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DeSantis’ ‘complete flexibility’ claim for school reopening put to the test

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.

When last we brought together our news roundup, the Hillsborough County School Board had voted to postpone its in-person start of classes, cheering many teachers and parents who had pushed for that outcome. The big question that lingered: Did Gov. Ron DeSantis really mean it when, about a week earlier, he said districts would have “complete flexibility” in their reopening plans? We learned the answer late Friday when the Department of Education responded to Hillsborough. The message conveyed even more importance to the FEA’s lawsuit challenging the DeSantis administration’s approach to the school year. That case was sent to the Leon County circuit, where two judges recused themselves over the weekend. No hearings have yet been scheduled. Aren’t you just tingling with anticipation for what this week brings us?

‘The Hillsborough County School Board needs to follow the law.’ That was Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran’s response to the action by the state’s third largest district. Up next? The board has canceled its Aug. 18 meeting, but that might change as district leaders scramble for a solution.

The University of South Florida isn’t waiting for anyone to tell them to offer in-person classes. President Steve Currall announced the school will move to the second phase of its four-part reopening plan, beginning Aug. 24. • Students began arriving at Stetson University’s Deland campus ready for classes, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • UCF students are returning to campus, too, despite high numbers of COVID-19 cases, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University held summer in-person classes, and found a 3.5 percent positivity rate among students tested, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

Some predict it’s inevitable that COVID-19 cases will follow. That’s been the situation in Manatee County schools since they welcomed employees back to work, the Bradenton Herald reports. The district plans to spend nearly $3 million to prepare for its coronavirus response, the Bradenton Herald reports. • The Brevard County school district released its action plan for dealing with the illness, and urged parents and students to do their part, Space Coast Daily reports. • Keep an eye on Martin County schools as the canary. They start classes on Tuesday, TC Palm reports.

Reopening the schools is the easy part, after all. Keeping them open will be much tougher, the Associated Press reports. • That’s why in Florida, as elsewhere, plans keep changing, the Washington Post reports. • Leon County superintendent Rocky Hanna apologized to teachers, saying he kept so busy preparing for their return that he didn’t do a good enough job communicating with them, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

In this July 13, 2020, file photo, a chain-link fence lock is seen on a gate at a closed Ranchito Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles.
In this July 13, 2020, file photo, a chain-link fence lock is seen on a gate at a closed Ranchito Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. [ RICHARD VOGEL | AP ]

The larger community needs to help. The Lake County government has pledged about $1.6 million to assist the schools with their COVID-19 response, the Daily Commercial reports.

School officials sure wish local health departments would offer recommendations. Duval County’s superintendent has asked and is still waiting, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Staying home remains an option for many. That’s changed the way families did their back-to-school shopping. •  A slim majority of Polk County families are choosing remote learning, the Ledger reports. • More than half of Collier County students expect to return to campus for classes, the Naples Daily News reports. • Black and Hispanic families prefer that schools remain closed moreso than white families, Florida Phoenix reports.

In some corners, masks are not desired. A Mount Dora private Christian school complained that it did not want to follow the local mask requirement, saying it could harm children’s education, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Clean schools will be more important than ever. Volusia County teachers say they have no confidence that will happen with their district’s contracted custodial service, WFTV reports.

And now for some non-coronavirus education stories ...

Transgender students still have rights inside public schools. A federal appellate court upheld a St. Johns County student’s challenge of a rule denying a student equal access to the restroom of their gender identity.

From the campaign trail ... A Black person has served on the Pinellas County School Board for 20 years. Some community members fear losing that representation in this year’s election. • Seventeen candidates are running for four seats on the Miami-Dade School Board, with three incumbents not seeking reelection, the Miami Herald reports.

Welcome to Sarasota. The School Board will formally swear in new superintendent Brennan Asplen on Monday, the Herald-Tribune reports.

Broward County schools need a new CTE director. The administrator in that post retired as the district investigated allegations she created a hostile work environment, and made homophobic and racist statements, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

Say goodbye to that controversial civics test, for now. The Florida Department of Education has quietly withdrawn a rule allowing state college students to meet their civics requirement by passing a multiple choice exam, Florida Phoenix reports.

Before you go ... Many teachers around the state are talking about heavy duty concerns such as classroom safety in the age of COVID-19. That doesn’t mean they can’t get a little silly too. Here’s what one Pasco County math teacher shared on social media, with the tag, “How some teachers get ready for the start of school.”

A Pasco County teacher shared this teacher joke with colleagues to lighten the atmosphere created by COVID-19.
A Pasco County teacher shared this teacher joke with colleagues to lighten the atmosphere created by COVID-19. [ Facebook ]