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Corcoran riles teachers while awaiting judge’s reopening order

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.

On the same day lawyers wrapped up their arguments in the lawsuit over his school reopening order, Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran appeared on Fox News with a new message. Not only did Corcoran expect in-person learning to resume before the end of August, but now, he told commentator Bill Hemmer, he expected all teachers assigned to those classrooms to show up, or else. If they don’t, then “they can get terminated,” said Corcoran, whose office has no power to either hire or fire school district employees — a fact he later acknowledged to Florida Politics. The commissioner, who previously had touted his approach during COVID-19 as one of “compassion and grace,” became the immediate target of teachers who remain anxious about their jobs. “This is yet another threat and intimidation tactic,” said one Florida Education Association official, who called the statement “disgraceful.” What will the fallout be? The judge in that school reopening case could issue a ruling as early as today. Meanwhile, another round of schools reopen today — including in Pasco and Pinellas counties. Hillsborough starts online only. Keep up with the latest in this live online story. Read on for the rest of the update.

Which way will he go? Leon County Judge Charles Dodson heard nearly two hours of closing arguments on Friday, asking more questions of the state’s lawyers than of the union’s. He sounded interested in a proposal to sever financial penalties from the state’s reopening requirements. He didn’t show his hand, though, saying he needed time to review all the evidence and legalities before ruling. See our Twitter feed from the hearing for more details. • Corcoran didn’t testify. But, in addition to appearing on Fox, he talked about the case with CNN. Watch here.

Tampa Bay awaits its first day. It will be unlike any other in recent memory, parents and teachers say. How so, you ask? Seating, masking and distancing, to name a few. Area colleges and universities are taking steps to respond to COVID-19 as classes resume, too. • Brevard County students also return Monday, Florida Today reports, as do Indian River and St. Lucie students, TC Palm reports. • As Osceola County students go back, the district reminded families to check their children for symptoms before showing up, Positively Osceola reports. • Lake County school district officials say they’re taking every safety precaution available as students come back, the Daily Commercial reports.

Taking classes at home? Hope you don’t need a new laptop. There’s a nationwide shortage, the Associated Press reports. • The number of Leon County students planning to attend classes remotely continues to rise, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. • Remote learning proved especially difficult for children with special needs. But returning to school raised worries, too.

Going back and want to know if the virus is in your school? Whether you find out or not depends on where you live. Pasco County will tell you, for instance, while Orange County has fought to keep the information private, the NY Times reports. • The neighboring Collier and Lee districts are taking different approaches, the Naples Daily News reports. • But, as Flagler County leaders acknowledged, it’s more a question of when than if, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • You can see it happening already. The virus entered nearly a dozen Manatee County schools during its first week of classes, the Bradenton Herald reports. More from the Herald-Tribune. • Students in seven classrooms of a Citrus County high school were asked to quarantine, the Citrus County Chronicle reports. • Cases also arose in schools in Wakulla (WCTV), Bradford (WJXT), Calhoun and Franklin counties (WJHG). • Seminole County schools told parents to be prepared for their children to self-quarantine, if necessary, WOFL reports.

Maybe it won’t be so bad. Lee County schools opened their doors for three weeks of summer classes, and no one got sick, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Over the weekend, Florida reported one of its lowest number of new cases in two months.

Folsom Elementary teacher Vanessa Walters prepares to protest the state's school reopening order outside the Florida Board of Education meeting July 15, 2020, at Strawberry Crest High in east Hillsborough County.
Folsom Elementary teacher Vanessa Walters prepares to protest the state's school reopening order outside the Florida Board of Education meeting July 15, 2020, at Strawberry Crest High in east Hillsborough County. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]

Some Hillsborough teachers say they’re ready to quit if forced back. They’re watching to see how their district responds after the state lawsuit ruling arrives, Creative Loafing reports. • The Polk Education Association filed a class-action grievance against their district, claiming the district arbitrarily denied teacher requests to teach remotely, the Ledger reports. One Polk teacher resigned after being turned down for an online position, the Ledger reports.

The Santa Rosa County school district laid off dozens of teachers because of low enrollment. It then rehired several to teach online classes, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

Private schools have different rules. Several central Florida private schools received federal grants and loans for their COVID-19 response, and they’re not required to follow the same reopening requirements as their public counterparts, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

High school athletes might be ready to play. In Lee and Collier counties, their parents will have to sign liability waivers before they’re allowed, the Naples Daily News reports.

Federal investigators are looking into corruption in Bay County. They’ve served a new subpoena for contracts on the school district, WMBB reports.

They have a winner. A funeral home worker pushing for greater accountability won a Santa Rosa County School Board seat by 21 votes after a recount, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

Before you go ... As they usually do, teachers are trying to make sure things that might seem scary or difficult to their students come across as something manageable. Like social distancing. A Vero Beach elementary school parodied Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” to send its message on staying safe while back on campus. Even Vanilla Ice approved. “It was a great message and it’s what’s needed,” the rapper told WPBF. Enjoy.