Teen arrested in cyberattack, virtual enrollment booms, concurrent teaching ripped, Phase 2 and more

FLVS enrollment up: The coronavirus pandemic has fueled a boom in the virtual education business in Florida and around the country. Florida Virtual School’s enrollment is up 64 percent in fulltime students and 54 percent in the individual courses, and it’s hired 320 teachers and upgraded the capability of its servers. Education Week. FLVS announced this week that it will make its 190-course curriculum available for purchase by private schools that participate in the state’s scholarship programs. Nine schools had signed up by midweek, and others have reportedly expressed interest. The agreement gives private school students who aren’t prepared to return to classrooms another option, said FLVS president and CEO Louis Algaze. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer those scholarship programs. redefinED.

Concurrent teaching: Teachers in Pinellas and Sarasota counties are lodging complaints about being asked to teach students both in the classroom and from home simultaneously. The practice is called concurrent teaching, and teachers from both districts said it’s not a long-term workable solution. “It really is making it difficult for both the students that are face-to-face and online to have the full educational experience that they are used to,” Pinellas special education teacher Janet Cunningham told U.S. Rep Charlie Crist during an online chat this week. Sarasota teachers union president Patricia Gardner said she’s been bombarded with messages from teachers about the practice. “They are finding they can’t give the attention to both groups. They just don’t feel like they are doing the job they should be doing and they feel the kids aren’t getting what they deserve to get on either side of this.” Gradebook. WFLA.

Around the state: Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a meeting Thursday with bar owners and craft brewers in St. Petersburg, questioned how much longer social distancing guidelines should remain in effect. “I just worry that when we talk about things like social distancing, all this stuff, how long of a period of time is that natural for people to do?” he mused. Meanwhile, school districts around the state have been left to decide how much information to release about coronavirus cases in schools. Not surprisingly, policies vary from district to district. Here are more developments on school reopenings and other news from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: A 16-year-old junior at South Miami Senior High School has been arrested and accused of launching at least eight of the 24 or so cyberattacks that crippled the state’s largest school district’s online-only learning for three days this week. The rest of the attacks are thought to be the work of foreign hackers. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the attacks stopped Thursday. That, and the move of grades 6-12 to different platforms, led to a far smoother day for students. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. Politico Florida. The accused hacker, who was described by shocked neighbors as an “awesome” kid, used an easy-to-download program to launch the attack, said authorities. Miami Herald. WPLG. WFOR.

Hillsborough: At least one player from both the Hillsborough High and Jefferson High football teams has tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing other players and coaches to quarantine and canceling games. WTVT. Plant City High School teacher Casey Hamilton has attracted more than 4 million viewers to his TikTok videos that he uses for student projects, and has decided to take a leave of absence to try to make a career as an entertainer. WTVT.

Orange: Any information about coronavirus virus cases in county schools will have to come from school districts, Orange County health officer Dr. Raul Pino said Thursday. He said the law prohibits health departments from releasing that kind of information. Orange district officials have announced that they will post updates on social media every Tuesday and Friday until they have a coronavirus dashboard ready to put on their website. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV.

Palm Beach: Gov. DeSantis announced Thursday that Palm Beach County would be permitted to move into Phase 2 in the state’s reopening plan next Tuesday. County Mayor Dave Kerner said he also asked the governor to allow the school district to delay the reopening of schools for in-person learning to Sept. 21. The district had previously announced it would reopen schools one week after Phase 2 began, which would be Sept. 14, but Superintendent Donald Fennoy told Kerner the district needed another week to prepare. Kerner said he has not yet gotten an answer from DeSantis on that point. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: School board member Elizabeth Anderson expects the district to begin posting coronavirus statistics for schools on its website soon. “I spoke to (Superintendent Diana Greene) this morning. This is something we are monitoring closely. I think we got a verbal confirmation that … we should be able to release a dashboard next week.” District officials planned to start a dashboard, but were overruled last week by county health officials who said state permission was required. WJXT.

Polk: Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd announced Thursday she would be willing to delay her retirement from February until the end of June to help with the transition to a new leader. Board member Billy Townsend, who lost his re-election bid in the Aug. 18 primary, said Byrd has been lying to the public and thinks she has no intention to leave. Byrd released a statement through the district spokeswoman, saying, “I have been completely honest with the board and the community about my upcoming retirement. I will be retiring from the school district in 2021.” Lakeland Ledger. Fifty coronavirus cases in 27 district schools have been confirmed since the academic year began nine days ago. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Four more students have contracted COVID-19, according to district officials. Fourteen classrooms have been quarantined at Largo High School, St. Petersburg High, Sanderlin pre-K-8 school and Sutherland Elementary. There have now been 11 cases confirmed of infected students and 11 of employees, and at least 40 classrooms have been quarantined. Florida Politics.

Lee: Four schools have reported positive coronavirus test results this week. Bonita Springs High School, North Fort Myers High, Cape Elementary and Ray V. Pottorf Elementary in Fort Myers are affected. District officials did not say whether those infected were students or employees, or how many people have been quarantined. Fort Myers News-Press. The district has started a hotline and website where parents can report children with coronavirus symptoms or get answers to questions. WINK.

Pasco: More than 210 students and 33 teachers have been quarantined since schools opened Aug. 24 because they have either contracted the coronavirus or been exposed to someone who has, district officials said. Six new cases were reported Wednesday, requiring the quarantining of 73 students and 11 employees. Florida Politics. No hearing has been set for the lawsuit against the district’s reopening of schools that was filed by the union representing employees. And union president Don Peace said that if the positive case rate stays where it is, below 5 percent, the lawsuit may simply disappear. Gradebook.

Brevard: Two more schools reported coronavirus cases on Thursday, and officials have shut down two classrooms and ordered quarantines. At least 14 Merritt Island High School students have been asked to quarantine, and a classroom at the new Viera Elementary was also ordered closed. Eighteen students have been put in quarantine. Florida Today. WKMG.

Osceola: Public school libraries are missing $750,000 worth of books, according to district officials. Nearly 38,000 books that were checked out last spring when the pandemic closed schools have not been returned, and district officials will be contacting students and parents to ask for them back. WOFL.

Volusia: An assistant football coach at DeLand High School has tested positive for the coronavirus, canceling practices for the next two weeks and forcing the cancellation of the team’s first game Sept. 18. WKMG. WOFL. Teachers union officials want the district to fire ABM Industries, the company with the custodial contract for schools, after two teachers said they saw an elementary school custodian using toilet water to clean bathrooms. Florida Today.

Manatee: For the third time since schools reopened Aug. 17, Manatee High School officials have reported a positive coronavirus case that led to “direct exposures” for others. Barbara A. Harvey Elementary School also reported “a couple of COVID cases” and multiple exposures. At least 40 cases at more than 20 schools have now been reported, according to the district’s coronavirus dashboard. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: A Ponte Vedra High School student has tested positive for the coronavirus. Thirty-one other students have been told they should quarantine for the next two weeks. It’s believed to be the district’s first positive test since schools reopened Monday. WJXT.

Northwest Florida: Five charter schools in northwest Florida were among those to receive money from the Payroll Protection Program to keep employees on the payroll during the pandemic, according to a list compiled by the Washington Post. The Liza Jackson Preparatory School and Okaloosa Academy in Fort Walton Beach, Walton Academy in Defuniak Springs, and Learning Academy of Santa Rosa in Milton received a total of $1,804,059. Rising Leaders Academy in Panama City received between $150,000 and $350,000. Northwest Florida Daily News. After less than two weeks of in-person education, some Escambia County students are uneasy about the lack of face masks and social distancing and want to transfer to virtual learning. School officials said they will have to wait until the end of the first semester. WEAR.

Leon: The assistant principal who was removed from the Apalachee Tapestry Magnet School of the Arts because of a culturally insensitive Facebook post will not be joining the school she was initially reassigned to, Killearn Lakes Elementary. Nikki Bradley was given a letter of reprimand, but no other information about where she will be moved was given. Assistant superintendent Deana McAllister said in a Facebook video, “After careful consideration, it was determined the post was not meant to be divisive or hurtful, nor racially motivated. However, we understand the severity of words and how they can be hurtful.” Tallahassee Democrat. Four students and two employees have tested positive for the coronavirus this week, according to district officials. A coronavirus dashboard is expected to be put up on the district website next week. WTXL.

Alachua: The district now has a coronavirus dashboard on its website that is updated daily. As of Thursday, it showed two students and nine employees had tested positive for COVID-19. WJXT.

Indian River: A Sebastian River High School student has tested positive for the coronavirus, and nine classmates have been placed in a two-week quarantine, district officials said Thursday. It’s the fourth incident this school year for the district. VeroNews.com. WPEC.

Monroe: A school district Facebook post that suggested orientation could be canceled at two schools because some of their teachers “are resistant to returning to school next week” has been removed. Superintendent Theresa Axford has apologized for the post, calling it factually incorrect and a “poor choice of verbiage.” Florida Keys Weekly. Several charter schools in the Keys also have opened recently, with most offering limited in-person instruction. Florida Keys Weekly.

Jackson: Thirty-one employees from seven schools are under quarantine. One class at Marianna K-8 has been quarantined and the start of the school year for the entire 1st grade has been delayed. WMBB.

More on the coronavirus: U.S. Senate Republicans want to include money for private school tuition, home-schooling and a permanent tax credit scholarships program in the next national coronavirus relief package. Florida Phoenix. The U.S. Department of Education has changed its rules and will allow the use of after-school funds for districts to help support learning centers and hubs where students can go for remote learning. The 74. With classrooms being cleaned more often and more thoroughly than ever before, many teachers have decided to forgo the usual wall decorations. Instead, many are projecting their personalities and decorating skills on their online homeroom pages. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: Virtual learning is proving to be virtually impossible. The Miami-Dade County School District needs a Plan B, and in a hurry. Miami Herald. We respect the concerns of families for whom the health risks of students returning to school classrooms are more than they can tolerate. But we must also respect the concerns of families who have weighed the risks of not returning to school and want their students to return. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Tampa Bay Times. Two children’s first day in virtual school forced a mother to remember that she made this choice for them. Annabelle Tometich, Fort Myers News-Press.

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BY NextSteps staff