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Corcoran says districts may continue remote learning next semester, testing to resume and more

Remote learning to continue: School districts will be allowed to offer students remote learning options in the second semester, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said Wednesday at a state Board of Education meeting. The current order expires in December, and the new emergency order will be issued later this month. Corcoran did not say whether districts will continue to get full per-student funding for online learning and despite enrollment declines because of the coronavirus pandemic. While Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis have been pushing to get students back into classrooms, Corcoran said they “will take nothing less than full parental choice” but added that the state will intervene if it’s determined that students are being “shortchanged” by remote learning. “We need to make sure that either massive interventions are done for that child or that they are moved to a different modality that is safe within the family to ensure they are getting the year’s worth of learning this year,” Corcoran said. He also said standardized testing will be held as scheduled in the spring to identify achievement gaps. He didn’t say whether the results would have an impact on school funding. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. redefinED. WEAR. WKMG.

Around the state: The Miami-Dade County School District is offering free rapid-results coronavirus tests for students, a contract agreement is reached in St. Johns County that will raise starting teacher salaries from $39,000 to $45,535, Lake County swears in its first African-American elected to the school board, Florida Atlantic University has received a $20 million donation to create an institute for Holocaust and Jewish studies, and teachers and maintenance staff are in short supply in Jackson County. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The school district is partnering with the University of Miami to offer free rapid-results coronavirus tests for all students, perhaps starting as early as next week. The district has reported 676 cases of the virus since schools reopened Oct. 5. WTVJ. WFOR.

Orange: The school district will distribute 20,000 holiday meal kits to students next Monday at 13 schools. The kits include seven breakfasts, seven lunches, and snacks including fresh fruits and vegetables, pizza and nacho kits. WMFE.

Duval: New school board members Kelly Coker and Cindy Pearson were sworn in this week, and Elizabeth Andersen was elected as chair of the board. WJXT.

Polk: New school board member William Allen was sworn in this week. Allen defeated board member Billy Townsend for the District 1 seat. After the official ceremonies, the board agreed in a work session that school funding, student state test scores, teacher shortages and teacher ratings were the priorities it will present to its legislative delegation. Lakeland Ledger. An autistic, 6-year-old 1st-grader from Spook Hill Elementary School in Lake Wales has been honored for calmly calling for help when her mother fell off a ladder and couldn’t move. Polk County Fire Rescue presented Esperanza Lopez with a certificate during a ceremony Wednesday at the school. WFTS.

Brevard: Jennifer Jenkins, who defeated incumbent Tina Descovich for the District 3 seat in the August primary, was sworn in as a member of the school board. Jenkins was a speech language pathologist for the district, but resigned to join the board. She said her first priority is to take a close look at how the district is serving its minority students. School board members also voted to re-elect Misty Belford for a third term as board chair. Florida Today. The school board also meets today to discuss the creation of a policy for schools to follow if they want to change their mascot. Board member Matt Susin said a policy is needed after Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School recently announced it would replace its Indian mascot. WKMG.

Lake: School board members have approved a 2 percent raise for all noninstructional workers such as bus drivers, custodians, food workers and other professional staff members. The board also agreed to create a committee to study pay scales and report to the board in February. Earlier in the meeting, Mollie Cunningham was sworn in as the District 4 representative. She defeated incumbent Sandy Gamble in the August primary and Betsy Farner on Nov. 3 to become the first African-American elected to the board. Daily Commercial. Orlando Sentinel.

St. Johns: School officials and the teachers union have agreed on a contract that would raise starting teacher pay from $39,000 to $45,535, and increase salaries by at least 2 percent for all other workers. The agreement must be approved by members of the teachers union and the school board. WJXT.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: The number of students with positive coronavirus tests doubled last week in Escambia County and nearly quadrupled in Santa Rosa County. Escambia reported 41 cases, up from 20 the week before, while Santa Rosa counted 42, up from 11 the week before. For the school year, Escambia has had 151 cases and Santa Rosa 241. Pensacola News Journal. Plans are moving ahead for two new schools in the Santa Rosa County School District. A K-8 school in Navarre is on schedule to open next fall, and the school board will be asked next month to buy a property in pace for a K-8 school that would open in the fall of 2022. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: School district officials have begun planning how it will use the extra $13 million a year generated by the voter-approved addition of a half-cent to the sales tax. The money must be used for repairing or replacing schools. A five-year plan is in the works, and a citizens advisory committee will soon be formed to oversee the spending. Clay Today. The Clay County Teen Court Mock Trial Team, made up of  high school students from around the county, recently defended its state championship at the FSU Sunshine State Showdown. Teams were assigned cases to prepare and litigate. Clay Today.

Leon: Superintendent Rocky Hanna and school board members Rosanne Wood and DeeDee Rasmussen, all incumbents, were sworn in this week. Georgia Bowen was elected board chair. After the ceremonies, the board discussed possible changes in coronavirus quarantine protocols, and reached a deal to boost Internet bandwidth at all schools from 6 gigabytes to 8. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: County commissioners approved a deal that transfers ownership of the historic St. Andrews School from the school board to the county. In return, the school board will have to pay only a portion of the cost of building a roadway to a new school. WMBB.

Flagler: Tom Russell, the principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School, announced this week that he had contracted the coronavirus. The number of cases of students and employees in the district has been on an upward swing, from 13 the week of Nov. 1 to 18 last week and 16 cases for the first three days of this week. Flagler Live. WKMG.

Jackson: School officials are reporting a shortage of teachers and maintenance staff. Thirteen teaching positions are open, and the maintenance staff of 14 is now down to five. “Obviously the COVID pandemic had a toll on us,” said board chair Tony Pumphrey. “Last year we probably had three, four, five, (teaching) positions that went on into the second nine weeks of not being filled.” WMBB.

Colleges and universities: A couple has given $20 million to Florida Atlantic University to create an institute for Holocaust and Jewish studies. Kurt and Marilyn Wallach made the donation, which is the largest in the university’s history. Wallach, 94, fled Nazi Germany in 1933. Associated Press. Florida’s college students are being advised to travel home over the holidays only if necessary, and to be cautious about their activities while at home and who they see. Tampa Bay Times. Indian River State College will hold a drive-in commencement Dec. 16. TCPalm. WPTV.

More on the coronavirus: A study of 191 countries shows no consistent link between schools reopening and the rising rate of coronavirus infections, according to UNICEF. “There is strong evidence that, with basic safety measures in place, the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them. Schools are not a main driver of community transmission, and children are more likely to get the virus outside of school settings,” the study by the United Nations agency concluded. Politico.

Education podcasts: Amy Daumit, who heads a home-schooling group in south Florida, talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about the blurring of the lines among home-schooling, micro-schools, learning pods and private schools, and how the group has moved away from technology to focus on face-to-face collaborative group work. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: As the 2021 legislative session approaches, we demand lawmakers invest in Florida’s students by providing districts the necessary funds to pay their educational staff professionals a living wage now. FEA president Andrew Spar, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff