Online learning rising along with COVID cases, police action under investigation, face mask suit and more

Online learning: Three civil rights organizations have joined superintendents and teachers in lobbying the state to allow students to continue taking live online classes in the next semester. The League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP contend that parents who are worried about their children’s health because of the surge in coronavirus cases should have a choice, and that the livestreamed classes offer students, especially students of color, a better opportunity to learn than the independent study offered by other virtual programs. The state is expected to decide soon whether it will fully fund districts for students taking live online classes. Many districts are already dropping the option and pushing the students back into classrooms. Tampa Bay Times. As the number of coronavirus cases spikes around the country, more school districts are giving up in-person classes and offering online-only options. “The district relied on science and the data to reopen schools for in-person learning this summer and fall and relied on the same to decide that it was no longer safe for our students and employees to work in an in-person school environment,” said Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who was superintendent of the Duval County School District from 2013-2017. Associated Press.

Around the state: With Tropical Storm Eta gone, schools around the state are reopening today for in-person classes although some remain online-only, Pinellas school officials are investigating the way district police acted when they arrested a woman who wasn’t wearing a mask at this week’s school board meeting, veteran Marion County teachers will get a 2.3 percent raise instead of the 3 percent the union wanted, the Indian River School District is being sued over its face mask policy, five finalists are named for the Bay County teacher of the year award, two Volusia students are being called heroes for saving choking victims at their school, and the state is asking an appeals court to reject a request for a rehearing in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the order to reopen schools. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Attorneys for five former middle school students who were the victims of sexual assault by a teacher have settled a lawsuit against the school board for $8,753,000. The settlement was reached almost three years after Brownsville Middle School physical education teacher Wendell Nibbs was arrested and charged with sexual battery on children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. He later pleaded guilty to charges of sexual activity with a minor and is serving an eight-year sentence. WFOR.

Duval: When Tropical Storm Eta was barreling toward Duval County, the school district decided to switch to its virtual Duval HomeRoom program instead of simply closing schools. But many students who are learning in classrooms had not attended classes from home through livestreaming since last spring, and it was not a smooth transition for some. There were students who didn’t have devices or adequate Internet connections, and there were the inevitable technical issues of students not being able to sign in or being booted off the system. Superintendent Diana Greene said students who had technical problems would not be penalized academically. WJXT. WJAX.

Pinellas: The school district has launched an investigation into the way its police officers acted when they arrested a woman for not wearing a mask at Tuesday’s school board meeting. About 25 parents attended the meeting to protest the requirement that students wear masks. As they were leaving, police confronted a woman, sparking a confrontation and arresting her in front of her children. Board member Lisa Cane, who cast the only vote against the mask mandate, said, “I do not condone the way this was handled. … It could have been handled many, many, many other ways.” A district spokeswoman said formal complaints were made about one or more of the officers involved, prompting the investigation. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: Two students at a Daytona Beach Catholic school are being called heroes after saving people who were choking in the past week. A week ago, Lourdes Academy 8th-grader Jonathan Puerto helped dislodge a popsicle stick that lodged in the throat of a friend during lunch. A few days later, 8th-grader Antonio Wilson came to the rescue of after-school coordinator Dawn Ritchie, who was choking after having a snack. WOFL.

Collier: Of the 820 district students quarantined so far this school year, just eight have subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus, county health official Stephanie Vick told school board members this week. No classrooms have been quarantined. “We are not seeing outbreaks related to schools,” Dr. David Lindner, medical director of NCH Healthcare’s coronavirus team, told the board. He credited the district’s face mask policy and the focus on hand-washing and social distancing. “I remember listening to numerous individuals saying how basically we were going to see this huge spike in COVID as soon as schools opened. We haven’t. And that’s because what you’re doing is working,” he said. “I want to applaud you.” Naples Daily News.

Sarasota: The district’s handling of race issues has become a flashpoint at school board meetings in the past few months, with activists protesting and speaking at meetings to plead their cases on such issues as incorporating more current racial material into the curriculum and the requirement that students wear face masks. Superintendent Brennan Asplen wants to walk a neutral line, and said he is telling teachers to stay away from discussing whether historical events were good or bad. Instead, he said, teachers should present all sides of an issue and let students arrive at their own conclusions. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: Raises for veteran teachers will stay at 2.3 percent instead of being boosted to 3 percent as the union requested, school board members unanimously decided this week. The union and the district declared an impasse after the district increased starting teacher salaries by $5,700 a year, to $44,750, under a state push toward setting a minimum salary of $47,500. Union officials objected to the smaller raises for veteran teachers, and appealed to the board to choose the larger raise. The extra 0.7 percent would cost the district about $700,000 a year. Ocala Star-Banner.

Leon: The Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School for K-12 students has closed until Nov. 30 after two coronavirus cases were confirmed this week. Students will switch to remote learning. It’s the second time this fall that the school has closed because of the coronavirus. WTXL. WCTV. Tallahassee Democrat. Recent gang-related violence in Tallahassee has prompted the school district to launch an anti-violence tour of middle and high schools. “We will enhance operations this school year and meet regularly among our partners with the goal of preventing school violence,” said John Hunkiar, the district’s director of safety and security. “Mental health evaluation, intervention and education is a major component of our school safety initiatives.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: Five finalists are named for the teacher of the year award. They are: Paula Kaye Jones, Waller Elementary; Vicki Reding, West Bay Elementary; Kelly Land, Surfside Middle; Patrick Hair, Mosley High; and Crystal Bullock, Bay High. Panama City News Herald.

Indian River: Four parents are suing the school board over its policy requiring students to wear face masks at school. The lawsuit calls the mandate “irrational,” claim it creates separate and unequal learning environments, and said the district gave parents who object to their children wearing face masks no option except to learn remotely. TCPalm. The Indian River County case is one of a growing number of such lawsuits nationwide. Education Dive. A 31-year-old man has been arrested and accused of having a gun on school property. Deputies said Samuel Phillip failed to stop at a stop sign and was pulled over, and a gun and ammunition were found. TCPalm.

Okeechobee: Nineteen students from the Osceola Middle School in Okeechobee are being quarantined for 14 days after one student tested positive for the coronavirus. WPEC.

Jackson: Beginning today, the Marianna K-8 School is switching to online-only learning until Nov. 30 because of an outbreak of coronavirus cases at the school. “While the positive COVID cases at Marianna K-8 School continue to remain minimal, the number of quarantined individuals is rising due to community and school contact,” said Superintendent Larry Moore. WMBB. WJHG.

Bradford: When the next semester begins, students who had been attending school through the Bradford Essentials online learning program will have to return to the classroom, choose one of two other virtual options or switch to home-schooling. Bradford Essentials allows students to livestream classes from home. Officials said it was created under the state’s emergency order for the first semester, but that order expires at the end of the year and the state has not yet decided if it will fully fund it during the next semester. WJXT.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida is proposing to place five academic programs at its St. Petersburg campus to try to boost enrollment. In the first two years, the campus would introduce programs for environmental and oceanographic sciences, technology and sustainability, and STEM teaching preparation. In years 3 and 4, programs for visual and performing arts and business categories of finance, risk management and insurance would be added. In the fifth year, programs for advanced nursing degrees and accelerated nursing degrees would begin. St. Pete Catalyst.

School reopening lawsuit: State attorneys are petitioning the First District Court of Appeal to deny a request for a rehearing of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s July order for districts to offer in-person classes. The suit, brought by the Florida Education Association teachers union and other plaintiffs, won at the circuit court level but was overturned by the appeals court. Plaintiffs are asking for a rehearing by the full 14-member court, while the state contends the three-judge panel that rejected the initial decision ruled correctly. News Service of Florida.

School district rankings: St. Johns County has the best school district in the state, according to ratings by Niche, a ranking and review website. Sarasota is second, followed by Okaloosa, Seminole and Martin. U.S. Department of Education data, test scores, college data and ratings from Niche users are collected to compile letter grades for academics, diversity, teachers, college prep, clubs and activities, health and safety, administration, sports, food, and resources and facilities. Patch.

Education podcasts: LearningEdge founder Chris Sturgis talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about her company’s competency-based approach that veers away from the A-F grading system and toward a system that helps students develop social-emotional skills such as self-management, empathy and relationship management. redefinED.