Politics of reopening schools, PPP a lifeline for some schools, district plans, vaccinations and more

The politics of reopening: President Donald Trump’s and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to reopen schools has run into a backlash from districts, teachers, parents and some legislators who are wary of the growing numbers of cases and deaths in Florida. In the past four days, the state has reported 46,028 new cases and 353 deaths, according to the New York Times and the Worldometer. DeSantis said Saturday that the reopening decision “should not be political, it should be based on the facts.” And Trump has tweeted, “Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, virtual learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning. Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.” Associated Press. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Bradenton Herald. WFLA. WJXT. An internal report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that a full reopening of schools would pose the “highest risk” for spreading the coronavirus. New York Times. The American Academy of Pediatrics has withdrawn its earlier support for putting students back into classrooms. WLRN. Chalkbeat. Associated Press. The mask debate is moving from society at large to the schools. Chalkbeat. Teachers express concern for their safety under school reopening plans, and parents worry about the health of their children. Sun Sentinel. Ocala Star-Banner. Florida Times-Union. Florida Phoenix. WJXT. NPR. Bay News 9. Northwest Florida Daily News. Panama City News Herald. The Hill. What scientists and other countries may be able to teach the United States about how to safely reopen schools. New York Times.

The PPP lifeline: More than six-dozen private and charter schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties have gotten $150,000 to $5 million from the coronavirus relief package’s Payroll Protection Program, according to federal records. The aid has saved more than 5,500 jobs, school officials said, and for some has meant the difference between staying open and closing. Private schools have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, both by the addition of unexpected expenses and the subtraction of some students whose parents were furloughed or lost their jobs and could no longer afford tuition payments. Tampa Bay Times.

Reopening plans: The St. Johns County School District has reversed its earlier decision and will require students to wear masks in classrooms and hallways, under the tentative plan announced Friday. Parents will have four learning options for their children: in-person, St. Johns Virtual School, virtual learning that follows in-person classes, and home-schooling. WJXT. WJAX. School reopening plans for northeast Florida districts. WJXT. Palm Beach County School Board chairman Frank Barbieri is questioning why the district has yet to release its reopening plan, with just three days left before the board is being asked to approve it. Palm Beach Post. The Leon County School District is considering buying clear face shields for those teachers, staff and students “who would benefit from being able to read facial expressions,” such as special education students and others who have hearing problems. Tallahassee Democrat. Orange and Seminole school boards will vote Tuesday on reopening plans. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. Back-to-school plans in central Florida districts. WFTV. Tampa Bay area school districts’ reopening plans, and deadlines for parents’ decisions whether their children will return or continue remote learning. Gradebook. WTSP. Q&A on the Lee County School District’s reopening plan. Fort Myers News-Press. Volusia County school officials said they mistakenly posted the three learning options for students to the district website Friday. They were removed Saturday, and a district spokeswoman said the options will be released at Wednesday’s board meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Taylor County schools are considering dedicating a teacher to virtual schooling, won’t require students to wear masks and may consider a later start to the school year. WFSU. Jefferson County school officials said while schools will be open every day, students may have the option of attending classes on some days and learning remotely on others. WFSU. The University of Florida and Santa Fe College have announced their reopening plans. UF’s includes mandatory masks, less campus housing and more online classes. Gainesville Sun. Rollins College will have in-person and online classes, with a reduction in tuition for those who opt for remote learning. WKMG.

COVID-19 vaccinations? As scientists race to produce a vaccine to the coronavirus, politicians and health experts are starting to consider whether it should be made mandatory for school enrollment, as other vaccines are, and if it is, how many parents are likely to opt out for their children. “My fear is that we will get to that place where we have that successful vaccine, but we still have the concern from many and a mistrust,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “But I’m worried that we don’t have a plan for how to deal with that.” Education Dive.

More on the coronavirus: The Palm Beach County School District’s decision to start the school year with online learning only will mean hundreds of students without Internet access are preparing for another year of struggling. Palm Beach Post. More than 350 Manatee County school employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. WWSB. Palm Beach County School Board member Erika Whitfield has had a close-up look at the effects of the coronavirus: She gave birth recently to a 11-week premature baby who was hospitalized for a month, and then Whitfield tested positive for coronavirus, which put her in isolation away from her daughter for three weeks. Palm Beach Post. Scientists are working with the Sarasota Military Academy to launch a symptom-tracking and contact-tracing computer program called Scout when school resumes in August. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Alachua County School District is holding a food distribution event today at Kimball Wiles Elementary and Williams Elementary schools. WCJB.

Gardiner growth: The Gardiner Scholarship Program for students with unique abilities has continued its steady growth, according to the latest report from Step Up From Students, which helps administer the program and hosts this blog. Nearly 2,000 more students used the scholarship during the 2018-2019 school year, bringing the total number under the plan to 12,245. Students receive an average of $10,266 a year, though some with greater medical needs get $20,000 or more. redefinED.

Superintendent search: A citizens advisory committee has narrowed the list of 27 candidates for the Escambia County superintendent’s job to 10, and expects to pare it down to five this week before it sends the list to the school board. The committee’s recommendation to the board is not binding. One local candidate was included: Keith Leonard, assistant superintendent of human resources. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas is retiring in November. Pensacola News Journal.

Request for school killed: The Santa Rosa County School Board has withdrawn a zoning change request it sought to be able to build a K-8 school on a 39-acre property on U.S. 98 in Midway. Patrick Jehle, a representative from the school district’s engineering firm, asked that the request be removed from the zoning board agenda, saying the school board had “uncovered some conditions that make the proposed school use at this site infeasible.” He did not say what those conditions are. Pensacola News Journal.

School elections: The race between incumbent Tina Descovich and Jennifer Jenkins for the nonpartisan District 3 seat on the Brevard County School Board has taken a decidedly partisan turn. The local Republican party is backing Descovich, while the Democratic party has thrown its support to Jenkins. In a recent public meeting, Descovich, fellow board member Matt Susin and state Sen. Debbie Mayfield stressed the importance of the race to keep conservative Republicans in the majority of the board. Florida Today. Two candidates for the Citrus County School District superintendent’s job and three running for the District 2 school board seat talked about their goals for the district during a campaign forum last week. Citrus County Chronicle.

Employees and the law: A social studies teacher and coach at Charlotte High School has been arrested and accused of sexual battery on a student between the age of 12 and 18. Punta Gorda police said Brendan William Toop, 39, had a sexual encounter with a minor female in his classroom in 2017. Charlotte Sun. WFTX.

Opinions on schools: For Florida’s parents, the choice is simple: You can listen to the experts with actual medical degrees, or you can listen to vaudeville politicians pretending to be experts. No big deal. All that’s at stake is your children. Carl Hiaasen, Miami Herald. Our school boards should take the time they need to get school reopenings right. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Keeping Palm Beach County school campuses closed when the school year begins next month is an open-and-shut case. Palm Beach Post. Alachua County schools need to get the reopening right before the plan is finalized. The worst outcome would be reopening schools with a poorly implemented plan that puts people at risk and just causes schools to be closed again. Gainesville Sun. A safe reopening of schools is essential to our nation. State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., Miami Herald. Reopening schools to in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic is tantamount to playing Russian roulette with the lives of students, teachers and families. Steven Singer, Flagler Live. Until we actually stop of the spread of the coronavirus, efforts to reopen schools in most communities will fail. Connor P. Williams, The 74. The government must step up to ensure that all schools, public and private, can continue to educate their students. Otherwise, for children without choices, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent school choice ruling will be meaningless. Peter Murphy, The 74.

Student enrichment: Celine Churchman, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High in Miami-Dade County, has organized a food drive that has fed more than 21,600 county residents. Her goal is to feed 100,000 people by her senior year. Miami Herald.

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