Florida’s second semester school plans remain uncertain

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Like many students, Peyton Bouret, a 7-year-old student at Woodmont Charter School in Temple Terrace, worked to adapt to distance learning in the first semester. Questions remain about what second semester will look like.
Like many students, Peyton Bouret, a 7-year-old student at Woodmont Charter School in Temple Terrace, worked to adapt to distance learning in the first semester. Questions remain about what second semester will look like. [ Courtesy of Tina Lawrence-Bouret ]
Published Nov. 30, 2020|Updated Nov. 30, 2020

Students and educators across Florida return to classes today, after a week (in most cases) away from what has proven a trying and complicated school year during the time of coronavirus. The break might not have been as restful as they might have hoped, after the state Department of Education failed to provide guidelines for second semester planning by Thanksgiving, as promised. The new self-set deadline for details arrives today, the final day of November. If it comes, families and school officials will have just less than three weeks to begin preparing, before their winter vacation arrives. Read on for the latest in Florida education news.

Education commissioner Richard Corcoran did announce some second-semester highlights before the holiday. Corcoran said students will be allowed to attend classes online through the end of the year, and that “full parental choice” will remain. But how the state will define “online,” and how it will fashion the funding, remained in flux. The limited flow of information created angst and uncertainty among parents and teachers alike, WOFL reports.

Many school districts want to continue offering live remote classes. The final decision rests on the state’s second semester order, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • Meanwhile, corporate online schools and services have experienced a boost, despite spotty performance, NPR reports.

If students remain online, they might face some new rules. Broward County schools now will require students to keep their web cameras on during class, the Sun-Sentinel reports. It’s a move aimed at ensuring participation, but comes fraught with concerns about privacy, among other issues. • In Collier County, nearly one in four online students had at least one failing grade in the first quarter, raising concerns about the model, the Naples Daily News reports.

Parents have some demands of their own. In Florida and elsewhere, they want to keep their children home for health and safety reasons. Yet they see online classes getting the short shrift as schools focus on providing in-person classes, the Hechinger Report reports.

They’re also not too keen on this year’s testing schedule. State officials are saying students taking classes from home will have to come to campus for their annual accountability exams, Florida Phoenix reports. Setting up testing sites with adequate distancing is proving a test in itself for districts, the Palm Beach Post reports. • Might respite be in sight? U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called on Congress to postpone federal NAEP testing for a year. But DeVos continued to encourage states to administer their own tests in the spring, the Washington Post reports. More from Education Week.

Speaking of testing ... Gaining access to an ACT or SAT testing center remains a point of frustration for many teens as the final sessions of 2020 approach, Inside Higher Ed reports. Florida’s public universities have not yielded in their requirement of a score for admission.

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Distancing has become a key concern for many. The Okeechobee County School Board’s decision to make class sizes bigger during the pandemic hasn’t gone over well, WPEC reports. • Newly elected board members in south Florida have questioned why their schools remain open as the pandemic appears to worsen, WLRN reports. • St. Johns County school officials say they won’t change their coronavirus protocols as positive cases rise, the St. Augustine Record reports.

Some experts say schools are not the problem. Dr. Anthony Fauci said we should “try to get the kids back” in classes, where virus spread has not been major, as the nation fights another surge of positive cases on other fronts, the Associated Press reports.

Still, large numbers parents have kept their children out of school this year. A Hillsborough County school social worker detailed how she, and others like her, keep looking for the students so they can get back on track, 60 Minutes reports.

Lockers in a hallway at Wendell Krinn Technical High School in New Port Richey.
Lockers in a hallway at Wendell Krinn Technical High School in New Port Richey. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Is your student’s data safe? The Pasco County school district has been sharing with the Sheriff’s Office, which uses the information to label and track who might become a criminal. The practice has raised some eyebrows.

Perhaps it was a heartfelt message. But the Minnesota superintendent’s letter of gratitude to his staff was borrowed from other sources, including the Hernando County school board, MedCity Beat reports.

Sometimes pressure works. The University of South Florida has decided not to cancel all undergraduate teaching degree programs, after all. The final form of the revamped College of Education remains to be seen.

Attending could become more expensive. Florida lawmakers hinted they might accept the first tuition increase in nearly a decade to help the state’s universities balance their budgets, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

In her own words. Madeline Pumariega, incoming president of Miami Dade College, discussed her goals for one of the nation’s largest community colleges with Inside Higher Ed.

What’s in a name? A Brevard County school delayed changing its “Indian” mascot after a student survey shows meager support for the idea, Florida Today reports.

From the court docket ... Two Collier County families have sued the school district, claiming a teacher sexually abused their children and the district mishandled the investigation, the Naples Daily News reports. • A Leon County family is suing the school system and a resource officer, contending their child with autism was Baker Acted and handcuffed without the parents being notified, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

Before you go ... Despite all the challenges, teachers across Florida continue to inspire their students. The Pinellas County district has been highlighting such educators weekly. Meet Tia Fontaine of Cypress Woods Elementary.