Window for testing extended, DeSantis rips CDC guidance, school closing options, and more

Testing window expanded: School districts will have two more weeks to administer standardized state tests in K-12 schools this spring, the Florida Department of Education announced Monday. The extra time can be used to “ensure that every student can be safely tested” during the coronavirus pandemic, said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. Typically, about 2 million tests in grades 3-12 are taken in language arts, math, science and social studies exams during a two-week window in April or May. They must be taken in person, and results are used for student grades, school and district grades, and teacher evaluations. Some parents and educators have asked that the tests be canceled because of the pandemic, or that the results not be used to calculate grades and evaluations. Corcoran has rejected canceling the tests, and said he’ll decide on how the results will be used after the scores are in. Tallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Spectrum News 13. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WKMG.

CDC guidance rejected: The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for reopening schools was emphatically rejected Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said following that guidance would close about 90 percent of U.S. schools. “We have been open, we will remain open and we are not turning back,” DeSantis said. “These kids have been out of school in parts of this country for almost a year and if you follow that CDC guidance, they will not go back in this school year and they may not even go back in the fall. That is a disgrace, that is not science. That is putting politics ahead of what’s right for kids. That is putting politics and special interests ahead of what the evidence and observed experience says.” The CDC suggested districts determine the proper method of schooling based on community infection rates. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Hillsborough County School District officials are taking a hard look at merging or closing some underenrolled schools, diagnostic testing data shows a decline in achievement for Sarasota County elementary and middle school students this year, a blast of wintry weather expected to create icy driving conditions has prompted several school districts in the northwest part of the state to close today, Pasco County is increasing the number of spectators it will allow at both indoor and outdoor school events, Franklin County names its teacher of the year, and wires assembled by students at a Brevard high school are being used during spacewalks. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: District officials are considering closing or merging some under-capacity schools for the 2022-2023 school year to save money. Superintendent Addison Davis said he hopes to present a plan to the school board in about six weeks. He said at least 60 schools are at 70 percent or less capacity and could be candidates for merging or closing. “We can’t keep the lights on, and maintain operations and instructional materials, and put all the resources in a school when you only have 200-plus students,” Davis said. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. The school district is proposing to build a memorial to honor the indigent and unknown people buried in a forgotten cemetery on the property of King High School in Tampa. The cemetery was opened by the city in 1942. In 1957, the city sold 40 acres of the property to a private company, which then sold it to the school district in 1959. At least 145 unmarked graves were on a corner of the campus. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Orange: A legal battle between the school district and the parents of a special-needs students is escalating. In November, the Florida Department of education found that the school district failed to provide specialized services to a 3rd-grader when it switched from in-person to remote learning, and ordered the district to provide compensatory services. The student’s parents say the district has not complied, but the district claimed it did offer speech pathologist and occupational therapist services that the parents declined. The district is asking for a hearing before an administrative judge. WFTV.

Duval: Students protested against Monday at school district headquarters, calling for more black history in the curriculum and more input from black students. A district campaign that was aimed at bringing awareness of mental health resources available to students and preventing teen suicide, called “You Matter Month,” sparked the protests. Students complained that it diminished attention from Black History Month and inappropriately took its phrasing from the Black Lives Matter movement. Superintendent Diana Greene apologized in a letter to students, and vowed to continue discussions with them about the issues they’ve raised. WJXT. WTLV.

Pinellas: Dev Shah, a 6th-grader at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo, has won the Central Florida Spelling Bee to qualify for the national competition in Washington, D.C., in late May. Pinellas County School District.

Lee: District officials are investigating a TikTok video taken at Island Coast High School in Cape Coral in which an Advanced Placement teacher asserts that slaves were not mistreated by their owners and that the N-word “just means ignorant.” The teacher was not identified in the video or by the district. Fort Myers News-Press. WBBH.

Pasco: The number of people allowed to watch outdoor and indoor school events has been expanded under a new school district policy. Up to 50 percent capacity will be allowed at outdoor activities, such as sports games and performing arts events. Masks will be required when entering and leaving the activity, and anytime a spectator leaves his or her seat. Four spectators will be allowed for every athlete for indoor sporting events, which is double the current limit, and for every student in a performing arts event, up to 50 percent capacity. WTVT. Florida Politics.

Brevard: An outbreak of the coronavirus has sent students at the North/Central Alternative Learning Center in Merritt Island home for remote learning the rest of the week. The center provides instruction for more than 100 students who struggle to learn in a traditional classroom setting. Florida Today. Some special wires being used by NASA in space were made by aviation technology students from Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne. An engineer from Houston taught students how to wrap, stretch and straighten the wires, which hold down equipment astronauts need during a spacewalk. Eau Gallie’s aviation program is the only certified high school aerospace aircraft assembly program in the nation. WKMG.

Sarasota: Diagnostic testing data shows a marked increase in the number of elementary and middle school students who are struggling this year. Half of elementary students are at least one grade level behind in math, up from 40 percent last year, and 39 percent are behind a grade level in reading, compared with 32 percent last year. In middle school, 57 percent of students are a grade level behind in math, up from 51 percent, and 44 percent are a grade level behind in reading, compared to 40 percent a year ago. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Schools in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are closed today because of a blast of winter weather that is expected to create icy road conditions. Also closing are the University of West Florida and Pensacola State College. All are expected to reopen Wednesday. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. Escambia school board districts are expected to be redrawn after the 2020 Census is released, and before the 2022 elections, to align with county commission districts. “When people have different areas for school board and county commissioners, it’s just confusing to the voter,” said Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford. Pensacola News Journal. Chumuckla Elementary School in Santa Rosa County was struck by lightning Monday, causing a small fire in a cafeteria air-conditioning unit. No injuries were reported. Pensacola News Journal.

Okaloosa, Walton: With icy road conditions expected today, both the Okaloosa and Walton school districts are closing schools. Northwest Florida Daily News. An agreement to buy Grace Lutheran Church for $4.6 million has been finalized, and construction to convert it into the Destin Charter High School will begin. The school is expected to open this fall for 9th-, 10th- and 11th-graders, with a senior class added for the 2022-2023 academic year. Northwest Florida Daily News. About 20 students and a handful of faculty members from Meigs Middle School in Shalimar have been honored for their work to counsel suicidal students. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: State auditors found fault with the school district on 10 issues. Among them were the propriety of spending $5.9 million of tax surcharge funds for portable classrooms between July 2018 and February 2020, the lack of documentation for state-required safety drills, and whether contractor work background screenings were up to date. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: For Martin County High School principal Al Fabrizio, contact tracing to determine quarantines for coronavirus exposure has been refined through trial and error and up-to-date seating charts. When there’s a positive test reported, Fabrizio and his contact tracing team of about 10 pull student schedules, classroom seating charts, attendance records, close contacts and more to determine which students have to be quarantined. WPTV.

Flagler: Nehemiah Gilyard, an 18-year-old junior student-athlete at Flagler Palm Coast High School, was killed Sunday in a single-vehicle crash. Troopers said he was working, delivering pizzas, when the crash happened. Grief counselors will be at the school and at a track team practice. Flagler Live.

Franklin: Pamela Hanks, a 1st-grade teacher at the Franklin County School in Eastpoint, has been named the Franklin County School District’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible for the state award for the top teacher, which will be announced in July. WOYS.

Colleges and universities: Florida Southern College and Florida Polytechnic University are collaborating on a program that gives students the opportunity to earn a STEM bachelor’s degree and a master’s in business administration in five years. Florida Poly undergraduates will be able to take graduate courses from Florida Southern, then enter Florida Southern’s MBA program after graduation. Lakeland Ledger. Many of the state’s most vulnerable students are struggling with technology, transportation and more through the pandemic. WLRN.

Panic alarm app: Nine companies have been approved as vendors to make a cell phone app with a panic alarm button for the state’s K-12 schools. Districts can choose among apps developed by AppArmor/Cutcom Software, Ares Security Corp., AT&T, Centegix, Everbridge, Intrado, Motorola Solutions, Raptor and 911 Cellular, or create their own. The project, which is named “Alyssa’s Alert” in honor of Parkland school shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff, will cost $8 million. Florida Politics.

In the Legislature: A proposed bill would remove the name of a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice from the building that houses Florida State University’s College of Law. H.B. 977, filed by state Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, would strip B.K. Roberts’ name from the building because of opinions he wrote in the 1950s supporting segregation. FSU President John Thrasher supports the move, which was recommended in 2018 by a panel he appointed. News Service of Florida.

Opinions on schools: The Gardiner Scholarship gives our family options that otherwise wouldn’t be available to us. That applies to other families as well, as each child has unique learning requirements. It’s important to be able to customize education for each child. That’s why I urge lawmakers to pass the bill that converts state scholarships to flexible spending accounts. The pandemic has showed that, now more than ever, families need as many options as possible. Nick Cogan, Tallahassee Democrat. Transportation regularly is the least efficient component of a school budget and is about to break the budget of smaller schools and systems. Innovation is necessary. Emily Anne Gullickson, redefinED.