COVID cases went up when Florida schools reopened, Broward teachers ordered back to school and more

Coronavirus and Florida schools: The number of coronavirus cases in Florida schools went up when elementary and high school students returned to classrooms, according to a new study from researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Harvard Medical School and Tel Aviv University. The data show cases among high school students went up 30 percent, and 20 percent among elementary school children. “Our analysis has implications for countries trying to determine whether to keep physical schools open as they battle rising infection rates,” said lead author Oren Miron, a Ph.D. student in the BGU Department of Health Systems Management. “Vaccines will not be given to children initially, so managing infection rates through temporary remote learning is of paramount importance.” Medical Xpress. EurekAlert.

Around the state: About 1,700 Broward County teachers with underlying medical conditions who have been teaching remotely have been ordered to return to classrooms Monday, Duval teachers approve a contract that increases the minimum salary by $6,391 but gives veteran teachers much smaller raises, Miami-Dade schools reopened this week despite COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations higher than the criteria set for reopening, emergency coronavirus sick leave will be extended through the spring semester for Brevard County teachers and other school employees, and Monroe County students who traveled over the holidays are being advised by district officials to stay away from schools for at least seven days. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: When schools reopened Monday, the county’s 14-day COVID-19 positivity rate was 10.57 percent and trending up. One of the eight established criteria the district adopted for opening schools was a sustained rate of less than 10 percent that was trending toward 5 percent for 14 days. Another was a steady reduction in hospitalizations, but that number increased from 1,151 to 1,158 on Tuesday. District officials said not all eight criteria have to be met, and that it “remains steadfast in its commitment to prioritizing the health and well-being of our students and employees.” Miami Herald.

Broward: About 1,700 teachers with underlying medical conditions who have been working remotely have been told they’ll have to return to classrooms next Monday. Those teachers said they’re terrified. “Some of us have conditions that specifically state if we catch this virus, we’re dead,” said Anne Skurnick, who teaches computer science at Pines Middle in Pembroke Pines. The district issued this statement: “Broward County Public Schools understands the challenges our teachers and staff have faced through the COVID-19 pandemic. With that consideration in mind, our district granted more than 2,000 remote work assignments to employees, which is more than any other school district in South Florida. At the time the assignments were granted, they were given a date by which the permission would expire, notifying employees they would need to return to work on Monday, January 11, 2021. The letters sent on December 16 were sent as a reminder that the assignment would conclude on January 8. Any additional work assignment requests may be allowed based on the operational needs at each individual school.” WPLG. Sun Sentinel. WSVN. WFOR.

Orange: About 18,000 county students returned to the classroom when schools reopened Tuesday, pushing the total of in-person learners to about 100,000. That’s about 50 percent of all students. WOFL.

Duval: Teachers have approved a new contract with the district that will push minimum salaries from $39,500 to $45,891 but give veteran teachers who make more than the new minimum much less of a raise. Union president Terrie Brady called the  deal “not equitable, but fair,” adding, “We knew it was going to be a financial hardship because, frankly, this is the year that there’s not a lot of money.” The school board also has to ratify the deal, and may do so next week. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Polk: The new semester begins Jan. 19, but the district has not put a deadline on when parents have to choose in-person or remote learning for their children. “Schools are using flexibility when it comes to honoring the parents’ request to change learning format,” said district spokesman Jason Geary. He did say that parents who want to switch may have to wait until the second semester begins. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas, Tampa Bay area: More than 500 Pinellas County students and employees were infected with the coronavirus over the holiday break, according to county health officials. The surge increased the overall number of cases since the school year began by more than 50 percent, to 1,473. Hillsborough County reported 320 cases over the break to increase its total since the beginning of the school year to 2,644 cases. Pasco County has had 1,323 cases, and Hernando 289. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas County teachers are worried that they don’t have an agreement with the district to extend paid sick and family leave related to the coronavirus. They contend the district offered to extend the protections if the teachers signed off on an agreement over workplace conditions. District officials said they do want an agreement, but that it isn’t necessary for employees to continue to be protected. “We have to do what’s right for our employees,” said Laurie Dart, an attorney for the district. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: The district’s aggressive plan to expand early education is beginning with applications now being accepted for the preschool opening this month at the James Stephens International Academy in Fort Myers. The school can take up to 234 students. Over the next 10 years, the district wants to have two-thirds of its kindergarten students to have attended a district-affiliated preschool.  Fort Myers News-Press. A series of public meetings will be held this month to discuss the district’s plans to rezone elementary school boundaries for the 2022-2023 school year. The school board is expected to make a decision on the plan in July. WINK. WFTX. The Cape Coral Charter School has changed its name to Mid Cape Global Academy. “As a school community, we represent more than 30 different countries with a very diverse student and staff population, and the new name is reflective of our student body, curriculum and feature programs which speak to our identity as a school,” said principal Jaime Trotter. WFTX.

Brevard: Emergency coronavirus sick leave will be extended through the spring semester for teachers and other school employees, according to an agreement reached between the district and the teachers union. The policy provides two weeks of paid leave to employees with the virus and up to 12 weeks to employees who can’t work because they have child-care issues. Employees can also use an extra five days of comp time for virus-related reasons. Union members still must approve the agreement. Florida Today.

Volusia: About 33,000 laptops will be distributed to middle and high school students this month as the district moves toward its goal of having a laptop for every student. Those students will use the laptops for school but also may take them home for homework and projects. WESH.

Manatee: School officials have now reported three coronavirus cases this week, with schools not reopening until today. One case was reported Monday, leading to 29 people being quarantined. Tuesday, two employees in two buildings were reported to be infected. Thirteen more people were advised to quarantine. Bradenton Herald.

Marion: All middle and high school students in the county are now eligible for free lunches through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. Elementary students are already receiving the free meals. WKMG.

Okaloosa: Fort Walton Beach High School has had the most student and employee coronavirus cases of any high school in the state, but the other three county high schools are also in the top six. Fort Walton Beach High has 91 cases, while Niceville High is third with 88, Crestview High is fourth with 87, and Choctawhatchee High is sixth with 84. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: The school board will hold a series of meetings and an online survey to get community feedback about two rezoning options for an elementary school that opens in the fall. The school board is expected to make a decision at a meeting Feb. 16. Gainesville Sun. Two Chinese heritage schools are trying to teach students the complexities of the Chinese culture in a virtual setting. Both the Gainesville Chinese School and Hua Gen Chinese School closed in March because of the pandemic and are still online-only. WUFT. Grief counselors are at Hawthorne Middle-High School today after a 17-year-old student shot and killed his 14-year-old brother, wounded his mother and then shot and killed himself. Both the boys were students at the school. WCJB.

Bay: Some parents are expressing concern about the school district’s decision to end the BayLink learning option for students to learn remotely while following a live class schedule. District officials said most students using BayLink are lagging behind in-person learners, and that other online options will still be available. WMBB. AMIkids Panama City Marine Institute, a charter school that is opening in August, has started to take applications for the 150 students it plans to accept in its first year. The school will offer trade programs such as aerospace science, construction and underwater unmanned vehicle systems, and Chinese is a foreign language option. Panama City News Herald.

Indian River: Sebastian High School is naming its gymnasium and court for longtime assistant principal William “Billy” Henry Wilson III, who died in October at the age of 57. He worked for the district 34 years. TCPalm.

Flagler: School board members said they aren’t ready to sign an agreement allowing a 335-home development that would add 90 students in three schools, two of which are already over capacity. Board members questioned the accuracy of the data contained in the agreement, which includes the developer paying $719,000 on top of the school impact fees to cover the projected district costs. Flagler Live.

Monroe: District officials are advising students who traveled over the holidays get tested for the coronavirus and stay home for seven days if they test negative and 10 if they don’t get tested. “Your absence will be considered an excused absence and you will be able to continue to attend your classes virtually. Contact your school to let them know your circumstances and to find out how to keep up with your classwork while you are at home during this time period,” the district wrote on its website. WLRN.

Holmes: A driver slammed into the back of a stopped school bus Tuesday morning in Holmes County. The driver and her passenger, a 6-year-old girl, were seriously injured, while none of the students on the bus was hurt. WJHG.

Spring education plans: Forty-eight school districts have now gotten their spring semester education plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. Getting sign-off from the state this week are the plans for the Levy, Okaloosa and Osceola districts. Florida Department of Education.

Opinions on schools: Allowing dollars to follow children directly to any public or private school of choice is a critical emergency policy reform that states should pursue. Such a policy change is overdue. Since it’s anyone’s guess how soon life will get back to normal, we can’t wait any longer for the system to fix itself. Jonathan Butcher, redefinED. The pandemic is upending education for children with disabilities. As COVID-19 has raged and schools have turned to remote learning, countless parents have seen their children regress. Creative solutions exist, however, and resources are available to help identify them. Kevin Golembiewski, Fort Myers News-Press.

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BY NextSteps staff