Grade failures soaring, COVID cases rising but not spreading in schools, class sizes increased and more

Around the state: The number of failing grades rose significantly during the first grading period in the Collier County School District, south Florida schools are seeing a rise in coronavirus cases but officials said there’s no evidence students are spreading the virus on campuses, and Okeechobee teachers are angry after the school board raised the number of students allowed in classes. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The school district is taking part in a national effort to improve racial and socioeconomic integration in schools. Twenty-seven district leaders and representatives from 17 charter schools and 12 housing organizations are participating in the Bridges Collaborative to “(reignite) a nationwide movement for integrated schools and diverse neighborhoods” by “providing them the space and opportunity to learn from one another, build grassroots political support, and develop successful strategies for integration,” according to the organization’s website. WLRN.

Broward, south Florida: Coronavirus cases are rising in south Florida, but school officials in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties said there is little evidence that the virus is being spread by students in schools. They said nearly all the more than 2,000 cases reported happened off-campus. Still, state health officials said, about 22 percent of elementary students who have the virus are considered “silent carriers.” Sun Sentinel. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will take up a case filed by former and current Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students that allege the defendants, including the school district and law enforcement officials, had a duty to protect them and failed. A federal district judge dismissed the case in 2018. News Service of Florida.

Volusia and Flagler: More than 420 coronavirus cases have now been reported in Volusia and Flagler schools, according to the Florida Department of Health. Volusia accounts for 346 of the cases, and Flagler 78. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

Collier: Twenty-three percent of the district’s students in grades 3-12 failed one or more classes in the first quarter, school officials have reported. That’s up from 10 percent in the same grading period a year ago. More than 37,800 students received Ds or Fs. Peggy Aune, the district’s associate superintendent of teaching and learning, cautioned that comparing this school year to the last year is difficult because of the different circumstances caused by the pandemic. The district also reported that in-classroom learners made up about 57 percent of the students in the first grading period, but received just 41 percent of the Ds or Fs. Virtual learners received 59 percent of the poor grades while making up just 41 percent of the total number of students. Aune said the district is working to support all students, regardless of their learning method. “We are certainly looking at what has been successful,” she said. “What can we replicate across the district? What are some engagement strategies for students in the virtual model?” Naples Daily News. The parents of two students who were allegedly molested by a teacher have filed a lawsuit against the school board, claiming that the district was negligent by failing to protect them. Hector Manley, 31, who was a teacher at Parkside Elementary School, faces charges of lewd and lascivious molestation and sexual battery against more than a dozen former students. WINK. WFTX.

St. Johns: The school district has fired a teacher who is under investigation by the sheriff’s office for allegedly sending sexually charged messages to members of a child advocacy group posing as 15-year-old girls. The group, Alliance Against Childhood Exploitation, confronted the teacher in a video that was posted online and brought to the attention of the school district. The district didn’t name the teacher because he has not been criminally charged. WJAX. WTLV.

Sarasota: The boy who was killed last weekend when two sailboats collided in Sarasota Bay during a youth club practice has been identified as 10-year-old 6th-grader Ethan Isaacs of the Pine View School. Grief counselors were at the school Monday to talk with students. The Sarasota Police Department and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission are investigating. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. WWSB. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA.

Leon: The school board and a school resource officer are being sued by parents whose autistic son was arrested in January 2019, placed in handcuffs and involuntarily committed to a mental health and psychiatric facility under the Baker Act. The boy had been sent to the guidance office because he was having a hard time with a math test. The lawsuit alleges the resource officer “repeatedly engaged him in an aggressive and combative manner” and said she would arrest him if he didn’t calm down. She then took the boy to the psychiatric facility, calling the parents on the way. District officials said they don’t comment on pending litigation. Tallahassee Democrat.

Santa Rosa: A local environmental group recently planted 10 trees on the campus of the Van R. Butler Elementary School in Santa Rosa Beach. Members of the community can adopt a tree and have a personalized plaque for $250. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Okeechobee: School board members recently agreed to increase the number of students allowed in classrooms. Kindergartens through 3rd grades were limited to 18, but that goes to 21 under the new rules. The limit of 22 for 4th- through 8th-graders was boosted to 27, and 30 may now be placed in 9th- through 12-grade classes instead of 25. Union president Jorje Botello said teachers are upset. “We can’t properly service in the classrooms if they’re going to be overcrowded,” he said. “And not to mention, hello, we’re in a pandemic.” WPEC.

Around the nation: Internet bandwidth in K-12 schools in the United States has grown by more than 37 percent in the past year, in median bandwith per student, but about two-thirds of schools still lack the recommended connectivity speeds, according to a report by Connected Nation. Education Dive. Race “remains a prevailing factor” in student outcomes in high schools and colleges, according to a recent report from the American Council on Education. Education Dive. Two Georgia school districts, 200 miles apart, developed different policies on students and employees wearing masks in schools. Two months after schools reopened, one of the districts had the highest rate of school-age coronavirus cases in the state and the other had no school-related transmissions. ProPublica. Mothers of students share what happens to working parents when schools are shut down. Forbes. Congressional Democrats have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to use physical restraints against students in schools or place them in seclusion. ProPublica.

Testing concerns: Florida is requiring students to take standardized tests this spring. But they will have to be taken in schools, which creates concerns for some parents whose children are taking remote classes because of health worries and for districts, which have to find a way to get those online-only students to the schools. Florida Phoenix. President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to be secretary of education will have to quickly decide if federal standardized testing requirements should be waived for a second straight year. Politico.

Opinions on schools: School districts around the country have begun a second round of shutdowns, which means families need much stronger charter and private choice programs, and innovative solutions, as the need for remediation will exceed the current system’s ability to supply it. If it ever existed, the time for capped, limited or otherwise hamstrung choice programs has passed. The 2021 legislative sessions will be a time to go big or go home. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. It’s our own fault that so many of us have treated the pandemic as an inconvenience, leaving our health in grave danger and our children locked out of school. Conor P. Williams, The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff