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Reopening lawsuit continues, DOE offers districts guidance on COVID cases, PPE help needed and more

Reopening challenged: Reopening Florida’s schools was called a “threat to public safety” Wednesday in the first day of a hearing in a lawsuit brought by a teachers union challenging the constitutionality of the state’s order that districts open classrooms to students five days a week. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson convened the hearing after mediation between the state and the Florida Education Association on Tuesday failed to produce a resolution. An FEA lawyer called the order “financial bullying” because districts were threatened with a loss of funding if they didn’t comply, and a pediatrician testified that “we have no business opening schools by a certain deadline, and certainly not by Aug. 31.” Lawyers for the state said the order doesn’t require schools to reopen, and will present their case today. Dodson said he would review the evidence and arguments over the weekend and issue a ruling early next week. News Service of Florida. WFSU. Tampa Bay Times. WKMG. WJXT. WFLA. WTVT. Bay News 9. Capitol News Service. The Alachua County teachers union has joined the FEA in the lawsuit. Gainesville Sun.

State offers guidance: The Florida Department of Education has issued a 12-page report to provide guidance for school districts on how to handle positive coronavirus tests among students and staff. The goal of the guidance, said DOE officials, is to limit the disruption to students’ learning. A “decision tree” outlines the steps school officials should take when people test positive and are symptomatic. They should not be permitted to return to school for at least 10 days after symptoms begin, or 20 days if the symptoms are severe, or for at least 24 hours after the fever subsides without medication and only after other symptoms have improved. News Service of Florida.

Asking for help: Officials at school districts around the state say they’re running short on personal protection equipment, and need more federal help finding it and paying for it. About $700 million in federal coronavirus aid has been or will be distributed to Florida districts, but much of that money has gone for staff and technology for students to learn remotely. Some districts, including Polk, are asking for donations from the community. WFTS. WPTV. Insider.

Around the state: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push for reopening Florida schools during the pandemic is getting attention in the New York Times and Daily Beast. Fourteen more districts began school this week or will: Bay, Citrus, Duval, FAU Lab School, Glades, Gulf, Lafayette, Levy, Highlands, Holmes, Manatee, Okeechobee, Seminole and Walton. Here are more developments on school reopenings and other news from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: Almost 580 school district employees tested positive for the coronavirus between March and July, said spokeswoman Natalia Zea. She gave no details about what kind of employees were affected or where they work. In July, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said about 100 employees had contracted the virus. The district begins the school year Aug. 31 with online-only learning, and will re-evaluate the status of the pandemic in late September to determine if classrooms can reopen Oct. 5. Miami Herald.

Broward: Log-in errors, slow connectivity and crashing programs marked the first day of the school year, but Superintendent Robert Runcie called reports of problems “exaggerated” and said he doesn’t expect the same problems today. “There was a period between 8:35 and 8:50, basically 15, 20 minutes when high school students came on and it was a heavy load trying to log onto the system at the same time,” he said. “That was resolved very quickly.” Runcie said about 197,000 of the district’s 261,000 students attended online school Wednesday, which is a drop of nearly 7,000 from last year. District officials had said they expected a decline of about 2,500 students. Students will be taking classes online-only until district officials decide it’s safe to return to classrooms. Those officials said they’ll re-evaluate the coronavirus situation every two weeks. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRN. WPLG. WFOR.

Palm Beach: In-person classes aren’t expected to begin for weeks, but the school board has approved rules of the plan that students will have to live by when they do return. Students and employees will have to observe social distancing and wear masks unless they’re eating or in gym, band or chorus classes. Arrival and dismissal times will be staggered, and any student who tests positive for the coronavirus will be immediately removed from school and enrolled in online learning. One thing still undecided is how, or if, the district notifies parents when coronavirus cases are discovered in schools. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC. Gov. DeSantis said Wednesday that south Florida might soon be able to move into Phase 2 of reopening. The Palm Beach County School District has said it will reopen schools a week after Phase 2 begins. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. District officials have set up a hotline for parents to call with questions about the reopening of schools. The first day is Aug. 31, with online-only learning. WPTV.

Duval: The school district and the city of Jacksonville are partnering to offer rapid COVID-19 testing to school district employees. The $1.5 million cost will be split. Teachers and other employees can visit any of seven test sites, be tested, go home for the rest of the day and get the results within 24 hours. “These measures are paramount for us to fight COVID-19,” said Superintendent Diana Greene. Schools reopen today. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV. Florida Politics. Bottles of hand sanitizer that were distributed to district schools, and others around the state, have been recalled by the FDA. WJXT.

Seminole: At least 18 people have been told that they were exposed to someone with the coronavirus on the Lake Mary Elementary School campus. The affected teachers and students were switched to remote learning during the quarantine period. WKMG.

Manatee: Positive coronavirus tests have been confirmed at three schools this week. The affected students attend Ballard Elementary, Parrish Community High and the Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication, a charter school in Bradenton. Schools reopened Monday. Bradenton Herald. WUSF. WFLA. WWSB.

Collier: When schools reopen Aug. 31, the district will offer free breakfasts to all students, as well as free lunches to students whose families qualify for reduced-price or free lunches under federal guidelines. Families must apply to be eligible. WBBH.

Escambia: The search for the next school superintendent has been narrowed by the school board to four candidates: Earl Johnson, a Flagler County administrator; Keith Rittel, a superintendent in Provo, Utah; Timothy Smith, a director for several Orange County high schools; and Keith Leonard, Escambia’s assistant superintendent for human resource services in Escambia. Each of the finalists will visit the district between Aug. 26 and 28, and board interviews with them Aug. 27 will be livestreamed. The person selected will replace Malcolm Thomas, who is retiring in November, and will become the district’s first appointed superintendent in recent history. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Clay: No changes are expected in school security after Tuesday’s election. The district started its own police force last year after a feud developed between former sheriff Darryl Daniels and former superintendent Addison Davis. But Davis took the superintendent’s job in Hillsborough County, and Daniels has been suspended and then was beaten in the primary by Michelle Cook. Cook said she would work with Superintendent David Broskie and the district police chief, Kenneth Wagner. WJXT.

Santa Rosa: A recount was automatically triggered in the District 4 race for the school board because the difference between the two candidates was less than half a percent. Charles Elliott received 16,692 votes to Felicia Fortune Northcutt’s 16,646. The recount will be held Saturday. Pensacola News Journal.

Citrus: Schools reopen today, and Superintendent Sandra Himmel is asking parents for patience. “This is totally different than what we’ve ever done in the past,” she said. “Be patient and flexible with us.” About 11,000 students are expected in classrooms, with another 4,000 attending remotely. Most students in schools are required to wear face masks when they can’t maintain the recommended social distance, and the rules for riding on school buses, and dropping off and picking up students have changed. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Forty-two students and five employees at Florida State University and at least three at Florida Gulf Coast University recently have tested positive for the coronavirus, said officials from the schools. WTXL. WZVN.

More on the coronavirus: Gov. DeSantis and a panel of government officials said Wednesday that lockdowns prompted by the coronavirus posed a danger of more suicides, drug overdoses and child abuse cases, and are a general threat to overall mental health. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Many disadvantaged Florida children face serious risks no matter how they decide to restart school. If they choose remote learning they could fall behind academically because of technological issues, but are also cut from free meals they count on. If they go to to school, they risk getting sick and passing it on to older relatives that many of them live with. Politico. The coronavirus-created recession is pressuring schools financially with less federal aid, declining local revenues, extra spending for safety, falling enrollment and employee layoffs. Education Dive. Coronavirus outbreaks as schools reopen are wrecking politicians’ hope for a resumption of normalcy. Politico.

Education podcasts: Part 2 of an interview with school choice pioneer Stephen Sugarman, in which he talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about why he believes that prohibiting faith-based schools from becoming charter schools is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s establishment clause. redefinED.

Employees and the law: A Duval County teacher has been arrested and accused of child pornography possession. Thomas Hazouri Jr., who is also the son of Jacksonville City Council president Tommy Hazouri Sr., taught 2nd grade at Mayport Elementary School in Atlantic Beach until Aug. 6, when he was reassigned after school officials were told by sheriff’s deputies that he was the subject of a “pending investigation.” Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WTLV.

Opinions on schools: There were a lot of nasty campaign attacks this season. But few were as bizarre as one funded by many charter school companies that attempted to kick a former teacher off the Orange County School Board and replace her with someone who has a background in porn. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. The pandemic has proven that the public schooling system, held hostage by corporations, special interests and a multibillion-dollar standardized testing system, is simply no longer about the kids. Tanner Jesso, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff