School district scrambles to find substitute teachers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida school district is scrambling to find substitute teachers after a large number of full-time teachers chose to stay home as students returned to brick and mortar classes for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The Palm Beach County school district said 944 teachers did not show for work on Monday when students who chose the in-school option returned to classrooms. The number was slightly lower — nearly 894 teachers, or roughly 1 of every 13 — on Tuesday, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Officials said 387 substitute teachers were called in to assist on Tuesday across the district, which consist of 180 campuses. Some 58,000 students were in classrooms on Tuesday, officials said.

“Over the last two days we have averaged around 42% substitute fill rate, which is below our average,” Gonzalo La Cava, the district’s human resources director, told the newspaper.

Many principals asked teachers to supervise two classes at one time, or sent other employees to monitor classrooms where the teacher did not show up, the newspaper reported.

In other cases, students were sent to overflow rooms until their next class begins.

“My son’s Spanish teacher quit over the weekend,” Nicole Britton, mother of a Park Vista High School student, told the newspaper. “He had to go to an ‘overflow room’ on Monday and basically had study hall for almost two hours.”

There is not an easy fix for district officials. The concerns causing teachers to stay home is also making some substitute teachers uneasy about accepting assignments.

“You can’t find them,” said Stacy Tepper, a veteran math teacher at L.C. Swain Middle School. “We have like 14 or 15 people out on virtual (assignments), and there’s no subs.”

Officials expect some teachers to return to classrooms as they burn through sick days and vacation time. Others are waiting to see if they receive remote-work accommodations. So far, 64 teachers have resigned, 82 have taken leaves of absence and 278 with health complications have been granted remote-work assignments, the district said.

Tuesday’s enrollment rose by about 2,000 over Monday’s first day of in-person classes, officials said. .

Palm Beach County is the nation’s 10th largest school system with 197,000 students and 12,900 teachers.

School districts in neighboring Broward and Miami-Dade counties have not yet returned to classrooms. On Tuesday, Miami-Dade’s school board approved a plan for willing students to return to schools by Oct. 7. Broward County officials pushed back a return to the classroom until mid-October.

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Vote expected on staggered reopening of Miami-Dade schools

MIAMI (AP) — Florida’s largest school district is proposing to have all willing students back in classrooms by Oct. 7, but a final vote was delayed by more than 18 hours of public comment.

The Miami-Dade County School District proposed to have a staggered reopening of school buildings following the coronavirus pandemic. The board on Monday asked questions of district staff and discussed policies before playing the voicemails, which are required to be heard before holding a vote. A vote is expected around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The 762 public comments were playing overnight, possibly to no board member listening, the Miami Herald reported. The school board said it does not need a quorum during public comment.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade, and students with special needs would return to the classroom on Wednesday, Sept. 30.

On Oct. 5, the remaining elementary school students and students in sixth, ninth and 10th grades will return to classes. By Oct. 7, all students who have opted for in-person learning would be back in classrooms.

Carvalho has said 51% of families wish to send their children back for in-person learning, the newspaper reported. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the fourth largest school district in the United States, comprised of 392 schools, 345,000 students and over 40,000 employees.

Many of the first 100 comments came from district educators and were largely against reopening schools.

School in Palm Beach County opened Monday, with about two-thirds of students and 1 in 12 teachers staying home. In neighboring Broward County, School Superintendent Robert Runcie planned to announce on Tuesday his plan to reopen schools for in-person learning on Oct. 5.

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Florida teachers want superintendent fired over COVID plans

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida teachers union wants a district superintendent fired for his handling of school reopenings while the state Wednesday reported more than 13,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Florida since March.

The union representing Palm Beach County teachers is calling for Superintendent Donald Fennoy to be fired because its members have “lost all faith” in his ability to successfully reopen campuses next week.

Classroom Teachers Association President Justin Katz made the announcement Wednesday in an email to members.

“CTA has tried to work with the current superintendent, but we have lost all faith and now have zero confidence that a righting of this rudderless ship is possible without immediate change,” the email said.

Katz said he plans to formally make the termination request to school board members at a board meeting later Wednesday, the Palm Beach Post reported. It is the first in-person meeting of the board since the coronavirus pandemic began.

A school district spokeswoman said there was no immediate comment on the teachers union’s letter.

Earlier this week, school board member Barbara McQuinn ruled out the possibility of a change in the district’s administration, saying it would be too disruptive.

“I think a change in leadership during this time would be a tragedy,” she told the Post Monday. “To have our efforts diverted from the job of educating our kids and keeping our kids and employees safe, what a terrible distraction that would be.”

In addition to teachers, school board members and principals have questioned Fennoy’s administration as the county’s public schools became embroiled in a chaotic last-minute effort to consider remote-work privileges for more than 1,500 teachers and other employees, the Post reported.

Palm Beach schools are scheduled to reopen for in-person classes Monday. Most other districts around the state have already reopened, but a few such as hard-hit Broward and Miami-Dade counties are still working on plans. In all districts, parents have the option to send their children to in-person classes or to keep them at home for online instruction.

The state health department announced Wednesday that another 2,355 people in Florida have tested positive for the virus and another 152 have died. That brings the number of confirmed cases in the state since March 1 to more than 670,000, with at least 13,100 deaths caused by the virus.

While the number of confirmed cases remains a fraction of their mid-July peak of nearly 14,000 per day, over the last week Florida has averaged 119 deaths per day. That is higher than any other state during that period, eclipsing the 112 averaged by Texas during that period. Texas has 50% more residents.

Still, Florida’s average number of daily deaths is dropping, having peaked in early August at 185 per day.


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Florida high school closes for 2 weeks due to virus cases

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A central Florida high school is shutting its doors for two weeks after it had six confirmed cases and one suspected case of the coronavirus.

Officials with Orange County Public Schools said over the weekend that Olympia High School’s campus will be closed to students until Sept. 21 and all students will take online classes. There will be no athletic events or extracurricular activities during the two weeks, the school said on Twitter.

The decision to temporarily close the school comes more than two weeks after in-person classes resumed for the Orlando-area school district.

More than a third of Olympia’s 3,300 students were taking classes on campus, with the rest of the student body taking online classes.

“This decision to pivot is out of an abundance of caution after several positive COVID-19 cases have been confirmed,” the school said on Twitter.

In neighboring Osceola County, a middle school announced late last month that it was closing its campus for two weeks because of coronavirus cases.

Florida State University in Tallahassee reported that in the seven-day period ending Sept. 4, 3,429 tests were performed at a local civic center and 724 individuals tested positive for a positivity rate of 21.1 %. Overall, 839 students and 14 employees have tested positive since Aug. 2.

The spike comes after several social media posts showing photos and videos of off-campus student parties with no social distancing and few, if any, masks.

“Administrators are disappointed to see the public health guidance provided on multiple occasions has been disregarded by many,” the university said in an emailed statement. “FSU is again requesting local establishments and apartment complexes step in with appropriate restrictions where off-campus students are congregating.”

The university, which has almost 44,000 enrolled students, responded to the increase by prohibiting tailgating at Saturday’s football game, telling fraternities and sororities they can’t have non-member guests and reducing the size and number of student events. Florida State plans to begin random coronavirus testing next week.

By comparison, the University of Florida in Gainesville, which had more than 56,500 students enrolled last year, has been reporting test results since May 6. As of Tuesday, 338 students and 28 employees have tested positive. But of the 1,253 students tested at the campus health center, 272 tested positive for a positivity rate of 21.7%

Florida on Tuesday reported more than 1,800 new coronavirus cases, raising the state’s total to 650,092 cases since March.

Florida had 12,067 resident and nonresident deaths as of Tuesday, a daily increase of 44 deaths.

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High Schooler Arrested for Cyberattacks on Miami-Dade Schools

In this March 16, 2020, file photo, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks to the news media at the Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Miami, Fla. Officials say a cyberattack plagued Florida's largest school district during its virtual start to the school year. Carvalho said during a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 1, that the district suffered a distributed denial of service attack as a software glitch blocked access to the district’s servers.

In this March 16, 2020, file photo, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks to the news media at the Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Miami, Fla. Officials say a cyberattack plagued Florida’s largest school district during its virtual start to the school year. Carvalho said during a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 1, that the district suffered a distributed denial of service attack as a software glitch blocked access to the district’s servers.
—AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

A 16-year-old student has been arrested for orchestrating a series of network outages and cyberattacks during the first week of school in Florida’s largest district, authorities said Thursday.

District police said they also believe others were involved in the cyberattacks, which have plagued the Miami-Dade schools since they reopened Monday and students began receiving online instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will not rest until every one of them is caught and brought to justice,” schools police chief Edwin Lopez said.

Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho said it was “disheartening that one of our own students has admitted to intentionally causing this kind of disruption.”

See Also: Special Report: Cyberattacks on Schools: How Educators Are Responding

According to Lopez, the student at South Miami Senior High School told police he had conducted eight attacks on the school computer system “designed to overwhelm district networks.” He has been charged with computer use in an attempt to defraud, which is a felony; and misdemeanor interference with an educational institution.

The student’s name has not been released because he is a juvenile. It was not immediately clear if he has a lawyer to represent him.

Earlier, officials revealed that Carvalho had never signed a $15.3 million contract with the online platform at the center of the crisis. Ron Steiger, the Miami-Dade County school district’s chief financial officer, made the announcement Wednesday during a school board meeting to discuss the failures of K12’s online platform, My School Online, the Miami Herald reported.

The coronavirus pandemic caused officials to delay the start of classes from mid-August to Aug. 31. But scores of students and teachers have not been able to access the online system and the school board has been overwhelmed with complaints.

The school district’s chief academic officer, Marie Izquierdo, said the problem with the K12 platform was happening nationwide, and that officials are working on a solution. The company said in an emailed statement to the Herald that network outages had affected the platform.

Izquierdo said one option in the meantime would be to revert to the plan that worked when the pandemic started in the spring, when every teacher used whatever online platform they felt most comfortable with.

Parents complained then that it was too confusing to navigate multiple platforms. And the district could only measure one-time log-ins, not sustained participation, which is a feature offered by My School Online.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has requested a briefing with the Department of Homeland Security on cybersecurity as it relates to school districts.

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Virtual learning in Miami-Dade halted by cyberattack, glitch

MIAMI (AP) — A cyberattack and a software glitch plagued Florida’s largest school district during the first two days of its virtual start to the school year, officials said Tuesday.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said during a news conference that the district suffered a distributed denial of service attack Monday morning as a software glitch blocked access to the district’s servers, the Miami Herald reported. The glitch and DDoS attack rendered multiple online school district features useless and teaching nearly impossible.

The FBI and Secret Service have been called in and subpoenaed the school district’s internet provider, Carvalho said. He added that the glitch has been completely resolved and optimized.

Whoever conducted the cyberattack did not hack in or penetrate district servers, officials said. It wasn’t known who initiated the attack, but Carvalho said he wants them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

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Florida’s Largest School District Under Siege By Cyberattack

Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ superintendent Alberto Carvalho leans over to greet students remotely during a visit to Ms. Vanessa Acosta's, right, 1st grade class during a brief visit to Bob Graham Education Center to welcome back school-site administrators and teachers as they engaged in the My School Online instruction from various respective classrooms on Aug. 31.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ superintendent Alberto Carvalho leans over to greet students remotely during a visit to Ms. Vanessa Acosta’s, right, 1st grade class during a brief visit to Bob Graham Education Center to welcome back school-site administrators and teachers as they engaged in the My School Online instruction from various respective classrooms on Aug. 31.
—Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP


Florida’s largest school district is still under siege by cyberattacks that began Monday as students returned to school remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a tweet on Wednesday morning that multiple attempts to disrupt online education have been made Wednesday morning, following two previous days of cyberattacks. Carvalho said they haven’t managed to penetrate the district’s servers.

He said the district’s security and safeguard measures have been successful so far and that the 200,000 students who’ve logged onto the system have been asked to remain logged on.

The remaining teachers and students who have not been able to access the system are being asked to use an alternate method of logging in. Miami-Dade’s public school system is the nation’s fourth largest, with 345,000 students, 392 schools and more than 40,000 employees.

The delayed start to the school year also was marred by a software glitch that blocked access to the district’s servers, Carvalho said during a news conference on Tuesday. That glitch has been resolved, he said.

The FBI and Secret Service have been called in to probe the cyberattacks. They subpoenaed the school district’s internet provider.

Carvalho said they don’t yet know who’s responsible but he wants them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

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Florida judge: Reopening public schools ‘disregards safety’

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge temporarily blocked Gov. Ron DeSantis and top education officials from forcing public schools to reopen brick-and-mortar classrooms amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ruling that the state’s order “arbitrarily disregards safety.”

But the temporary injunction issued Monday by Leon County Judge Charles Dodson was immediately put on hold when the state appealed the ruling.

In his ruling, Dodson said the mandate to reopen schools usurped local control from school districts in deciding for themselves whether it was safe for students, teachers and staffers to return.

“The districts have no meaningful alternative,” the judge wrote in his opinion.

“If an individual school district chooses safety, that is, delaying the start of schools until it individually determines it is safe to do so for its county, it risks losing state funding, even though every student is being taught,” he ruled.

The Florida Education Association had sued the state after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an order earlier this summer mandating that schools reopen classrooms by Aug. 31 or risk losing funding.

“Local communities should have the freedom to make the best decisions for reopening or keeping open local schools. Our districts should not be ruled by reckless edicts from on high. Safety must come before politics,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram said.

Corcoran said he was confident that an appellate court would affirm the state’s decision to reopen classrooms for in-person instruction.

“This fight has been, and will continue to be, about giving every parent, every teacher and every student a choice, regardless of what educational option they choose,” Corcoran said in a statement noting that 1.6 million students of the state’s 2.9 million public school students had already returned.

Most of the state’s schools have already reopened, but Monday’s ruling — should it be upheld by a state appellate court — will give local school boards more authority to control whether campuses stay open or closed.

The ruling came as Florida’s coronavirus spread appeared to be waning, although it still outpaces the ability of contact tracers to contain outbreaks. With several key metrics on the decline, the Miami Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes were readying to welcome fans back to Hard Rock Stadium under social distancing conditions.

State-provided statistics showed 4,655 people being treated for COVID-19 in Florida hospitals on Monday, less than half of the peaks above 9,500 a month ago.

A total of 72 new deaths were reported, bringing the seven day average down to 123, the lowest rate in a month. Average daily increases in cases over the past week have declined to a level not seen since late June.

DeSantis told a news conference Monday that emergency-room visits for COVID-19-like illnesses have declined about 75% since a statewide peak on July 7.

The situation has improved so much, DeSantis said, that the Miami Dolphins football team can now have up to 13,000 socially distancing fans attend their home opener against Buffalo on Sept. 20.

“We have to have society function,” the governor said. “You can take the basic steps to make sure that’s done safely. But to just say, ‘No, we’re not going to do anything,’ I don’t think that’s a viable pathway for the state going forward.”

The University of Miami will follow the same coronavirus mitigation plan for its home opener against UAB at the Dolphins’ stadium on Sept. 10, officials said.

“We’re heading to a more normal kind of life,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Crowd size will be about 20% of the stadium’s 65,326-seat capacity, with each group of spectators spaced 6 feet (two meters) apart. And guests will be required to wear masks. Dolphins authorities say guest services, stadium personnel and law enforcement will enforce the mask rule.

“If that is your idea that you can’t be made to wear a mask, this is not the place for you. We view wearing a masks in public places as a contribution to the community, to our collective safety,” Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III.

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, who served as the secretary of health and human services during the Clinton administration, expressed concern about bringing fans back into Hard Rock Stadium.

“So the kinds of precautions that need to be taken are extraordinary, and I think it’s going to be very difficult to do as long as we have community spread,” Shalala said during a Monday morning press call organized by the Democratic Party of Florida.

“We’ve seen evidence that if you put everybody in a bubble, as the NBA has, they at least could prevent a lot of infections. But it is risky — there is no question — that it’s risky when you have community spread,” Shalala said.


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Tamara Lush reported from St. Petersburg. AP reporters Steve Wine in Miami and Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this story.

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More than 200 Florida students quarantined due to COVID-19

MIAMI (AP) — A Florida school district has quarantined 231 students from two high schools, citing exposure to the coronavirus.

Martin County School District said Tuesday that the students at South Fork High School in Stuart, Florida and Jensen Beach High School will switch to remote learning for 14 days. District spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo said those ordered to stay home included members of a swim team and students who traveled on one of the bus routes.

The school district referred questions to the state health department on the number of students who tested positive or were presumed to be infected before test results were available.

The district in the county north of West Palm Beach had already quarantined some students at three elementary schools after reopening seven days ago.

Over the weekend, two employees at J.D. Parker Elementary School, also in Stuart, Florida reported they experienced COVID-like symptoms, which prompted orders to quarantine.

Other schools in other areas of the state began to reopen this week as the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 continues to drop statewide.

On Tuesday, there were 5,485 patients compared to 5,657 on Monday. Those numbers have been declining since highs above 9,500 on July 23.

The state health department tallied 219 new deaths, for an overall total of 9,893. This brings the 7-day average of deaths to 173.

The death figures do not represent the number of people who died the previous day, but they are a reflection of the deadliness of the disease during the surge in late June and July.


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Sheriff claims victory over predecessor fired after Parkland

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Incumbent Gregory Tony claimed victory Tuesday night in the race for the Democratic nomination for Broward County sheriff in a campaign centered on a high school massacre and a shooting decades earlier.

Tony was named sheriff in 2019 after Gov. Ron DeSantis fired his predecessor Scott Israel over his handling of the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.

Tony issued a statement Tuesday night saying he had defeated Israel in the Democratic primary in a county where Democrats hold a 2-1 edge over the GOP in registered voters.

“The Democratic voters of Broward County have spoken and I am deeply honored that they have chosen me to lead the Broward Sheriff’s Office into a brighter, safer future! I promise BSO will become the national model for how a public safety agency can be run,” Tony said in a statement.

There was no immediate response from the Israel campaign.

The Broward County sheriff runs a 6,000-employee operation with a half-billion dollar budget, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the southeast.

Tony’s campaign was marked by criticism that he had failed to disclose that he fatally shot an 18-year-old in 1993 when he was 14 in Philadelphia. A judge concluded Tony acted in self-defense, but Tony never revealed the shooting to his previous police employer, the governor or the investigators who vetted him for the sheriff’s job.

Israel won election twice before he was removed by DeSantis after the Parkland school shooting. Tony, 41, the county’s first Black sheriff, is a former sergeant in the suburban Coral Springs Police Department. Tony also ran a consulting company that trained officers to confront active shooters.

Broward County Mayor Dale Holness said in a statement that Tony deserved to be elected.

“Sheriff Tony came into office under circumstances that many questioned,” Holness said. “The fact is he performed the job with excellence. He has transformed that department, putting measures in place that holds officers accountable for their actions and making investments in training programs that helps the officers.”

Nikolas Cruz, 21, faces the death penalty if convicted of the Stoneman Douglas killings. His lawyers say he would plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence, but prosecutors have rejected that.

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