School closing extended, mask mandates challenged, a stampede to in-person learning, and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Around the state: Duval County is extending the closing of a high school because of the coronavirus until at least Oct. 29, parents in several districts are challenging their school boards over face mask mandates for students, protests are planned for today’s Hillsborough County School Board meeting over proposed teacher cuts, more than 10,000 Lee County students will switch from remote to in-person learning in November, Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie has withdrawn the name of a principal from a promotions list after questions about his qualifications were reported, Broward parents are being asked for their 2021-2022 school calendar preference, and Gov. Ron DeSantis said he is considering ending daily coronavirus reports in favor of periodic updates. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The number of coronavirus cases in the school district jumped 75 percent from Friday to Monday, from 48 to 84. Fifty-four of those were employees, and 30 students. At least 50 schools have been affected. Miami Herald.

Broward: The name of the principal Superintendent Robert Runcie wanted to hire as director of the office that helps some schools manage their money and inventory has been withdrawn from the promotion list after questions about his qualifications were reported. Scott Fiske, principal at Coconut Creek High, was criticized in audits because he couldn’t account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in school property over the past 15 years, and he also doesn’t meet the minimum requirements established by the school board for the job as director of the district’s Business Support Center. The board is expected to vote on that job and other personnel moves at today’s meeting. Sun Sentinel. District officials are asking parents to choose their preferred start and finish dates for the 2021-2022 school year. All three options assume a more normal year than this one. Those options are: a) start Aug. 18, Thanksgiving break Nov. 24 to 26 and June 7 as the last day; b) start Aug. 18, Thanksgiving break Nov. 22 to 26 and June 9 as the last day; and c) start Aug. 23, Thanksgiving break Nov. 24 to 26 and June 10 as the last day. Parents have until Wednesday to make their selection. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Protests are planned today against the proposed termination of hundreds of teachers because of budget problems. The school board meets at 4 p.m., and more than 25 people have signed up to speak. Superintendent Addison Davis wants to eliminate 424 teaching jobs that are vacant, 246 that are filled, and 124 temporary positions to help cut the payroll by $45 million. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS.

Orange: Two students were treated for minor injuries after a car sideswiped a school bus and then drove away northeast of Ocoee. Fifteen children were on the bus. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Duval: Fletcher High School, which closed last week because of a coronavirus outbreak, will stay closed at least through Oct. 28, district officials announced Monday. Extracurricular activities and sports are also suspended until Oct. 29. “As of yesterday, the Florida Department of Health is reporting more than 30 positive cases associated with our school community,” according to an email sent by principal James Ledford to families. “Due to the high number of positive cases, it is difficult for the Department of Health to accurately identify all close contacts, but it is clear that the number of close contacts would exceed the district’s threshold requiring the school to isolate if more than 20 percent of the students are needing to quarantine.” Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Polk: A year after a tornado ripped the roof off Kathleen Middle School and caused other damage, repairs are continuing. Principal Sheila Gregory said, “The gym is halfway done right now, this roof has just been finished. They’re working on this one right now, which is the administrative office. Building 16, which houses (career and technical education) and the elective area, the whole thing is useable.” The historical original building is still a construction zone. Lakeland Ledger. WFTS.

Pinellas: Superintendent Michael Grego has been named the national school administrator of the year by the National Association for Gifted Children. Florida Department of Education.

Lee: More than 10,000 students have decided to switch from remote to in-person learning when the second quarter of the school year begins Nov. 2. The change means 53,258 students will be in school classrooms, which is 61.4 percent of all students. Lee Home Connect, the live, virtual learning model connected to a student’s assigned school, will have 26,564 students, 4,344 will be enrolled in the Lee Virtual School, and 2,505 will be home-schooled. Fort Myers News-Press. The school board will consider approving a proposed deal that would allow the Collegiate School of Fort Myers to voluntarily close its doors. Board members decided Sept. 16 to revoke the school’s charter after an inspection showed dirty classrooms, campus safety issues and a lack of supervision for students. If the deal is approved at today’s meeting, the school would close immediately instead of going before an administrative law judge. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: Voters are being asked Nov. 3 to renew a half-cent surcharge to the sales tax to raise money for making repairs to schools and improving security and technology. The tax was first approved in 2014. If it’s renewed, an independent citizen committee will provide oversight on how the money is spent. WKMG. Merritt Island High School’s football team has been placed into quarantine for two weeks after someone connected to the team contracted the coronavirus. The district’s coronavirus dashboard lists 33 reported cases last week, resulting in 402 quarantines. WKMG. WOFL.

Volusia: School board members will consider next week whether to extend the mandatory face mask policy in schools. The original emergency order requiring face masks expires on Nov. 3. A Q&A addresses some of the issues. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A former teacher at the United Brethren Christ Academy in Holly Hill has been arrested and accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with a student. Kristen O’Brien, 31, who quit her job in September, is charged with lewd and lascivious battery and committing a sexual act on a child older than 12 but younger than 16. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Thirteen coronavirus cases were reported Monday at nine schools, resulting in quarantine orders for 124 students and employees. About half the quarantines were ordered at Tillman Elementary School in Palmetto. The number of positive tests was the most on a single day since schools reopened Aug. 17. Bradenton Herald.

Sarasota: Members of the community who want the schools to continue to require face masks and those who don’t will flood today’s school meeting, where board members are expected to decide whether to extend the mask mandate. The original 90-day order expires in November. A majority of the board has expressed support for an extension during previous board meetings. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WUSF. Recently elected school board member Tom Edwards has yet to be sworn into office, and he’s already facing calls for his resignation over comments he made about President Trump on Facebook in 2017. Edwards wrote: “So to be VERY clear, I view Trump, his regime, his supporters, and his voters as Nazis.” The same day, he added, “This is a Wealthy Aryan cleansing of the sick and the poor. Wake up America!” On Monday, Edwards said he wouldn’t resign but acknowledged that the comments were “regrettable” and “less than professional.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Alachua: Community meetings to discuss school rezonings have been changed. A virtual Zoom meeting will be held on Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. about the district’s plans to rezone students from up to nine schools when a new elementary school opens next fall. A second, in-person meeting will be held Nov. 4 from 4-8 p.m. at the school district headquarters. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: School officials have reported 78 coronavirus cases since schools opened Aug. 20. About 700 other students and employees have gone into quarantine after exposure. WMBB.

Charlotte: A 12-year-old student at L.A. Ainger Middle School in Rotonda West has been arrested and accused of threatening to kill everyone at his school and at Moody Elementary in Manatee County. A search of the boy’s home turned up no weapons. Charlotte Sun. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. WINK. WBBH.

Indian River: An employee at Dodgertown Elementary School in Vero Beach tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, but school officials said no one was in close enough contact with that person to require any quarantines. WPEC.

Monroe: Some parents have started a petition to make face masks optional for students. The petition was launched by Marcela Gregory, mother of a 4-year-old girl, who said she intends to demand the school board vote to make masks options immediately. Superintendent Theresa Axford responded by saying, “All officials are advocating masks, handwashing, social distancing and avoiding crowds. We are anxious, as you are, to (return to a time) when this isn’t required. We are not there yet. The community has to work together to control the spread of the virus.” Key West Citizen.

Okeechobee: Twenty-seven Osceola Middle School students were placed into quarantine for two weeks after another student tested positive. WPEC.

Bradford: An organizer for the Special Olympics is suing school Superintendent Stacey Creighton for defamation. In March, Jennifer Nicole Cooper requested the use of the Bradford County High School track for practice for the Special Olympics. Cooper said when the district did not respond, she attended a school board meeting and confronted and cursed at Creighton. Cooper was subsequently banned from school properties, and the district posted an explanation describing the confrontation on its Facebook page. Cooper alleges the Facebook post damaged her reputation. WJXT.

Colleges and universities: The Florida State University Panama City campus will offer free tuition for students whose families have annual incomes under $50,000. The Promise Scholarship program is expected to help up to 300 students in northwest Florida. Panama City News Herald. WMBB.

Around the nation: Education experts believe three pandemic trends will continue after the coronavirus is gone: remote learning during emergencies, a willingness to be creative and flexible toward new learning approaches, and a greater emphasis on connections between parents and schools. Education Dive. The number of cases of sexual violence in public schools increased by more than 50 percent between the 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 school years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. The 74.

Opinions on schools: If you are scoring at home, the NEA opposes public schools reopening. It also opposes parents innovating to provide their children with in-person instruction and socialization due to equity concerns. If someone actually addresses equity concerns by paying the in-person instructor, providing computer and Internet access, they are really against it. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

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