Private school ‘cushion,’ in-school enrollments, another state order suit, Twitter hacker and more

Vouchers ‘cushion’ private schools: Florida’s private K-12 schools have been shielded from the worst effects of the coronavirus pandemic by the state’s scholarship programs, according to a report from the Office of Economic & Demographic Research. Even with unemployment up, putting a stress on family incomes, enrollment is not expected to decline significantly because 44 percent of the 380,295 students in nearly 2,700 private schools receive scholarships, said the EDR’s Elisabeth Goodman. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer several state scholarship programs. Politico Florida. South Florida parents who want their children to return to schools this month may have to place them in private schools, since most public schools in the region are conducting online-only classes to start the year. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Fewer faces in schools: Fewer than 50 percent of central Florida students may return to classrooms when schools reopen later this month, according to those districts. Only 29 percent of Orange County students have chosen in-person learning, though more than 67,000 students did not choose any learning option. That’s 30 percent of all students. Volusia County is expecting 51 percent students of students on campus, Osceola 46 percent, Seminole 44 percent and Lake 42 percent. Like in Orange, though, many of those parents did not choose an option for their children. Districts have begun contacting them, so the percentages are likely to change. Last week, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he expected 60 to 90 percent of the state’s public school students to attend classes in schools. Orlando Sentinel. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Daily Commercial.

Testing extension: Students have continued to ask for an extension to take the SAT so they can try to improve their scores to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships, but the state has shown no inclination to extend the deadline a second time. The original deadline for Bright Futures applications was June 30, but that was extended to July 31. Students were able to take one of several scheduled ACT tests, but the SAT canceled its May and June tests and doesn’t have another test scheduled until Aug. 29. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: Twenty-three districts have now had their school reopening plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. The latest are Miami-Dade’s, Pasco’s and St. Lucie’s. Here are the latest developments on schools reopening and other news from the state’s districts:

Hillsborough: Personal information for more than 170 students who signed up for the Hillsborough Virtual K-12 school has been compromised, district officials acknowledged. A coding error sent emails of student applications to other applicants, and the district is now being called on to pay for identity theft protection for the students whose information was shared. Tampa Bay Times. With revenues from the voter-approved 2018 sales tax surcharge declining between 15 and 28 percent in the past three months, the district plans to slow down its work repairing and replacing school air conditioners and other upgrades. Gradebook.

Orange: District officials are considering using the $60 million received in federal aid to purchase two thermal scanners for every high school and middle school in the county, UV lighting for schools’ air-conditioning systems, and to provide extra instructional help for students who fell behind during online learning and over the summer. A public hearing on the budget is Sept. 8. WKMG.

Duval: The Growing Together Behavioral Center in Jacksonville, a school for autistic children, was broken into over the weekend by vandals who smashed windows and electronics. About $20,000 in damage was reported. WJXT.

Lee: Schools will not be taking students’ temperatures when they enter school buildings this fall. The district cited guidance from the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics that said such checks are “expensive, time-consuming and not sensitive for early infection.” District officials are asking parents to check children’s temperatures every day before sending them to school, and keeping them home if they have a temperature. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

Polk: Lyndsay Gendreau, a county elementary school teacher and mother of a 2-year-old, has written a book, C is for Coronavirus, to help ease children’s fears about returning to school during the pandemic. WFTS. WTSP.

Pasco: District teachers union officials said they will ask a court for an injunction to stop the state’s emergency order that schools offer in-person instruction in August. “We feel that it’s important that we do not put lives in danger,” said union president Don Peace. “Once the (COVID-19) numbers subside to a satisfactory level, then it would be appropriate to have a conversation about a return to bricks and mortar.” The Florida Education Association also is suing the state, claiming it’s unsafe to reopen schools, and the Orange County teachers union is challenging the school district’s reopening plan. Tampa Bay Times. School board members are being asked to close 11 before- and after-care centers run by the district’s PLACE program. Fifty-eight employees would be affected. Declining enrollment and financial problems because of the pandemic were cited for the decision. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: The teachers union and school district reached an agreement Friday on leaves of absence, extended sick time and the provision of masks, among other things. Negotiations now move on to salaries and health insurance. Florida Today.

Lake: The old Lee School in Leesburg, which was built in 1915 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been added by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation to a list of 11 endangered historic places to save. Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: School board members are under increasing pressure to reconsider the school reopening plan they approved last week that has already gotten the okay from the state Department of Education. It calls for schools to reopen Aug. 31 with in-person and remote learning options. But with no abatement in the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases and deaths, members of the community are lobbying for the district to consider a plan like Monroe County’s, which starts the school year with four weeks of online-only learning. At least two Sarasota board members said they are concerned about the high number of cases. The board is expected to discuss the reopening at Tuesday’s meeting. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bay: St. John Catholic School in Panama City will reopen for students Aug. 24 with classes available in-person and online. The final day of school is May 28, 2021. WMBB. Southport Elementary School, with the help of volunteers from Lynn Haven United Methodist Church, handed out supplies for students during a parade on Sunday. Panama City News Herald. WJHG.

Charlotte: Questions about the reopening of schools were answered during a question and answer session with the community liaison of the school district and parents. WFTX.

Colleges and universities: About 80 percent of fall classes at the College of Central Florida will be online-only for the fall semester. The exceptions are for  specialized and technical courses that require in-person instruction. WUFT. More than 400 public health students from 22 Florida colleges and universities are helping the state with coronavirus contact tracing. Tampa Bay Times.

Hacker is high school junior: The 17-year-old charged with taking over the Twitter accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kanye West, Bill Gates and others is a junior at Gaither High School in Tampa. Detectives said Graham Ivan Clark convinced a Twitter IT staffer that he was a coworker to obtain the credentials needed to get access to accounts, then used the accounts to dupe people into sending him $100,000 in Bitcoin currency. Two others were also charged. WFLA. NPR. Politico.

Back-to-school tax holiday: Florida’s annual back-to-school tax holiday begins Friday and continues through Sunday. Exempt from state’s sales tax are school supplies that cost less than $15 per item, clothing that costs less than $60 per item, and computers and accessories that sell for less than $1,000. Miami Herald.

School elections: The two candidates for the only contested Seminole County School Board seat, District 3, talk about their qualifications and goals. Orlando Sentinel. Robert Bass, a candidate for the District 5 seat on the Osceola County School Board, talked in a video interview about his qualifications and priorities. His opponent, Jeffrey Rivera, did not participate. Orlando Sentinel. The three candidates for the District 2 seat on the Palm Beach County School Board talk about their beliefs and goals. Palm Beach Post. Previews of the races for the District 1, District 3 and District 7 seats on the Duval County School Board. Florida Times-Union. Previewing the race for the District 1 seat on the Polk County School Board. Lakeland Ledger.

Opinions on schools: In a matter of weeks, tens of thousands of students are expected back in classrooms across the Tampa Bay area. The issue now is how to reopen schools safely — and how to respond if an outbreak of coronavirus imperils students, teachers or staff and their families. Tampa Bay Times. With some of the nation’s largest school districts offering online only instruction this fall, parents dissatisfied with their child’s experience are looking for alternatives. Private schools may still find a place. Jonathan Butcher, redefinED. The temptation to prematurely open schools is understandable. But we’re not ready until protocols, plans, resources and funding can come together and infectivity rates fall to acceptable levels. Jeffrey Rubin, Ocala Star-Banner.

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