DeSantis calls school closings a mistake, Miami-Dade reopening, Runcie’s mixed review, choice and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

DeSantis raps school closings: Closing schools in March because of the coronavirus pandemic was one of the country’s biggest “public health mistakes,” Gov. Ron DeSantis asserted during a radio interview Friday. “In March we may not have had all the information, but in hindsight, knowing what we know now, the closure of schools was one of the biggest public health mistakes in modern American history,” DeSantis insisted. “So, now we’re at the point where the people who advocate school closures are really the flat earthers of our day. They’re not doing it based on data. They’re not doing it based on evidence. They’re doing it based on either politics or emotion. And so, the harm of school closures, I think, is really considerable.” DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have pushed for schools to reopen to students this year. By the end of this week, all districts will open classrooms for students who have chosen in-person instruction. News Service of Florida. Fox News.

Teachers with coronavirus: Nearly 190 Florida teachers and 145 other school employees tested positive for the coronavirus between Sept. 6 and Sept. 26, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard compiled by the Florida Department of Health. Brevard has had 15 teachers infected, the most in the state, followed by Duval and Polk with 13 and Hillsborough with 12. The data is updated every Tuesday. Florida Phoenix. The DOH’s coronavirus dashboard covering all state schools is getting mixed reviews. Critics said the information is incomplete, at odds with reports from individual districts, doesn’t answer questions like how the data was collected or why some schools are missing, and doesn’t resolve the fears of many parents about the safety of their children in the state’s 4,500-plus schools, colleges and universities. The Center Square.

Around the state: Miami-Dade officials said they are ready to reopen all schools for students today, Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie receives a mixed review from the school board, the chaotic Palm Beach school opening caused problems for students, and school choice gets strong support in another poll. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: School district officials said they are ready for the reopening of all classrooms to students today. “Spent the day conducting school visits and touring one of our bus facilities,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho wrote on Twitter and Instagram. “Air filters have been replaced, front offices are properly equipped, our buses have hand sanitizer and appropriate signage, and our empty classrooms are ready to welcome students back.” But not everyone agrees. Teachers said there’s a shortage of sanitation supplies such as wipes, antibacterial soap and thermometers for children, not every school will have a nurse, social distancing will be difficult to maintain, and many are worried about trying to teach both in-person and online students simultaneously. About 22,000 students are expected to return. Miami Herald. WSVN. WPLG.

Broward: Six of the nine school board members have rated Superintendent Robert Runcie as highly effective or effective, with the other three saying he needs improvement or is ineffective. His overall score was 2.8 out of 4, the same grade he was given last year. In his self-evaluation, Runcie rated himself as highly effective. His best marks from the board came for students’ academic achievements and his leadership through the pandemic, and his worst for communications, the sometimes chaotic path taken toward reopening schools and the troubles the district has had completing school renovation projects under the $800 million bond program. Sun Sentinel. The family of a student shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018 has released a video created with artificial intelligence that has the student pleading with his peers to vote. “I’ve been gone for two years and nothing’s changed, bro. People are still getting killed by guns,” the re-creation of Joaquin Oliver says in the video. “You’ve got to replace my vote.” It was created by his parents’ charity, which works to end gun violence. Florida Politics.

Tampa Bay area: Almost 700 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in K-12 schools, colleges and universities in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties in the month since schools reopened. The number of cases has gone up steadily each week, though no public schools have been closed. Not all districts report quarantine totals, but Pasco’s total of 2,909 suggests the number could be about 14,000 for all four districts. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: The chaos and uncertainty leading up to the reopening of the district’s public schools continued during the first two weeks of classes for students who opted for in-person learning as well as those taking classes remotely. Nearly 1,000 teachers took personal leave instead of returning to schools, and the district couldn’t find enough subs to replace them. The subs were often unable to log into the virtual learning system, leaving students unattended. Some teachers on leave went ahead and taught classes from home even though they weren’t being paid. One said leaving her class unattended was “not fair to the kids.” The problems have district officials scrambling to reorganize classrooms for the second quarter, which starts Nov. 4. The first step is requiring parents to choose between in-person and remote learning for their children by Oct. 14. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Four community meetings will be held this month by the school board to get input from residents as it begins to build a strategic plan for the next several years. The first is tonight at Raines High School. “To be true partners in education, board members need the opportunity to engage with all members of our community so we can understand their collective vision for our schools,” said board chair Warren Jones. “Only with our community’s feedback can we develop a strategic plan that honors the values of our community.” Florida Times-Union.

Polk: District officials said they will no longer update their coronavirus dashboard since the state is now publishing the information. The state report is broken down by individual schools and identifies if the infected person is a student, teacher or other employee. But its numbers have differed from those published by some districts, and the report is posted every Tuesday instead of every day as the Polk report was. Lakeland Ledger. Esther Hammer has been named the Adult and Community Educators of Florida volunteer of the year Award over nominees from 17 other districts. Hammer, 86, has volunteered at the East Area Adult Education Center in Auburndale for more than 20 years. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: Forty-nine new cases of the coronavirus were reported last week in 35 schools, according to the district’s coronavirus dashboard, resulting in 455 students and employees being quarantined. Florida Today. A mother who complained after her 1st-grade daughter was twice put on a school bus instead of waiting to be picked up from Audubon Elementary School on Merritt Island has been issued a trespass warning by a deputy for threatening the school. Kayla Magnuson, 29, acknowledged she created a scene at the school Sept. 21, cursing and shouting, when her daughter wasn’t there when she came to pick her up, but denied making any threats. Florida Today.

Volusia: Incumbent Ida Wright is facing radiographer Anita Burnette in the runoff Nov. 3 for the District 2 seat on the school board. Burnette got 48 percent of the vote in the primary to Wright’s 39 percent. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Johns, Clay: Teachers and the St. Johns and Clay school districts were unable to reach contract agreements before the Oct. 1 deadline for submitting teacher raise plans to the state. Negotiations will continue. WJXT. Florida’s school districts have started submitting their teacher pay proposals to the state. The Legislative approved $500 million for raises in its last session, with Gov. DeSantis setting an aspirational goal of increasing starting teacher pay to $47,500 a year over the course of a couple of years. Not every district will be able to reach that goal this year, but all are required to submit their plans for getting there to the state for approval. The overall plan is due now. By Dec. 1, districts must submit a detailed report, and by Aug. 1, 2021, the final teacher raises report is due to the Department of Education. WFTS.

Leon: Sixty-three students and 26 district employees have tested positive for the coronavirus since Sept. 1, according to school officials. Lawton Chiles High School has recorded the most cases: 20 students and two employees. Tallahassee Democrat. Q&A with the Leon County school superintendent candidates, incumbent Rocky Hanna and Pam Hightower. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: The school district is asking a TV station to pay about $18,000 for a public records request relating to a federal subpoena of communications between the district and contractors for several construction projects. The district wants half the fee paid upfront. WJHG. Kindergarten students at Hiland Park Elementary School in Panama City have started building and programming robots. Panama City News Herald.

Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River: A Martin County High School junior and a former classmate now in college have created an app that acts as a digital hall pass, can monitor possible crowd sizes and hallway traffic and create a list of possible close contacts with students who test positive for the coronavirus. The app, named Passable, was created by junior Joseph Semrai and Samuel Crombie, a Martin County High graduate who is now a sophomore at Dartmouth College. WPTV. More than 160 students and 16 employees were advised to quarantine last week in the St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River school districts after coronavirus cases were reported at multiple schools. TCPalm. WPTV.

Citrus: The candidates for the District 2 school board seat, incumbent Ginger Bryant and Danielle Damato Doty, talk about their goals for the district if elected. Citrus County Chronicle.

More on the coronavirus: Education experts say a shortage of teachers could change the way teachers are hired. A report from the American Institutes for Research suggests that schools should consider the “neo-differentiated staffing model,” in which teachers are organized into teams and are assigned roles that align with their skills and experience. Education Dive. Tutoring programs, especially those led by teachers or paraprofessionals, significantly improve students’ learning outcomes, according to a recent report from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. The report also shows that in-school tutoring is more effective than after-school help. Education Dive.

School choice support: A recent poll taken of likely voters in five states has shown that Americans, especially those who are nonwhite, favor expanded school choice options. Between 66 percent and 70 percent support state-funded school choice programs, according to the Manhattan Institute report, and support was higher among black respondents in all but one of the five states. redefinED.

Testing cancellations: Seven months since the pandemic began to shut down schools, the companies that administer the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams are still canceling test dates, often at the last minute and without notice. At least 1.5 million students have missed tests because of cancellations. Forbes.

Opinions on schools: Many or most faculty today see themselves as agents of reform to aid the poor. Yet they are surprisingly uncomfortable and inarticulate about “vouchers” and – for such analytic minds – have difficulty saying just why they resist change toward parental choice. John E. Coons, redefinED. As important as returning everyone to school buildings as safely as humanly possible, is the need for absolute transparency from the school district. The community must know where the coronavirus has been found in schools and its other facilities, how people will be alerted and what remedial measure will be taken — including shutting down again if need be. Miami Herald. We live in a modern, virtual and customizable society yet our education system reflects an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach. It’s time we modernize and adapt so that each student can succeed and every family has the ability to do what’s right for their child. Heather Moraitis, Sun Sentinel.

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