Report says most districts have extensive repair needs in schools, reopening schools plans and more

Schools need ‘major’ repairs: More than half the nation’s school districts need to make major repairs in at least half of their schools but are unable to pay for them, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO surveyed schools around the country and visited 55 schools in 16 school districts in six states, including Florida. In many cases, schools postponed building repairs to upgrade security, the report said. In one unnamed Florida elementary school, the staff had to place buckets around the school to catch leaks from the roof even as it installed new security cameras. The most common problems are with the heating, ventilation and cooling systems. At least half the schools in 41 percent of school districts need to repair or replace those systems. “If not addressed, such problems can lead to indoor air quality problems and mold, and in some cases caused schools to adjust schedules temporarily,” the report said. Associated Press. Politico.

Reopening K-12 schools: In a letter to parents, Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna writes that he is “strongly advocating that schools fully reopen in the fall.” Parents are likely to be given three learning choices for students: traditional in-class instruction with the proper safety precautions; attending the Digital Academy, which is online learning that includes live lessons and moves at the same pace as students in schools; or enrolling in the county’s virtual school, which is online education that allows students to work at their own pace. He’s asking parents for feedback through an online survey that can help form a final decision by early July. Tallahassee Democrat. WXTL. WCTV. Florida Phoenix. Two proposals for returning to school are being planned by Sarasota school officials. If social distancing is required, older students would continue with remote learning while younger students would be spread out across elementary, middle and high schools. If social distancing is eased, schools will reopen with new safety precautions. Both plans include the possibility of eliminating the summer break and making it a third semester so students can catch up. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A majority of Duval County students want to return to schools in the fall, according to the district’s survey, while most parents and teachers want to continue online learning until it’s safe to return. Almost 50,000 responses were received. Florida Times-Union. WTLV. WJXT. Students and teachers in southwest Florida said in a survey that they preferred in-person learning. WINK. Most St. Johns County parents want to see their children return to school in August, according to a district survey. St. Augustine Record. A task force has been appointed by Lee County schools officials to make recommendations on reopening schools. WINK. Cape Coral Daily Breeze. Monroe County school officials have launched a survey to get parents’ preferences on reopening schools. Key West Citizen. Orange County school officials are meeting with the teachers union to start a discussion about reopening schools. Spectrum News 13. Sixty-five percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders who responded to an EdWeek Research Center survey said schools should remain closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Education Week.

Reopening universities: Several state universities have released more details of the reopening plans they’ll submit to the Board of Governors on June 23. At Florida State, students will not be assigned to triple or quadruple dorm rooms, and will be expected to wear masks in lobbies, lounges and other public spaces. University of Florida officials said they would give students the option of finishing the semester at home instead of returning to campus after Thanksgiving. Florida A&M will cut dorm occupancy, have smaller classes, and require students to wear masks and stagger shower times in community bathrooms. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Universities should cancel in-person summer graduations and develop alternative plans because of the pandemic, officials in the state university system are advising the schools. Several already have. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. WUSF.

Federal aid approved: Florida and all the other states have been approved to receive grants from the $3 billion Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, which was part of the $30.75 billion coronavirus relief act passed by Congress. Use of the funds is controlled by governors, who can designate the money for “needs related to COVID-19” for K-12 schools or higher education. U.S. Education Secretary has urged governors to share the money with independent and religious schools. Education Dive. Brevard County school officials said they have been notified that the district will receive up to $15 million from the $13.2 billion in aid set aside for schools as part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package that was passed earlier by Congress. Brevard is actually receiving $17.4 million, but a portion is headed to charter and private schools. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

Special needs learning: Online learning for most students with special needs can be appropriate and effective if the teacher and parent collaborate closely to provide what the child needs, according to a study published by the Pioneer Institute and ASU Prep Digital. Communication is the key. “Many parents need continuous guidance from teachers to ensure that they aren’t headed off in the wrong direction,” said Jamie Gass, director of education policy at Pioneer. “Teachers should check with them regularly to make sure they feel supported.” Pioneer Institute. When Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that schools would be closed because of the coronavirus outbreak and parents could have their children held back, the parents of a Pasco County child with special needs were thrilled. Their son was two grades behind in reading even before the outbreak. But when they asked the principal, they were told no. The governor’s statement was not included in the executive order, leaving the decisions to local principals. Tampa Bay Times.

More on the coronavirus: Santa Rosa County school officials announce that in-person graduations ceremonies will be held June 18-23 in high school stadiums and the Pensacola Bay Center. Pensacola News Journal. Marion County students whose grades dropped during online learning in the fourth nine-week period will get to use their third nine-week grades instead, school officials have decided. Board members agreed that not all online classes are effective, and chose to hold the students harmless if their grades declined during the time out of school. Ocala Star-Banner. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced Thursday that workouts for high school athletes in Duval County can resume, with restrictions, on June 15. Florida Times-Union. The St. Lucie County School District will continue providing free meals to students through the summer. TCPalm.

Sales tax vote: A judge has ordered the Indian River County Commission to place a renewal for a 0.5-mill property tax for schools on the primary ballot Aug. 18, as the school district had requested. The commission decided to move it to the general election ballot Nov. 3, but the judge said it overstepped its authority. TCPalm.

Board considers settlement: Hillsborough County School Board members will be asked next week to approve a settlement of as much as $1 million to the family of a Middleton High School football player who died during summer workouts last year. Hezekiah B. Walters was 14 when he collapsed during a workout June 11 and died at a hospital. Two months later, the school district decided to require every high school to have certified athletic trainers working year-round. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent lobbied: Community activists have started a campaign to try to convince Jacqueline Byrd to reconsider her recent decision to retire as Polk County school superintendent. Byrd, 53, pointed to school board disharmony and interference as a factor in deciding to leave next February. Byrd said she had not told anyone she is reconsidering her retirement. Lakeland Ledger.

Thriving in chaos: In the face of the pandemic, many private schools are struggling to stay open. But The Rock School in Gainesville should be at or near capacity when schools reopen in the fall. Headmaster Jim McKenzie said an emphasis on faith, family, identity and community, as well as the long-established academic reputation, has kept it relevant. redefinED.

Charter school nears finish: Renovation work is expected to completed  by the end of next month at the new home of the Ocean Studies Charter School in Key Largo. Work on the $3 million project began in November 2018. The K-5 school opens in August, and has plans to add middle school grades in the fall of 2021. Keys Weekly.

Safety in choice schools: A recent study of 11 other studies concludes that charter and private schools are perceived by students, parents and principals to be safer than public schools. “These positive safety results suggest that increasing access to public charter schools and private schools can increase safety for students,” said researchers from EdChoice, an education reform organization founded by economists Milton and Rose D. Friedman. redefinED.

Social media posts investigated: A Santa Rosa County teacher is under investigation for racially charged statements she made on social media. Lisa Dillashaw, a science teacher at Pace High School and the sponsor of the National Honor Society and Beta Club, posted the comments on Facebook on Wednesday. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. A facility manager at Everglades City School in Collier County is under investigation for comments he made on social media. On a Facebook live stream event, Dale Patt wrote, “Shoot first ask questions later.” Naples Daily News. The University of West Florida is investigating “offensive, racially insensitive” social media posts by students.  WEAR. Universities around the country are rescinding acceptance offers because of racist social media posts by incoming students. The University of Florida is currently investigating one prospective student from Cape Coral for posts she made two years ago. USA Today.

Opinions on schools: Have the spending policies of U.S. public schools been accompanied by an improvement in outcomes among our children and for American society? John E. Coons, redefinED. The pandemic has created opportunities for people to change careers. Why not consider teaching? David Sanon, Fort Myers News-Press. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the next public school year, many parents are starting to take another look at home-schooling. John Edelson, Sun Sentinel. Will school doors open to an education reformation? Judy DeLucia and Jim Bencivenga, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Five northwest Florida high school seniors have been named National Merit Scholarship winners. Northwest Florida Daily News.