4% (or 36.3% if you remove FLVS students).
• FLVS APCS students averaged 4.20 on the 2008 exam compared to the Florida average of 2.38 (or 2.23 if you remove FLVS students).
• The median score on the 2008 APCS exam for FLVS students was a 5, but only a 1 for Florida as a whole.
• FLVS provided instruction for approximately 8% of the Florida students taking the APCS exam in the state in 2008. We are growing and project to exceed 10% in 2009.

When 60% of the state’s AP Computer Science students fail to make a qualifying score on the APCS exam, it is difficult to understand why the legislature would eliminate the FLVS elective that year after year has a pass rate in excess of 90% with average scores that far exceed the state and national averages. Given our results using a less expensive delivery model, isn’t a 90% return on investment vs. a 36% return what Florida’s taxpayers should expect to be maintained rather than discarded for a significantly lower performance?

The choices FLVS has been able to give to Florida students and parents in courses and the choice of when they take courses, has provided an economical way to ensure that all students have access to quality education with highly qualified instructors.
I implore you to reconsider such drastic actions and consider alternative ways that our state can continue to lead the country in delivering high-quality, online instruction.

Regards,


LIFE Fest 2009 Plans are Underway!

Our annual LIFE Fest Celebration of Learning will be held Saturday, September 26th at the Eckerd College Conference Center and Lodge at 4200 54th Avenue South in St. Petersburg, FL from 10 a.m. – 5p.m.


This is a great location that lends itself well to a family friendly event, with Ft. Desoto camping and beaches just down the road,and St. Pete museums and other attractions nearby. This year, we’ve reserved both Conference center buildings to better accommodate vendors, community groups, speakers and workshops.


Cost

As before (we’re recession/depression proof!) admission is just a $10 donation per family, $8 prepaid via Network for Good (click and pay by August 21 - bring your receipt as your ticket). And, in the spirit of our Green LIFE Fest, carpool discounts of $10 a (safe and legal)carload will be available the day of the event.


Lodging

Lodging is available right on the premises for a (still!) very reasonable $65/night. Call the Eckerd College Conference Center and Lodge at (800) 456-9009 to reserve your room by August 1.


Content

As before, we’ll have a variety of great vendors – we’re aiming for more this year - lots of free materials, great workshops,door prizes and raffles, and a fun and educational children’s area with art and animals, all adding up to a full and exciting day that will offer ample opportunities to meet other home educators from around the state and to learn how to make the most of your homeschooling adventure.


Vendors

Vendor booths will cost $100 if reserved by May 31; $150 after that, through August 21, and will be sold on a first-come, first-served, paid-in-full basis. A sliding scale may be considered for very small, family based businesses. A 10% discount is provided to vendors supplying a door prize.


LIFE Fest Bazaar

This year, we’ll hold the LIFE Fest Bazaar in its own room. Cost is still just $20 for Bazaar space. You can sell books, curricula, toys, clothes, and any other (reasonable) household goods at our LIFE Fest Bazaar. We’ll also have a give-away table for anything you just want to, well – give away!


Reserve by August 21

Vendor and LIFE Fest Bazaar booths must be reserved by August 21. More information will be available at Learning is for Everyone at http://www.learningis4everyone.org/content/view/2961/41/1/4/ shortly, but feel free to write and let us know if you’d like vending, community group, or support group space.


Also contact us if you’re interested in hosting a presentation or workshop.

Planners Drawing

As before, we’re inviting our guests to help plan the party by holding a Planners Drawing in which those who send us LIFE Fest ideas by May 31 are automatically entered to win a great prize (last year it was tickets to the Edison-Ford Estates).


So send your ideas now to info@learningis4everyone.org with “LIFE Fest Ideas” in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, address and contact info and you'll be automatically entered in a special LIFE Fest Planner award drawing at LIFE Fest 2009. You have to be present to win -- but you're helping plan so why wouldn't you be?!


See you at LIFE Fest 2009!


Terri Willingham

LIFE of Florida

Learning is for Everyone


Friday, April 3, 2009

Parental Rights Amendment returns as HJ Resolution 42

Right on the heels of news that Sen. Arlen Specter, of PA, is introducing his flat tax bill for a second time (Specter Swings to the Right to Save Senate Seat), while also being lobbied to get behind a parental rights amendment to the Constitution, comes a Home School Legal Defense (HSLDA) note "introducing HJ Resolution 42: the aforementioned Parental Rights Amendment, and urging homechoolers to support it.

Of course supporting or not supporting this amendment is a personal decision, but it’s advised that those who *don't* support it speak out to their congressfolk as well.

Learning is for Everyone is of the view that the amendment is superfluous, since parental rights are already protected by the Constitution, and potentially rights limiting because it opens the door to more narrowly defining "parents" and "families".Additionally, the threat of international law at this level superseding federal law is an empty, and fear mongering one.

LIFE believes, like many other individuals and groups, that the best way to protect our freedoms is to use them, by speaking out on our own behalf and that of our children, for ourselves, and for others whenever we can, and we don't want anyone else deciding who "parents" are and what a family should look like.

You can learn more about the Parental Rights Amendment and related issues at http://www.learningis4everyone.org/content/view/24/42/1/2/

Follow actions and commentary at Open Congress: http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-hj42/show

See also: NHELDs Warning to Parents :http://www.nheld.com/BTN67.htm