Hillsborough plan rejected, details of plans, transgender bathroom ruling upheld and more

State rejects Hillsborough plan: The Hillsborough County School District’s plan to start the school year with four weeks of online-only instruction was rejected Friday by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. He said because the district did not offer an in-person option, it did not meet the state’s requirements as outlined in an executive order. “The Hillsborough County School Board needs to follow the law, it’s that simple,” Cochran said in an email to a newspaper. “The whole reason the department created the emergency order was to grant districts maximum (flexibility) to do what is right for parents and school children. We will not stand idly by while they trample over the majority of parents who want to do right by their children.” He said the district can revert to the plan the Department of Education has already approved, submit an updated plan for each school the district wants to keep closed, or withdraw the plan and continue under existing law, which could mean a loss of some funding for each student who is learning remotely. Superintendent Addison Davis said he would work with the DOE to create a plan. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. WFLA. WFTS. Bay News 9. WTSP. WKMG. WUSF. Florida Politics.

Bathroom ruling upheld: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal judge’s 2018 ruling that the St. Johns County School Board violated the civil rights of a transgender student who wanted to use the boys bathrooms at Nease High School. School officials had ordered Drew Adams to use gender-neutral bathrooms, which prompted Adams’ discrimination suit against the school board. “A public school may not punish its students for gender nonconformity,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin for the majority. “Neither may a public school harm transgender students by establishing arbitrary, separate rules for their restroom use. The evidence at trial confirms that Mr. Adams suffered both these indignities.” Courthouse News Service. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. CBS News.

Inconsistency in plans: A review of the school district reopening plans approved by the state shows that some are very detailed, running as many as Marion County’s 75 pages and Sumter’s 73, and some aren’t, such as Dixie’s 6 pages. Most of the plans simply check off assurances that the district will comply with state requirements, such as offering in-person learning, while some have pages of details and contingencies on their preparation and how they will handle an outbreak of the coronavirus. The approval process seems straightforward too. In an email to Calhoun County, the DOE wrote: “The Department’s review, for purposes of considering the approval of a reopening plan, is focused on verifying each of the seven assurances required by DOE Order No. 2020-EO-06.” State Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah Gardens, and the chair of the Senate Education Committee, defended the state’s process, saying it gave districts freedom to draw up plans to fit local coronavirus conditions. “Look, you may just check off the boxes and be very simple for them to return,” said Diaz. “For other districts— it’s going to require a more elaborate plan or scheme, depending on the size of the district, depending on the infection rates and what the obstacles are.” WPTV. WTXL. WUSF.

Around the state: Forty-one school districts have had their reopening plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. The latest is Suwannee. Here are more developments on reopenings and other news from the state’s districts:

Broward: A district administrator has retired after being accused of creating a hostile work environment by making racist, homophobic and sexually inappropriate remarks to other employees. Enid Valdez, 58, was the director of career, technical and adult education. She’s been under investigation since last September, when an employee quit and complained about Valdez to Superintendent Robert Runcie. Valdez denied most of the 89 allegations. Sun Sentinel. Parents of district students can attend virtual back-to-school sessions this week through the Microsoft Teams app. WPLG.

South Florida charters: All 14 of the south Florida schools operated by Charters Schools USA will begin the year with online-only learning, the company’s officials have announced. It had planned to reopen schools for its 18,000 students, but “the reality is that we’re in a very hard-hit area and we had to put the safety of everyone first,” said CEO Jon Hage. WTVJ. WPTV.

Orange: School begins today with online-learning only through the LaunchEd program, which allows the district’s 212,000 students to follow a regular daily schedule. On Aug. 21, the 30 percent of students who chose in-person instruction will return to classrooms, wearing masks, while the rest will continue remote learning. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. WESH. WFTV. Some parents and students had trouble opening the LaunchEd program on district-issued electronic devices over the weekend. WOFL. The district has reached an agreement with its nonteaching employees to provide them with masks, gloves and medical relief of duty if they’re exposed to the coronavirus. WKMG.

Polk: More than half the parents surveyed said they wanted their children to return to school through remote learning, while a plurality of teachers said they preferred face-to-face learning. More than 66,000 people responded to the survey. Schools are scheduled to reopen Aug. 24. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Most schools are likely to be at no more than 50 percent of capacity when they reopen Aug. 31, district officials said Friday. About 58 percent of the parents who filled out the district’s learning request form chose online instruction for their children. Fort Myers News-Press.

Osceola: District officials said they hope to use pool testing when schools reopen Aug. 24. Pool testing is when a batch of samples from multiple students is mixed and tested. If the result comes back negative, all the students are cleared. If it’s positive, each student is retested individually. School board members will vote on the proposal Aug. 18. WFTV.

Volusia: Teachers allege that the ABM cleaning company has failed to properly clean classrooms in the district. ABM officials said the classrooms will be ready for students when they return Tuesday. WFTV.

Manatee: Four more district employees have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past few days in four different buildings, according to spokesman Mike Barber. Six other employees had direct exposure to the infected workers, which means they were within 6 feet of the sick employee for at least 15 minutes. The district modeled its response on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has plans for six scenarios in which employees are infected. Bradenton Herald. The school board will be asked Tuesday to approve more than $2.8 million for materials and equipment for cleaning schools, and getting electronic devices and wifi access to students who will be learning remotely. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: Nearly 60 percent of the district’s students are expected to return to school classrooms on the first day of school Aug. 31, said school officials. The parents of more than 34,000 students completed the survey to choose a preferred learning method, while almost 7,000 did not. Naples Daily News.

Lake: County commissioners are giving the school district $1.7 million from their federal relief aid. The district plans to use it to install desk and table partitions in classes and cafeterias to separate students, and buy disinfectant and noncontact thermometers and temperature screening stations, and pay for outside custodial service. Orlando Sentinel. The city of Mount Dora has imposed a mandatory mask requirement, but is giving the Mount Dora Christian Academy an exemption after its officials told the city council that students could suffer “psychological” harm if they had to wear masks all day. The school, which enrolls about 600 students in pre-K through 12th grade, opens Aug. 17. Orlando Sentinel.

St. Johns: School officials will present a rezoning plan Tuesday to the school board that would move some students from Nease and Bartram Trail high schools to the new school being built in the World Golf Village that’s expected to open in the fall of 2021. The unnamed high school will open with students in grades 9-11. St. Augustine Record.

Leon: Superintendent Rocky Hanna has written a letter of apology to teachers, saying that through a busy summer dealing with the coronavirus, “I feel as though I completely lost touch with you. For this, I sincerely apologize.” He acknowledged the risks teachers face in returning to classes, but said he had to balance that against the demands of students and the state’s order that schools had to be opened five days a week for in-person classes. Tallahassee Democrat. The district has 115 open teaching and teaching-related positions. WTXL. The district has started a weekly video series to let parents know what they can expect when schools open Aug. 31. WTXL. Leon charter schools detail their reopening plans. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bradford: School officials have been scrambling to get a new learning option ready for the first day of school today. Bradford Essentials, which allows students to follow classes and regular schedules remotely, was introduced after the district realized it stood to lose $2 million in funding because 12.5 percent of students were choosing an online option that would have removed them from the district. WJXT.

Glades: Schools open Aug. 17, with masks encouraged but not required and social distancing observed as much as possible. Plastic barriers will be installed between desks, and the district is working to be approved for contact tracing and testing. About 300 of the district’s 1,700-plus students chose the remote option that allows them to follow the same schedule and classes as their classmates. Southwest Florida Online.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida in Tampa is moving to Phase 2 of its four-phase reopening plan, which means many in-person classes will be held when the fall semester begins Aug. 24. The second phase allows 50 percent of students and staff on campus. Tampa Bay Times.

More on the coronavirus: Parents report they’re spending more on back-to-school supplies than in previous years, partly because many are buying computers and furniture to prepare for their children to learn remotely. Tampa Bay Times. The Florida High School Athletic Association has denied a request from the president of the board of directors to broadcast this Friday’s board meeting, where the fate of the fall sports season is expected to be decided. Tampa Bay Times. Teachers marched to the governor’s mansion Saturday to protest the reopening of schools. WJXT. Schools that opened last week in Indiana, Mississippi and Georgia have already reported student infections. Associated Press. More than 50 percent of black and Hispanic parents want schools to remain closed and learning to be online-only, while just 25 percent of white parents agree, according to a survey by Consumer Reports. Florida Phoenix. Many U.S. school districts, health departments and state agencies are citing federal health privacy laws to hold back information about coronavirus cases in schools. USA Today Network. Catholic education leaders said hundreds of their schools are in danger of closing without federal aid. Associated Press.

Civics credit rule withdrawn: The Florida Department of Education has withdrawn a rule that would allow some college students to fulfill a graduation requirement by passing a controversial new civics test with a grade of D or above. Community colleges will no longer accept the results of the test, which critics contended is not stringent enough. The rule had been approved by the Florida Board of Education in May. Florida Phoenix.

Educators honored: Chris Reed, of Endeavour Elementary School, has been named the Brevard County School District’s principal of the year, and Terry Kulaga of Rockledge High is the assistant principal of the year. Space Coast Daily. Jennifer Jolley, a social studies teacher at Palm Bay Magnet High School in Melbourne, has been named the state’s history teacher of the year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Space Coast Daily.

School elections: The race for the District 7 seat on the Pinellas County School Board is tinged with racial overtones. The seat has been held by an African-American for the past 20 years, and in that time the District 7 representative was the only non-white on the board. This year, a white former member of the St. Petersburg City Council is running for the seat against three African-Americans. Tampa Bay Times. Seventeen candidates are running for four seats on the Miami-Dade County School Board in the primary Aug. 18. If no candidate gets 50 percent plus one vote in a race, it goes to a runoff Nov. 3. Miami Herald. The two candidates for the District 3 seat on the Sarasota County School Board hold a virtual debate over the issues. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Personnel moves: Cleta Horton has been named the elementary school principal for the Mount Dora Christian Academy. Horton, who has been in education 31 years and has held a variety of jobs at the academy, replaces Connie Collins when the school reopens Aug. 17. Daily Commercial.

Opinions on schools: Schools should publicly release indicators of coronavirus risks and set thresholds that would cause closures. Having such triggers in place would better protect public health and provide more clarity to students, teachers and other residents in these uncertain times. Gainesville Sun. One thing is certain about the coming school year: Adjustments will have to be made along the way. The first day of school feels like a trip into a dark tunnel. To get through, safety procedures must be firmly enforced. For a lot of reasons, we can’t afford for this not to work. Orlando Sentinel. As districts wrestle with when, or even if, to reopen public schools, they must consider all their stakeholders, including students who depend on in-person learning. Are we properly balancing health concerns with students’ social-emotional health from learning in an online platform? Keith Jacobs, redefinED. While the debate rages among politicians, parents, and teachers about which learning format is best for students, it is important to acknowledge that some students will struggle to adapt to time away from friends and teachers while others will thrive. Spending time isolated for some students could contribute to challenges including anxiety and depression. Dr. Larry J. Walker, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff