Avoiding COVID with fuller classrooms, Miami-Dade returns, principal may be rehired and more

Avoiding the coronavirus: The state’s insistence that schools reopen and the growing migration of remote learners back into classrooms as new grading periods approach may be good for students but it raises the question of how schools will stay safe with more children in them. Social distancing is already an issue in many districts with 50 percent or fewer students attending, so how can it be handled safely with even more students in classrooms? Jody Dumas, chief operations officer of the Sarasota County School District, and Laura Kingsley, the district’s chief academic officer, have some thoughts. WUSF.

Around the state: About 22,000 students returned to Miami-Dade schools on Monday as part of a phased-in reopening, Palm Beach Superintendent Donald Fennoy is recommending a principal fired after controversial comments about the Holocaust be rehired with back pay, attendance is down in Marion County schools, and a CDC report about the risks of coronavirus to school age children was altered after requests from administration officials. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools:

Miami-Dade: The school district began its phased-in return to classrooms on Monday, with about 22,000 students in pre-K, kindergarten, 1st grade and those with disabilities showing up for in-person instruction. The rest of elementary students, plus those in grades 6, 9 and 10, start Wednesday with about 40,000 expected, and all others return on Friday. District officials said no significant problems were reported, and that “every single teacher” who was expected to return to work did so. But some teachers said there were issues with air conditioning systems, students maintaining social distancing and with the simultaneous teaching of both in-person and remote learners. Most students seemed happy to be back. Miami Herald. WLRN. WSVN. WPLG. WFOR.

Orange: A nonprofit group of teachers called Army of Angels is holding a laptop drive to collect donated devices for students. “Everyone needs a device to access their assignments, turn in their assignments,” said Kate Demory, a teacher at Winter Park High School and head of the nonprofit. A nationwide shortage of laptops has slowed the school district’s push to provide one for every student. WOFL.

Palm Beach: William Latson, the principal who sparked a national uproar in 2018 when he said he couldn’t say the Holocaust was a factual event and was later fired for his conduct after making the comments, could be rehired at Wednesday’s school board meeting and receive back pay. An administrative law judge recently ruled that while Latson erred in his remarks and deserved punishment, there was no “just cause” for firing him. Superintendent Donald Fennoy is recommending that the board rehire Latson, who had been the principal at Spanish River High School, in a position “commensurate with his qualifications” and award him $152,000 in back pay. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: At the first of seven community meetings to collect suggestions for the school district’s strategic plan, residents urged school officials to improve family engagement in the school system, diversify their leadership and to work closer with city officials a clear roadblocks for students. “I think that it’s important that the constituents that the community that parents know that these are not just schools,” said parent Tiffany Clark. “That these are our schools. These are our children. These are our teachers and that we have a stake in this.” WTLV.

Polk: A group of parents has filed a complaint alleging that a paraprofessional at Polk City Elementary School who was serving as a classroom aide and substitute teacher called their children “failures, stupid, slow readers,” told them “they will never amount to anything” and took away their snacks and recess time without cause. The parents also contend that the school’s principal, Jennifer Erb-Hancock, tried to cover up the incident and fired the teacher who reported it. District officials said they are investigating. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: Annie Ruth Frame, a pioneer in education in Brevard County, has died at the age of 86. She moved to Marianna to begin high school at the age of 12 because her Georgia hometown didn’t have a high school for black students, graduated from Florida A&M University at 19, began her teaching career and became one of the first black assistant principals in Brevard County. Florida Today.

Marion: Enrollment had declined by 2,196 from last year at the 20-day attendance count on Sept. 21, and is 1,875 below projections, according to district officials. There were 41,040 students counted compared with the record 43,236 counted on Day 40 of the 2019-2020 school year. Monday was the first day of the count, which continues through Oct. 16. Districts have been assured by the state that they will keep full funding through December despite dips in enrollment, but if the trend continues into 2021 they could lose $7,154 for every student below the projection. Ocala Star-Banner.

Alachua: Superintendent Karen Clarke said 2020 has, indeed, been a challenging year. “Dealing with a pandemic and everything that surrounds that, there is not a class for that,” said Clarke, 51, who was hired in 2017. But she said there are other challenges ahead, with the ongoing pandemic and funding issues among them. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: School district officials have released all their text messages to and from contractors concerning construction projects. The texts were part of the materials subpoenaed by federal prosecutors as part of an investigation into corruption. WMBB. District teachers said they feel more comfortable teaching remote learners this fall because they have a single platform, and had time over the summer to get training and put together lesson plans. WMBB.

Martin: School board members will consider a request today to proclaim October as LGBTQ+ History Month. The proposal was made by board member Victoria Defenthaler, who is also a member of the Equality Florida School Board Advisory Committee. “There’s a segment of our student body that feels isolated,” she told the board. “I want to be sure LGBTQ+ students know that we support them, are helping them feel safe and that we care about them.” TCPalm.

Indian River: Ataaba Patterson, the literacy coach at Vero Beach Elementary for grades 3-5, has been appointed to the Florida Department of Education’s African American History task force that will revamp how black history is taught in schools. “So, we want to tell the whole story, once again,” she said. “The good, bad, and ugly, so there is balance. When we know better, we definitely will do better.” WPTV.

Lafayette: Two students were arrested and accused of having a gun and ammunition at Lafayette High School on Monday. School officials received a tip that there was a gun on campus, and isolated a student who had the ammunition. The student with the gun was arrested shortly afterward. WTXL. WCTV.

More on the coronavirus: Emails among Trump administration officials show that a key Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report about the risks of the coronavirus on school-age children was altered to support the administration’s position that the risks to students were minimal and that schools should be reopened. Politico. The CDC reported Monday that coronavirus particles can sometimes linger in the air for hours and be projected further than 6 feet. The information was posted by the CDC two weeks ago but later withdrawn because officials said it hadn’t been fully reviewed. New York Times. Scripps.

Opinions on schools: The University of Texas’ dual enrollment program in physics, chemistry, computer science, math, biology, geoscience, history, rhetoric and arts technologies provides an example of how Florida’s universities can address the state’s high school physics crisis. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. It is important for the public to understand the circumstances under which Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie is required to perform his duties. Context is important when it comes to fairly evaluating his performance during trying times under the scrutiny of school board members whose written evaluations may not fully reflect the environment in which he operates every day. Keith Bromery, Sun Sentinel. As the pandemic continues to upend schooling and conditions evolve, ethical solutions will prioritize society’s most vulnerable children, often those with disabilities. Jaime Ahlberg and Aimee Clesi, Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff