No COVID surge in schools so far, Hillsborough may borrow $75 million to pay bills, and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

No COVID surge so far: A feared surge in coronavirus cases fueled by school reopenings in August hasn’t happened, according to an analysis. Data from the Florida Department of Health shows that the positive case rate for children 5 to 17 years old has declined through late September since its peak in July. Health officials credit mask-wearing, social distancing, quarantining and effective contact tracing. “Many of the schools that have been able to successfully open have also been implementing control measures that are an important part of managing spread in these schools,” said Dr. Nathaniel Beers, who serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on School Health. But health experts also noted that the rate of decline has slowed in areas after schools reopened, and warned that any loosening of restrictions could fuel a resurgence. USA Today. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows that adolescents have higher coronavirus rates than younger children, and that race and underlying medical conditions are factors in how seriously ill children get when infected. The CDC studied 277,000 confirmed cases among school-age children. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Hillsborough school officials may borrow $75 million to make the payroll and pay bills, the Miami-Dade County School District meets today to respond to the state’s demand to reopen Monday, a Sarasota County School Board member is under an investigation for alleged and undisclosed election criminal misconduct, and Marion County’s new school superintendent gets high marks for her first 90 days. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: School board members meet today to consider two options in responding to the state’s demand that schools reopen by Oct. 5. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is recommending that the board comply, and change the timeline it set last week to allow schools to reopen Monday. Doing so would ensure continuation of state funding. The second option is to stick with the original timeline of phasing in the reopening, starting Oct. 14 and concluding Oct. 21, and authorize the administration to try to get the state’s approval for a phased-in reopening that would start Monday. If the board chooses the second option, administrators would have to submit plans for 340 schools. Board chair Perla Tabares Hantman said she wants more options, such as a staggered start. “I honestly feel that to open the schools on the fifth as it says, I don’t believe this will be in the best interest of the students all at the same time,” she said. “I don’t believe operations is ready to do that.” The deadline for the board to respond is Friday. Miami Herald.

Broward: A 15-year-old student from Weston was arrested last weekend and accused of threatening a school shooting. The boy, who attends a private school in Broward, reportedly admitted making the threatening video. He faces a charge of making written threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism. WFOR. WPEC.

Hillsborough: The school district’s cash reserves are expected to dwindle to one day’s worth of expenses by Nov. 9, prompting the district to propose borrowing $75 million against anticipated tax revenue to meet the payroll and pay other routine bills. “In all my years of being with this district, we are in the worst financial shape I have ever experienced,” board member Lynn Gray said. Colleague Karen Perez said, “This is definitely an alarm for us.” The tone of the school board majority was a marked change from earlier last week, when members questioned Superintendent Addison Davis on the need to make staff cuts. The board will vote Oct. 6 on the proposal. Tampa Bay Times. The district is rolling out its new crisis alert security system. All 25,000 district employees will get crisis alert badges, which have a button they can push in an emergency to send alerts to law enforcement, school resource officers and other school officials. WFTS. Bruce Burnham, a longtime teacher at Armwood High School and P.A. announcer at the school’s football games, died Saturday of cancer at the age of 68. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Orange, central Florida: Vicki-Elaine Felder and Michael Scott square off Nov. 3 in the race for the District 3 school board seat. Scott made the ballot when the primary runnerup, Bruce Antone, dropped out of the race during a hearing challenging his residency. Orlando Sentinel. Many students in central Florida who opted for remote learning because of the coronavirus outbreak are finding that they like the flexibility it offers well enough to consider it as an option after the pandemic. Villages Daily Sun.

Duval: The school district had made several changes to its coronavirus dashboard. It will only list cases that “impact school operations,” won’t include charter schools, and will be updated at around 10 p.m. each day instead of 8. Officials said the changes could mean the total number of students and employees who test positive may be higher than shown on the dashboard. Since schools reopened, 103 cases have been reported at 58 different schools. Florida Times-Union.

Sarasota: The Hillsborough County state attorney has been appointed to investigate an allegation of election criminal misconduct against Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson. Ed Brodsky, the Sarasota County state attorney, said he employs Robinson on his re-election campaign and asked for an outside state attorney to avoid a conflict of interest. The nature of the allegation, which was filed by a county resident, has not been disclosed. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. Last December, middle school students at the Sarasota Military Academy charter school ran a pandemic simulation that was eerily similar to what happened just weeks later when the coronavirus began its spread around the globe. Students learned about how viruses spread and how all-consuming they can be, and eventually came to a consensus on how to attack it even though they didn’t find a vaccine and the death rate was about 35 percent. “In school it was: ‘OK, this is a problem. People are dying. How can we stop it?’ ” said Grace Wagler, who’s now in high school. “The thing that annoys me the most is that this has become a political issue when it should be a ‘Let’s not let people die’ issue.” Wired.

Marion: Superintendent Diane Gullett has been on the job just 90 days, but she’s already made a good impression on the school board. “I am trying to organize all of my enthusiasm into one complete sentence,” said board vice chair Nancy Thrower. “She has come in with such a calm and direct leadership style.” Board chair Eric Cummings echoed that. “She is doing an excellent job so far. She is really making some inroads, making a difference.” Ocala Star-Banner. The district continues to struggle with remote learning. Teachers complain that dealing with technical issues is reducing their instructional time and that there’s less academic accountability because students who can’t be seen during testing, and parents complain that children with learning disabilities aren’t getting the education they need. “It’s going to be difficult, because it’s new,” said board chair Cummings. WUFT.

Leon: A state-issued complaint against a Leon County principal has been dismissed by an administrative law judge. Gilchrist Elementary School principal David Solz was reprimanded by the district in 2018 for his relationship with a teacher at the school. The Department of Education issued the complaint Sept. 5, 2019. The law judge threw it out after determining that Solz had not engaged in a sexual relationship with the teacher when she was a direct report to him, that he took reasonable measures to notify the district administration of his interest before beginning a relationship, and that the teacher offered to transfer to avoid any appearance of a conflict. Solz is now the principal at Astoria Park Elementary School. Tallahassee Reports.

Indian River: An employee at the Indian River Academy in Vero Beach has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to district officials. Fourteen students and four other staff members are in quarantine. WPEC.

Alachua: Help for the county’s homeless families with schoolchildren is coming in the form of a $500,000 grant through the Housing Stability for Homeless Schoolchildren Initiative from the Florida Housing Finance Corp. The money will help up to 40 families with rent, and security and utility deposits for up to two years, and offer mental health, dental care, food assistance and budgeting and financial literacy assistance. Trey Price, executive director of Florida Housing, said those are all factors in determining whether children stay in school. WCJB.

Sumter: The school district is one of 17 in the state to be named an Academically High-Performing School District by the Florida Board of Education. Districts are judged by their school and district grades for the 2018-2019 school year, financial audits for 2018-2019 and class size compliance for 2019-2020.  Villages Daily Sun.

Monroe: Three students and one school employee have tested positive for the coronavirus since schools resumed Sept. 14, according to the district’s coronavirus dashboard. Schools affected are Plantation Key School, Marathon Middle/High and Stanley Switlik Elementary. WLRN. Miami Herald.

More on the coronavirus: The federal government plans to ship up to 100 million rapid coronavirus tests to states in the next few weeks, and President Trump is urging governors to use them to help reopen K-12 schools. Associated Press. Several states are investing in data broadcasting technology that provide connectivity through TV broadcast signals to any wireless enabled device in areas without Internet access. Education Dive.

Opinions on schools: North Las Vegas’ mayor has launched a bold new initiative to deliver digital learning and custodial care to students in the city: in-person homeschool co-op learning sessions, with students receiving live tutoring and participating in enriching activities in a safe, socially distant environment at a cost of just $2 per day. Is this model a solution? Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

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