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Appeals court reinstates reopening order, grand jury asks for extension, school closed and more

Another twist in lawsuit: The legal maneuvering in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s executive order to reopen schools took yet another twist on Friday. An appeals court has put a hold on the stay a circuit judge had placed on the reopening order on Thursday. But the First District Court of Appeal declined to send the case directly to the Florida Supreme Court, as requested by both the state and the Florida Education Association, which brought the lawsuit. Arguments are due to the court Sept. 9, after all but a handful of the state’s school districts have already opened their classrooms for students. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. WFSU. WTXL.

Grand jury requests more time: A statewide grand jury that is looking into school safety issues is asking the Florida Supreme Court for a six-month extension of its term. The grand jury first empaneled in June 2019 in what was expected to be a 12-month investigation. An extension was granted until Oct. 16 after the grand jury’s meetings were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic. If this stay is granted, the grand jury’s term would conclude in April. After Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in 2019, less than a year after the shootings at at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, he asked the court to set up a grand jury to investigate school safety issues and school districts’ subsequent actions. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: An Osceola County school is being closed for two weeks because of the coronavirus, Hillsborough schools will reopen today, the number of children testing positive for the coronavirus has jumped 23 percent in the past two and a half weeks, and parents and students from the Tampa Bay area talk about why they chose to return to school or learn remotely. Here are more developments on school reopenings and other news from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: Schools begin today with online-only learning and, increasingly, working parents have the option of dropping their children off for a fee at a community center, library or other government buildings where the students can be sequestered safely in a room with a supervising adult as they attend classes. “We’re trying to get the kids to feel like they’re going to school,” said Miami Springs parks director Omar Luna. Miami Herald. Some parents and teachers worry that they’re not prepared for the new online platform the district is using. WLPG. WSVN.

Hillsborough: The school board voted 5-2 on Friday to proceed with the district’s plan to reopen schools today. Thursday, after a circuit judge issued a stay against the state’s order to reopen schools to students five days a week, the board agreed to a special meeting to reconsider its decision, which was made under a threat of losing up to $23 million a month in funding from the state. But Superintendent Addison Davis and a board majority agreed it was too late for another change. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Florida Politics. WUSF. WFTS. WTVT. A Brandon man has been arrested and accused of threatening to commit a mass shooting at Seffner Christian Academy. Deputies said Zachary Brines, 31, made the threat on a Facebook page. WFLA. WFTS.

Orange and Central Florida: Varsity high school football players in Orange County have been told they cannot attend classes in-person. They must either take classes remotely or join teammates in a learning pod arrangement, according to a new school district policy that was formed in consultation with the district’s medical advisory committee. “This will ensure that those athletes having direct contact and unable to adequately social distance, will not expose non-team members while attending face-to-face instruction,” said a district spokesperson. Athletes must inform the district of their choice by today. WKMG. Central Florida school districts reported technical problems with remote learning last week, largely attributable to the surge in the number of students trying to sign in. Orlando Sentinel. Coronavirus cases being reported in the central Florida counties of Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake. WKMG.

Palm Beach: Teachers union officials claim the district has reneged on its suggestion that teachers with elevated health risks could ask to work from home when classrooms open. They said teachers are now being told they have to return to schools or quit. “For months, educators in your employ have been lied to and deceived regarding their potential to apply for and obtain remote or other working accommodations when medically justifiable,” teachers union president Justin Katz wrote in an email to Superintendent Donald Fennoy. “It has become clear to me now that all of it has turned out to be nothing more than a ruse to quiet legitimate safety concerns by our most vulnerable employees, up to a point in time where they will be given no choice but to return to campus.” District officials have responded with an email advising teachers how to apply for medical leave, and a school board workshop has been scheduled Wednesday to discuss the situation. Schools reopen today with online-only learning. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. Thousands of backpacks were handed out to students by the Office of Revitalization of Palm Beach County. WPTV. Jim Hilliker, a longtime drama teacher at Jupiter High School until retiring in 2010, has died of complications from the coronavirus. He was 69. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: On Friday, the Florida Department of Health in Duval said information about the number of coronavirus cases in the county’s schools is “confidential.” Last Monday, the department published statistics about the number of cases, then withdrew it Tuesday and said the release was a mistake. Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted the release, saying it was “not necessarily accurate.” WJXT.

Polk: The Lake Wales High charter school is delaying its opening for two weeks, and will continue with online-only learning, after two positive cases of the coronavirus were reported. School students have been attending classes remotely for a week. Polk officials said 13 other cases have been reported that affect 14 schools. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas and Tampa Bay area: Nine Pinellas County schools reported either coronavirus cases or quarantines last week, according to district officials. In Pasco, students tested positive at three schools, and an employee at another school. Hernando and Hillsborough schools reopen to students this week. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Schools reopen today with smaller classes, masks, social distancing, restricted movements in buildings and more. About half of the district’s 85,000 students have chosen in-person instruction. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX. WINK. WZVN. The portable campus for Gateway High School opens today on land between Lehigh Senior High School and Varsity Lakes Middle School while construction continues on the permanent campus nearby. The new school is expected to be finished in April. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran had harsh words for the school district for failing to report allegations of misconduct against a former assistant coach at Bayside High School in 2015. Kenneth Johnson Jr., now the deputy mayor of Palm Bay, was accused of sending a text message with an inappropriate photo to a student, and was removed from his position. Corcoran said the district didn’t report it as required by law, and he only found out about it in March. “This is unacceptable and something I will not tolerate,” Corcoran wrote to the district. “In a similar situation, I even went as far as to recommend the removal of an elected superintendent from office.” He added that no action would be taken against Superintendent Mark Mullins, who was not in the job at the time. Florida Today. About 6,700 students remain unregistered for school, according to district officials. The next attendance count is this week. WKMG.

Osceola: Harmony Middle School, located near St. Cloud, has been closed for two weeks after 10 employees tested positive for the coronavirus or came into close contact with someone who had. “Out of an abundance of caution, the Osceola School District has decided to move all face-to-face teachers and students at Harmony Middle School to digital learning starting Monday, August 31, for the next two weeks,” Superintendent Debra Pace said in a message to parents. Nearly 600 students and 78 employees had been in the school for a week. Harmony is scheduled to reopen Sept. 14. Two students also have tested positive at Osceola Magnet School, and nine students are being quarantined. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WESH. Osceola News-Gazette. WFTV. TCPalm.

Volusia: About 61 percent of the district’s students will return to classrooms today, while the rest will use one of two virtual options. Masks will be required, temperature checks will be made and rooms will be disinfected between classes. WKMG. School district officials said they won’t be keeping track of coronavirus cases in schools, or notifying students or staff who had close contact with people who test positive. That’s the responsibility of the health department, they said. And health department officials have said that information is confidential. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WOFL. WFTV.

Manatee: Enrollment is 1,547 students under projections, district officials have reported. Tim Bargeron, associate superintendent of finance, said the decline was not surprising. “We believe that pretty much every district around the state is going to have a similar situation,” he said. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Five previously unreported cases of coronavirus infections were reported Friday by the school district. Schools affected were Palma Sola Elementary School, Palmetto Elementary, Samoset Elementary and Palmetto High. Eighteen schools have now reported positive tests since opening Aug. 17. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: Schools reopen today, with rules governing mask-wearing and social distancing, a mixture of in-person and online learning, and more. Naples Daily News.

Lake: Superintendent Diane Kornegay said she was pleased with the way students, parents and staff handled the first week of school. “Students have adjusted well to the new safety protocols, showing their usual resilience,” she said. The district is working through technical issues that were anticipated when enrollment for virtual learning jumped from 145 students a year ago to 4,500 this year. Five employees ans five students tested positive for the coronavirus, and they and 25 other students and 10 other employees were quarantined. Daily Commercial.

Sarasota: District officials expect a steep decline in enrollment today, the first day of school. About 2,700 fewer students than projected have enrolled. Any decline in enrollment is accompanied by less funding from the state, so school officials have begun to look for savings. The first step is likely to be a hiring freeze, said chief financial officer Mitsi Corcoran. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

Marion: A District 1 school board candidate who lost in the Aug. 18 primary has filed a complaint alleging that one of the people who beat her doesn’t live in the district. Lori Conrad won the primary and is headed to a runoff against Allison Campbell on Nov. 3. But Shelia Arnett, who finished third, said Conrad lives outside District 1. Conrad has a homestead exemption at a property outside the district, but changed her address to a family farm that is in the district. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: A St. Lucie West Centennial High School student has tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing 106 students and eight employees to quarantine  for 14 days, according to district officials. WPTV. TCPalm.

Escambia and Santa Rosa: After the first week back in schools, 243 students in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties have been quarantined because they either contracted the coronavirus or were exposed to it. Santa Rosa had 130 students and 18 teachers isolated, while Escambia had 113 students. “Our greatest frustration is parents who send their child to school symptomatic,” said Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick. “We desperately need parents to do daily health checks on students before sending them to school.” Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Leon: Two employees at Child High School in Tallahassee have tested positive for the coronavirus. Principal Joe Burgess said they’ll quarantine until they’re cleared to return by health officials. WCTV. Students who attend the Leon County School District’s Digital Academy also have rules to follow when schools open today. They are being advised to charge their computers, dress appropriately, avoid distractions, complete work independently, not to lie down on a bed or couch during class, not to leave the digital class early, and not to eat during class. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: A 16-year-old junior at Eastside High School has developed an app that rates restaurants, bars, cafes, stores and parks on cleanliness. Anish Jha said people can use his app, Prober, to rate places where they go on such things as whether they have hand sanitizer, soap and paper towels. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: While fewer than 10 positive coronavirus cases have been found in schools, more than 100 people are quarantining because they were exposed. One case of an elementary student being infected was reported at the Bay Haven Charter Academy. WJHG. The Palm Bay Charter Academy in Panama City is drafting a waiver form it wants parents to sign that absolves the school from liability if students get the coronavirus. “Because this is a global pandemic, we do ask them to not hold the schools specifically liable should their child contract it,” said Carla Lovett, the school’s executive director. “Since it could come from virtually anywhere.” Panama City News Herald.

Indian River: A Vero Beach High School student has tested positive for the coronavirus, the district told parents Friday. Forty-six other students have been quarantined as a result. WPTV. WPEC. TCPalm.

Citrus: Seven busing routes to three schools have been temporarily halted due to a lack of drivers, according to district officials. Those routes, to Citrus High, Inverness Middle and Lecanto High schools, probably won’t reopen before Sept. 8. Citrus County Chronicle. Coronavirus information about schools is now being published periodically on the district’s website. Since Aug. 20, 10 students and 11 employees in district buildings have tested positive for the virus. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: An employee at Bunnell Elementary School has tested positive for the coronavirus, and district officials said other students and staff could be asked to quarantine after health officials complete their contact tracing. WKMG. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

Jackson: An undisclosed number of employees at Marianna K-8 School, Marianna High School and the Jackson County School Board at Sunland have been ordered by health officials to quarantine. WMBB. WJHG.

Opinions on schools: Why are teachers now being asked to not only be educators, but also social workers, therapists, mentors, sometimes even substitute parents? Where is the line between parental and school responsibility? Melanie Barton-Gauss, Orlando Sentinel. COVID-19 has turned school reopenings into disarray. But creative and determined parents, entrepreneurs and policy leaders are responding with impressive innovations and alternatives so learning can continue. Bruno V. Manno, redefinED. Should the district accept a gift that makes student safety in returning to school during the pandemic inequitable district-wide? Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff