Two more teens die from coronavirus, construction funding decline, masks make tax-free list and more

Two more students die: Two more Florida teenagers have died of complications from the coronavirus, according to the Florida Department of Health. That brings the statewide total to seven since the pandemic began in the spring. One was a 16-year-old girl from Homestead in Miami-Dade County, Estelia Perez, who had underlying medical conditions, and the other was a 17-year-old boy from Manatee County. There have now been more than 38,000 children in the state who have tested positive for the coronavirus, out of nearly 500,000 total statewide, and almost 400 of those children required hospitalization. The youngest death was a 9-year-old girl from Putnam County, and the others were an 11-year-old Miami-Dade boy, an 11-year-old Broward girl, a 16-year-old Lee girl, and a 17-year-old boy from Pasco. More than 7,200 state residents have died. Miami Herald. WPLG. Bradenton Herald. CNN. WFLA. Troyanna Hamm, a Alachua County school bus driver for more than 15 years, died Sunday of complications from the coronavirus. Gainesville Sun.

School construction funding: Declining tax collections have cut the available funds for school construction projects from a projected $338 million during the 2020-2021 school year to $242 million, according to the state’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research. The Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) fund took in less than expected in 2019-20, and that trend is forecast to continue at least through the 2022-2023 school year. The fund receives money from communication services, the sale of natural gas, manufactured gas or electricity to consumers, and by issuing bonds on revenue collected. Funding goes to traditional public and charter schools, colleges and universities. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Twenty-seven districts have now had their school reopening plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. The latest are Hillsborough, Duval, Martin and Calhoun. Here are more developments on schools reopening and other news from the state’s districts:

Broward: Superintendent Robert Runcie said Monday the district won’t reopen school buildings until the number of coronavirus cases declines sharply. “The only way our district will be able to open our school buildings is when the community has lowered the number of COVID-19 cases,” he said in a virtual state of the district speech. He also pleaded for federal aid to pay for pay for food, electronic devices and Internet access for students and safety equipment for employees. Schools reopen Aug. 19 with remote learning only. A target date for returning to classrooms, at least in a hybrid form, is Oct. 1, Runcie said. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Orange: An agreement detailing that school district support employees would be paid if they contracted the coronavirus on the job has expired, and those employees will now be required to be at work to get paid. Bargaining between the district and the union begins this week. WKMG.

Duval: Nearly 35,000 Duval students, almost a third of all the county’s public school students, have chosen to attend school remotely when classes begin Aug. 20. The district’s plan, which has been approved by the state, offers in-person instruction only for elementary school students until Sept. 17, when middle and high school students would begin attending classes in-person or continuing with one of the virtual options. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. District employees said they have been warned by their bosses that any misuse of social media could result in disciplinary action. WJXT.

Polk: School officials are asking the public to help name a high school that will open in August 2021 adjacent to the Davenport School of the Arts. A district naming committee narrowed the choices down to Davenport High, Heritage Trail High and Horse Creek High. Voting ends Aug. 28. The school will offer fine arts, hospitality and hotel management, technology, computer modeling and gaming programs. WFTS.

Pinellas: Teachers and the school district have reached an agreement on working conditions through the pandemic. The district has agreed to provide adequate cleaning supplies for classrooms, and teachers will not be responsible for cleaning them. Outside visitors will be limited during the first nine weeks of school, and every employee and student will be issued five cloth masks. Administrators will be responsible for disciplining students who refuse to wear masks. Desks will be placed 6 feet from each other. The number of students learning remotely will determine online teaching assignments. If there are more interested teachers than available positions, consideration will be given first to teachers with medical conditions, then by age, then by medical conditions of others in the teacher’s home. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: The school board has approved spending $5.1 million this year for laptops as the first of four annual steps toward the district’s goal of having a laptop for every student. About 33,000 laptops will be purchased to be distributed to middle and high school students. The existing inventory of 14,000 laptops will be handed out to students in 3rd through 5th grades. Another 14,000 students in pre-K through 2nd grade will use iPads. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Teachers returned to work Monday, and employees at Samoset Elementary School were promptly sent home when one school employee tested positive for the coronavirus. “Employees who had direct contact with the confirmed case were sent home for 14 days,” said district spokesman Mike Barber. “Portions of the school have been closed for disinfecting. Those employees who did not have direct contact with the confirmed case can return to work tomorrow.” Schools reopen to students Aug. 17. Bradenton Herald. WFLA. WTVT.

Marion: More than 3,000 county teachers and other school employees reported back to work Monday to begin three weeks of training on coronavirus protocols and online instruction. The district is introducing a new online teaching platform for the 30 percent or so of the district’s 43,000 students who elected to begin the school year with remote learning. Ocala Star-Banner.

Martin: The school district is expecting to spend nearly $4 million by December to provide teachers with sanitization kits, cleaning supplies and personal protection equipment. The district has ordered 500,000 masks for students and several thousand for adults. WPEC. Teachers reported to work Monday. The first day of school is Aug. 11. WPEC. School officials are investigating whether the use of the Jensen Beach High School’s athletic logo on a Black Lives Matter t-shirt violates district policies. Football coaches have posted photos on Twitter of the shirt being worn by players. TCPalm.

Leon Catholic schools: Trinity Catholic and John Paul the Second Catholic High School reopen for students Aug. 24 with in-person and online learning options, masks required for students and social distancing observed. The schools are part of the Diocese of Pensacola Tallahassee. WCTV.

Bay: Teachers returned to work last Thursday, and already at least three district employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to administrators. They are encouraging employees to stay home if they’re sick. WMBB. WJHG. The district has hired a nurse to deal specifically with COVID-19 cases. WMBB. Up to 80 percent of the district’s students have chosen to return to classrooms, district officials said. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: Leaders of private colleges and universities said they are concerned that they could held liable if students or staff contract the coronavirus after returning to campuses. The Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, which represents 30 schools in the state, has hired the business lobbying firm Associated Industries of Florida to protect its interests. Another source of concern is the cost of testing. “Testing is so expensive, and we’re hoping that if the state makes money available for testing in the public (colleges) sector, that they don’t forget about the independent sector,” said ICUF president Bob Boyd. News Service of Florida. Gulf Coast State College in Panama City reopens Aug. 17 with mandatory masks and in-person and online learning options. WMBB.

More on the coronavirus: New items on the back-to-school tax-free list this year are cloth and surgical face masks, according to the Florida Department of Revenue. Here’s the full list of things that are tax-free for back-to-school shoppers this Friday through Sunday. Tampa Bay Times. Tallahassee Democrat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Citrus County Chronicle. Gov. Ron DeSantis talks about school reopenings, the coronavirus and more in an interview. WFOR. Last year’s move to online learning taught school districts that they need to better communicate to parents what their roles are in the process. Tampa Bay Times. Education reporters from Politico discuss the state of school reopenings across the country, and said there are five significant takeaways: School leaders are concerned about students with special needs, schools need more federal aid to reopen, reopening plans should be adapted to the coronavirus situations locally, union officials are talking seriously about “safety strikes,” and Florida is in sync with the Trump administration’s desire to see children back in schools, despite its position as a coronavirus hot spot. Politico. Nine Georgia districts reopened schools for in-person instruction on Monday. Some schools in Louisiana and Tennessee also start this week. Associated Press.

Superintendent search: The six semifinalists for the Escambia County School District superintendent’s job have filed their written and video responses to questions from the school board. Board members will use those responses to decide which candidates get an invitation to interview in person later this month. Pensacola News Journal.

School elections: Cheryl Massaro, one of two candidates for the District 5 seat on the Flagler County School Board, talked in an interview about why she’s running and what she hopes to accomplish if elected. Her opponent, incumbent Maria Barbosa, did not complete the written interview. Flagler Live. Previewing the candidates in the Aug. 18 primary for the District 2 and District 4 seats on the Lake County School Board. Daily Commercial.

Opinions on schools: Is it okay to defraud teachers as long as the union gets paid? The memory of the Florida Education Association partnering with a financial adviser that is paying a $40 million civil settlement for violating SEC rules in promoting retirement investments to Florida teachers should persist with those teachers. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. A clean energy initiative – or indeed any initiative that proposes to grow a sector that involves technology – should include a substantial investment in the K-12 schools. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Schools haven’t started yet, but we’re already learning some lessons from the state’s push to reopen. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff