DeSantis and judges discuss reopening rationales, rapid tests for schools, Day 1 tech issues and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Coronavirus and schools: Schools are safe for children and asymptomatic people do not need to be tested for the coronavirus, President Trump’s COVID-19 task force adviser said Monday during a press conference in Tallahassee with Gov. Ron DeSantis. Dr. Scott Atlas voiced support for positions held by DeSantis, saying, “The children are not at any significant risk, although there are exceptions. But the exceptions, of course, exist in every medical illness. If you are a doctor you understand that, they do not overwhelm the rest of the evidence.” He also called the United States the “only country of our peer nations in the Western world who are this hysterical about opening schools.” DeSantis added, “To put society on its knees is kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face. The schools, I think, are an important part of that.” News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach Post. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WPTV. WKMG. WTXL. The number of coronavirus cases among children and teenagers in the United States is rising faster than for the population as a whole, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That trend is also being noticed by some northwest Florida pediatricians since schools have reopened. New York Times. Hispanic leaders in Hillsborough County met virtually Monday to discuss how Hispanics have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, especially when it comes to making decisions about how to send their children back to school. Florida Politics.

Appeals court explains position: Judges on the First District Court of Appeal released an order on Monday saying a lower court judge’s ruling that the state’s school reopening order was unconstitutional “caused confusion and uncertainty for students, parents, and teachers.” They also said the case will likely be won by the state, so they decided to put that ruling on hold until the case can be decided. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran called the ruling “a great decision.” The Florida Education Association, which filed the lawsuit, said it was disappointed. Orlando Sentinel. The state’s legal fees in the case are more than $500,000 so far. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Technical problems and reports of positive coronavirus tests were widespread as more districts returned to school, some online only and some with a blend of online and in-person instruction. “Today is the first day where we can literally say we’re fully open,” said Education Commissioner Corcoran. Here are more developments on school reopenings and other news from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: Software failures brought the first day of online-only learning to a halt on Monday. Many students were unable to log into the system, known as K12, or experienced slowdowns if they did get in. Some students got into their virtual classrooms, but had no teachers because they were locked out. Engineers are working on the problems, but can’t say when they will be fixed. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho took responsibility for the issues, calling them “one of the greatest disappointments.” He added, “Our community deserves better. Our community has learned to expect better from us.” Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WLRN. WFOR. Contessa Bryant has been named the principal at the New World School of the Arts, a magnet high school in Miami. Miami’s Community Newspapers.

Broward: An 8th-grader at Westminster Academy, a private Christian school in Fort Lauderdale, has tested positive for the coronavirus, school officials announced. Because it’s believed he was infected at home, no quarantines were ordered at the school. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Free rapid coronavirus testing will be made available for fulltime district employees with a Humana health insurance plan through the school system, Superintendent Addison Davis announced Monday. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. About 100,000 of the district’s students returned to the classrooms Monday for in-person learning. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. Several Hillsborough High School football players are under quarantine after a teammate tested positive. The team’s first game is scheduled Sept. 11. Tampa Bay Times. A Kimball Elementary School student who was tested last week attended the first day of school Monday but was sent home after the test came back positive. The student, and others at the school who were in close contact, are now under quarantine. WFLA. A coronavirus dashboard has been launched on the district’s website. It showed 152 cases of the coronavirus by mid-day Monday, most of those employees. WFLA.

Orange: Health officials are investigating a report that a district teacher might have contracted the coronavirus from a student. Dr. Raul Pino said the teacher’s positive result came from a rapid test, and a more reliable test has been ordered to confirm the original. “Not that we are doubting (the test result), it’s that we would like to confirm because it’s a serious statement that we would make after we can confirm that, so we want to be 100 percent sure,” Pino said. WKMG. Rapid coronavirus tests for schools could be available by the end of the week, Pino said. WMFE. Leo Nicaragua, a Spanish teacher at Kennedy Middle School in Rockledge, found a bag in a street Monday near the school that contained $6,000, a $15,000 check, three vehicle titles, medical masks, latex gloves and Lysol wipes. He turned it in to the school resource officer, and it was later returned to its owner, who had left it on the roof of a car and forgotten about it. It contained the payroll for his business. “This is called honesty, and people have to be honest,” Nicaragua said. WKMG.

Palm Beach: Students reported trouble logging into the district’s online system on Monday, the first day of school. The problems began at 8 a.m., were reported fixed at 9, but resurfaced at 11. By the end of the day, district officials said, the portal was working. Schools are online-only, and while county government leaders want to enter Phase 2 of the reopening Sept. 8, they are asking district officials to keep schools closed for students until Sept. 28 at the earliest. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: Public and private school students will have access to free, rapid coronavirus tests in priority vehicle lanes at one of four county sites, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Monday. Students will need a verification letter from their school and be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. School officials said they’re working to provide the technology for students who chose online learning or a blend of online and in-person. WJAX.

Polk: Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said Monday that she hasn’t changed her mind about retiring since announcing it last May, and will leave the job in February. Incoming school board member William Allen, who ousted occasional Byrd critic Billy Townsend in the primary, had urged her to reconsider. Lakeland Ledger. Six more schools have reported positive coronavirus cases, leading to quarantining an undisclosed number of students and employees. The latest affected are the Jean O’Dell Learning Center for special education students, Lakeland High School/Harrison School for the Arts, Alturas Elementary, Denison Middle, Tenoroc High and Garner Elementary. That brings the district total to 21 cases at 17 schools. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Dixie Hollins High School will shorten its name to Hollins High, and change its nickname from Rebels to Royals, school officials announced Monday. The changes were made after a committee made up of staff and students agreed it was time to “drop the last remaining references to the Confederacy.” The school was named after the first superintendent of the district. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. WUSF. WFLA.

Lee: Technical problems marked the first day of school. Email was down in the morning, many students couldn’t get into the online learning system because of a licensing issues, and elementary classes at the Gateway Charter School were canceled because of a power outage. Still, district spokesman Rob Spicker said, it went “about as good as can be expected.” Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. WBBH. WZVN.

Pasco: A rapid coronavirus testing program will begin by Sept. 11 for both students and employees, assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said Monday. Tests will be done at the district’s three health and wellness centers. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Forty-two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the district have prompted the quarantining of 135 people, district officials said Monday. WKMG. WFTV.

Osceola: A student at Tohopekaliga High School in Kissimmee has tested positive for the coronavirus, and 22 other students have been asked to quarantine, according to district officials. WKMG. Harmony Middle School was shut down for two weeks because of the risk to older substitute teachers who would have had to fill in for the younger teachers who apparently shared the virus during planning meetings, according to Education Commissioner Corcoran. WJXT.

Volusia: Parents reported widespread problems for online-only students trying to log into the district’s platform or get through to technical support. But district spokeswoman Kelly Schulz said there were no widespread problems with the new platform, Volusia Live, and heard that teachers, parents and students thought the day went smoothly. About 60 percent of students were in the classroom for in-person instruction. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WOFL.

Manatee: The district will receive $10 million through the coronavirus relief bill known as the CARES Act. District officials said they need every penny for coronavirus-related expenses such as cleaning supplies, personal protection equipment, technology and more. About $8.4 million will go to traditional public schools, with $1.3 million headed to charter schools. Another $278,000 was set to go to private schools, but is on hold until a lawsuit is resolved. Bradenton Herald. Two more coronavirus cases have been confirmed by district officials, at Lakewood Ranch High and Ballard Elementary schools. WWSB. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: More than 27,000 students returned to classrooms Monday, while 17,000 stayed home to attend classes virtually. Superintendent Kamela Patton said the first day went well, showing how good can still come from the bad. Naples Daily News.

St. Johns: More than 26,300 students returned to district classrooms on Monday, with the number expected to rise with the phased-in return of kindergartners. Another 10,300 students are taking classes remotely. Some transportation problems were reported. St. Augustine Record. WJXT. School officials said the district has spent about $2.4 million for desk shields, cleaning supplies, thermometers and personal protection equipment. More than $1.6 million of that was for the desk shields, with nearly $150,000 being spent on digital thermometers. WJXT.

Sarasota: The first day of school brought new routines for students and employees, with students wearing masks, buses being fogged after students got off, teachers with classrooms on a computer screen, spread-out desks, cones in the hallway to direct traffic and more. “In the 32 years that I’ve been in education, this is definitely an unusual start to the school year,” said Superintendent Brennan Asplen. About 70 percent of students chose in-person learning, with the rest selecting one of two virtual options or home-schooling. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. WTSP. WFTS.

St. Lucie: Two positive coronavirus tests were reported Monday. Five workers at Port St. Lucie High School staff have been put in quarantine after a colleague became infected, and a high school student at Fort Pierce Westwood Academy also tested positive. A school official said it was unclear how many people would be required to quarantine. TCPalm.

Escambia: Escambia High School students have won an award from NASA for their design of a rover. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson: District officials reported minor problems on Day 1. “Things went well,” Superintendent Rocky Hanna said on Twitter. “The students were glad to be back — all of them had their masks on. Their parents were very, very happy to have their children back in schools.” Sporadic problems were reported by the 15,000-plus students learning remotely, but officials said they expect the problems to be resolved soon. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WCTV. Smooth first days were reported in Gadsden and Jefferson school districts. WTXL.

Okaloosa: Superintendent Marcus Chambers said the first day of school went well and added, “We are monitoring all school operations and will continue to make adjustments in the interests of safety for our students, their families, and our employees.” The first day was supposed to be Aug. 11, but was pushed back to allow more time for preparation and training. Northwest Florida Daily News. WKRC.

Alachua: About half the district’s returned to school Monday, while the rest attended classes remotely. Online students reported problems logging in. “It is a new system, and everyone is getting used to it,” said district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson. “Some of the log-in issues had to do with system being overloaded. It’s all new territory and we are trying to supply as much support as possible.” Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: The district reported that online-only students had problems signing into the Microsoft Teams platform, forcing teachers to communicate with them by email. Tampa Bay Times.

Charlotte: Superintendent Steve Dionisio said he was relieved to report no major issues on the first day of school. Students had to be reminded to put on their masks and transportation had its hiccups, but Dionisio said, “You always gauge stuff on how many calls you get, and the phone wasn’t ringing off the hook, so that’s good. The kids got to bus stops and got on the buses. We loaded back to front, which is what we’re doing now. The kids will get used to it.” Charlotte Sun.

Monroe: The phased-in school reopening process began Monday, with the most vulnerable students returning to classrooms. More students will start returning for orientation Sept. 8, on a staggered schedule, and all students who chose in-person learning will return by Sept. 14. Key West Citizen.

Holmes: District officials reported their first on-campus case of coronavirus on Monday. The student and others in close contact have been quarantined, bringing the district total to 31 students and three employees in isolation. WMBB. WJHG.

Open meeting suit settled: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission has settled a lawsuit that alleged it violated the state’s open government laws. March for Our Lives Florida, which was formed by students after the 2018 shooting at the school, sued the commission after it held a meeting at a “remote” resort that charged $18 to $32 to park. The group said the arrangement violated the open government law by deterring the public from attending and speaking. In June, a judge refused to dismiss the case. Under the settlement, the commission vowed that “every effort will be made” to hold future meetings in government or non-commercial buildings near public transportation and free parking nearby. News Service of Florida. A district judge has ruled that a lawsuit can move forward against the FBI over its handling of tips it received about the accused gunman before the 2018 shootings at Stoneman Douglas. The federal government had argued that it can’t be sued by the victims’ families under Florida law or the Federal Tort Claims Act. Sun Sentinel.

Judge backs teacher: A state administrative law judge is recommending that a teacher who whipped his son with a belt in another teacher’s Miami-Dade classroom should be reinstated. Blucher Menelas, a chemistry teacher at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, was suspended in November. In February 2019, Menelas visited Madie Ives K-8 Preparatory Academy after receiving an email from a teacher that his son was being disruptive. Menelas apologized to the class, then struck the boy with his belt in front of the class. Menelas was suspended, but Judge John Van Laningham ruled that Menelas had the right, as a parent, to discipline the boy. The recommendation now goes back to the school board. News Service of Florida.

Guardian funding shortage: The school guardian program is expected to run about $5 million short of funding needs, said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “We’re going to try to look for money and see if there are any funding sources out there or available,” he said. “If not, and there are no funding sources available anywhere at the state level, then it’s really going to fall back to the individual school districts.” There are 1,235 guardians, and 43 of the state’s 67 districts use them. WTSP.

Opinions on schools: It is true that we are not all homeschoolers and unschoolers now. To claim that we are would be like saying those displaced by natural disasters have become campers and outdoors enthusiasts. But just as veteran campers might have some words of wisdom for people navigating displacement, the literature on homeschooling and unschooling could have something to offer parents struggling in this difficult environment. Kevin Currie-Knight, redefinED. It doesn’t look like the reopening of Martin County schools caused the number of COVID-19 cases to spike. Gil Smart, TCPalm.

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