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18 district reopening plans approved, Miami-Dade starting year online, new sports options and more

Reopening plans approved: The Florida Department of Education has now approved school reopening plans for 18 districts: Clay, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Levy, Manatee, Monroe, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, UF Lab School, Volusia and Wakulla. Districts must submit a plan to the DOE by Friday. Florida Department of Education.

Around the state: Florida school boards are still considering details of district reopening plans. Here are the latest developments, as well as other district news:

Miami-Dade: Students will start the school year Aug. 31 with online-only learning, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced Wednesday. District officials will decide by Sept. 30 whether to reopen schools Oct. 5. If it’s safe, students can decide to return or continue with remote learning. Students who return to classrooms will have to wear masks and observe social distancing. Miami-Dade joins the Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe districts in deciding to start the school year with online-only instruction. Miami HeraldWPLG. WSVN. WFOR.

Hillsborough: Former superintendent Jeff Eakins, who was criticized by school board members July 7 when it appeared the district had depleted its reserves by $50 million for raises, responded with a letter dated July 13 defending himself and the district. This week, the chief financial officer said her initial assessment that the raises caused the shortfall was incorrect. She said about 80 percent of the deficit came from other causes. Gradebook.

Orange: Students who have chosen the virtual learning option of following their regular school schedule will continue to receive free meals if they qualify, according to district officials. Grab-and-go meals will be available at the schools the students attend. WKMG.

Duval: The district and its school bus drivers are at odds over safety conditions. Bus drivers want social distancing guidelines followed, while district officials said that’s not possible because it could take 10 hours to deliver students to schools. Some drivers are telling their union leaders they won’t return to work under the proposed working conditions. WJXT.

Pinellas: The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg is asking the parents of its 13,000 students to sign a waiver of liability for the diocese if one of those children contracts the coronavirus. Some of those parents were unhappy, with one calling it the “death release.” “We’re trying to be very upfront about the potential dangers of COVID,” said Chris Pastura, superintendent of schools for the diocese. “We wanted to first educate our parents just about the assumption of risk. When they make choices to send their children back to school, there is a risk in every activity.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: At a school board candidate forum, school board member Tina Descovich encouraged families to choose remote learning for their children if they could. Doing so, she said, would reduce the number of students in schools and make it easier to observe social distancing in classrooms. “We have to get those numbers down so students can be six feet apart,” she said. Florida Today. Teachers and the district reached agreement on several health and safety issue, and said they are close on providing extended paid leave for teachers who contract the coronavirus. The district agreed to provide “adequate” cleaning supplies to schools, install plexiglass barriers in classrooms for teachers who want them, and create a system for anonymously reporting unsafe working conditions. Florida Today.

Osceola: Schools restart Aug. 24, and students will be required to wear face coverings in classes. WKMG.

Manatee: About 50 percent of the district’s students, 20,160, plan to return to school for face-to-face learning, Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said. Another 10,299 will continue with virtual learning, while 9,688 will follow a hybrid schedule of two days in classes and three days online each week. About 65 percent of elementary students will attend classes in-person. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: Teachers and the school district have reached a tentative agreement that will allow teachers to take a leave if they aren’t comfortable returning to the classroom. Under the deal, teachers could take two weeks of paid leave, request a longer paid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, or take up to a year of unpaid leave and be able to return to the job. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: About half the families at schools with the highest poverty rates are choosing one of the district’s remote learning options. School officials are now contacting those parents to make sure they understand that the rules for remote learning will be more stringent than they were at the end of the last school year. “They are thinking safety first, which they should,” said Emma E. Booker Elementary principal Edwina Oliver. “But I think parents are not fully understanding what the remote learning will look like.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: School board members have tentatively approved a budget of $651.8 million, which is $58.4 million than last year’s. About half of that increase is attributed to the district’s decision to create a self-insurance health plan fund. Three budget workshops will be held in August, and the board will take a final vote in September. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: The school board has tentatively approved a $758 million budget that includes $176.5 million for capital projects and a slightly lower millage rate. A final vote is expected Sept. 15. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: District officials said they want to hire seven health assistants who can perform first aid, CPR and distribute medicine, among other things. The assistants are needed to help cover the shortage of school nurses, said Superintendent David Broskie. Clay Today.

Martin: The county has the highest positive test rate for the coronavirus among children under 18 in the state of Florida, at 25.3 percent. That’s 394 of the 1,555 children tested since the pandemic began. County health officials attribute the high rate to free testing that began in May at a health clinic in Indiantown. TCPalm. WPTV. School district officials are blaming teachers after they couldn’t come to an agreement that would have allowed the district open two weeks later. Union president Karen Resciniti said they had too little time to negotiate and that they “were being forced to agree to a proposal that denied us our collective bargaining rights.” The first day of school is Aug. 11. TCPalm.

Monroe: School will start either Aug. 13 or Aug. 17, with online-only learning, and students could return in-person sometime between Sept. 7 and Sept. 11, according to Superintendent Theresa Axford. Key West Citizen.

Washington: The first day of school has been pushed from Aug. 12 to Aug. 26, school board members decided on Wednesday. WJHG.

Madison: The first day of school is Aug. 24 for pre-K, K, 1st-, 6th- and 9th-graders, and Aug. 26 for all other students. Students will have to wear masks on buses, and be subject to temperature checks when they enter schools. Learning options are in-person and one of the two virtual programs. WFSU.

DeSantis defends decision: Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to defend his decision to require schools to reopen in August during a press conference on Wednesday, even as teachers and Florida pediatricians warned that it’s not safe and the state reported a record 216 deaths due to the coronavirus. DeSantis appeared with Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran at the Paul B. Stephens School in Clearwater for students with special needs, and brought testimonials from teachers and parents supporting his position. He argued schools should be open so children can get meals, parents can return to work and because of the challenges of virtual education for students such as the ones at Stephens. He added that “if there are teachers who aren’t comfortable doing it, let’s just make do with what we have.” More than 30,000 teachers have signed a petition encouraging DeSantis to rescind the state order and let local school officials make the decision on when and how to reopen. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics. Associated Press. Palm Beach Post. WTVT. WFLA. Just a handful of countries have fully reopened schools, while they remain closed in 143 nations. Politico.

Fall sports options: Three options for a fall high school sports season have been sent to members of the Florida High School Athletic Association advisory committees, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The first two would have a traditional fall season with minor adjustments, though in Option 2 there would be no state playoffs. Option three calls for fall sports to begin Nov. 30 and end Jan. 23, with playoffs. Winter sports would run from Feb. 13 to April 3, and spring sports April 26 until June 12. The FHSAA’s board of directors will consider the proposal sometime between Aug. 10 and 17. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tampa Bay Times. Naples Daily News. Panama City News Herald. Sun Sentinel.

More on the coronavirus: Three Florida universities are among the top seven in the nation in the number of coronavirus cases, according to a New York Times survey. The University of Central Florida was second, the University of Florida fifth and the University of South Florida seventh. New York Times. Tampa Bay Times.

Residency questions: Miami-Dade County School Board member Lawrence Feldman isn’t running for re-election, but his residency has still become a campaign issue. He represents District 9 but there are allegations that he lives in District 7. He denied it, saying “I sleep in Pinecrest,” which is in District 9. His wife lives in a home in District 7 the family has owned since 1978. Submitting false information in connection with voting can bring a felony charge with a potential fine of $5,000 and five years in prison. Miami Herald.

School elections: Palm Beach County School Board chair Frank Barbieri is being challenged by mortgage broker Suzanne Page for the District 5 seat. Barbieri said he’s focused on getting schools reopened safely, while Page is calling for more school choice and for schools to quit “rewriting history.” Palm Beach Post. The two candidates for the District 4 seat on the Alachua County School Board agree that the achievement gap between white and black students must be narrowed. Gainesville Sun.

Personnel moves: Beth LeClear, the principal at Santa Fe High School since 2012, has been named the new principal at Lake Forest Elementary School. Gainesville Sun.

Notable deaths: Thomas Swain, who led the Citrus High School football team to five straight district championships and two state title games in the 1970s and later served as the Sumter County tax collector for 36 years, died July 22 in Ocala. Citrus County Chronicle.

Opinions on schools: Between lawsuits and politics, it seems inevitable that many children will be stuck again in online learning instead of a brick-and-mortar school. That means state leaders and school administrators must quickly and dramatically make online learning more effective, or children will be left behind. Diane Rado, Florida Phoenix. Sending children back to school is an important step for parents, students and teachers. Naples Daily News. Hillsborough should start the school year online for nine weeks. Waiting that long won’t kill anyone. Rushing too soon, though, just might. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

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BY NextSteps staff