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More schools reopened in Florida. Will they stay open?

A roundup of Florida education news from across the state.
Students and faculty navigate the first day of school before the start of classes at the entrance of Gulf High School on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in New Port Richey.
Students and faculty navigate the first day of school before the start of classes at the entrance of Gulf High School on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in New Port Richey. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 25, 2020

The Florida Education Association won big Monday in its lawsuit challenging the state’s order to reopen school buildings before the end of August. The ruling came as kids around the Tampa Bay region and elsewhere returned to classes — many in person, but also in large numbers online. As you might expect, some problems cropped up, such as the morning message that Hillsborough County families received apologizing for “technical issues” with the district’s new Canvas system. But for the most part, the first day of school went smoothly. “It looks like a normal school opening, except kids are wearing masks,” Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning said mid-morning. Students appeared to be following all the health and safety rules set forth, by all accounts, with many saying they were excited to be back doing something normal. You could tell, as one principal put it, by their “smiling eyes.” Read on for the latest.

Welcome back! Students and teachers in the Tampa area looked for a little normalcy in their lives, even through the protective gear. • We also had a live streaming story from the field as events took place. You can catch up here. • Among others returning were Indian River and St. Lucie schools, TC Palm reports, and Flagler County schools, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • Polk County schools had fewer students than expected arriving on campus for the first day, the Ledger reports. • More from Brevard County’s reopening, from Florida Today. • The University of South Florida began its first semester, too, in subdued fashion.

But will the the schools stay open? A Leon County circuit court judge’s order would allow districts to hold online-only classes until local health conditions warrant otherwise. One snag: The state’s appeal of the ruling. • Watch for the Hillsborough County School Board to talk about the issue during its workshop at 9:30 a.m. today. The Pinellas School Board meets at 10 a.m., and the subject could arise there also. • Some district officials quickly said they had no plans to shift course. They included Leon (Tallahassee Democrat) and Lake (WMFE).

Now that children have started school, parents can get back to work. Right? It turns out many businesses are not quickly summoning employees to their offices.

The concern remains the possibility of reigniting COVID-19 spread. In a late night e-mail, the Pinellas County school district reported six cases at district facilities — Northeast High, Carwise Middle, Pinellas Park and Shore Acres elementary schools, and Walter Pownall Service Center. No additional information was available. • Pasco County schools reported no cases from the first day. • Two more Manatee County schools reported cases and exposures, the Bradenton Herald reports. • The Duval County health department listed 24 cases of school-related COVID-19, the Florida Times-Union reports. • Three more Martin County schools sent students and staff into remote learning because of virus exposures, WPTV reports.

Teachers in St. Johns County want to be able to require students to wear masks in their classrooms. So far, the superintendent has not agreed to a strict mandate, when social distancing is possible. So the union has turned to the school board, the St. Augustine Record reports.

Some universities are taking extra steps to hold the virus at bay. The University of Tampa suspended several students after throwing a “large gathering” at a residence hall. • FAMU issued a nighttime curfew for its on-campus students, to cut down on such gatherings, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

The University of Tampa campus in Tampa, Fla.
The University of Tampa campus in Tampa, Fla. [ Times (2015) ]

You might remember Zoom-bombing concerns from the spring. On Monday, it was Zoom failures that plagued classes in Brevard County and across the state, Florida Today reports.

Some districts haven’t returned to classes yet. But the teachers are coming back in places like Lee County to prepare, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

Everyone’s still waiting for the budget bombshell to drop. Educators in Florida and elsewhere worry that revenue declines from the virus-damaged economy will lead to cuts of school arts programs, USA Today reports. • A federal judge blocked the U.S. Department of Education’s rule that spelled out how public schools would have to share their CARES Act funds with private schools, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Wanted: Substitute teachers. With schools urging anyone exhibiting symptoms to stay home, the Brevard County district is looking to hire more substitutes than ever before, WFTV reports.

Did you ever wonder how textbooks get chosen for Florida’s public schools? Here’s a brief explainer, as districts get ready to go through the process again with new standards in place.

The finalists for national secondary principal of the year have been announced. One of them leads Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

The principal and assistant principal of a Volusia County school are suspended. A district investigation determined they failed to adequately look into a video showing two students tripping a third, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

Don’t miss a story. Check out our daily roundup weekday mornings.

Before you go ... Getting into a school these days takes an extra effort, with most barring visitors as a way to keep COVID-19 at bay. So what did it look like inside? The Pasco County school district’s videographer has offered an inside look from Monday morning. Was this what your school looked like?

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