Health officials publish, then delete COVID numbers, earlier returns mulled for south Florida and more

Reporting confusion: Florida Department of Health officials said Tuesday that figures on school-related coronavirus cases were published by mistake this week, and have removed them from the DOH website. The report indicated that 714 COVID-19 cases related to K-12 schools, college and universities were reported between Aug. 10 and Sunday. The DOH’s director of communications, Alberto Moscoso, said the report was a draft and “inadvertently made available.” He said the report contained information that was still under review. Once the numbers are confirmed, he said, they will be published. The information released showed discrepancies with numbers compiled by school districts. For instance, the DOH reported 24 coronavirus cases in Duval while the school district reported four. The difference is in how the numbers are categorized. The school district said its report listed only students and teachers from Duval schools. The DOH figures includes students and teachers who live in Duval, even though they teach or attend school in other counties. In the report, the DOH also said 90 students had been infected since Aug. 10 at Florida colleges, universities and trade schools. But the cumulative self-reported total at just two schools, Florida State University and the University of Central Florida, was 136. News Service of FloridaFlorida Times-Union. WTSP. WJXT. WTXL. According to a DOH report released Tuesday, almost 9,000 children under the age of 17 tested positive for the coronavirus in the past two weeks as the state’s schools have started to reopen. In its Aug. 9 report, the DOH said 39,735 children have contracted the disease. In Tuesday’s report, the number had jumped to 48,730. Newsweek. The Hill.

Earlier openings considered: The rates of positive coronavirus tests have been declining in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and the school superintendents for those districts said Tuesday that they will reconsider reopening schools sooner than they expected. Miami-Dade students are scheduled to start with online learning Monday and transition to in-person instruction when it’s safe to do so. But with the positive test rate under 10 percent for a week, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, “We are very confident we are going to be able to move that deadline up sometime to the middle of September at the latest.” Broward started online classes Aug. 19 and was planning to allow in-person classes when the virus was better contained. The county has now been under the 10 percent positive rate for two weeks, and Superintendent Robert Runcie said, “If the current trends continue on the past of improvement, we could open sometime this fall.” He said he’d like to see a rate of 3-5 percent for 14 straight days before opening classrooms. WPLG. WLRN. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WSVN. WFOR.

Around the state: About a dozen Florida school districts are reporting that teacher retention is 90 percent or higher this year, although many districts said they don’t keep those statistics. Here are more developments on school reopenings and other news from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: Some members of the school board say they don’t believe the district is ready to open Monday with online-only learning on a new platform. “My opinion is that they’re not ready. They haven’t been ready,” said board chair Perla Tabares Hantman. “I just feel that there’s too many complaints. Too many teachers complaining that it’s a new thing that they have to learn in a short amount of time.” The first day of school was pushed back from Aug. 24 to give teachers more time for training for My School Online. But the first training session last Wednesday was glitchy, and teachers were told they can’t access the system to upload their materials until the first day of school. Miami Herald.

Broward: About 7,600 fewer students are enrolled in district schools so far this year than last year. The district has started the school year with online-only learning, and it’s believed that many parents are holding their children out until they can return to classrooms, or switching to home-schooling or charter schools. Most of the decline, about 5,100 students, is in elementary schools. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: School leaders aren’t changing their plan to reopen schools Monday for in-person instruction despite a judge’s ruling that the state’s back-to-school order was unconstitutional. Online learning began Aug. 24, and Superintendent Addison Davis said 175,000 students logged in during that first day. That’s about 80 percent of the total enrollment. WFLA. WFTS. Florida Politics. Three more students and 25 more staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus since the district’s last report Aug. 14. The total in the district since March is 357 cases at 146 schools, with 15 of them students and the rest adults. Gradebook.

Orange: School board members decided Tuesday to ban the use of neck gaiters and neck buffs as face coverings. The board also changed the face mask policy to exempt students with a medical condition. WKMG. A candidate in the Nov. 3 runoff for the District 5 school board seat still faces a lawsuit that alleges he doesn’t live in that district. Bruce Antone, a longtime state legislator who had to leave office because of term limits, listed his address on his qualifying papers as a home in District 4. He later changed it, but Michael Scott, who ran third in the primary, said he believes Antone still lives in District 4. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 21. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: The county health director, Dr. Alina Alonso, told county commissioners Tuesday that while the county’s positive coronavirus test rate has dropped below 5 percent, she’d like to see continued progress before moving the county into Phase 2, which would allow schools to reopen for students. Commissioners said they’ll discuss the move to Phase 2 again next week. WPTV. WPEC. Schools open Monday in the county with online-only learning, and district officials are promising a better experience for students. Superintendent Donald Fennoy said in-person instruction could begin at least a week after  the county moves into Phase 2. “Please know, the school board and I are committed to reopening our campuses as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said. WPTV.

Polk: At least three county schools have reported positive coronavirus tests. Boone Middle School in Haines City, Bartow High and the International Baccalaureate program, and the Summerlin Academy all reported cases. The schools will remain open, but students who may have been exposed are being asked to self-quarantine and are being switched over to remote learning. Classes began Monday. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board members said they’ll stick with the school calendar despite a judge’s ruling Monday that the state’s back-to-school order was unconstitutional. Schools opened Monday with a blend of in-person and online learning, and board members generally thought it went well. Teacher union president Nancy Velardi disagreed, pointing to quarantines ordered at four district buildings and messages from teachers reporting a lack of social distancing by students and cleaning supplies for classrooms. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. A parent criticized a Dunedin charter school’s choice for a theme for the academic year. Amy Harper-Smith, whose son started online kindergarten Monday at the Discovery Academy of Science Charter School, said the theme, “Survivor,” is inappropriate because of the pandemic. School administrators subsequently changed it to “D.A.S. Villagers.” WFLA.

Lee: Superintendent Greg Adkins told school board members Tuesday that the threshold for closing a school would be a 5 percent or higher positive test rate at the school, while a 25 percent rate would trigger the closure of an attendance zone or the whole district. He said he would make that call, in consultation with county health officials. Adkins also said an elementary classroom could be shut down after one or two positive tests because the district can’t guarantee the younger children have followed social distancing protocols, but a middle school class might not because officials have a better chance of notifying others who had been in contact with the infected students. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: The Harry Schwettman Education Center, an alternative school, is looking for a new principal. Adrian Anthony, who was appointed to the job in June, left to become principal at Kathleen Elementary School in Polk County. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: District enrollment on the first day of school Monday was 14,000 below last year’s count, but chief financial officer Cindy Lesinski told the school board the number was likely to increase as the week goes on. In the spring, the district projected 76,275 students, while a manual head count totaled 62,245. “We don’t have confidence that number is accurate right now,” Superintendent Mark Mullins said. He cited Zoom outages and late-arriving buses. If the lower enrollment is verified, the district could lose $109 million in funding from the state. Florida Today. District records show that at least 15 employees tested positive for the coronavirus at 12 schools between Aug. 7 and 20, according to teachers union officials. The union had filed a public records request to get the information. In that same time frame, 11 other employees from six schools were asked to quarantine because they had been exposed to the virus by someone in their families. Florida Today. WKMG.

Osceola: Students and staff from at least nine schools are under orders to quarantine after reports of possible coronavirus infections. A district spokesperson said some of the exposures were in the two-week period before school started Monday. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV.

Seminole: More than 150 people are in quarantine after they have been in close contact with about a dozen people from nine schools who have tested positive for the coronavirus. All affected students and teachers are moving to remote learning through the quarantine period. WPTV. WKMG. WOFL.

Volusia: Officials with the teachers union declared an impasse in contract negotiations on Tuesday, and want greater safety measures to protect teachers and other employees from the coronavirus. Schools reopen Monday. WKMG.

Collier: A Catholic high school in Collier was closed Tuesday after a lightning strike damaged its electrical system. The 350 or so students at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples had to stay home and follow their classes online. School officials expect classes to resume today. The school has been open since Aug. 18. Naples Daily News.

Lake: A student at Fruitland Park Elementary School tested positive for the coronavirus. The student and two others were switched to online learning until their quarantine period has expired and they’re cleared to return. Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: There have been 424 school-aged children who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the last three months, Superintendent Tim Forson said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. The district is still trying to decide how to report cases to the public, and Forson said it might adopt Duval County’s approach of creating a dashboard on its website. WJXT.

Sarasota: A fund-raising drive by parents has collected nearly $71,000 to buy 130 hospital-grade air purifiers so every classroom at the Pine View School can have one. The desktop machines use high-intensity ultraviolet light to destroy contaminants in the air, and send molecular compounds into the air to destroy toxins. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: A student at Ensley Elementary School in Pensacola has tested positive for the coronavirus on the second day of school, district officials said Tuesday. The student has been isolated, but no other quarantines were recommended because other students in the class were wearing masks, maintaining a social distance and didn’t have direct contact with the students for more than 15 minutes, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said. Pensacola News Journal.

Indian River: The first day of classes Monday had its usual glitches, said Superintendent David Moore. He said technical problems kept some of the students learning remotely unable to connect for classes, and that too many buses were late. District spokesperson Cristen Maddux also said many parents who chose online learning are now asking to change to in-person instruction. TCPalm.

Charlotte: A coronavirus dashboard displaying details of cases in schools will available on the district’s website on Monday, the first day of school, said interim county health director Joseph Pepe. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: School board members approved spending $32,250 for a membership to the video-conferencing service Zoom to better accommodate remote learners. The board also approved a 0.5 percent increase in employee health insurance premiums. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: An employee at Matanzas High School tested positive for the coronavirus on the first day of school Monday, according to district officials. Protocol calls for contact tracing to determine other people who had been in close contact with the infected person, and notifying them for quarantining. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Walton: Students have not been vigilant about wearing masks and social distancing, the administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Walton County, Holly Holt, told county commissioners Tuesday. School officials took to the district’s website and Facebook page to urge parents”to continue to reiterate the importance of social distancing and the wearing of masks, when social distancing is not feasible with (your) … children.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Monroe: The private Academy at Ocean Reef will reopen for in-person instruction on Sept. 8 with about 85 students. That’s twice as many as the school had last year. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: More than 150 coronavirus cases have been reported at the University of Miami after a week of classes. Associated Press. Miami Herald. WTVJ. Fifty-four cases have been confirmed at Stetson University in DeLand in the two weeks it’s been open. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Microschools for Florida? An Arizona-based company is beginning to gauge the level of interest for the microschool model in Florida. Prenda has about 200 partnerships with private schools, public school districts and individual charter schools for online learning programs adaptable to individual students that still align with state academic standards. Some describe the model as a blend between a school and a scout meeting, with gatherings in homes, community centers, libraries and other public places. redefinED.

Flexible VPK programs: The Florida Department of Education and the Office of Early Learning have announced that approved voluntary pre-kindergarten providers will be permitted to offer flexible arrangements for parents and students for this school year. Providers will have access to training webinars by the state that will also guide them on how to apply. Virtual programs are scheduled to end by Dec. 31. WPTV.

Opinions on schools: Like one of those fresh crystalline breezes from the north that will, we trust, someday signal the end of hurricane season, a court order came down from Tallahassee on Monday that sliced clean through Gov. Ron DeSantis’ illogical insistence on conducting his real-time experiment this month using teachers and schoolchildren. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran looks more like a politician eager to bully and bluster than an educator interested in the welfare of citizens or the laws of the land. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. National, centralized education is the United States’ greatest defense against public education slipping further into mediocrity. Sara M. Lima, Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff