Hillsborough’s $23 million risk, children infection growth, lawsuit hearing, budget cuts and more

Hillsborough’s risk: The Hillsborough County School District could lose up to $23 million a month in state funding if it chooses to defy Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order and opens the year with four weeks of online-learning only, according to the Florida Department of Education. Corcoran’s July 6 order stated that districts must offer five days a week of in-person instruction, starting in August. Last week the Hillsborough County School Board approved a proposal to open the school year with online-only learning, but by the end of the week Corcoran announced that he was rejecting that plan. The district has until Friday to return to the original plan the state had already approved or submit a revised plan to specify how it plans to serve those students who want to be in classrooms. Superintendent Addison Davis met with DOE officials Tuesday to discuss the stalemate, and the school board will meet Thursday to discuss its options. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTVT. WTSP. WFTS. Nearly 300 district employees and students have contracted the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. Gradebook.

Children with COVID: The number of Florida children under the age of 17 who have tested positive for the coronavirus has more than doubled in the past month, according to Florida Department of Health data. On July 9, the number of children infected was 16,797. By Aug. 9, it was 39,735, an increase of 137 percent. In that same period, the number of children hospitalized went from 213 to 436, a 105 percent increase, and deaths rose from four to seven. CNN. WSVN. WUSF. Florida students who are showing coronavirus symptoms at school will be be prioritized to get tested, according to a recommendation from the Florida Department of Health. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees had requested departments to focus on testing in schools. Florida Times-Union. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lawsuit hearing set: Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson has scheduled a hearing Thursday in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school reopening order. The order issued by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said that districts must reopen schools to students in August, unless state and local health officials say it can’t be done safely. The Florida Education Association’s subsequent lawsuit alleges that the directive violates the state constitution, which guarantees Floridians the right to “safe and secure” public education. News Service of Florida.

Budget problems: State agencies have been told to find possible ways to cut 8.5 percent from their budgets to deal with the anticipated decline in tax revenues brought on by the pandemic. Officials from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and the Legislature issued the memo in mid-July. Monday, DeSantis said that the pandemic will “loom” over every budget decision and policy debate in the next legislative session. State economists said revenues declined by nearly $1.9 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30. A panel will meet Friday to revise estimates of the state’s general revenue, which plays a critical role in funding schools. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Forty-four school districts have had their reopening plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. The latest is the FAU Lab School. Here are more developments on school reopenings and other news from the state’s districts:

Miami-Dade: District officials have targeted Oct. 5 as the date to begin Phase 2 of the school reopening plan, which calls for students to return to classrooms if they choose. But everything hinges on the status of the coronavirus at the time, said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. The first day of school is Aug. 31, with online-only learning. WTVJ. WFOR.

Broward: The school board decided on Tuesday to have the district review coronavirus conditions every two weeks to determine when it’s safe for students to return to classrooms, though Superintendent Robert Runcie said schools can’t reopen until the county’s positive test rate drops to 5 percent or lower. A previously approved draft plan had set Oct. 1 as the first review date, but board members said they had heard from many parents who were unhappy that the district planned to wait that long. County schools reopen Aug. 19 with online-only learning. Sun Sentinel. WSVN. WFOR.

Orange: A revised face mask policy was approved Tuesday by school board members. Students will have to wear face masks in schools unless they are on a break, outdoors and following social distancing guidelines, eating, exercising, playing an instrument or have a medical exemption. The district has reopened for online-only instruction, while in-person learning begins Aug. 21. WKMG.

Palm Beach: Several school board members said they can support the new plan Superintendent Donald Fennoy is asking them to approve after the state balked at the previous plan. The district will start the year online, and Fennoy wanted to bring students back in phases. When the state objected, Fennoy then proposed allowing any student to return to a school once it’s been determined it’s safe to do so. The board meets today to consider the change. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: About 1,200 district school bus drivers are voting on whether to authorize Teamsters 312 to call a strike. The drivers are unhappy with working conditions, though negotiations are continuing with Student Transportation of America and Durham School Services, the bus companies used by the school district. WJAX.

Polk: Schools will open as planned Aug. 24 with both online and in-person learning, Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd told the school board Tuesday. “The trend is going down,” she said about COVID-19 infection rates. Her assessment was supported by Dr. Joy Jackson, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County, and other doctors during the workshop session. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board members said they remain uneasy about reopening schools Aug. 24, but approved the district’s plan anyway because they don’t want to risk losing state funding by starting the year with remote learning only. Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett said the district could lose $167 million over the school year if it ignored the state’s order to offer families in-person instruction. “There would be some draconian cuts we would need to make,” he said. The board also approved an in-school mask mandate. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. WTVT. WTSP. WFTS. Bay News 9. Over the next eight months, Pinellas school officials said a new task force will review the curriculum for racist views and remove them. Patch.

Brevard: All students except those in pre-K through 2nd grade will be required to wear masks in schools and on buses when classes begin Aug. 24. The younger students will be strongly encouraged to wear face coverings. WKMG. WESH.

Seminole: School board members approved a policy requiring students to wear face masks in schools and on buses for the next 90 days when social distancing isn’t possible. Exceptions are being made for students with medical issues. Schools reopen Monday. WKMG. WESH.

Lake: About 20 district teachers have tested positive for the coronavirus under the rapid testing offered this week. They’ll be quarantined for three days and then retested. Schools reopen Aug. 24. WESH.

Leon: The Fort Braden School community has been rocked with the third loss to the coronavirus. Jacqueline Byrd, 55, a former Fort Braden School employee, died Monday of complications from the coronavirus. Her son Jordan, 19, died from the virus July 18. On July 25, 53-year-old Karen Bradwell, who ran an after-care program at the school, died. She was the mother of Jordan Byrd’s girlfriend. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV. The delivery of 32,000 Chromebooks for students to use for remote learning has been delayed, possibly until late September. Schools reopen Aug. 31. The district plans to use the nearly 15,000 laptops it has for students in digital academies. WTXL.

Alachua: School board members meet today to decide how schools will open Aug. 24. The state has already approved the district’s plan to offer students in-person and virtual learning options, but board members have expressed an interest in the approach being taken at the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School. It’s going all digital, with students taking the classes at the school. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: Officials said the Chromebooks that have been issued to students will handle the district’s new online learning option, BayLink. The virtual option lets students attend classes at the school of their choice. “They’re (students) getting and using the same programs that we use every day in our classroom,” said Tamra Hogue, supervisor of instructional technology and media services. “We use those Chromebooks every day. We’ve been using them for several years now.” Panama City News Herald. All fulltime district employees will be paid an extra $1,500 in September if they worked at least 98 days during the 2019-2020 school year, or $1,000 if they worked less than 98 days. WMBB.

Martin: All school employees have been categorized as “essential workers” by the district, which means they are required to report for work even if they’ve been exposed to the coronavirus but aren’t showing symptoms. “This means the 14-day quarantine will not apply for essential employees who have been exposed ‘the close contact rule’ to a person with COVID-19 and the employee IS NOT symptomatic,” chief human resources officer Carlos Perez wrote in an email to employees. “This includes close contacts in the home, (such as) employees who may be living with someone who has COVID.” TCPalm. Two students who started school Tuesday, one in-person and one online, describe the first day. TCPalm.

Indian River: School board members unanimously approved the district’s updated plan to reopen schools Aug. 24. Students can attend in-person or remotely. About 67 percent of students will be returning to classrooms, with 17 percent attending a virtual school and 16 percent beginning the school year with a transitional distance learning model. WPEC.

Flagler: Children under the age of 17 have had a positive coronavirus test rate of about 17 percent in the past month, according to health authorities. Tests have been given to 306 children since July 17, and 52 have come back positive. Flagler Live.

Hendry: The first day of school has been pushed back to Aug. 24, district officials announced Tuesday. Students will begin with online-only learning. Students who chose the in-person classes will begin Aug. 31, though they’re being encouraged by the district to join the remote learners the week before so they’ll have a feel for the process if the district has to switch to it later in the school year. Teachers will wear face masks, and students will be required to wear masks in school and on the bus. The reopening decision was a departure from the previous plan of starting the year with online-only learning, and it came after Superintendent Paul Puletti spoke with state officials over the weekend who advised him that Hendry needed to follow the state’s order to offer in-person instruction. “I made the choice because I didn’t want to risk losing funding for this district,” said Puletti, who is retiring in November. “It’s all very stressful.” WBBH. Daily Beast.

Jackson: District officials have plans to build a pre-K through Grade 8 school in Grand Ridge to house students who now attend Sneads Elementary and Grand Ridge Middle School. The district just opened a K-8 school in Marianna and an addition that expands the Graceville School to pre-K through 12. Jackson County Floridan.

Gadsden: Eight district employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Superintendent Roger Milton. Schools reopen Aug. 31, with 55 percent of students taking classes remotely and 45 percent returning to classes. WCTV.

Wakulla: Schools open Thursday for those students who chose in-person learning, while remote learning classes begin Aug. 27. Training began last night for those students and their parents on how to get on and navigate the digital learning platform the district is using this year. WFSU.

Franklin: Schools reopen Friday with masks required when social distancing isn’t possible, in-person and online learning options and training prepared to educate students on good hand hygiene and overall health habits. WJHG.

More on the coronavirus: Private schools in the Tampa Bay area are adapting to the pandemic by pushing back start dates, offering hybrid learning options, requiring masks, checking temperatures at the door and emphasizing social distancing. Tampa Bay Times.

Education podcasts: Education choice pioneer Stephen Sugarman talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about mounting a legal attack on the “wealth discrimination” of district school funding, his relationship with famed economist Milton Friedman and more in the first of three parts. redefinED.

Notable deaths: Ralph Lowenstein, who was the dean of the University of Florida’s journalism school from 1976 through 1994, died Monday at a Gainesville hospital after suffering a stroke. He was 90. Gainesville Sun. Miami Herald. Fresh Take Florida.

School elections: Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning is being challenged by longtime principal David LaRoche. They’ve taken contrasting  positions on school choice, teacher pay, LGBTQ student rights, school reopenings, academic standards and student discipline. Tampa Bay Times. Shelia Arnett, Allison B. Campbell and Lori Conrad are competing to replace Nancy Stacy in the District 1 seat on the Marion County School Board. Stacy isn’t running for re-election. WCJB. Here’s a preview of the race for the District 2 seat on the Polk County School Board between incumbent Lori Cunningham and challenger Anita Carson. Lakeland Ledger. Two candidates are challenging incumbent Colleen Conklin for the District 3 seat on the Flagler County School Board. Conklin, Paul Mucciolo and Carol (Mother Elizabeth) Bacha talk about their qualifications and goals if elected. Flagler Live.

District sued: The mother of an 8-year-old boy police tried to handcuff in 2018 at a Key West elementary school has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Monroe County School District, the city, the officers involved, the teacher and two school officials. The boy was arrested after punching a teacher in the chest. A video of the incident was posted online this week by a Tallahassee civil rights lawyer. Miami Herald. Key West Citizen.

Student witnesses murder: A 10-year-old Martin County student was online with her Warfield Elementary School teacher and classmates Tuesday morning when a man entered her home and shot her mother to death. The teacher said she heard a commotion through the computer, then saw the girl put her hands to her ears just before the screen went blank after a bullet struck the computer. Deputies said Donald J. Williams, 27, shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, Maribel Rosado-Morales, 32, in front of six children. Williams fled the scene but was arrested on a Martin County bus. WPEC. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: When voters approved an amendment capping class sizes, state legislators immediately began looking for loopholes to get around the caps. And now, when those smaller class sizes are really needed to help slow the transmission of the coronavirus, the state finds itself with not enough teachers to go around. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Congressional funding for better testing services will eventually arrive, but likely not before the beginning of the school year. Gov. Ron DeSantis has a rainy-day fund of a few billion dollars to cover crisis situations such as these, and he should use it to bolster Florida’s testing program until federal money arrives. Ryan Mackler, Orlando Sentinel. An unelected education commissioner who reports to an unelected, seven-member board of gubernatorial appointees overruled the local officials in whom the Florida Constitution vests the power to run schools and threatens to withhold money. Is that legal? Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff