redefinED education roundup
Budget and education bills go to governor, school reopenings, election day closings, charters and more
More school reopening plans, budget cuts promise, racial issues, testing, grade flip, pensions and more
Reopening K-12 schools: Two Florida school districts that had planned for a mixture of online and in-person learning when schools resume have revised those plans and are now expecting a full reopening of schools after Gov. Ron DeSantis urged them to “create a local safe schools plan to maintain in-person learning, which is the best method of education delivery for students.” The Sarasota County School District had considered trying to make changes to accommodate social distancing guidelines, which could have kept high school students learning remotely while their schools were used to spread out elementary and middle school students, but instead will start with a full reopening with safety specifications and contingency plans that hinge on the status of the virus. The school board will discuss the change at today’s meeting, as well as review the recommended superintendent finalists. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Englewood Sun. In St. Johns County, school officials now expect a full reopening if the coronavirus isn’t spreading or is spreading slowly. The district could shift to staggered school attendance or other options if the virus begins to spread moderately or substantially. WJXT. WJAX. WTLV. The Walton County School District also plans a full reopening in the fall, with safety precautions, but summer classes will remain online. WMBB. Palm Beach County school officials haven’t finalized their reopening plans yet, but deputy superintendent Keith Oswald said they will include a remote learning option for those who aren’t ready to return to schools. WPEC. Pinellas County is asking parents to complete a survey on what they’d like to see in place when schools reopen. WFTS. Education experts offer tips on how districts can adjust their routines to reopen and operate safely. Education Week.
Reopening colleges: Testing for the coronavirus will be a priority when Florida State University reopens Aug. 24, with some courses in-person but most online, school officials said Monday in releasing their draft plan. The last two weeks of classes in the semester, after Thanksgiving, will be conducted online. The plan will be flexible to accommodate changing conditions. WJXT. Capitol News Service. The University of Miami’s plan is to start Aug. 17 and end the first semester Nov. 20, with all classes on campus. Students and staff will be screened and must get the flu vaccine. WTVJ. Miami Herald. Students will wear masks indoors, the number of in-person classes will be limited and other safety measures against the coronavirus will be in place when Eastern Florida State College’s four campuses reopen for fall classes. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. The University of South Florida has begun Phase 1 of its reopening plan, which includes a continuation of online classes, a maximum of 25 percent of employees on campus at any given time, and the use of face marks in enclosed areas. WUSF.
Augmented graduation: About 18,000 Broward County high school seniors got a graduation surprise from the district. Their virtual graduation was enhanced with the use of an augmented reality app that makes it look like students are getting their diplomas handed to them by Superintendent Robert Runcie, then joining rapper Flo Rida for a congratulatory message or a dance. The videos can then be shared on social media. Flo Rida called the technology “a trip” and said he was “happy to help these graduates define a new way of celebrating and social interaction as they move on to the next chapter in their young lives.” Associated Press. WTVX.
Applying for federal aid: Florida school districts have until June 30 to apply for $700 million in federal aid to help recover from the coronavirus pandemic. To get the money, districts will have to submit a plan of how they intend to spend it and how they’ll provide “equitable services” to private schools in their counties. Some states are ignoring the federal directive on sending money to private schools, but Florida officials have told districts they must follow it. Districts will also have to explain how they will evaluate student learning gaps, what they will do to close them, and how they’ll use the money to ensure continuity of learning. Gradebook.
More on the coronavirus: A Manatee County school is getting a deep cleaning after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. Cleaning crews have disinfected “areas that need to be addressed” at Palmetto High School, according to a spokesman. Bradenton Herald. Lee County students are receiving a card in the mail from the state that they can use to buy food from grocery stores. Each county child receives $5.70 per day for 55 days. WFTX. Summer school for pre-K students in Hillsborough County will be held Monday through Thursday from June 22 through July 23. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and there is no cost. Gradebook. The United Way of St. Lucie County has launched a 54-day drive to collect thousands of supplies for teachers and students needed for the new school year. TCPalm.
Changing school names: An activist is calling on the Duval County School Board to change the names of five schools linked to the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee High School, J.E.B Stuart Middle, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, Joseph Finegan Elementary and Jefferson Davis Middle. And more than 3,000 people have signed an online petition pushing the board to rename Robert E. Lee High. WJXT.
School salaries: Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis releases the annual salaries of his top 26 administrators, along with comparisons with salary ranges from other districts. The salaries of Davis’ team range from $129,065 to $165,093. Davis is being paid $310,000. Davis called the salaries “competitive and aligned with industry standards.” Gradebook.
Using schools as shelters: Volusia County is still planning to use schools as emergency shelters during a hurricane evacuation, despite the pandemic. State officials are developing a plan to use hotels as “non-congregate shelters” instead of schools. But that’s a work in progress, and Volusia officials said it might not be ready until the 2021 hurricane season so they are proceeding with their usual preparations. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Roof repairs begin: Repairs have begun to fix a partially collapsed roof over the principal’s officer at Bonita Springs Elementary School. Work should be completed before the school reopens Aug. 10, said district officials. Rob Spicker, the communications coordinator for the Lee County School District, said recent heavy rains caused the collapse. No one was injured, and Spicker said insurance is expected to cover the costs. Naples Daily News.
Notable deaths: Annette Dignam, a longtime educator in Charlotte County who helped start a preschool, taught K-3, and was a longtime member of the Sarasota County Education Foundation and State College of Florida, has died at the age of 78 in Englewood. Charlotte Sun.
Bond rating: The Fitch Ratings credit rating agency has given an A+ score to a $58 million Pinellas County School Board bond issue, but downgraded the outlook from stable to negative due to the uncertainty over potential budget cuts. Fitch Ratings.
Employees and the law: The president of the Santa Rosa County teachers union has been arrested and accused of firing a gun at another woman. Deputies said Rhonda Chavers, 64, fired three shots at a woman who was standing in the yard of Chavers’ home in Milton. Chavers was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill. Pensacola News Journal.
Opinions on schools: Right about now, encouraging people to wear masks in public is looking like a pretty good idea, not dissimilar from studying a state whose minority students score a grade level higher than your statewide average on reading. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Opening schools means opening everything about schools, and we are not in a place in time to have the confidence to return all these millions of people together, disregarding physical distance and sanitation. Magali Skelden, Florida Today.
Reopening schools: A draft of the St. Johns County School District reopening plan calls for students to attend classes two days a week and learn from home the other three. Middle school and high school students and teachers would be separated into two groups and alternate the days they are in the classroom. WTLV. Given the choices of returning to school, learning remotely or combining the two, about 60 percent of Manatee County parents or guardians of students and others prefer returning to the classroom, according to a survey. Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said those who prefer remote learning will be accommodated. Bradenton Herald. Lafayette County Superintendent Robby Edwards said schools will reopen Aug. 10 with heightened cleaning protocols and masks and gloves available for those who want them but no changes in lunch schedules or bus routes. Suwannee Democrat. Plans to reopen Sumter County schools and The Villages Charter School are being drafted that include basic safety precautions, mask-wearing in some circumstances and the use of remote learning as needed. Villages Daily Sun. Citrus County school officials said funding, classroom capacity, busing and food services are the biggest issues that must be addressed before schools reopen. Citrus County Chronicle. Enrollment in Volusia Online Learning has increased fourfold over what it was this time last year, said principal J. Susy Peterson. She expects as many as 500-600 students in the fall, instead of the usual 100-150. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Florida Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said she worries that more parents will be choosing to home-school their children next year, resulting in more segregation in public schools. WFSU. About 67 percent of Lake County employees and 58 percent of parents and students support reopening schools with appropriate safety measures taken. Orlando Sentinel.
Reopening universities: The four largest universities in Florida all plan to have students wear masks indoors, test thousands of students and staff for the coronavirus, offer students the option of in-person or online classes or a blend of the two, and make adjustments in student housing to reduce occupancy. The Board of Governors, which had given the schools a blueprint for reopening schools, will consider the plans at its June 23 meeting. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Atlantic University’s board of trustees have approved the school’s 25-page reopening plan that calls for reduced class sizes, wearing face masks for physical distancing isn’t possible, dropping housing occupancy to 96 percent, and giving students the option of online or in-person classes or a hybrid model combining the two. University Press.
Compensating athletes: Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill that allows college athletes to be compensated for the use of their names, images and likenesses. Florida, California and Colorado all have passed bills allowing athletes to be paid, but Florida’s goes into effect sooner, on July 1, 2021. About two-dozen other states are considering similar measures. The NCAA has long resisted allowing athletes to be compensated beyond their scholarships, but has reconsidered under pressure from the states and is expected to vote in January to lift some restrictions. DeSantis said the law is expected to allow “great athletes” to capitalize on their fame. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix.
Police in schools: The Gainesville City Commission wants to stop paying for Alachua County school resource officers in the city limits. The commission voted 4-3 last week to begin negotiations with the school district to end the contract and turn the funding responsibility back to the district. The total cost for the officers is $2.1 million a year, and the city pays $904,000 of that. “There’s a lot that we can do with that $900,000 in this year’s budget and I’d like to see that happen,” said city commissioner Gail Johnson. WCJB. Does the presence of police officers in schools make students feel safer, or more threatened? That’s the fundamental question school districts around the country are starting to ask. New York Times.
Why they’re protesting: Black high school students in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties talk in their own words about their sometimes uncomfortable school experiences and why they decided to protest after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. TCPalm. Manatee County school officials are considering requiring all school employees to undergo implicit bias training. Bradenton Herald.
Reorganization plan opposed: Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy’s administrative reorganization plan is being challenged by several school board members and advocacy groups. Last week, Fennoy proposed transferring deputy superintendent Keith Oswald to deal with equity issues and making other moves to “flatten” to bureaucracy and save money in anticipation of budget cuts caused by falling tax revenues. Board members questioned the move in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and planning for reopening schools, and the Coalition for Black Student Achievement said such a move would put the education of black students at risk. Palm Beach Post. Palm Beach County School Board members have approved paying the board’s general counsel nearly $102,000 to retire. Julieann Rico will get the money, plus payouts for accrued sick and vacation time, when she leaves in September. Board chair Frank Barbieri said the decision is a short-term hit on the budget, but a long-term gain that’s expected to save more than $400,000 over the next two years. Palm Beach Post.
Tax hike vote killed: Nassau County School Board members have decided not to ask voters to approve a 1 mill increase in property taxes to pay for higher teacher salaries and improve security. They cited the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the economy. “I think for us to burden our young families with additional tax – this is not the right time to do that,” said board chair Donna Martin. Fernandina Beach News-Leader.
Civics initiative: Sixty Florida middle and high schools in 28 districts have been selected by the state to participate in the first phase of a civics and debate initiative. Selected schools will have expanded speech and debate programs, funded through a $5 million grant from the Marcus Foundation. The program will expand to all Florida schools by 2023. Florida Department of Education WJHG. Tampa Dispatch. A report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is calling for an expansion of civics education to include projects, service learning, student government, debate training and budgeting exercises. Education Dive.
School getting updated: A Polk County school is getting a $46 million modernization, thanks to money from the increased sales tax voters approved in 2018. Several one-story buildings at Mulberry High School will be replaced with one large building that’s partially two-story and partially three. Some campus buildings, such as the auditorium, will remain. The new school will include a gym, dining area, green house, labs for robotics, engineering, health and automotive, and a field for the band marching. Enrollment capacity will be 1,600 students, compared with the current 1,200. The opening is scheduled for December 2021. Lakeland Ledger.
New school opening: A new school is opening in the fall in Lake County that uses the arts to teach traditional STEM subjects. “We guide them through learning but so many kids are capable of discovery, creation and analysis,” said Nikki Duslak, the founder of the K-5 CREATE Conservatory in Leesburg. “Our approach is about getting back to fundamentals of creativity and play in learning. Too often our kids are told to fill in a bubble test to prove they are learning, but every kid is different and there should be an environment for that.” Daily Commercial.
School elections: Four of nine Miami-Dade County School Board seats are being contested this year, and two of nine Broward board seats. Miami Herald. Three of seven Pinellas County School Board seats are being contested. Tampa Bay Times. Nine school board seats are being contested in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties. Orlando Sentinel. One Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning has two challengers, while two candidates are in the running for a school board seat. Tampa Bay Times. Nineteen candidates have qualified to run for Hillsborough County School Board seats. Gradebook. Three candidates are in the race to replace retiring Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick, and two people have qualified in each of the two school board races. Pensacola News Journal. Two Indian River County School Board seats have each attracted two candidates. TCPalm. Three candidates have qualified in each of the St. Lucie County School Board seats up for election. TCPalm. Seven candidates are running for two Manatee County School Board seats. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Both Sarasota County School Board seats have attracted two candidates. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Two candidates have qualified in each of the two school board races on the Alachua County ballot. Gainesville Sun. Three candidates have filed for the only Marion County School Board seat up for election. Ocala Star-Banner. Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna and an incumbent school board member have each drawn one challenger. Tallahassee Democrat. A Volusia County School Board incumbent is being challenged by two people. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Three Flagler County School Board seats are being contested. Flagler Live. Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt has drawn one opponent. Panama City News Herald. One St. Johns County School Board seat has drawn two candidates. St. Augustine Record. Citrus County Superintendent Sandra Himmel has drawn a challenger, and three candidates are running for a school board seat. Citrus County Chronicle. Four Duval County school board elections are on the ballot, and Clay County Superintendent David Broskie has two challengers. WJXT.
Notable deaths: Mabel Witham, a pioneer in teaching special-needs students in Martin County, has died at the age of 96. TCPalm. Longtime Titusville educator and community leader Pat Manning has died at the age of 91. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.
School roof partly collapses: A portion of the roof over the principal’s office at Bonita Springs Elementary School collapsed over the weekend. No one was injured, and the cause is unknown. That portion of the school was built in 1921. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX.
Employees and the law: A Santa Rosa County teacher has been arrested for allegedly having sex with a student at Navarre High School in the summer of 2019. Meghan Mary Rodriguez, 37, resigned after being told she was under investigation by the school district. Pensacola News Journal.
Opinions on schools: Parents around the country have found that home-schooling can be both a blessing and a curse. USA Today. School impact fees are a belated but necessary way to help prevent development in Alachua County from being further subsidized by the rest of the community. Gainesville Sun. While many of our schools bask in their continued excellence, others with high minority enrollments are starving for resources. Sarasota County needs a superintendent who can and will make rescuing these schools a priority. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. If university physics faculties want to address the underrepresentation of black students in our undergraduate physics programs, we are going to have to do it ourselves by reaching out to students at the high school level or before and somehow providing the encouragement and preparation they need to get them ready to succeed in our departments. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Tweets are character. You can’t hide behind the conceit of social media being a different universe, somehow segregated and unrelated to one’s public persona as an elected official, as much as Flagler County School Board chair Janet McDonald wishes she could. Pierre Tristam, Flagler Live.