Prepaid refunds, more cyberattacks, Palm Beach County schools reopening Sept. 21, and more

Prepaid refunds unclaimed: About 30,000 people with Florida Prepaid college plans for their children have yet to claim refunds the state offered in January. The total unclaimed amount is about $225 million. Because the cost of tuition had been stagnant for about six years, the program offered to refund $500 million to 100,000 people who purchased the plans because “people that were buying those plans in the past few years actually don’t need to be paying as much in as we thought,” said Florida Prepaid spokeswoman Shannon Colavecchio. Those with plans can check to see if they’re eligible for a refund. Palm Beach Post. WJXT. WCTV.

Around the state: More cyberattacks against the Miami-Dade County School District on Friday were unsuccessful, the Palm Beach County School District will have its first in-person classes Sept. 21, another school is closed because of coronavirus cases and school districts continue to report lower than projected enrollments. Here are other developments on school reopenings and more news from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: Cyberattacks continued Friday against the school district, though Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said all were successfully repelled. But that didn’t end connectivity problems for schools. Students and teachers reported problems logging into the district’s online platform, K12, and some teachers abandoned it for other options. Meanwhile, a cybersecurity expert said a 16-year-old district student who allegedly attacked and helped disable the system last week used an freely downloadable and unsophisticated piece of software. “The school must be really out of date on their router configuration,” said Mark Rasch, a former federal cyber crimes prosecutor. Miami Herald. Superintendent Carvalho talks about the cyberattack and the possibility that schools could reopen this month. WLRN.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay: Hillsborough County’s schools reported 22 students and 17 employees tested positive for the coronavirus last week. In Pasco, schools have registered 20 students and five employees infected with the coronavirus, leading to the quarantining of 499 students and 54 employees. Pinellas had seven students and 12 employees infected and has quarantined 22 classrooms and a bus. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Olympia High School in Orlando is being closed for two weeks after six cases of coronavirus were confirmed and a seventh result is pending, and 156 quarantine letters were issued. Students will attend classes through the district’s online program until they can return to the school Sept. 21. All athletic and extracurricular events have also been canceled. Fifty district schools and worksites have now reported cases. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV. Spectrum News 13. WKMG. WOFL. WESH. District enrollment is down 18,000 from the projected 209,000, according to Superintendent Barbara Jenkins. She said if those students don’t return there will be financial repercussions for the district, but she ruled out any layoffs during the first semester. WKMG. WMFE. State lawmaker Bruce Antone dropped out of the runoff for the District 5 seat on the Orange County School Board during a hearing Friday into an allegation that he didn’t live in the district. The Nov. 3 runoff will now include Vicki-Elaine Felder, who finished first in the Aug. 18 primary, and Michael Scott, who finished third. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Schools will reopen Sept. 21, district officials announced Friday. They previously said schools would be open for in-person instruction one week after the county began Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, but asked Gov. Ron DeSantis for an extra week to prepare after the county reopening was set for Tuesday, which he granted. Parents have been told they can change the decisions they made earlier about in-person or online learning for their children. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC. A 4th-grade math teacher at Sandpiper Shores Elementary School in Boca Raton has been arrested and accused of possessing child pornography. Aleck Ford, 36, has been reassigned away from children pending the investigation. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPEC.

Duval: Superintendent Diana Greene said the district has been given permission by health officials to begin publishing coronavirus cases updates on its website, and did so on Sunday. Health officials had previously advised the district that it couldn’t publish such information without the state’s approval. The coronavirus dashboard showed 27 cases in the district. Florida Times-Union. A former Mayport Elementary School teacher has been rearrested by federal authorities and accused of child sexual exploitation. Thomas Hazouri Jr., son of a Jacksonville City Council member Thomas Hazouri Sr., was first arrested Aug. 19 by Jacksonville sheriff’s deputies for possession of child pornography. WTLV.

Polk: Enrollment is 7,590 students fewer than projected, leaving the current enrollment at 102,636. If that trend continues, the district could lose more than $56 million in state funding. Chief financial officer Michael Perrone said it’s too early to be overly concerned. “Our enrollment typically increases after Labor Day,” he said. “At this time, it would be premature to speculate about any reduction in funding the school district may experience as a result of a reduced student population.” Lakeland Ledger. Sixty-three positive coronavirus tests have been confirmed in 34 district schools, according to the district’s webpage. The combined Lakeland High/Harrison School for the Arts campus has the most with 14. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: All Lee County schools now have premade kits that contain how-to manuals, pens, paper, clipboards, name tags, tape and a bullhorn so school officials can grab them and go in case of an emergency. “Basically, the school can roll these out, take them with them, to a reunification site, they don’t have to remember to bring certain things,” said Rick Parfitt, the district’s director of safety and security. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: A Pasco charter school closed Thursday because one student tested positive for the coronavirus. All students were sent home from Pinecrest Academy in Wesley Chapel on Thursday to learn remotely, and the school was given a deep cleaning. School officials expect to reopen Tuesday. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFTS. Zephyrhills High School canceled its first two football games after someone in the program tested positive and “quite a few kids” had to be quarantined. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: About 8,000 more students have returned to district schools after not showing up on the first day Aug. 24. That still leaves the district about 5,500 below the enrollment projections. But, said district spokeswoman Katherine Allen, “It’s going up every day.” Enrollment determines the amount of money districts get from the state. Florida Today.

Seminole: School Superintendent Walt Griffin announced Friday that he would be retiring next spring. An exact date will be chosen once the school board sets a timetable for finding his replacement. Griffin, 61, has been superintendent for nine years, and worked in the district for 28 years before that. He said he plans to spend more time with his family. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WESH.

Volusia, Flagler: Delays in signing onto the Volusia County School District’s virtual platform left 9,000 students offline on the first day of school, district officials said. Blamed were the increased numbers of students taking classes online, a lengthy registration process and general coronavirus confusion. “Students will have access to their class platforms (this) week,” said assistant superintendent Patricia Corr and Volusia Online Learning principal J. Susy Peterson. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Twenty coronavirus cases were reported in the first week of school, according to Volusia County school officials, while seven have been confirmed in Flagler schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Forty-three positive coronavirus tests have been reported on 25 of the district’s school campuses. District officials have not said how many people have been asked to quarantine. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: Twelve students and an employee at Gulf Coast Charter Academy South in Naples have been put in quarantine after a parent of one of the students tested positive for COVID-19. Naples Daily News.

Lake: The school district recorded 12 positive coronavirus tests of students and employees from 11 schools last week, and another 100 people were placed under quarantine. Statistics will be updated weekly on the district’s coronavirus dashboard. Daily Commercial. WMFE.

St. Johns: Twelve county students have tested positive for the coronavirus since schools opened a week ago, and another 156 students have been quarantined. Four employees have also been infected, and 16 of their colleagues have been isolated. St. Augustine Record. A private school has gotten the approval of the zoning board to move into a building in downtown St. Augustine. The Vertitas Classical School will take over the space vacated by the Buckingham Smith Assisted Living Facility about two years ago. The move will allow the K-8 school to expand from the current 112 students to 180 in grades K-12 by 2025, said school officials. St. Augustine Record.

Escambia: The school district and officials from the Naval Air Station Pensacola have started a council to find ways to improve educational services and communication between the district and military families. “Military families normally move every two to three years,” said John Godbehere, council co-chair and NAS Pensacola executive officer commander. “Unfortunately, a lot of times it doesn’t coincide with the school year. Sometimes families move and kids have to start in the middle of the school year.” WEAR.

Alachua: Four students and nine school district employees have tested positive for the coronavirus since Aug. 17, according to district officials, who issued a plea for parents to keep their children home if they’re sick. Active cases include four students from Idylwild, Lake Forest and Irby elementary schools and Ft. Clarke Middle, and one district employee. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: A 21-year-old man who allegedly forced his way onto an occupied school bus was arrested Friday and accused of trespassing on school property and resisting an officer without violence. Deputies said Camara Ford, 21, jumped onto the side of the bus and held onto the handle as the driver tried to pull away. He fled when deputies arrived, but was arrested a short time later. Pensacola News Journal.

Citrus: Thirty-two coronavirus cases have been documented since schools opened Aug. 20, with 11 of the cases reported in the past week. Eighteen students, six school employees and eight workers at the district administrative offices have been infected. Citrus County Chronicle.

Okeechobee: A school bus driver tested positive for the coronavirus last week, and eight students have advised to enter quarantine for 14 days. WPEC.

Baker: A pediatrician who viewed a video of a Baker County High School football game Friday, which showed crowded stands of people without masks, said the game could be a “superspreader” of the coronavirus. “This is a tremendously risky incident, and this is what is referred to as a superspreader event,” said Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, the chief of community pediatrics at University of Florida Health. No county or school rules were broken at the game. WJAX.

Union: Fourteen students suffered minor injuries when a school bus ran into a ditch last week. Troopers said the driver was looking in the mirror at a student who was standing up and missed a stop sign. He hit a Department of Transportation sign and a fence before going into the ditch. The students were taken to nearby hospitals as a precaution. WJXT.

Grand jury gets extension: Florida’s Supreme Court has approved a six-month extension of the term for the statewide grand jury that’s investigating school safety issues. It began meeting in June 2019 on what was expected to be a one-year investigation. But it was suspended because of the coronavirus, leading to the request for the extension. The grand jury’s term now ends April 17, 2021. News Service of Florida.

Reconsidering assessments: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said states should not expect waivers from testing this year, but they should rethink the way they handle the yearly assessments and consider competency and mastery-based assessments instead. The government waived last spring’s assessments, taken to measure the academic growth of students, because of the coronavirus pandemic. DeVos said the department would offer the states some flexibility. Education Dive. Education Week.

The DeSantis message: Gov. DeSantis has been traveling around the state with his message that Florida is getting the coronavirus under control, which he says supports his calls for schools and businesses to reopen safely and get back to normal. “We will never do any of these lockdowns again,” DeSantis said during one stop. “I hear people say they will shut down the country, and honestly I cringe.” Sun Sentinel.

Back-to-school spending falls: Spending on school supplies dropped 30 percent during the four weeks before Aug. 20 this year, according to Catalina, a St. Petersburg marketing firm that follows shopper spending. That includes the back-to-school tax holiday weekend of Aug. 7-9, when certain school supplies, electronics and clothes were tax-free. Business Observer.

Charter schools and politics: Support for charter schools has become an issue in the presidential race. President Trump has promised to expand the publicly funded but independently run schools, while Democratic challenger Joe Biden has said for-profit charters would no longer get federal funding. Politico Florida.

School elections: Florida school board races are nonpartisan, but the state’s Democrats threw their financial and organizational support to get out the vote in the August primary and won Republican seats in four counties that were carried by President Trump in 2016. The Democratic party’s Lisa Peth said some of those unseated “had influence within the Republican Party, and in Tallahassee. That’s why we see it as a bigger deal.” USA Today Florida Network.

Personnel moves: Damien Kelly, who was the top school safety official in the state, has been named sergeant at arms for the Florida Senate. Kelly had worked for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement from 2005 to 2018, when he was appointed executive director of the state’s Office of Safe Schools. It was formed after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: Replacing systemic white paternalism with the empowering of black families is a necessary but not sufficient condition for improving black student achievement. We also need to implement the support systems these families need to exercise this empowerment as effectively as possible. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. COVID-19 could permanently change public education, and that could be a good thing. USA Today Florida Network.

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BY NextSteps staff