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Coronavirus surge in schools, attendance at events banned, plan to change mascots delayed and more

Coronavirus in schools: The number of coronavirus cases in K-12 schools and colleges and universities has increased 78 percent in the past three weeks, according to Florida Department of Health statistics. In the report Oct. 24, the state had 12,326 cases. By Nov. 14, that number was 21,996. Despite the surge, which is especially pronounced in south Florida school districts that were among the last in the state to open, school officials said they have no plans to close classrooms and revert to online-only learning. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. St. Augustine Record. WKRG. Fort Myers News-Press. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Around the state: A rise in coronavirus cases prompted Pasco school officials to ban spectators at school sporting and theatrical events for the foreseeable future, a Lakeland High School teacher has been arrested and accused of having hundreds of pornographic images of children on his cell phone, a Brevard school has delayed a decision on whether to replace the school’s Indian mascot after its proposal to do so was poorly received in the community, two districts choose administrators of the year, a 60 Minutes report focuses on the 7,000 “missing” students in the Hillsborough County School District, and University of South Florida officials are backing off their decision to close all undergraduate programs at the College of Education. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The parents of a 6-year-old student who was abandoned on a school bus for hours last week said they plan to sue the Kipp Academy Charter School in Miami and the company it uses to transport students. WFOR. An off-duty school bus driver has been arrested and accused of causing a three-vehicle accident with injuries and then fleeing the scene, leaving behind her 15-year-old son. Shwanna Latisha Aaron, 47, was driving her personal Camaro when she caused the crash Sept. 5, according to troopers. She faces charges of leaving the scene of a crash and child neglect, and has been placed in an alternate assignment with the school district. WSVN. The school district will continue providing free meals to students through the end of the school year, regardless of their family income. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: The district’s loss of 7,000 students this year was the focus of a 60 Minutes report on declining enrollment in U.S. schools during the pandemic. Laura Tucker, one of the district’s 235 social workers, described how they searched for students and concluded: “I think a portion of them moved away,” she said. “I think a portion of them are doing their own thing. They’re homeschooling and they just haven’t notified our homeschool office that that’s what they’ve decided to do. And then some of them just aren’t doing school. And you can get away with it right now. And that’s really scary.” CBS News. WTSP. An 80- by 100-foot mural of the late basketball star Kobe Bryant has been painted on an outdoor basketball court at basketball court at Seminole Elementary School in Tampa. It’s believed to be the largest mural in the world of Bryant, the former Los Angeles Lakers star who died with his daughter and seven other people in a helicopter crash 10 months ago. Tampa artist Jorge Roldan, 24, said it took more than 300 hours to complete. WFLA.

Orange: Union officials said a week after a magistrate issued several recommendations for employee health and safety standards during the pandemic, the district has yet to respond. “A special magistrate has issued a judicious decision that protects teachers and students during this deadly pandemic,” union officials said in a press release. “(The union) accepts all of the magistrate’s recommendations and has urged the district to do the same.” Among the recommendations: The district should notify employees when someone at their school contracts the virus, pay for coronavirus testing and medical costs for employees not yet eligible for insurance through the district, and follow the advice of experts, including the CDC, on safety guidelines. WKMG.

Duval: School board member Lori Hershey has proposed the board consider selling the current home of the district’s main offices and begin looking for a new location. Other board members agreed, and the issue will be discussed at a meeting next month. The value of the current building has increased from $8,713,200 in 2014 to $11,165,600 this year. WJXT. Parents who want to send their children back to school classrooms can now cancel their spots in the remote-learning program, district officials have announced. Cancellation forms for the virtual Duval HomeRoom platform are available on the district’s website through Dec. 4. Parents whose students wish to continue learning remotely will be enrolled automatically. WJXT.

Polk: A Lakeland High school teacher and coach has been arrested and charged with more than 400 county of child pornography. Deputies said Shawn Fitzgerald, 46, who taught special needs students at Lakeland High and was also director of youth services at a Bartow church, had sexually explicit images of boys and girls on his cell phone. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Ulysses J. Johnson III, a local historian who began teaching at the all-black Rochelle Junior-Senior High in Lakeland before integration and later worked at what is now Polk State College, has died at the age of 91. Lakeland Ledger.

Pasco: The positive testing rate for the coronavirus has reached 9 percent in the county, prompting school officials to ban spectators at school sporting and theatrical events until further notice. “I know this is an inconvenience,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. “I know it just won’t be the same without an audience and spectators. However, we feel this is a reasonable compromise that will be effective in keeping infection rates under control.” Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WTVT. The school district will offer free coronavirus tests to students and employees during the holiday breaks this week and in December. WFLA.

Brevard: An Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School advisory council has postponed making a decision about changing the school’s mascot. Last week’s meeting to consider whether to retire the Indian mascot will now be held Jan. 21. Council members cited a community backlash against the proposal and a recent student survey showing only 37.4 percent support a change. Florida Today. A trespasser at Southlake Elementary School in Titusville last week was arrested after being confronted by a school resource officer and fighting with him. Jesus Marrero is not a school employee or a parent. WOFL.

Marion: Liberty Middle School’s Melissa Forsyth has been named the school district’s principal of the year, and Marion Oaks Elementary’s Rebecca Miller has been chosen as the assistant principal of the year. WUFT. Ocala-News. The district’s psychologist, Krista Schwenk Garner, created an uproar when she posted a comment to her Facebook page that read: “Drug use and abuse is not a medical condition. It is a choice and obviously not a good one.” Her comment accompanied a photo of a T-shirt disparaging President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Despite the criticism from some members of the community, a district spokesman said no action would be taken because the account does not identify her as a district employee. WUFT.

Bay: The Deane Bozeman School’s Christie West has been named the district’s assistant principal of the year, and A. Crawford Mosley High’s Kristi Denery Page has been chosen as the assistant administrator of the year. Earlier this month, Parker Elementary’s Chris Coan was selected as principal of the year. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: New Superintendent John Millay said his focus will be on lifting the achievements of all students and creating a sense of unity that will help the district “continue speaking the language of success.” TCPalm.

Citrus: Mark Stone Sr., a member of the school board from 1994-2002, died Nov. 14 in a single-vehicle crash. Superintendent Sandra Himmel called him the closer “because the board members would always talk, and keep talking, and then Mark would kind of at the end summarize both sides and call for the vote.” He was 62. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: University of South Florida officials have reversed course and will preserve some undergraduate programs in the College of Education. Last month, USF said it would end the undergraduate program as way to cut the budget. That plan was roundly criticized by students, local district superintendents who have relied on USF graduates to fill open teaching jobs, and even the university’s own board of trustees. Tampa Bay Times. Two Floridians have been chosen as Rhodes Scholars and will study at Oxford University: Santiago Potes of Miami, who attends Columbia University; and Jackson Willis of St. Petersburg, a student at Yale. Associated Press. Glenn Wilkes, the head basketball coach at Stetson University for 36 years who has been called the “godfather of Florida basketball,” has died at the age of 91. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Legislative appointments: State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, has been appointed to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. With state revenues down because of the pandemic and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, saying education spending will be closely scrutinized, Stargel will be influential in helping decide what programs will see budget cuts. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Citing recent research that suggests schools aren’t coronavirus superspreaders, education experts are urging political leaders to prioritize keeping schools open and putting restrictions on everything else. Politico. President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign national policy director, Stef Feldman, said Biden has plans to boost emergency school funding to fight the coronavirus,  increase the number of mental health professionals in schools, stress social-emotional learning, and improve charter school accountability. Education Dive. Education advocates said the budget crisis caused by the pandemic could change the way schools are funded in the future. Wall Street Journal. In some areas around the country, students who are learning remotely feel shortchanged as districts direct their resources to openings classrooms. Hechinger Report.

Opinions on schools: Properly understood through its actual proposals and its documented history, school choice has always been rooted in improvement, parental power, opportunity, hope and social fairness. Chris Stewart, redefinED. It’s time for the voters of Citrus to get with the times, and like their fellow Floridians, back the additional taxpayer support to education, whether through a slight sales tax, property tax increase or some other mild measure to help. Citrus County Chronicle. Jacksonville continues to be a place of innovation and growth, so we too must be innovative in how we create an interest in STEM at an early age. Diane Yendol-Hoppey, Florida Times-Union. Progress has been made in increasing civic knowledge at all levels of education. Now is the time to push for the inclusion of how other governments operate as part of our civic education for students. Brian Crisher, Pensacola News Journal. For the first time, a majority of the Alachua County School Board members are African-Americans. Their challenges are many: anticipated revenue shortfalls associated with the pandemic, finding a replacement for Superintendent Karen Clarke and closing the persistent academic achievement gap between black and white students. James F. Lawrence, Gainesville Sun. The single most important lesson I learned about online teaching this semester is never to teach online unless there is no other choice. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff