Trump threatens aid to schools that don’t reopen, online-only district start, budget issues and more

Schools threatened with loss of funding: School districts that don’t reopen classrooms in the fall risk losing federal funding, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are warning. Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted: “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” DeVos said withholding funding is something “we are looking at … very seriously.” Only about 10 percent of funding for public schools comes from the federal government. Associated Press. Politico. NPR. Chalkbeat. Education Week. President Trump also tweeted Wednesday that he disagreed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for reopening schools. “I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Hours later, the CDC later announced it would revise the guidance and reissue it next week. Fox News. Politico. Florida Politics.

School reopenings: Citing advice from local health officials, a majority of Palm Beach County School Board members agreed Wednesday that schools should remain closed and the next academic year should start Aug. 10 with remote learning. In-person classes would resume only after the number of coronavirus cases declines. A formal vote is next week. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC. Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins said the start of schools could be pushed back, depending on trends in the number of coronavirus cases in the county by July 20, when he plans to announce his decision. The scheduled start date is Aug. 10. The district’s plan offers students four options for learning. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX. Manatee County School Board members will consider proceeding with the district’s tentative reopening plan, which is a hybrid model that does not adhere to the state’s order of having schools open for students five days a week. Bradenton Herald. Escambia County students will have three learning options when schools reopen next month, will be expected to observe social distancing and will be encouraged but not required to wear masks. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. Putnam County students will have three learning options, according to the reopening plan announced Wednesday. WJAX. Walton County students also will have three learning options. Masks are mandatory for employees, but optional for students. WMBB. WJHG. WTVY. Pasco school officials have assured parents they aren’t locked in by the choice they had to make Wednesday on whether their children would attend school or follow along remotely. Some parents worried about committing to a decision without having all the information they wanted. Tampa Bay Times. Collier County school officials will announce their reopening plan July 15. Naples Daily News. Duval County school officials said they expect to announce their reopening plan next week. WJXT. The Pinellas County teachers union is urging the school board to continue online learning until the pandemic begins to recede. Tampa Bay Times. Alachua County parents and teachers tell the school board they’re worried about reopening. Gainesville Sun.

Budgeting issues: Hillsborough County School Board members were surprised and angry to hear that the district’s reserves shrank from $150 million to $100 million by the end of the last fiscal year June 30. Half of the deficit was traced to raises for employees, with the rest attributed to extra staff for 50 struggling schools, rising pension contribution costs and expenses related to the coronavirus. Board members are demanding the administration explain how this happened without authorization. “What other unapproved expenditures are there that we don’t know about?” Stacy Hahn asked. “How do I move forward and trust anything that comes to this board for budget approval? This was a big blow to the trust between the board and the staff. And it’s even a bigger blow to the trust of this community.” Gradebook.

Testing in Florida: Any hopes that the state might cancel its annual standardized student exams, as it did in March when schools were closed by the coronavirus outbreak, were shot down this week by the Florida Department of Education. Chief of staff Alex Kelly told district officials during a webinar that the state had no plans to ask for another waiver of federal annual testing requirements. “It’s important to have diagnostic assessments,” he said, to identify struggling students and get them help. But he did hint that the state will be looking at how the results are used. Florida has used test scores to issue grades for schools, evaluate teachers, and dole out awards and bonuses. Tampa Bay Times.

Graduation plans: Lee County School Board members have been presented with two options for graduation ceremonies: Graduating seniors can collect their diploma in a drive-through at their schools, or walk across a stage to receive their diploma from the principal and pose for a photo. Fort Myers News-Press. Walton County school officials are expected to announce graduation plans next week. The ceremony options being considered are in-person with limited attendance, a drive-through and a virtual event. Northwest Florida Daily News. Tickets for graduation ceremonies in Okaloosa and Bay counties will be limited. Northwest Florida Daily News. Panama City News Herald. After the Sarasota County School District canceled its graduation ceremonies, members of the North Port community began planning an alternative graduation for North Port High School seniors. WFLA.

More on the coronavirus: A Florida High School Athletic Association task force has proposed that fall sports restart in a staggered fashion, with schools choosing their divisions. Lakeland Ledger. Sports Leadership and Management, the sports-centric charter school company that the rapper Pitbull cofounded, received at least $1 million in interest-free loans from the federal coronavirus relief package called the Paycheck Protection Program, according to information released by the Small Business Administration. News Service of Florida. Vincent Miller, Polk County’s 2020 teacher of the year, has published a book about the education process during the pandemic. Lakeland Ledger.

Court backs teachers’ firings: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that two California teachers cannot sue the private religious schools that fired them for employment discrimination because of constitutional language that protects religious freedom. “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the 7-2 majority. “Today’s ruling means religious institutions who wish to fire or refuse to hire school teachers or other staff based on age, race, sexual orientation, or other discriminatory factors now have legal cover for doing so,” said Maggie Siddiqi of the Center for American Progress. Politico. USA Today. States Newsroom.

Mascot criticized: An online petition is calling for the Indian River County School District to change the mascot for Vero Beach High School. The team’s name is the Fighting Indians, and the mascot is an Indian with two feathers and a tomahawk. WPEC.

Personnel moves: New Marion County Superintendent Diane Gullett has announced several moves: She’s named Career and Adult Education executive director Mark Vianello a deputy superintendent, moved former deputy superintendent Jonathan Grantham to a new role as a district program specialist in the instructional materials department, and reassigned two district administrators to schools as principals. Ocala Star-Banner.

Employees and the law: A Hillsborough County student success coach and girls basketball coach has been arrested and accused of having sex with a student. Deputies said Reginald Jamal Lawrence, 48, the coach at Tampa Bay Technical High School, had sex with the student six times in his home between April 1 and June 30, 2016. He’s been placed on administrative leave. Tampa Bay Times. An appeals court has overturned the conviction and 15-year prison sentence of a former Polk County school custodian who was found guilty of putting his hand up the skirt of a 6-year-old student at the Davenport School of the Arts. The court ruled that the trial judge should not have allowed testimony about Jose Baez-Ortiz’s prior incidents with children because they were different in nature. Prosecutors said they will retry Baez-Ortiz. Lakeland Ledger.

Opinions on schools: The same state that believes it’s too dangerous for college students to gather is actually mandating that kindergartners do so. Or at least, have that option. Something about that just doesn’t make sense. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. We believe that Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran overstepped the boundaries of his position as the appointed education chief for the state in ordering schools to be fully reopened in August. Florida’s constitution leaves much of the authority to operate schools in the hands of elected district officials. USA Today Florida Network. For Hillsborough County School Board members, it’s the same old story with a shortfall in the district’s reserves due to spending they did not authorize. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

Student enrichment: The Education Foundation of Lake County’s Red for Ed drive to buy supplies for the district’s schools is going online this year. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff