Back-to-school tax holiday bill signed, on reopening schools, graduations, yearbooks delay and more

Back-to-school tax holiday: The bill calling for back-to-school and disaster preparedness tax holidays has been signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The back-to-school portion of the bill sets Aug. 7-9 as days when shoppers can buy clothing, school supplies and electronic devices tax-free. The disaster-preparedness tax holiday runs from May 29-June 4, and includes such items as flashlights, portable radios, tarps, gas cans, batteries and generators. Another part of the bill could lead to more local tax funds for capital projects going to charter schools. The total value of the tax breaks is estimated at $47.7 million. “Not only do these important tax-free holidays provide relief to consumers buying necessities,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, “but they will inject a shot of adrenaline into Florida’s retail businesses after suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic and forced closures.” Florida Politics.

On reopening schools: Gov. DeSantis said this week that it’s “too soon” to know when schools might reopen. “If I could snap my finger and know it wouldn’t be an issue I think most people would want the kids back in school,” he said. “But, obviously, we need to be safe and do it in the right way.” Schools were closed in mid-March, and the closure has been extended through May 1. WKMG. Gulf County school Superintendent Jim Norton said he doubts schools will reopen for the rest of this academic year, and the district is increasingly shifting its focus toward reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year. Port St. Joe Star.

Graduation anxiety: As more school districts cancel or postpone graduations because of the coronavirus pandemic, high school seniors around the state are hoping for the best and prepping for the worst while they wait for news from district leaders or the state. Schools are closed through May 1. If they’re reopened May 4, seniors are clinging to the possibility that graduations can be held. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Graduations are still on the schedule for Tampa Bay area high schools. But if they can’t be held, district leaders said, other options are being considered. Tampa Bay Times. Osceola County school officials said graduation plans are still on, but a backup plan has been put in place. Graduations would be moved to July 6-10 if they can’t be held as scheduled May 21-29. WKMG. WOFL. The Clay County School District has canceled all end-of-the-year celebrations, though no decision has yet been made on graduations. Clay Today. Palm Beach County school officials said they are working on ideas for alternate ceremonies after canceling graduations this week. One idea came from school board chair Frank Barbieri, who asked district leaders to consider virtual graduations. Palm Beach Post. WPEC.

And now, yearbooks delayed: The Texas company that publishes yearbooks for more than 400 Florida schools has shut down production because of the coronavirus, which will delay delivery of the keepsakes until summer or even later. The Dallas company Balfour closed March 23 because of a county order shuttering non-essential businesses. Tampa Bay Times.

Board meetings balance: Some Florida school boards are meeting in person and some are meeting virtually, but all are trying to balance safety with the state laws on open government, including giving members of the public a chance to comment. Some districts allow people to attend meetings and offer input through teleconferencing, and others accept emails that are read into the record. “We’re telling them there are a number of options and they need to do what’s best for the district,” said Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. Gov. DeSantis waived the state law requiring a quorum of board members in person for meetings, but not other parts of the Sunshine Law. And boards must continue to meet at least once a month. Gradebook. Education Dive.

More on the coronavirus: Four in 10 U.S. students said they have yet to attend an online class, according to a recent survey. WLRN. South Florida school districts are developing new systems to monitor how much students are logging in for virtual classes. WLRN. Widespread Internet outages were reported Wednesday in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties by Spectrum, interrupting virtual learning at schools. NorthEscambia.com. Polk County teachers, students and parents are starting to feel more comfortable with distance learning as they work out technology issues. Teachers are trying to keep things simple to mitigate the disruption. Lakeland Ledger. WFTS. St. Johns County teachers said they were successful in simply touching base with students in the first week of online learning, and now are trying to be creative to provide fun for the students and give them a feeling of connectedness. St. Augustine Record. When a parent at Bishop Larkin Catholic School in Port Richey tested positive for the coronavirus on March 10, the school made the decision to close that day and switch over to online learning. redefinED. Online programs that teach foreign languages are booming during this virus outbreak. Could that trend mean bidding adieu to language educators? USA Today. School districts and other organizations continue to feed low-income students while schools are closed, and some are making adjustments in their distributions sites and dates. Florida Department of AgricultureFlorida Department of Education. Lakeland Ledger. Fort Myers News-Press.

Low wages, high living costs: Teachers in the Treasure Coast counties of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River pay about 40 percent of their after-tax salaries on housing, according to a USA Today analysis comparing median teacher incomes to median rental costs. Unaffordable housing is a concern for teachers around Florida, where the average teacher pays more than a third of her or his income for housing. TCPalm.

School board elections: Two seats are up for election this year on the Sarasota County School Board. In District 2, incumbent Caroline Zucker isn’t running for re-election. Candidates are former district administrator Karen Rose and schools computer specialist David Graham. In District 3, incumbent Eric Robinson is being challenged by retired businessman Tom Edwards. The primaries are in August. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Charter companies win U.S. grants: Two charter school companies that have schools in Florida or plan to have been awarded grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The Texas-based IDEA charter group, which has expansion plans for Florida, will receive $72 million over five years to help with that growth. The Mater Academy, which has schools in Florida and plans for more, is receiving $57.1 million over five years. Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: Schooling in this historic moment must be about support more than about success on a test, writes a Leon County teacher. Zac Johnson, Tallahassee Democrat. Teachers, parents, students and education leaders are stepping up in this time of crisis, writes a Lee County School Board member. Chris Patricca, Fort Myers News-Press.

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