Court challenge to 2017 education law rejected, TV purchases questioned, graduation off and more

Education law challenge denied: Florida’s Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will not consider an appeal of a lower court decision that rejected a constitutional challenge of the 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, by nine local school boards. As is customary, the court did not explain its decision. School boards from Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Polk, St. Lucie and Volusia counties had called the law unconstitutional because it allowed state officials to authorize charter schools outside the control of the boards. A circuit court in Tallahassee had ruled in 2018 that the boards didn’t prove the law was unconstitutional and did not have standing to contest the law anyway. “The school boards’ constitutional challenge to H.B. 7069’s provisions represents their disagreement with new statutory duties enacted by the Legislature,” that court wrote. “As the foregoing authority makes clear, however, the school boards must presume that the provisions at issue are constitutional.” An appeals court concurred, prompting the school boards to ask the Florida Supreme Court to intervene. News Service of Florida. Gradebook.

TV purchases questioned: An outside auditor is questioning the Broward County School District’s $17 million, no-bid purchase of interactive classroom televisions from a company that had close ties with the district’s former chief technology officer. A copy of the report by auditors with HCT Certified Public Accountants and Consultants has been forwarded to the state attorney for review. HCT found that the district was buying TVs from Recordex Simplicity for $4,175 each. In 2019, the Miami-Dade County School District bought similarly equipped TVs at a time for $2,340. Tony Hunter was the chief technology officer at the time. He has since been hired by a sister company to EDCO, which supplied Recordex with the TVs, and the EDCO owner called Hunter a “good friend” and also sold him a lakefront house in Georgia in 2018 for $117,740 below the appraised value. Hunter resigned from the district in January 2019, and denies any wrongdoing. Sun Sentinel.

Graduations disrupted: Graduation ceremonies for Palm Beach County high schools have been canceled because of the coronavirus. Superintendent Donald Fennoy said the district will explore other options, but as of now students should expect to receive their diplomas through the mail. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. Lake County high school proms and Grad Bash have been canceled, and graduations have been postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak, Superintendent Diane Kornegay said Tuesday in a letter to high school seniors. She promised refunds for those students who had prepaid for the two events. She vowed graduations would take place at dates to be announced. “While we do not know when and where graduation ceremonies will take place just yet,” she wrote, “we can promise that as soon as it is safe to do so, we will make sure that the Class of 2020 receives the recognition and the celebration that you so greatly deserve.” Daily Commercial. A student at Dwyer High School in Palm Beach County holds a virtual prom. WPTV.

Sales tax hikes: Okaloosa County voters will be asked in November to approve a half-cent sales tax increase for 10 years to benefit the school district. The tax is projected to raise about $20 million a year, and would be used to build classrooms, repair school roofs and improve the district’s bus fleet. It was approved Tuesday by the county commission and, if approved by voters, would begin Jan. 1. Northwest Florida Daily News. Two more Jacksonville City Council committees have approved a Duval County School District proposal to ask voters in November to increase the sales tax by a half-cent for school replacements and repairs. Next week the proposal goes for a vote by the full city council, which turned down the request in 2019. Projections show the tax would raise about $1.2 billion over its 15-year life. Florida Politics. Florida Times-Union.

Online learning updates: Only about 89 percent of Manatee County’s 44,378 public school students logged into online classes last week, according to district officials. Many students still do not have electronic devices or Internet access. “Our update yesterday to school administrators stated that students would be held harmless for the first week if they did not have the tools needed to complete or attempt school assignments,” said Superintendent Cynthia Saunders. Bradenton Herald. Hillsborough County teachers have been told by district officials to limit the online work they assign students. Children up to 2nd grade should spend no more than 5-10 minutes at a time on their computer-based lessons, with a standard of 15-20 minutes for 3rd- through 5th-graders, 20-30 minutes for middle school students and 20-40 minutes per course for high school students. Gradebook. The Lee County School Board has approved the purchase of 3,000 hot spots from T-Mobile for about $720,000. Hot spots are devices that plug into computers and provide Internet access. Trey Davis, the school district’s chief information officer, said at least 10,000 county students need Internet access at home so they can tune in to online classes. Fort Myers News-Press. Escambia teachers will continue online classes Friday, which had been scheduled as a non-student day to allow teachers time for meetings and professional development. Pensacola News Journal.

AP test credits: Students will be able to take Advanced Placement tests in their homes, and use their books and notes, but will college and universities give them credits for passing scores? Higher education officials said they are starting to discuss the issue of college credits for the course exams, considering the unusual manner in which they’ll be given by the College Board. Florida Phoenix. The Citrus County School District has canceled end-of-course finals and tests for students in Lecanto High School’s International Baccalaureate program. Citrus County Chronicle.

More on the coronavirus: Will schools reopen in the fall? White House infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci sounded optimistic on Tuesday. “Bottom line is, no absolute prediction, but I think we’re going to be in good shape,” Fauci said. WFTS. An employee of the Okaloosa County School District has tested positive for the coronavirus, district officials announced on Tuesday. No details on where the person worked were disclosed. Northwest Florida Daily News. School resource officers in Martin County remain assigned to their schools, but those in St. Lucie and Indian River counties are splitting their time between schools and other duties such as road patrol. TCPalm. Alachua County school resource officers continue to check in on their schools and students, and pitch in for meal distributions. Gainesville Sun. The Leon County School District is switching to mail delivery to get hard copy school assignments to those students who need them. WTXL. The Manatee County library system is now offering students free, live online homework help and test prep through a partnership with Bradenton Herald. Palm Beach County students now have the option of watching classes through the Education Network on WPEC, which partnered with the school district to broadcast them. WPEC. Many early learning centers in northwest Florida are closing as more parents are keeping their children home because of the coronavirus. Tallahassee Democrat. Two Pinellas County science teachers are producing a weekly You Tube video series with life sciences lessons, called “Life Science at a Social Distance.” Tampa Bay Times. Teachers at Gilchrist Elementary School in Leon County form a supply line at the school to return personal belongings from the school to students. Tallahassee Democrat. The coronavirus has affected Florida schools in every way. Here’s a review. WUFT. School districts and other organizations continue to feed low-income students while schools are closed, and some are making changes in their deliveries. Florida Department of AgricultureFlorida Department of Education. Lakeland Ledger. Ocala Star-Banner. WKMG.

Board grants executive powers: Three of the five Putnam County School Board members attended Tuesday’s meeting virtually, and all five decided to grant emergency executive powers to Superintendent Rick Surrency for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic and to cancel the meeting scheduled April 21. “Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and I feel comfortable with that,” school board member David Buckles said about temporarily broadening Surrency’s authority. Palatka Daily News.

Superintendent search: Sarasota County School Board members agreed on Tuesday to continue searching for a new superintendent, but removed the previously established timeline for when they wanted a new person on the job. The board agreed that the next superintendent must be required to have five or more years of executive-level experience, preferably as a deputy or assistant superintendent in Florida, and set a salary range of $190,000-$240,000 a year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Englewood Sun.

Teachers wanted: Sumner High School will open in Hillsborough County on Aug. 10, and principal Dave Brown said he’s trying to hire teachers for the expected 2,200 students. Interviews are being conducted through video conferencing. Top positions needed are teachers for elementary math, science, reading and English. WTVT.

Gun safes at schools: The Vero Beach City Council is expected to approve the purchase and installation of gun safes for resource officers at Beachland Elementary and Rosewood Magnet schools. The officers now lock their rifle, equipment and ammunition in their patrol vehicles. The city and Indian River County School Board will split the cost. WPEC.

Opinions on schools: Many teachers, especially in charter schools, are trying to reach students during the virus, and state officials should encourage these efforts. The pandemic forced physical separation on family, work, and school communities, but it shouldn’t separate teachers and students from ingenuity. Jonathan Butcher, redefinED. A Sarasota County teacher finds value in reaching his students with special lessons that will be remembered after the coronavirus crisis is over. Shane Swezey, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Musings of a newspaper editor who has been doubling as a kindergarten teacher for two weeks. Ellen E. Clarke, Tampa Bay Times.