Public school enrollment dips, unaccounted for students sought, virtual field trips and more

Camille Knox

Around the nation: President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Miguel Cardona as education secretary. Cardona was appointed Connecticut’s education chief just months before COVID-19 pandemic began, and helped provide 100,000 laptops to students across the state as schools migrated to remote learning. Cardona is a former public school teacher and is a school choice advocate. Said President-elect Joe Biden of Cardona: “He will help address systemic inequities, tackle the mental health crisis in our education system, give educators a well-deserved raise, ease the burden of education debt, and secure high-quality, universal pre-K for every three and four year old in the country.”  Bay News 9. NPR. The 74. Education Week.

Public school enrollment dips: As the pandemic surges on, public school enrollment continues to take a dive. An analysis of data from 33 states shows that enrollment has dropped by 500,000 students, or 2 %, since the same time last year. The states with the largest declines are Alabama and New Hampshire. But enrollment declines could lead to future funding cuts. WJXT. Chalkbeat.

Miami-Dade County: School resumes Jan. 4, allowing employees of Miami-Dade public schools and their dependents to be tested using a “gold standard” COVID-19 test at three designated sites. But officials in the school district turned down a chance earlier this year to offer the test, offering instead a rapid antibody test with an error rate that could be as high as 20%. Those tests are not designed to diagnose active cases, looking instead to the bloodstream for signs of past infection. The Miami-Herald. Even so, parents in Miami-Dade can get their children tested at no cost after Pfizer and Moderna vaccines arrived in Florida earlier this week. WPLG.

Hillsborough County: The rise in remote learning led a man to build desks for e-learners. Donnie Dewey, whose stepmother is a teacher, knew the idea would help students struggling to adapt to at-home learning. Tampa Bay Times.

Clay County, Duval County: The Florida Department of Education signed off on Duval and Clay school districts plans for a spring re-opening, which will allow the counties to continue to receiving state COVID-19 relief funds. WJXT.

Leon County, Martin County, St. Lucie: The hunt for unaccounted for students, which describes those who aren’t attending school either remotely or in-person, continues across the state. The issue is worse in some counties than others. In Leon County, 3,000 students are considered “missing.” Lydia Martin, St. Lucie schools spokesperson, said “We can only speculate the cause, but many time it has to do with a family’s job or economic situation.” Treasure Coast News.

Collier County: Remote learning during 2020 has taken away some school perks, such as field trips, due to COVID-19 restrictions and concerns about bus travel. But some districts have found ways to facilitate virtual field trips for students, despite the pandemic’s restrictions. A one-year-old alligator was the subject of one recent trip. Veronica Mamone,  Collier’s K-5 science coordinator, said local field trip partnerships changed, with some organizations asking what the schools system needed to adapt. “They asked what are your needs like virtually, how can we help you, and so we just talked through the current like normal field trip and then how can we change that and get that into that virtual experience for kids,” Mamone said. Naples Daily News.

Around the state: With schools reopening in January, masks will still be required, but shorter quarantines will also be part of the new normal. Fewer students will be learning remotely, and those who struggle with remote learning will be encouraged to return to in-person classes. Counties across Tampa Bay are embracing the changes in various ways. Hillsborough County is in talks with the local health department about changes to the 14-day quarantine for anyone in close contact of a person who has been infected with coronavirus, but that could change to 10 days when school resumes. At the start of the school year, 56% of the county’s students enrolled in in-person classes, while the remainder chose remote learning. In Pinellas County, 60% of classes were in-person when school began in August, with the remainder online. That grew to 70-30 as of December, with the quarantine length reducing to 10 days. In Polk County, athletics were suspended until Jan. 2, 2021 due to an outbreak that began at a wrestling tournament, infecting at least 50 student athletes. Fifty-five percent of students were enrolled in in-person school compared to 45 % in remote school at the start of the year. Sixty-eight percent are now in-person, and the school system has also adopted the 10 day quarantine rule. In Sarasota County, 80 % of students attend school, while the remainder are remote. In Manatee County, when school began in August, 48% attended full-time in-person school, 29% opted for remote learning full-time, and 23% chose a hybrid option of two days in school and three days remote. As of November, 70% were back in school, 20% were remote learning and 7% were hybrid. The hybrid option will end in 2021.WUSF.

Ivy League honors: A student named Craig McFarland was accepted into all eight Ivy League schools. Recently, he made his choice as to where he’ll attend college. McFarland was valedictorian at Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville, and was also crowned homecoming prince. Lakeland Ledger.

Opinions on pandemic pods and how COVID-19 affects kids: After reporting on the city of North Las Vegas’ pandemic pods in the Southern Nevada Urban Mico Academy, or SNUMA, we found out the city is renewing the effort until the end of spring semester 2021. Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown led the city’s efforts at SNUMA, saying “Our kids are learning and thriving in a safe environment. I could not be more proud of their progress.” Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Meanwhile, Lois K. Solomon wrote about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children. Dr. Chad Sanborn, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at KIDZ Medical Services, said it isn’t yet known how long symptoms can persist in children. “While we see that children recover very well from the acute symptoms, we do not really know what, if any, long-term mild infection has on these children’s bodies.” Orlando Sentinel.

Debt forgiveness: Florida A&M University in Tallahassee will receive $111 million in debt forgiveness if President Donald Trump signs the COVID-19 relief bill. FAMU’s balance to the HBCU Capital Financing Program would be forgiven once Trump signs the aid bill. Dr. Larry Robinson, FAMU president, said funds will be used for retention and recruitment. WFSU. FAMU. WXTL.

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