State budget concerns, school reopening lawsuit, SAT scores fall, online platform abandoned and more

Florida’s budget worries: The Joint Legislative Budget Commission meets today at 1 p.m. in Tallahassee to discuss the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic on the state budget for the rest of this year and through 2025. State economists are estimating that revenues will be about $3.4 billion below projections for the budget year that started July 1 and ends June 30, 2021, and that the shortfall in expected revenues will hit between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in each of the four years after that. Those shortfalls are likely to have an impact on everything the state spends money on, including K-12 and higher education. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida.

School reopening lawsuit: The final briefs have been sent to the 1st District Court of Appeal, and both the state and the Florida Education Association are hoping for a quick decision in the appeal of a lower court ruling that Florida unconstitutionally ordered schools to reopen for face-to-face instruction by Aug. 31. Even though most of the state’s schools have already reopened for students, both the state and the teachers union said the decision is likely to have a long-lasting impact on whether local school boards have the authority to make decisions about district operations. Whichever side loses in the appeals court ruling is expected to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court. Tampa Bay Times. The FEA is asking that two of the 15 judges on the appeals court recuse themselves from the case because they were among nine nominees for two Florida Supreme Court openings in January. Gov. Ron DeSantis chose two other finalists, but the FEA said either of the judges, Lori Rowe and Timothy Osterhaus, could be considered for a future appointment. News Service of Florida.

SAT scores fall: More than 186,000 Florida students took the SAT college entrance exam this year, and the average score dropped slightly from 2019, according to the College Board. The average state student’s score was 992, down from 999 a year ago and well under the national average of 1051. Nearly 2.2 million U.S. students took the exam, despite the disruptions in the testing scheduled caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: The Miami-Dade School Board will cut ties with its troubled online learning platform, Palm Beach school administrators were the target of angry teachers and parents over concerns about the district’s reopening plan, students who are enrolled in the Florida Virtual School are reporting technical problems, the Duval County School District has gotten state approval for its staggered return to fulltime in-person learning, and the number of students and employees being quarantined around the state continues to rise. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: The school board has voted unanimously to cut ties with the district’s online learning platform K12 after listening to complaints about it during its 13-hour meeting Wednesday that stretched into the early hours of Thursday. Marta Perez, who has been a board member almost 22 years, called it “one of the worst meetings, in all due respect, we’ve ever had at the school district.” Almost 400 parents and teachers spoke against K12’s My School Online platform, with one calling it the school district’s Hurricane Katrina. Teachers have several other options for remote learning, said board member Steve Gallon. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR.

Broward, south Florida: Most experienced teachers will get raises ranging from $1,000 to $3,700 and a 1.3 percent cost-of-living increase this school year under a tentative agreement reached between the union and the Broward County School Board. The lowest paid teachers in the district will be brought up to a yearly salary of $47,500. The board is expected to vote on the deal today. Sun Sentinel. Forty-three south Florida students have been named National Merit scholars. The Broward and Palm Beach school districts each had 17, and Miami-Dade had nine. Sun Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Teachers and school board members teed off on district administrators at Wednesday’s meeting for a lack of preparation to reopen schools, a lack of assistance for at-risk teachers who want to work remotely, and creating such unusual protocols as having teachers eat lunch in their cars and stating that “eating and drinking may not be used as an excuse not to wear a facial covering.” Superintendent Donald Fennoy said there were no excuses for the problems, but that “the charge now is to get it done. Twenty-four hours. Every day this weekend. That’s the charge.” Schools reopen for in-person instruction Sept. 21. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. The school board approved changes in the district’s coronavirus protocols. Employees who test positive for COVID-19 must report it to their supervisor within 24 hours, take leave and provide a list of coworker contacts for the previous two weeks. WPEC. Starting today, the district will be handing out free grab-and-go meals to students at 173 schools. Distributions will be every Tuesday and Thursday. WPEC.

Duval: The Florida Department of Education has approved the school district’s plan to stagger the return of middle and high school students to permanent in-person instruction. Monday, 6th-graders can return to their classrooms every day, while the rest of middle and high school students continue to alternate days in school and days learning online. By Sept. 28, all students who choose to can return fulltime to classrooms, and the hybrid model will end. Elementary school students have been in classrooms since school began Aug. 20. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. In the three weeks since schools reopened, 33 positive coronavirus cases have been reported at 28 schools, and 330 students and employees have been ordered to quarantine. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: The school board has approved a $1.9 billion budget that includes $33.5 million in federal coronavirus aid. At least $7 million of that will be directed to charter and private schools, with the rest helping cover teacher salaries. Lakeland Ledger. Eighty-one coronavirus cases have been confirmed at 44 district schools, according to the latest figures posted. Schools most recently affected are Lakeland High/Harrison School for the Arts, Lakeland High, Lena Vista Elementary, McLaughlin Middle, Kathleen High and Haines City High. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas, Tampa Bay: The Pinellas County School District is changing the way it decides who will have to be placed in quarantine after being exposed to someone who tests positive for the coronavirus. District officials rely on health officials to make quarantine decisions, and the Department of Health “has begun a more surgical selection process for determining which students need to quarantine, based on information provided by the district (e.g., seating charts, mitigating measures),” according to a district statement. Information about the number of students and employees who are placed in quarantine is not made public by district officials. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. The four Tampa Bay area districts of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando are home to 138 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. They’re among 16,000 U.S. semifinalists competing for 7,600 scholarships worth a total of more than $30 million. Tampa Bay Times. If high school sports can be played, why can’t other extracurricular activities? That’s the question Aabhas Jain, president of Palm Harbor University High’s 2019 robotics club, posed to the Pinellas County School Board this week. Superintendent Michael Grego said he would look into making it happen. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School board members have approved a $1.9 billion budget that includes $15 million in coronavirus-related expenses. Among the purchases: sanitation fogging of classrooms where cases are discovered, protective gear from face masks and shields to hand sanitizer, dispensers, touchless water fountains, technology purchases for remote learning and a mobile feeding program. The overall budget is an increase of $270.8 million over last year’s, and includes $964.8 million for day-to-day expenses and $543.2 million for technology upgrades and school construction and maintenance. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: Both district officials and the teachers union have plans to post data online about coronavirus cases in schools. Union president Anthony Colucci  said the union’s decision to begin its own count was prompted by a need for transparency and to temper speculation in the absence of facts. “When there is a positive case at a school or worksite,” he said, “I’m requesting that all parents, staff, and teachers are notified while keeping the identity of the infected individual private.” The district reported Tuesday, after a public records request, that 21 confirmed coronavirus cases were reported in 16 schools or district buildings between Aug. 23 and Aug. 31, the first week of school, and at least 172 students or employees were quarantined. Florida Today.

Volusia: School board members agreed to draw about $11 million from reserves to help balance this year’s nearly $1 billion budget. Chief financial officer Deb Muller issued this warning: “(We’re) basically pulling money out of our savings account every year to offset … expenditures and we cannot continue to do that without resulting in a financial crisis.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. Three more students and five employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. Since the first day of school, 10 students and 18 employees have become infected. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: All 68 of the district’s eCollier Academy virtual teachers and staff have dedicated spaces to work at Calusa Park Elementary School. The eCollier program has 1,244 students enrolled. WINK.

Lake: Five students from the Mount Dora Christian Academy helped rescue a woman from from a burning car after an accident Sunday morning in Daytona Beach Shores. Ashton Gebhardt, Zarick Diaz, Zack Wilson, Christian Kupchick and Sam Baker, who are all athletes at the academy, were in town for the annual Daytona Truck Meet when two cars collided nearby. “We were trying to help someone who needed it,” said Wilson. “We didn’t think about (being considered heroes) and we don’t consider ourselves heroes.” Daily Commercial.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: The number of students and employees quarantined has more than tripled in the past two weeks, according to officials in the districts. In Santa Rosa, 507 students and 63 employees have been ordered to quarantine, according to Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick. After the first week of school, on Aug. 28, those numbers were 130 students and 18 employees. In Escambia, 357 students are quarantining, said assistant superintendent Norm Ross, up from 113 on Aug. 28. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: School board members have approved a budget of $471.4 million, which will result in a tax increase for most because of increasing property values. Clay Today.

Leon: The district’s decision to post only daily totals of coronavirus cases on its website has been questioned by at least two school board members who would like to see cumulative numbers. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the district doesn’t want to mislead anyone about coronavirus cases in the classroom, but will look into publishing more information. Assistant superintendent Alan Cox called the dashboard a “work in progress.” Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

Okaloosa: Eighteen district students and nine employees have tested positive for the coronavirus since schools opened Aug. 31, health official Dr. Karen Chapman said in her weekly report. Eighty-one students and the nine employees have been placed in quarantine. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Indian River: For the second time this week, a student at Oslo Middle School in Vero Beach has tested positive for the coronavirus. Eleven students have been placed under quarantine for two weeks. WPEC.

Charlotte: A Port Charlotte High School student has contracted the coronavirus, according to district officials. It’s the first confirmed case in the district. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: More than 1,000 iPads that were loaned to students in the spring when the coronavirus pandemic forced a move to online learning have not been returned, and the district will have to spend $343,000 to replace them. District officials said they are working to track down the missing equipment. Citrus County Chronicle.

Monroe: School board members approved a budget that includes $87.1 million in local revenues, $17.1 million from the state and $6.2 million transferred from the building fund to operations. Key West Citizen.

Jackson: Cottondale High School has postponed its next two football games after three students tested positive for the coronavirus and 28 others were placed under quarantine. WCTV.

Washington: The school district is partnering with Northwest Florida Community Hospital to provide telemedicine access to students and employees, beginning at Vernon Middle School. WJHG. WMBB.

Students and e-cigarettes: About 1 in 5 U.S. high school and 1 in 20 middle students used electronic cigarettes in 2020, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The product of choice was flavored e-cigarettes, with about 85 percent of the 3 million high school users and 74 percent of the 550,000 middle-schoolers preferring fruit flavor. News Service of Florida.

Education podcasts: Kevin Currie-Knight, a teaching assistant professor at East Carolina University’s College of Education and an advocate for “unschooling,” talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about what self-directed learning looks like day-to-day, changing two century-old perceptions of how children learn, how COVID-19 has shifted education perceptions and more. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: In order to avoid another increase in COVID-19 cases, Florida needs to stick with safety measures and prevent “pandemic fatigue” from setting in. The least we can all do is wear masks, practice social distancing and take other steps to keep everyone safe. Gainesville Sun. The unpredictable nature of the coronavirus means that students, parents and teachers will be on a chaotic roller-coaster ride of openings and closures. This is far more disruptive for teaching and learning (not to mention the impacted workplaces and family life) than remaining virtual until it is safe would be. Cheryl Duckworth, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff