‘Significant’ budget cuts, phased-in reopenings, school closes, teachers aide dies of COVID and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

The coming budget crunch: The state budget, and the amount of money allocated for education from it, was Topic A in the capital last week. Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, told a group of business leaders that there would be “significant” cuts to the budget, including education, because of the state’s economic losses from the coronavirus pandemic. That austerity could last three to four years, he said. With enrollment in public schools also dropping, state education leaders and the Florida Education Association teachers union have formally requested the state to fund schools at their current levels this academic year instead of sticking to the set amount per student. “If you’re going to commit to opening schools, you have to commit the resources to make it happen,” said Dan Smith, president of the Seminole Education Association. “You can’t just make it superficial.” Miami Herald. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay TimesWKMG.

Around the state: Broward County is now proposing that the return of students to schools be phased in, an Orange County high school has closed for two weeks after reporting 10 cases of the coronavirus, a group of Palm County teachers are asking for an emergency injunction to halt the return of in-school instruction, Pinellas district officials have rejected a union request to survey teachers on how they feel about simultaneous teaching, a teacher’s assistant in Volusia County has died of complications from the coronavirus, and Escambia County schools are still closed today and Tuesday because of power and water outages caused by Hurricane Sally last week.  Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools:

South Florida: With south Florida schools scheduled to return to in-person classrooms in the next few weeks, parents are wondering how much information they’ll be able to get from districts about coronavirus cases so they can make informed family health decisions. While every district approaches disclosure slightly differently, the experiences of districts around the state would suggest that little information will be released about what’s happening in individual classrooms and that coronavirus dashboards may or may not be updated in a timely manner. Sun Sentinel. South Florida schools that are close to reopening have had a week and a half to study what the academic year will be like for students and staff after the Renaissance Charter School at Wellington went live Sept. 9. Sun Sentinel.

Miami-Dade: Students with special needs have struggled to adapt to the district’s online-only instructional model because of the hands-off learning approach, sitting through long class periods starting at a computer, and difficulty negotiating online class calendars, assignments, documents and messages. Yvette Torres Casas, who has a 6th-grader with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said, “It has been insane, frustrating and exhausting. We need in-person, old-fashioned school. Too many kids, parents and teachers are ending the day in tears.” Miami Herald.

Broward: Superintendent Robert Runcie’s plan to get students back into schools Oct. 5, proposed last week, is already changing. Now it calls for students in elementary and K-8 schools to return Oct. 5, with middle and high school students who chose in-person instruction returning to classrooms Oct. 12. The school board will discuss the proposal, and vote on the budget, at Tuesday’s meeting. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. A technicality could allow three deputies fired for their actions during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018 to get their jobs back. Florida law requires internal affairs investigators to swear that they’ve read reports about officers and that the forms are accurate. But the Broward County Sheriff’s Office forms didn’t have that line until June 25, 2019, and that omission was cited by arbitrators in recommending the deputies be rehired. Sun Sentinel. A science class at MacArthur High School in Hollywood was exposed to an online explicit act by hackers on Sept. 2. Inside one of the boxes during a videoconferenced class was a young couple engaged in a sexual act. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay: Enrollment is down, spending on precautions against the coronavirus is up and cuts will be coming to many of the 250 schools in the county, Superintendent Addison Davis wrote in an email sent to parents over the weekend. WTSP. More than 120 students and employees at the Tampa Bay area school districts of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando tested positive for the coronavirus last week, bringing the total to 363 since schools reopened. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: West Orange High School has become the second county school to close after 10 positive coronavirus tests were reported among students last week. The school is switching to online-only learning for the next two weeks for its 920 students. Almost 160 students and employees who were exposed to those students infected have been advised to go into quarantine for two weeks. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. WKMG. WESH. WFTV. The school district has reversed an earlier decision and will allow marching bands, cheerleaders, dancers and ROTC to perform at high school football games. “After review of the data, we are comfortable with allowing cheerleaders, pep bands, dancers and color guard to attend the next game if desired,” Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said in an email to employees. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Eight teachers are asking a court for an emergency injunction to stop the reopening of classrooms to students, claiming the district’s “chaotic” reopening plan puts their lives at risk. The teachers involved in the lawsuit are ones who applied for remote teaching positions but were turned down. The district’s teachers union said it is not associated with the suit. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. WPTV. Nearly 60 percent of the district’s students expect to continue with remote learning instead of returning to classrooms that reopen today. Students have been learning remotely since Aug. 31. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. WPTV.

Duval: District officials said they’re worried that poor ventilation caused by balky air-conditioning systems could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus in schools. Students began returning to classrooms last week. Seventh- and 8th-graders return today, and high school students who chose in-person learning will be back by Sept. 28. The district has had air-conditioning and other infrastructure problems for years, and is asking voters Nov. 3 to approve an extra half-cent in the sales tax to help pay for repairs. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Polk: Many county high school juniors were unpleasantly surprised when they got word that they were to report for Florida Standards Assessments tests last week in subjects they hadn’t passed in their freshman and sophomore years. They thought they were exempt because the state canceled the assessments last spring. But that was only for one year. Lakeland Ledger. Three students, a principal and a volunteer from Mulberry have been honored by the Florida Migrant Education Program for their contributions to the migrant community. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: District officials have rejected a request by the teachers union to conduct a survey measuring teachers’ opinions of simultaneous learning, in which in-person and online learners both attend a single class taught by the same person. Spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas said instead, the district will ask for specific complaints directly from teachers. “We will be able to target their specific challenges,” she said. “Not everybody is having the same struggle.” Union officials are unhappy with the proposal, saying teachers are unlikely to say they need help because that could be used against them on their evaluations. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: The district and its teachers union resume contract negotiations today. Agreements have been reached on paid parental leave and health insurance premiums, but the sides remain deadlocked on issues of pay. The district is offering to raise the base salary from $39,226 to $46,650, with those already at or over the minimum getting an extra $700. The union proposed $45,500 for new teachers and $1,300 for veterans. Florida Today. Twenty-four coronavirus cases have been confirmed in schools since Tuesday, with 204 students and employees being placed into quarantine. Florida Today.

Seminole: District officials say students learning remotely will not be required to return to campuses to take their nine-week assessments tests in such subjects as language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. WKMG.

Volusia: Shyla Pennington, a teacher’s assistant at Sugar Mill Elementary School in Port Orange, has died of complications from the coronavirus. Grief counselors will be at the school today to counsel students and employees. WFTV. After hearing story after story from parents about problems with the district’s virtual learning system, school board members directed interim superintendent Carmen Balgobin to correct it. “It is your responsibility to get this right,” board chair Ida Wright told Balgobin. “And that’s our directive. Fix it. Fix it.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A principal who was suspended for reporting to school while he was awaiting a coronavirus test has returned to work at Kinnan Elementary School. According to district documents, Paul Hockenbury was tested Aug. 12, and it came back positive Aug. 16. In between those days he worked at Kinnan and also visited visited Williams Elementary School. Hockenbury apologized for his actions, but disagreed with his punishment. Bradenton Herald. School boards will consider a proposal at Tuesday’s meeting to collaborate with MCR Health to offer telehealth services in schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Lake: The district’s ACT Reading Prep Program gets a boost with a $5,000 contribution from the Clay Electric Foundation. The money will be used to buy student manuals, teacher lesson plans and training and professional development services, said district officials. Daily Commercial.

Marion: Nine students and 10 employees tested positive for the coronavirus in county schools between Sept. 11 and 17,  resulting in quarantines being advised for 105 students and 22 employees. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: The number of teachers resigning since schools started is up sharply in Martin and Indian River counties. Schools in Martin opened Aug. 11. Between then and Sept. 4, 26 teachers resigned compared to two during the first four weeks a year ago. In Indian River County, seven teachers resigned between Aug. 24 and Sept. 4, compared to zero in the first two weeks of school a year ago. In St. Lucie County, nine teachers resigned during the first two weeks of school compared to 14 a year ago. TCPalm. A student at Indian River Charter High School has tested positive for the coronavirus, and 17 students have been advised to quarantine. Fourteen students have now tested positive since schools opened Aug. 24, and more than 200 have been quarantined. TCPalm.

Northwest Florida: Escambia County schools will remain closed today and Tuesday because of debris on campuses and in the roads, and because several schools still are without power and water service. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. Okaloosa school officials are asking the Florida Department of Education for a waiver for five hours of instructional time in grades 6-8 that were lost when Hurricane Sally closed schools all of last week. Walton County officials are still considering whether to ask for a waiver. Superintendent Russell Hughes said the district’s early start has provided a hedge in making sure students get the required instructional time, and has options if it needs to make up time. Northwest Florida Daily News. Many Okaloosa parents are adapting to the challenges of virtual learning, but are happy to limit their children’s exposure to the coronavirus. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Gadsden: Hurricane Sally caused flooding inside five county schools, but Superintendent Roger Milton said it has been cleaned up and schools will reopen today. WCTV.

Glades: Three Moore Haven Middle-High School students have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Superintendent Kim Jordan. Ninety-three students and 22 employees were sent home. WINK. WFTX.

Police in schools: The ACLU of Florida has developed a handbook for students to explain the rights they have when they’re confronted by police officers in schools. Another group, the nonprofit Playground City, has developed a card game that also shows students their rights, in anime form. Florida Phoenix. The Minneapolis school district, which terminated its contract with the police department to provide school officers after George Floyd died in police custody, has hired 11 “public safety support specialists.” More than half have a law enforcement background. The 74.

Opinions on schools: Over the past quarter-century, Florida has expanded education choice as much as any state in America, driven by commitments to equity and diversity as much as liberty and competition. Yet, rather than succumb to the phantom menace of “privatization,” Florida’s education system has morphed from punchline to pacesetter, and students disadvantaged by poverty and disability have experienced some of the biggest academic gains. Ron Matus, The Hill. Official reports of public school budgets and spending seldom have been easy for the common taxpayer, like myself, to understand. Whether too much, too little, or just the right sum, there are many among us who would like the chance to see that the money got to its assigned place and is performing its assigned task. John E. Coons, redefinED.

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