School meal programs run low on funding, district disregarded report, returning to schools and more

Feeding students: School districts around the country said they may run out of money to feed students by the fall. Spending for the feeding programs is exceeding federal reimbursements, school officials say. In the Orange County School District that includes Orlando, senior director of food and nutrition services Lora Gilbert estimated her free meals program for students lost $4 million in March, and between $6 million and $8 million in April and probably May, primarily because it is now providing emergency meals at 52 locations three days a week and sending each student home on Fridays with six meals. “That’s our biggest challenge, because it costs a lot more money to give out four or six meals at a time as opposed to having a kid come through the lunch line and get one breakfast or one lunch,” Gilbert said. The U.S. House’s coronavirus relief bill includes $3 billion for child nutrition programs through September 2021, but the Senate has yet to consider it and even if the bill is passed, it’s unclear how much of it would go directly to districts. USA Today. A secret donor in Palm Beach County has given $500,000 to help the district keep feeding students. Palm Beach Post.

District disregards report: When a committee of Broward County School District administrators decided a principal and assistant principal should not be disciplined for actions that may have contributed to the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it was acting against the conclusions drawn by the lawyer paid $301,000 by the district to investigate. The report by Jennifer Ruiz, of the Miami-based law firm Cole, Scott & Kissane, determined that principal Ty Thompson did not adequately supervise his employees, and that assistant principals Denise Reed and Jeff Morford mishandled a 2016 threat assessment of the student who is accused of the shootings that killed 17. Reed was not disciplined, but Morford received a letter of reprimand. The report agreed with many of the findings by the state panel that investigated what led to the shooting. The district did not explain why the Professional Standards Committee decided against disciplinary action. Sun Sentinel.

Returning to K-12 schools: When schools resume in the fall, south Florida students will wear masks, may have their temperatures checked, will sit at least 6 feet apart in classrooms and also eat their lunches in their seats. Many students will attend classes through teleconferencing. Many of the potential measures raise further questions, such as how parents can be expected to cope with the potential of students attending part time, and how social distancing affects school transportation. “We know that the opening of school will not look like last year,” said Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie. “The old normal will not be the new normal.” Sun Sentinel. Five local doctors are giving Pinellas Superintendent Michael Grego advice on when schools can be safely reopened. “I really want to lead with medical advice,” he said. “We need to do this slowly and look at medical data. If it’s telling us to slow down, we need to do that.” Tampa Bay Times. About 18 percent of the nation’s teachers are 55 or older. For them, and other older school workers, the decision to return to schools is one that could be decided by personal safety considerations. Tampa Bay Times. Some educators think the traditional start of K-12 schools in Florida may not mean August this year. That idea was floated during a meeting Friday of a back-to-school committee appointed by the Florida Education Association and the United Faculty of Florida. The two groups will present their final recommendations Tuesday. Florida Phoenix. Who gets to decide if and when school districts reopen? Chalkbeat. Osceola County Superintendent Debra Pace has appointed a task force and launched a survey asking parents to provide input about reopening schools. Osceola News-Gazette. Here’s a video that helps explain the details of the CDC guidance for reopening schools. Education Week.

Returning to universities: Colleges and universities around the state are starting to tighten their budgets and announcing their plans on how schools will reopen in the fall. Several schools are considering a plan to move to online learning between Thanksgiving and the new year. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Times-Union. WFTV. Fort Myers News-Press. Orlando Sentinel. Marshall Criser, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, said safety protections will be in place in the fall for students and faculty. WUSF. Here’s a database with information about fall reopening plans by colleges and universities around the country. Chronicle of Higher Education.

District budgets: Education experts are warning school districts to start preparing for significant cuts in budgets for the next school year. Fewer than half the districts in states have been warned about coming shortfalls in tax revenues, according to the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. Without those warnings, school districts may delay making financial decisions and cause deeper cuts later that will have more of an impact on students. Education Dive. The reduction of tax revenues could mean a slowing of the program to replace air conditioning systems in Hillsborough schools, said chief of operations Chris Farkas. He said the money is there for this summer’s projects, but that in the future the district might only be able to commit $75 million a year for those projects instead of $100 million. Tampa Bay Times.

Graduation plans: The Brevard County School District is scheduling in-person graduation ceremonies for its 16 high school during the week of July 20. In April, district officials announced either June or July dates. “We understand the decision to wait until July may mean that some of our seniors will not be able to participate for various reasons,” said Superintendent Mark Mullins. “Given where we are today, I believe delaying is the right thing to do. It is our hope that a graduation ceremony in July will provide a much-deserved celebration and reunion for the Class of 2020.” Space Coast Daily. The Duval County School District has scheduled traditional in-person graduations July 15-27. WJAX. WJXT. Lake County’s graduating seniors will wear custom masks with their school colors and logos at their ceremonies. The masks were sewn by local volunteers. Daily Commercial. A Duval County student who has been living in homeless shelters has graduated at the top of his class at A. Philip Randolph Career Academies in Jacksonville. In addition to being the valedictorian, Martin Folsom has been class president four years. He plans to attend Valdosta State to study accounting and finance. WJXT. WJAX.

More on the coronavirus: A Manatee County teacher talks about ways to help vulnerable students that were most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Bradenton Herald. Gov. Ron DeSantis says “we should absolutely assume a full high school football season” will be held as long as schools reopen in the fall. “This is so important for our kids, particularly those that are going to be seniors,” DeSantis said. “They need to be playing. I’m convinced it’ll be something that is safe to do.” Pensacola News Journal. Football players return today to the private Foundation Academy in Winter Garden to start offseason workouts. Orlando Sentinel. Some long-struggling Volusia County schools are disappointed they can’t show their improvement with higher test scores, since tests were canceled. Daytona Beach News-Journal. In his annual state of the schools event, Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins praised the reactions of the district’s employees to quickly create an online learning program when the coronavirus outbreak pushed students out of schools. Fort Myers News-Press. The Flagler County School Board will resume in-person meetings, starting Tuesday at a workshop session. Board members and spectators will be asked to wear masks only if social distancing can’t be observed. Flagler Live. The Lake County School District has closed six meal distribution sites because of low participation. Daily Commercial. The Brevard and Manatee school districts will continue providing free meals through the summer. Space Coast Daily. Bradenton Herald.

Testing concerns: The cancellation of ACT testing this month at more than 100 Florida sites has ratcheted up the worries of students who were hoping to improve their scores to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships. SAT tests were also canceled until at least August, and the deadline for submitting Bright Futures applications for aid in the fall is June 30. Parents have lobbied the Florida Department of Education for changes in the rules because of the test cancellations, and spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said, “Our hope is to make an announcement of good news in the next few weeks.” Orlando Sentinel. Glitches with the recent online Advanced Placement exams were reported by some northeast Florida students. Florida Times-Union.

Superintendent search: Nearly 30 people have applied to become the next superintendent of the Sarasota County School District. Among them: Pine View School principal Stephen Covert, Phillippi Shores International Baccalaureate School principal Allison Stewart Foster, Manatee County School Board member Scott Hopes, three administrators from Palm Beach County, and one apiece from Lee and St. Johns counties. The school board plans to make its selection July 23. The person selected will succeed Mitsi Corcoran, who has been the interim superintendent since Todd Bowden resigned last November after a board investigation concluded he failed to take appropriate action when a sexual harassment allegation was lodged against one of his assistants. Englewood Sun. Palm Beach Post. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. St. Augustine Record.

School elections: Longtime educator Felecia Faye Jones Moss has announced her candidacy for the superintendent’s job with the Hamilton County School District. She joins Doug Clayton, Philip Pinello and Lee Wetherington-Zamora in the race. The current superintendent, Rex Mitchell, was elected in 2016. He has yet to file for re-election. Suwannee Democrat.

Teacher loses on Jeopardy!: A Port St. Lucie teacher was eliminated Friday from the Jeopardy! tournament for teachers. Allison Thomas, a civics teacher at Oak Hammock K-8 School, finished third on the episode that was recorded in late February. Another Florida teacher, Amanda Baltimore, a 7th-grade science teacher at at DeLaura Middle School in Brevard County, won her first match to advance to the semifinals. Her next appearance is Tuesday. TCPalm. Jeopardy!

Educators and the law: A Monroe County teacher has been arrested and charged with battery after allegedly grabbing a woman who had rejected his advances and forcibly kissing her. Deputies said Michael Stephan Strasser, 30, who teaches Spanish at Key West High School, battered the 19-year-old woman May 13 at his apartment. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: Even with mass unemployment and historic public health and safety challenges, we must keep pushing for education to be a top budget priority for Florida. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Addison Davis has been here about 10 minutes, and already the new Hillsborough schools superintendent has endorsed a candidate in a local, partisan election. This is a bad move for the head of the nation’s seventh-largest school system, who should be at the vanguard of keeping politics out of public education. Tampa Bay Times. It’s time to give online learning an upgrade, and widely introduce personalized, interactive courses that make time the variable and learning the constant, as Jeb Bush has advocated. Andy Kessler, Wall Street Journal.

Student enrichment: Olivia Connor, a graduating senior at Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami-Dade County who is bound for Notre Dame University, has written four children’s books about the importance of diversity and inclusion. Miami Herald. Joshua Runde, a student at Calvary Christian Academy in Broward County, has been awarded $5,000 for a charity of his choice and free ice cream for a year by Baskin-Robbins for making hundreds of face shields for health-care workers. Miami Herald. Lauren Philip, a graduating senior at Creekside High School in St. Johns County, is one of 161 U.S. students honored by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars. St. Augustine Record.

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BY NextSteps staff