Methods of measuring coronavirus positive rate, cases mounting up, district budget-cutting and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Measuring the coronavirus: Some health experts contend that Florida is calculating coronavirus positivity rates in a way that underestimates the impact of the pandemic. Florida’s method has yielded positive test results of under 5 percent every day for more than a month, which has been cited by state officials as proof that reopening schools, businesses and even football stadiums to capacity crowds is safe. Two other ways to measure show a different picture. The state’s rate published by Johns Hopkins University and the COVID Tracking Project has held steady at over 10 percent since the middle of June. On Tuesday, this calculation has Florida’s positivity rate at 11.7 percent while Florida reported 4.99 percent. Another measure, recommended by the World Health Organization, shows Florida’s rate has averaged 5.87 percent for the past two weeks, and hasn’t been below 5 percent for 14 consecutive days in four months. WHO recommends a rate of below 5 percent for two weeks before reopening. Florida’s preferred calculation is “more controversial,” said Jason Salemi, an associate professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. “You tend to not see it in a lot of other places.” Officials from the governor’s office, the Department of Health and the Florida Department of Emergency Management would not explain their reasoning for how the positivity rate is calculated, but call it the “best” measure. Sun Sentinel.

Around the state: The Florida Department of Health reported 1,557 new coronavirus cases related to K-12 schools and colleges last week, bringing the total to 8,080 since Sept. 6, Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis announces staff cuts that will save $45 million, two schools are temporarily closed in the Miami-Dade and Duval school districts after coronavirus cases are reported, Pasco may extend its requirement to wear face masks at schools, and the hybrid learning option will disappear from some Manatee County schools. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: Students at Coral Park Elementary School were sent home Wednesday to learn remotely after three students and an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. “In an abundance of caution and after consultation with the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade, Coral Park Elementary School will pivot to online instruction today after an employee and a student reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. The transition ensured that those who came in close contact with the individuals were notified and that all buildings in the school were thoroughly sanitized,” said chief communications officer Daisy Gonzalez-Diego. The school is expected to reopen today. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Plans to cut the Hillsborough County School District budget include not filling 424 vacant positions, eliminating 105 temporary teachers among 333 being terminated, and reducing the district staff by another 20 jobs, Superintendent Addison Davis announced Wednesday in an email to employees. Those changes would be effective Oct. 26, and would trim $45 million from the payroll. Davis said he would not be cutting music, art, International Baccalaureate or magnet programs, but acknowledged that some of those teachers may be reassigned or be required to teach at two schools. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFTS. The Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando school districts have now reported more than 1,000 cases of the coronavirus since schools reopened in late August. Hillsborough has had 516, Pasco 225, Pinellas 211 and Hernando 51. The combined enrollment of the districts is  411,598, and up to 40 percent of those students are learning remotely. Tampa Bay Times.

Central Florida: Central Florida school districts say they’re seeing a severe shortage of substitute teachers. In Orange County, for example, the pool of subs is about 1,000, which is half of what the district wants. Kelly Education Services provides subs for Orange, Seminole and Polk school districts. Cheryl Courier, a vice president with Kelly, said, “COVID-19 is impacting our substitute teachers, just like it impacts our teachers, our substitutes have the same concerns. Also a substitute teacher gets a lot less money than a full-time teacher and doesn’t have those benefits, so you are asking them to take larger risks without getting anything in return.” WKMG.

Palm Beach: Only three classrooms in the district do not have desks spaced at least 6 feet apart, according to deputy superintendent Keith Oswald. He said district workers have walked through every classroom and in some cases rearranged the furniture to provide more spacing. Parents are now being asked to commit to a method of learning for the next quarter. Some schools will be able to handle additional students who wish to return after a quarter of remote learning, but others will be challenged. Palm Beach Post.

Duval, northeast Florida: Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach has been closed until Monday after at least 16 coronavirus cases were reported. It’s the first Duval County school to be fully closed since classrooms reopened Aug. 20. Students will follow their classes remotely. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV. Department of Health statistics show that the number of coronavirus cases among high school students has generally been higher in 11 northeast Florida cases than those reported in middle and elementary schools. The number of cases in Duval County has increased by 134 percent since Sept. 26, and 120 percent in Clay County. WJXT.

Pasco: Pasco County School Board members will consider extending the requirements that face masks be worn at school through the end of the academic year. The existing rule was approved as an emergency measure that would expire in 90 days. The new proposal will be discussed at a working meeting Tuesday. Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee: Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said the hybrid model of learning, which mixes two days of in-person learning and three days of online classes each week, will continue only at those schools where parents have shown enough interest to justify creating classes. Results from a district survey show that the hybrid option was chosen for just 1 percent of elementary students, compared with 13 percent of those in middle school and 23 percent in high school. Saunders said the surveys will determine if schools continue to offer the hybrid model. “They will be looking at those,” she said. “Where they can accommodate it, they certainly will. If they can’t, they will be calling those parents and then giving them other opportunities or options.” Elementary students are expected to switch to either in-person or virtual classes this month, while the rest of students who go to schools where the hybrid model will disappear will make the change in early November. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Three more high schools reported coronavirus infections resulting in quarantines. Since schools reopened Aug. 17, the district has counted 109 infections and 1,239 exposures and quarantines. Bradenton Herald.

Collier, southwest Florida: Collier County parents have until midnight Friday to decide whether to change the way their children are being taught. Students can attend school in-person or select the district’s virtual option with flexible learning for the next quarter, which begins Nov. 2. About 62 percent of students now attend classes in schools. Naples Daily News. Thousands of coronavirus test kits have been sent to southwest Florida school districts. Lee  received 3,000, Collier 1,280 and Charlotte 320, though Charlotte is expected to get another 2,000-plus. WINK.

Lake: School board members have decided Lake Pointe Academy will be the name for a K-8 school that’s opening next fall. Now they’re asking the community to vote on a mascot. The four options are the blue jay, tortoise, tortuga and ibis. Voting will be conducted on the school’s Facebook page, and the deadline is Oct. 30. Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: The district’s teachers union has dropped a defamation lawsuit it filed last year against school board member Shirley Brown. In her 2018 campaign mailers, Brown said “labor unions have illegally spent $71,449.30 trying to elect Karen Rose,” her opponent. Pat Gardner, president of the union, said Brown’s deposition made it clear that the donation was not illegal, and that “with a new superintendent, it is time to move forward in a positive way for our classrooms and students.” WWSB.

Clay: A 66-year-old school bus driver who had planned to retire this year has died of complications from the coronavirus. Gail Brusseau’s husband Bill said she became ill about three weeks into the school year, and tested positive. She died Oct. 9. WJXT.

Leon: Leon High School senior Anna Logan, 17, is one of 16 U.S. students selected for the 2020-21 national advisory board for the Students Demand Action group, an offshoot of the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund advocating for common sense gun laws and social reform. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: The band director at Buchholz High School has been placed on administrative leave while Alachua sheriff’s deputies investigate undisclosed allegations against him. Shawn Barat has been the school’s band director since 2015. Gainesville Sun. About 1,200 more Zoom licenses, 1,500 computer monitors, 435 bluetooth headsets and 60 documents cameras have been purchased by the school district with the $1.3 million in federal coronavirus aid that the county commission recently gave it. Gainesville Sun.

Indian River: Bill Wilson Jr., a longtime teacher, coach and the assistant principal at Sebastian River High School until his retirement three months ago, died Tuesday at his Sebastian home. He was 57. His death comes just a month after his father, Bill Wilson Sr., who was also an educator and coach, died at the age of 81. TCPalm.

Charlotte: Coronavirus cases are on the rise in the county, but not at district schools, health director Joe Pepe told county commissioners this week. Mask-wearing and comprehensive cleaning practices have limited the number of cases reported by schools to about two a day, he said. Charlotte Sun. Two schools were placed on lockdown this week when a man with a gun was spotted near Vineland Elementary School. The 35-year-old man told deputies he had been hired to hunt iguanas, and was carrying a pellet gun. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Monroe: The school board has given final approval to build a 20-unit, affordable housing project for teachers and administrators beside the Sugarloaf School. Construction is expected to begin next year. The school will be rebuilt at the same time. Key West Citizen. An Islamorada man was arrested Monday and accused of crashing his Jeep Wrangler into several gates at Coral Shores High School on Sept. 14. Wyatt Ellis Cadwell, 23, is accused of property damage and trespassing. He offered no motive for allegedly ramming the gates until he broke through. WLPG. WBBH.

Levy: Chris Cowart and Jerry Lawrence are in the runoff election Nov. 3 to replace Jeff Edison as superintendent of the Levy County School District. Edison, who has held the job for 33 years, finished third in the August primary. Both said their primary goal is to raise student achievement. In 2018, the district  ranked 57th out of 67 in the state by that measure. Cowart, 45, works in a family business and is a member of the school board. Lawrence, 63, is a longtime teacher and administrator. WUFT.

Gadsden: The Gadsden County High School newspaper, the Gadsden County Gazette, has won second place in the American Scholastic Press Association competition among 30 schools that entered in its category. Tallahassee Democrat.

Taylor: A report by an investigating committee has concluded that there is racial discrimination in the hiring process at the Taylor County School District. The investigation began after an applicant was denied a job and claimed racial bias. The committee concluded she did not face racial discrimination, but did uncover what it called “systemic racial issues” against minority job applicants. “There were troubling and astonishing irregularities in the hiring processes and in the procedures of the school district that eliminate minorities from potential positions, potential hiring’s, potential promotions, and even within the guidelines or the process of developing procedures,” said committee member Douglas Wallace. The school board said it would have no comment until the report is reviewed by Superintendent Danny Glover Jr. WCTV.

More on the coronavirus: Mandatory coronavirus testing in U.S. K-12 schools was condemned Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC endorses voluntary testing, but said “it is unethical and illegal to test someone who does not want to be tested, including students whose parents or guardians do not want them to be tested.” The agency issued the guidance after New York City schools began random testing on students and employees. Politico.

Gifted education: Education experts know there’s a problem with equity in gifted education. While white students make up about 50 percent of overall public school enrollment, they take about 60 percent of the spots in gifted programs while black students, who make up 15 percent of enrollment, hold just 9 percent. But it’s not clear how district can fix that inequity. The Hechinger Report.

A million scholarships: Nearly 20 years after Step Up For Students handed out its first tax credit scholarship, the nonprofit has reached the 1 million mark. “I’ve said from the very beginning my goal was that someday every low-income and working-class family could choose the learning environment that is best for their children just like families with money already do,” said John F. Kirtley, founder of Step Up for Students, the state’s largest K-12 scholarship funding organization and host of this blog. Step Up now helps administer five scholarship programs that benefit 140,000 students. redefinED. WFSU. Florida Politics.

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