District wants the option to decide, DOE approves reopening plans, safety issues, virus deaths and more

State order challenged: The Orange County School Board has become the latest to challenge the state’s order that all K-12 schools must be open five days a week for students in August. On Friday, board members agreed to ask for a waiver from the order that allows the district and board to decide if and when schools will reopen for students based on the condition of the coronavirus pandemic at the time. “We are playing a game of chicken with the state,” board chair Teresa Jacobs said. Orange joins other districts such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach in asserting the local authority to make the reopening decision. When Orange County officials decide students can return to schools, as early as Aug. 21, they’ll have the options of in-person, the Orange Virtual School or the new LaunchED plan, in which students can learn at home but stay registered to their assigned school. But if the state doesn’t approve the waiver, Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said the only options will be in-person and the Orange County Virtual School. Politico Florida. WKMG. WESH. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. The widening academic gap could have a devastating and permanent impact on students if they can’t get back in the classroom, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated over the weekend in arguing for the reopening of schools. “As good as Florida’s system is compared to other states in the country, the distance learning is not the same,” he said. But he also said he’s receptive to working with local leaders on reopening plans. Palm Beach Post. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. WKMG. WJXT. WINK. WTXL. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL.

Other reopening plans: Florida school boards are considering and approving district reopening plans, which must be submitted to the Florida Department of Education by July 31. Here are the latest developments:

Osceola County: The Florida Department of Education approved the district’s school reopening plan on Friday. The first day of school is Aug. 24, and students can take classes in person, remotely with their assigned school while following the class schedule, or virtually on their own schedule. WKMG.

Seminole County: The school district was the first in the state to have its reopening plan approved by the Florida Department of Education, on Friday. Classes begin Aug. 17 with students having the choice of four learning options: in person, or through two virtual programs or a hybrid model. WKMG.

St. Johns County: More than 10,000 of the district’s nearly 44,000 students have signed up for school-based remote learning, and another 680 have enrolled in the district’s virtual school. WJXT. The district has spent more than $1.6 million on personal protection equipment so far, including $157,000 on thermometers to check students when they walk into school buildings. WJXT.

Washington County: The Washington County School Board meets today to vote on the district’s reopening plan, which include voluntary masks, no temperature checks and six learning options for students: in person, home-schooling or one of four virtual programs. Washington County News.

In other counties: Here are summaries of the reopening plans for Tampa Bay area schools. WFLA. Here are summaries of the reopening plans for northeast Florida schools. WJXT. Northwest Florida school districts are moving ahead with plans to reopen next month. WEAR. The P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School in Alachua County had its reopening plan approved by the DOE on Friday. Florida Department of Education.

Questions of safety: Will the epidemic get worse when schools reopen? While most children are less likely to get seriously ill from the disease, health experts say, they can be dangerous carriers to their family members and others they come into contact with because they often have a lack of symptoms. Sun Sentinel. WTXL. Teachers continue their protests against school reopenings and express concerns for their safety and the children’s. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX. CNN. Tallahassee Democrat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WTLV. WPEC. Tampa Bay Times. WPTV. The 74. More than 23,000 children under the age of 18 have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state, according to the Florida Department of Health. The positive test rate is 13.4 percent, and 6.9 percent of all the Floridians who have tested positive are under 18. Bradenton Herald. The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is conducting a survey to see how teachers and parents feel about returning to schools. WTXL. An Orange County teacher and a mother of three students have filed a lawsuit to force a delay in school reopenings. It alleges that “teachers, staff, and children are at severe risk of exposure to COVID-19, which will no doubt lead to serious illness and death. The unsafe opening of public schools will also worsen the spread of COVID-19 throughout our communities, state and country.” Orlando Sentinel. WOFL.

Coronavirus deaths: Two Florida school employees have died of complications from COVID-19. Renee Dermott was a 51-year-old 6th-grade history and social studies teacher at Seven Springs Middle School in Pasco County. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. Jordan Byrd, 19, was a custodian at the Fort Braden School in Tallahassee, a graduate of Godby High graduate and an honors student at Tallahassee Community College. Tallahassee Democrat.

Code Red instructions: The Duval School Board is asking the state for guidance on how schools should respond to active shooters in the coronavirus era. The current rules for Code Red alerts send a teacher and students into a designated safe area of the classroom with hard corners out of the sight of a potential school shooter, but jamming into such close quarters would violate social distancing guidelines. “I don’t have anything yet to share with you,” said DOE spokeswoman Cheryl Etters. “I know the staff is working on sending something out.” Florida Times-Union.

Sports restart: The executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association is recommending that the organization’s board of directors reject a task force’s advice to allow fall sports teams to choose their own start dates based on local coronavirus conditions. George Tomyn said no changes are necessary to the current July 27 start date, and that the classifications in place are “adequate for us to go forward.” He said schools won’t be penalized if they decide they can’t start a week from tomorrow. The board’s vote is today. Orlando Sentinel.

More on the coronavirus: The Lake County School District has begun requiring waivers for students who want to participate in extracurricular activities. Daily Commercial. With school reopenings still in flux, school districts and other organizations are scrambling to try to figure out how to keep children fed. Tampa Bay Times. Schools around the country are trying to form reopening plans that are flexible. Associated Press. Here are the reopening plans for some of the country’s largest districts. Education Week. Most California students will begin the school year with remote learning, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday. More than 6.7 million students in 32 counties are affected by the decision. Students in more rural counties will be cleared to attend schools, but children in grades 3-12 must wear masks. Associated Press. NPR. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden releases his school reopening plan, which calls for local officials to make decisions on how schools reopen and $34 billion in aid for public schools and child care providers. NPR. Business Insider.

Conflict of interest? New Hillsborough County school Superintendent Addison Davis recently recommended that the school board approve a $3.7 million purchase of learning materials from a New Jersey company where his brother works. Davis denied there was anything improper in the selection of Achieve3000 for the contract, and added that some schools in the district already use the materials. “I would in no way put myself or this organization in a compromising position,” he said. Gradebook.

Superintendent search: A citizens advisory committee has recommended six semifinalists to the Escambia County School Board for the superintendent’s job. Malcolm Thomas, who now holds that job, is retiring at the end of his term in November. County voters decided to make the job an appointed one. The only local candidate to make the list was Keith Leonard, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resource services. The board will vote Tuesday on which of the 27 applicants makes it to the next round. Pensacola News Journal.

Contract negotiations: The first day of bargaining between the Brevard County School District and its teachers union ended with no agreement. The union wants more safety and leave provisions written into the contract. District officials said they needed time to review the proposals. No date has been set for the next round of talks. Florida Today.

School elections: Incumbent Palm Beach County School Board District 1 member Barbara McQuinn is being challenged by entrepreneur Bonnie Jo Pettinga in next month’s primary election. Palm Beach Post. Candidates for Pasco County School Board seats and the superintendent’s job offer three things the district does well and three things they’d like to change. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel moves: Citrus County school Superintendent Sandra Himmel has been named president-elect for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents for the 2020-2021 school year. Citrus County Chronicle.

School board sued: The Lake County School Board is being sued by a parent whose son suffered a brain injury during a 7-on-7 football game in 2019. Jonah Zerblas was a freshman playing for Lake Minneola High School at Mount Dora High when he was injured. Daily Commercial.

Opinions on schools: We shouldn’t make any decisions for the school year that begins in August that would undermine the effort to make Florida’s schools stronger next year and into the future. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The effective teaching of religion in public schools should be taken seriously as part of the teacher training for the Master of Arts, and at least some graduates should finish sufficiently adept that their handling of the transcendental could claim neutrality. John E. Coons, redefinED. Delaying school reopenings until all public health systems are in place, and then moving to a hybrid model that evolves to a fully opened system, is a viable approach. Jeff Goldhagen, Florida Times-Union. Twenty-three questions for Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran from teachers. Jacob Asbell, Tallahassee Democrat. Last week’s selection of Sarasota County’s next school superintendent, Brennan Asplen, represents a timely clean slate and an opportunity to get back to the pressing business of growing young minds. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. This is not what going back to school should be like. John Hackworth, Charlotte Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff