DeSantis says no more school closings for COVID, but one closure is extended, enrollment drops and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

No more school closures: No school should close because of coronavirus outbreaks, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared Tuesday during a press conference at a charter school in Jacksonville. “We’ve seen that having in-person instruction is vital and it’s something that needs to continue,” he said. “Going forward, whatever the future may hold, school closures should be off the table. … Let’s not repeat any mistakes of the past.” DeSantis was asked about two Duval schools that closed and are offering only online learning because of outbreaks. “Why did they close?” DeSantis asked a reporter. “I don’t know what happened in those instances so I don’t want to speak directly. You should not be quarantining healthy students … that really is not the way you want to go. Schools are not drivers of spreading coronavirus, and schools need to be open. It is a bad public health policy to have schools closed.” He said closures should be “surgical” and that only students with symptoms should be out of school, though he conceded that closures were local decisions. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Fox News. WPTV. Sun Sentinel. WFLA. Florida Politics. WFSU.

Eligible, but no aid: About three-quarters of the private schools in Florida that are eligible for coronavirus aid under the federal CARES Act have not received any, according to a survey by Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog. More than three months ago, Congress appropriated $13.2 billion to stabilize K-12 funding, with school districts being required to share the funds with private schools based on the number of low-income students they enrolled. More than 680 private schools that participate in the state’s scholarship programs, which SUFS helps administer, answered the survey. More than 400 were eligible for funding, but 74 percent reporting receiving no aid. redefinED.

Around the state: A second Duval County school is being closed for an extra week because of a coronavirus outbreak, student enrollment in Palm Beach County is the lowest it’s been since 2016, a tentative agreement is reached to raise starting teacher salaries in Hillsborough County by almost $7,000, about 4,700 Collier County students will switch to in-person instruction from online learning for the second quarter, Broward County might consider a policy to allow gun-detecting dogs and other animals to patrol schools, and a reading enrichment program is launched in Brevard County. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: The number of coronavirus cases reported in schools is up to at least 90 and trending upward, according to district officials. The count of the coronavirus dashboard lags because the health department has to confirm self-reported infections before they are added to the list. Broward and Monroe are also showing increases in schools. Miami Herald. A freshman at Miami Senior High School said she was targeted with a racial slur during a Zoom class from a classmate. The district said the student has been disciplined, but the girl said she got little support from the teacher or the principal when she complained, and she’s since transferred. WSVN. WTVJ.

Broward: Several school board members said they now support the idea of using dogs or other animals to search for weapons in schools, even though the district’s lawyers have advised against it and several other board members do not support it. Last year, the city of Coconut Creek obtained a labrador trained to sniff out weapons, ammunition and gun oils, with the idea of using the dog at middle and high schools in the city. But the idea was not well-received. “My community don’t want dogs in the schools,” said Rosalind Osgood, the only black member of school board. “If we had many incidents or were constantly having weapons in schools, my thinking would be different.” Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, disagrees. “The fact that 17 people died on one of our campuses is reason enough for this extra layer of protection,” she said. Administrators have begun working on a policy for the board to consider. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: As teachers and parents protested the proposed elimination of nearly 800 teaching positions at Tuesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Addison Davis announced that the district had reached a tentative agreement with the teachers union to raise the starting pay from $40,000 to $46,900 a year and give small raises or bonuses to veteran teachers. The deal, which taps into money provided by the state specifically to raise starting teacher salaries, still has to be approved by the school board and members of the union. In addition to cutting the number of teachers because of a drop in enrollment and a budget deficit of $72 million, the school board will consider letting its reserves drop from the current minimum of 5 percent to 3 percent, which is the state requirement, and put a freeze on most hiring and credit card purchases. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. WFTS. WTSP. Florida Politics. WUSF.

Palm Beach: Student enrollment is at the lowest level since 2016 and more than 7,300 students below projections, according to district officials. They aren’t sure where the students have gone, but suspect private schools got the biggest chunk, followed by the Florida Virtual School and home-schooling. Kindergarten dropped the most below expectations, at 1,416, or 12 percent, and 10 of the 16 schools that reported losses of 100 or more are elementary schools. Districts were guaranteed full aid from the state through the first semester, but chief financial officer Mike Burke said if the enrollment doesn’t rebound, the district is at risk of losing $30 million. Palm Beach Post. Teachers union officials claim some principals are refusing to let at-risk teachers work from home even when it’s feasible, and call such decisions intentionally obstinate and “shameful.” Some of those principals have complained about having to choose between students who need a teacher in their class and teachers who are worried about their health. Palm Beach Post. A 66-year-old teacher at Independence Middle School in Jupiter credits a student-initiated petition for helping save her job teaching remotely. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: District officials said Tuesday that the closure of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts will be extended another week, until Oct. 30, because of a coronavirus outbreak. “While the Department of Health continues its contact tracing work in response to the active cases of COVID-19 at our school, it is clear that the number of close contacts will exceed the district’s threshold requiring the school to stay online if more than 20 percent of the students are needing to quarantine,” the district wrote in an email to parents. On Monday, the district announced that Fletcher High School would be closed at least until Oct. 29 because of multiple cases there. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV. Tuesday, the private Providence School of Jacksonville announced that all juniors and seniors had been sent home after two coronavirus cases were reported. WJAX. WTLV.

Pasco: The school board set its security priorities for this year, with chain-link fencing restricting access at the top of the list. “We want to make sure people who aren’t supposed to be on campuses aren’t on campuses,” said Michael Baumeister, the district’s new chief of security and emergency operations. Other goals include improved communications, better signage, and continuing updates for previous steps, such as surveillance cameras. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Cape Coral police chief Dave Newlan has been hired into a new position overseeing the school district’s safety, security and emergency management operations. The board vote was 4-3, with several members questioning the need to create such a job. Superintendent Greg Adkins said the challenges presented by the coronavirus, which has forced several other administrators into responsibilities outside their routine, led to the hiring. Newlan’s salary has yet to be negotiated, but is likely to fall in the range from $102,000 to $170,000 a year. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

Brevard: A reading enrichment program has been launched at Mims Elementary School in a collaborative effort among the school district, The local NAACP chapter and the Central Florida Urban League. The program is funded through the state’s Reading Scholarship Account, which provides up to $500 to pay for materials and tutoring for 3rd- through 5th-graders who scored below level 3 on the state’s English Language Arts assessment. redefinED.

Manatee: Three more schools reported coronavirus cases on Monday, sending 21 students and employees into quarantine. Schools affected were Bayshore Elementary School, Braden River High and Palmetto High. The district total is now 136 cases and 1,572 quarantines since schools opened Aug. 17. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: About 4,700 of the district’s more than 42,000 students have chosen to switch from remote learning to in-person instruction for the next quarter that begins Nov. 2, district officials have announced. The number of students in classrooms will increase to 31,564. The learning options for students are expected to change again when the second semester begins in January, with fewer remote options. Naples Daily News.

Sarasota: School board members voted 3-2 Tuesday to extend the requirement that students wear face masks in schools until June 30, 2021. The meeting drew advocates both for and against masks in a peaceful gathering outside the meeting, although one man was removed from the meeting after refusing to wear a mask, and the FBI was alerted when an image of a woman holding a gun with the caption “Karen fights back” was used by the Sarasota County School District Transparency Project to draw people to the protest. The image was removed. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTVT. WWSB. Bradenton HeraldCharlotte Sun. WFTS.

Martin: School board members did not vote on a proclamation to declare October as LGBTQ History Month, but did approve a broader resolution to support anti-bullying and diversity by a 4-1 vote. Dozens of parents flooded the meeting to protest the proposed proclamation, while others spoke in favor of it as a way to show support for students and school employees. WPTV.

Indian River: Two students have tested positive for the coronavirus, one at Vero Beach High School and the other at Indian River Academy, resulting in 22 students and an employee being placed in isolation. WPEC.

Jackson: The new $60 million Marianna K-8 School has been completed. School board member Chris Johnson said with the difficulties of the past year, it was important to get students into the new school as soon as possible. WJHG. WMBB. Jackson County emergency services has been awarded a $24,000 grant to buy emergency “Stop the Bleeding” kits to be placed in every classroom in the district. WMBB.

Around the nation: A lawsuit filed to block the U.S. Education Department from enacting rules on the way colleges and universities have to respond to sexual misconduct allegations has been dismissed by a federal judge, who ruled that the ACLU didn’t have standing to bring the suit. The rules are intended to ensure that colleges take allegations seriously, and that no student’s guilt is predetermined. Politico Florida. Teachers unions across the United States have taken a hard line about reopening schools because of the safety risks. Some have been more successful than others. Bloomberg.

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