Reopening case moved to Leon, health guidance, Hillsborough chooses online, tax holiday and more

Case moved to Leon County: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Spencer Eig has agreed with the state that the Florida Education Association’s request for an emergency injunction against the state’s executive order to reopen schools should be moved to a Leon County court. A lawyer representing the state government argued that cases involving constitutional challenges are typically conducted in the home county where an agency is headquartered. Eig concurred, and added that moving the case will get it a faster review, which is crucial since more than half the state’s school districts begin to open next week. The FEA’s lawsuit is alleging that the state’s order to reopen schools to students five days a week violates the Florida constitution, which requires safety and security in public schools, and the injunction is being sought to delay those reopenings while the lawsuit is pending. News Service of Florida. USA Today Network. Politico Florida. WFSU. Tampa Bay Times. WJXT. Teachers union officials from 10 central Florida districts are urging the state to focus on online learning. Daily Commercial.

Health officials’ guidance: When the state issued its executive order that schools would have to reopen classrooms for students five days a week in August, it said districts could apply for waivers if local health officials agreed that it would be too dangerous to open. Then the Gov. Ron DeSantis administration issued a directive to those health officials saying they were to provide information only, not make recommendations. Without clear guidance, most school board members said they felt they had no choice but to follow the order. In Volusia County, health official Patricia Boswell said, “We’ve been advised that our role here is to just advise as to what can we do to make the environment in schools as safe as possible with COVID-19,” Boswell said during a school board meeting. “It is not to make a decision on whether or not to open the school.” Brevard health director Maria Stahl told the county’s school board that she couldn’t give direct advice because they “have to follow the orders that we have.” She added, “I don’t think any of us are in a position to balk the governor.” Palm Beach Post.

DeSantis plugs sports: Gov. DeSantis continued his tour of the state on Thursday, at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, to promote the reopening of schools. This time his appeal referenced the importance of school sports. They’re “critical” to student discipline and for earning college scholarships, he said. Without them, he said there will be “huge effects” on students. “These are moments they are not going to get back,” he said. “I am standing with our coaches and our athletes. This is something critical.” Tampa Bay Times. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics. WMFE. WJXT.

Back-to-school tax holiday: Florida’s annual back-to-school tax holiday begins today and continues through Sunday. Exempt from the state’s sales tax are school supplies that cost less than $15 per item, clothing that costs less than $60 per item, and computers and accessories that sell for less than $1,000. And in a nod to the coronavirus pandemic, the Florida Department of Revenue this week added face masks to the list of tax-free items. Associated Press. Tallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. WUSF. WTLV.

Around the state: Forty state school districts have had their reopening plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. The latest are Highlands, Bradford and Dixie.  Here are more developments on reopenings and other news from the state’s districts:

Broward: An administrative law judge has ruled that the Broward County School Board wrongly revoked the contract of a charter school after it started the 2019-2020 school year without an armed school guard who met the state’s criteria for being a “safe school officer.” Judge Cathy Sellers decided that the school board did not prove there was an “immediate and serious danger” to students at the Championship Academy of Distinction at Davie when it terminated the charter, and ordered that the charter be reinstated. News Service of Florida.

Hillsborough: School board members voted 5-2 on Thursday to start the school year Aug. 24 with online-only learning, saying it was too risky to put students back in classrooms that soon. Board members Cindy Stuart and Melissa Snively voted against the proposal. “We’re not set up to do this blended model,” argued Stuart. “There are not plans in place for the underserved children.” The board will meet Sept. 8 with health officials to re-evaluate the state of the pandemic. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. Florida Politics. WUSF. WFLA. WFTS. The district is upgrading all air-conditioning filters to help ensure that all buildings are properly ventilated, at a cost of about $690,000. Bay News 9.

Orange: The teachers union has declared an impasse with the district over the reopening of schools. Teachers are worried about their health and don’t want to return to classrooms, while district officials said they were following the state’s order and the advice of health officials. Schools are scheduled to reopen Aug. 21. WKMG. WFTV.

Polk: The McKeel Academy of Technology in Lakeland became one of the first schools in the state to reopen its doors to students on Thursday. About 70 percent of the students at the pre-K through grade 12 charter school opted for in-person learning. “I believe we have policies in place to keep us safe and to keep the kids safe and to keep school open,” said teacher Rebecca Juliano. “I would love for everyone to support us and cheer us on.” Lakeland Ledger. About 45 percent of Polk public school students have chosen to start the year with in-person learning, according to district officials. About 46 percent will attend the Campus eSchool, and 8.6 percent opted for Polk Virtual. Schools reopen Aug. 24. Patch.

Pinellas: The Hillsborough County School Board’s decision on Thursday to start the year with online-only learning has found a receptive audience among its peers in Pinellas. When school board member Eileen Long heard what Hillsborough was doing, she said, “I like that idea. I like it a lot.” She will propose that the board do something similar at its meeting Tuesday. Schools are scheduled to reopen Aug. 24. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Any district student who is already at school and begins to feel sick with symptoms that suggest a coronavirus infection will be immediately placed into an isolation room and monitored until a parent arrives to take her or him home. Isolation rooms have covered chairs and cots for students and barriers to keep them apart, and will be cleaned every time they’re used. Fort Myers News-Press. District workers demonstrate how rooms will be cleaned, including the use of defogging. Fort Myers News-Press. WBBH.

Sarasota: Tuesday, the school board adopted a policy that allowed students and staff to wear clear face shields instead of masks in schools. By Thursday, after teachers and the community criticized the decision, four of five board members said they wanted to eliminate that option. Some board members said they did not know before their vote that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend using face shields instead of masks. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The district has released two back-to-school guides, one for families of students and one for employees, to help address frequently asked questions. Teachers return to work Aug. 17, and students follow Aug. 31. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: Thirty school district employees have tested positive for the coronavirus since April, district officials said Thursday, and 134 are currently in quarantine because they may have been exposed. WCTV.

Bay: A district nurse has been hired to provide school officials with guidance on how to deal with coronavirus issues. Lyndsey Jackson will communicate with the county health department so she can provide updates on CDC guidelines, as well as dealing with testing of students and establishing protocols for handling those who show symptoms. Panama City News Herald. WJHG. WMBB.

Okeechobee: A state facilities preapplication committee has visited Okeechobee High School and determined that replacing it is a critical need for the district. School officials will now make an official presentation of their plans to members of the State Facilities Committee. The committee will then rank the request among others from around the state to determine an order for when the districts receive funding for their projects. Lake Okeechobee News.

More on the coronavirus: A Florida teacher who fears returning to school has written and posted her own obituary on her Facebook page. WKMG. How do you get young students to keep masks on their faces? It’s a challenge but it can be done, experts say. Edutopia. Education Dive. Getting students to school safely on buses has been a puzzle for school districts around the country. Associated Press.

Holocaust instruction: The state’s Holocaust Education Task Force has completed a resource guide that “will be put out as soon as possible to all the school districts,” said task force chair Barbara Goldstein. A law passed by the Legislature this year mandates teaching about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. It also created a Holocaust Education Week during the second week in November. WFSU.
School elections: Leon County School Board candidates answer questions about the state’s school reopening order, how to ensure equity, how teachers enforce mask mandates and balancing a student’s privacy with the need for a school community to know when someone has tested positive for the coronavirus. Tallahassee Democrat. Candidates for the District 2 and District 4 seats on the Lake County School Board talk about their qualifications and their priorities if they’re elected. Orlando Sentinel. Three candidates for the District 1 seat on the Marion County School Board talk about their three top priorities. Ocala Star-Banner.
Employees and the law: A former Glades County teacher has been arrested and charged with committing sex crimes against two underage girls. Lee County deputies said Taylor Harris, 26, is accused of lewd and lascivious conduct with the girls in Lehigh Acres. Harris taught at West Glades Elementary School in Labelle from August 2016 until June 2020, when he resigned. WFTX. WZVN.

Opinions on schools: While the availability of information in public education has gotten better over the last 25 years, families and schools still lack the quality and quantity of information they need to make good decisions. These market flaws are causing taxpayers to get a poor return on their investments in public education. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. Education can be one of the great equalizers in society, and equalizing opportunities is fundamental to finding the learning environment that works best for each child. Jeff Driskel, redefinED. President Trump’s statement that  “children are almost immune from this disease (coronavirus)” is not accurate, according to health experts. PolitiFact. Just as we look to meteorologists to understand our risks of being hit by a hurricane, so should we look to medical experts to guide our decisions on school reopenings during this global pandemic. Julie Delegal, Florida Times-Union.