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Hillsborough reverses course, complies with state demand to renew charter contracts, and more

Around the state: Threatened with a loss of nearly $1 billion in state funding, Hillsborough County School Board members vote to reverse last month’s decision to deny contract renewals to four charter schools, more districts are making face masks optional for the fall but cautioning that things can change if coronavirus cases surge, the outgoing Palm Beach County superintendent is lobbying for the district’s chief financial officer to be chosen as the interim superintendent, more than 12,000 comments were made by St. Johns County parents about the district’s school dress code, a shortage of school bus drivers will force changes in some elementary school start times in Escambia County, and a school resource officer in Charlotte County has been removed after he posted unauthorized videos of students on social media. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward, south Florida: Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie is “strongly” recommending that students wear face masks when schools open Aug. 18, but they won’t be mandatory if the school board agrees to the updated policy at its next meeting. Runcie cautioned that things could change quickly, depending on the virus. “Opening our schools is a fluid environment and is constantly changing,” he said. “As we see positivity rates continue to fluctuate, our recommendations could change.” Sun Sentinel. South Florida districts are still in the process of preparing their safety plans for the 2021-2022 academic year. Face masks will be optional in Miami-Dade schools and three learning options will be offered: in-person, the online academy and the virtual school. Superintendents in both districts cautioned that flexibility to change quickly will be a part of their plans. WPLG. Broward school board members voted unanimously to fire Miramar High School math teacher Karleef Kebreu, 44, for making inappropriate remarks and unwanted physical contact with female students. “Those girls were very clear. A lot of them, their stories were consistent. This kept me up last night. I waited because I know how this can impact us,” said board member Rosalind Osgood. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Threatened with a loss of nearly $1 billion in state funding, school board members voted to reverse last month’s decision to deny contract renewals to four charter schools. State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran reacted to the ban by accusing the board of breaking the law and threatening to withhold funds. The state Board of Education backed Corcoran, and gave the school board 10 days to reverse its decision. Tuesday, the board voted 6-1 to comply with the state’s demand, and Woodmont, South Shore, Pivot and Kids Community College High School charter schools will remain open. “Our hands have been tied, clearly, by the state Board of Education,” said board vice chair Stacy Hahn. “The state Board of Education was very clear ordering this board to reverse our decision regarding charter school renewals or suffer grave financial consequences.” News Service of Florida. redefinED. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. WTSP. WUSF. WFLA. The Hillsborough Education Foundation is asking for donations so it can provide basic school supplies to students in need when the new year begins. WFTS.

Orange: A Westridge Middle School program assistant has been sentenced to five years in prison for child molestation. Milly Michel, 29, was convicted of inappropriately touching students and asking to see their genitalia. WKMG.

Palm Beach: The outgoing school superintendent is pushing for the district’s chief financial officer to take over as the interim superintendent. Superintendent Donald Fennoy, whose resignation takes effect Oct. 11, is lobbying school board members to select CFO Mike Burke as an interim while they search for a permanent replacement. The board meets today to discuss how to replace Fennoy. Other potential temporary replacements are believed to include administrators Keith Oswald, Peter Licata and Ed Tierney. Palm Beach Post. At least 17 schools are expected to have new principals when classes resume Aug. 10. Fourteen appointments have already been made. Three more are pending, and those choices could lead to further vacancies.  Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Polk: Eleven schools have been selected by the state as Florida Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports model schools for their work improving student behavior. They are Alta Vista Elementary, Citrus Ridge: A Civics Academy, Combee Academy of Design and Engineering, Dr. N.E. Roberts Elementary, Griffin Elementary, Horizons Elementary, Loughman Oaks Elementary, Purcell Elementary, Sandhill Elementary, Socrum Elementary and Spessard L. Holland Elementary. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: Eleven cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed at a summer camp at Viera Elementary School, sending an undisclosed number of campers into quarantine. District spokesman Russell Bruhn said the camp has not closed, and school officials would be meeting with health officials to discuss how to contain the virus. Jabari Hosey, the father of a child who tested positive, said, “This is very concerning with the removal of the mask mandate since summer camp doesn’t have nearly the amount of staff and students as the fall did, and we couldn’t make it safely for two months.” Florida Today.

Seminole: District students will have the option of attending classes in person or learning virtually from home when classes resume next month. Those who prefer the virtual option must register by Tuesday. WFTV.

Lake: Superintendent Diane Kornegay has been named superintendent of the year by the Florida Association for Career & Technical Education for her support of career training for district students. Lake County School District.

St. Johns: Parents submitted more than 12,000 comments to the school district about the student dress code during a recent survey. A majority of parents said they don’t want students wearing lingerie, pajamas or clothing with profanity or symbols of drugs, or anything with gang graffiti. The issue of shorts was a popular topic, with many parents criticizing the current code’s rule that shorts must fall no more than 4 inches above the knees. School district spokeswoman Christina Langston said school staffers will review the comments and decide how to move forward. WJXT. WJAX.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Masks will be optional and unvaccinated students exposed to the coronavirus in the next school year in district schools will have to quarantine for 10 days even if they’re not showing any symptoms, according to back-to-school plans for Treasure Coast school districts. Students will have to work remotely while quarantined, but the conditions will be different than last year. “They will not have the live lessons that some of them were able to access last year during quarantine because the teachers will not be teaching online,” said Helen Wild, the St. Lucie district’s chief academic officer. “They won’t have the benefit of the teacher introducing the new material, but the materials themselves will all be available to them.” WPTV. WPEC.

Escambia: Some elementary school start times will be changed in the fall because of a shortage of bus drivers. About 14 of the district’s 32 elementaries will have new times, between 15 and 35 minutes earlier, so drivers can run one route, drop off the students and then run a second route. The district scrambled to find bus drivers last year, and this year they expect to transport 20-30 percent more students, which could require an additional 40-100 drivers. “We’ve just been looking at different strategies on how to help so that adjusted start times … that’ll hopefully help but it’s still not going to solve the problem,” said Superintendent Tim Smith. “The real problem is we’ve got to get those wages up.” Last year drivers made $12.46 an hour. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Clay, northeast Florida: Face masks will be optional when schools resume next month, the Clay County School Board decided this week. Safety measures such as social distancing, staggered arrival/dismissal times, prescreening protocols, and many will remain in place. WJXT. WJAX. Here are the school reopening plans for nine northeast Florida school districts. WTLV.

Bay: The school district is investigating how an email with racist and discriminatory language was sent to some students and staff this week. “We have no evidence that this is anything but an isolated rogue email, but we are definitely taking this seriously and will complete our investigation before determining any appropriate next steps,” said Jim Scantlin, the district’s executive director of management information services. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG. The school district and the Bay County Public Transit System are partnering to collect school supplies for children in need. The drive continues through Aug. 6. Donations can be dropped off at the county transit office, the school district office, the Bay County Library, the Panama City Beach Library, St. Andrews Assembly of God, Springfield Community Church and on any county transit bus. Panama City News Herald.

Charlotte: A school resource officer at Myakka Elementary School has been removed from his assignment after posting unauthorized videos of students on social media. Booker Richardson took videos of students playing football and posted them on TikTok. One of the videos showed a student dropping a pass, which led to negative comments directed toward the student. “I do not believe deputy Richardson acted with any malice or ill intent; however, his actions created undesired consequences for students at this assigned school,” Michael Casarella, the sheriff’s office deputy chief, wrote in the report. “He exhibited poor judgment in his decisions.” Richardson has been removed from the school resource officer program and been given a written reprimand. Charlotte Sun.

Jefferson: Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has approved three promotions and hirings by the district in its transition from being controlled by a charter school company toward becoming independent. Superintendent Eydie Tricquet said decisions have to be approved by the state, and that the number of positions that can be filled is lower due to declining enrollment and the subsequent reduction in money coming from the state. Jefferson County Journal.

Around the nation: The U.S. Department of Education has released guidance for how K-12 schools and colleges and universities can comply with Betsy DeVos-era Title IX rules that are in effect until the DOE reviews them and makes recommended changes. Politico.

Opinions on schools: The pandemic robbed many children of the full kindergarten experience, so we are excited for our son to learn and grow for another year in kindergarten, and to be able to hold his friends’ hands and hug his teacher. Lauren May, redefinED. What will it take to get more women into STEM careers? Getting more girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Ana Puszkin-Chevlin, Fort Myers News-Press. School choice is the ultimate answer to America’s educational crisis, and there ought to be bipartisan agreement on it. School competition makes education better, and gives all parents more options for their children. Jerry Newcombe, The Christian Post. Like every school superintendent, Broward County’s Robert Runcie says that it’s all about the kids. Whenever a crisis came, however, it was all about Robert Runcie. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel. The Brevard chapter of the group Moms for Liberty is not a political stunt; it’s fighting for our children’s futures. Ashley Hall, Florida Today.

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BY NextSteps staff