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Florida Education Commissioner Orders Miami-Dade Schools To Open Ahead of Schedule

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  • Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to leaders at Miami-Dade County Public Schools demanding that they fully open for five days a week in-person learning by October 5, nearly two weeks ahead of schedule. 
  • If the district thinks that the deadline is not possible for their schools, they must send an analysis and plan explaining the reasons why for each school that will be delayed. 
  • The county initially planned to open schools starting September 30, but after a 29-hour school board meeting, opted to begin staggering students between October 14 and October 21.
  • Miami-Dade is the epicenter of Florida’s outbreak and the fourth largest school district in the country. School officials believe opening their doors there could be dangerous.

State Orders Schools to Open Early

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran made an announcement Friday, ordering schools in Miami-Dade County to open for full in-person learning nearly two weeks ahead of schedule.

Miami-Dade has by far the largest coronavirus case count of any county in Florida. Because of its strong outbreak, it was one of few schools in the state allowed to open with remote learning instead of in-person classes. The district’s initial plan was to phase its students back from September 30 through October 7.

That window was bumped last week following a 29-hour school board meeting. The updated schedule was instead supposed to stagger students in between October 14 and October 21.

Now, Corcoran’s order puts that plan in jeopardy, writing in a letter that schools must be open on October 5. If the school board does not think it will be possible for schools open by then, they must submit an analysis for each school detailing why, and outlining issues and data for each school.

Florida state leaders, starting at the top with Gov. Ron DeSantis, have been insistent that schools in the state reopen quickly. As for why Corcoran felt compelled to move Miami-Dade’s plans up, he wrote that they were behind schedule compared to other at-risk counties. He also said their choice to delay reopening contradicted the plan they submitted to the state and clashed with the fact that the county has already been in Phase 2 of reopening, which allows schools to open, for two weeks. 

He also wrote that delaying in-person instruction harms students who require special instruction or other services provided by schools, as well as students who might be experiencing violence, abuse, or food insecurity at home. Corcoran also claimed that it was unfair to parents who were eager to get their students back in class, but the desire parents have to get their kids back to school is not overwhelming. According to the Washington Post, a poll taken among parents in the county shows they are split on the issue, with 51% wanting their kids in physical classes, and the rest wanting to keep learning remotely. 

Responses

The district’s superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, said that their choice to push back in-person learning gave the school board “additional time to redouble our efforts in terms of ensuring all protocols are what they are expected to be.”

The choice was supported by many in the community, as well as the teachers’ union, the United Teachers of Dade. After Corcoran sent out his letter demanding in-person learning be moved back up, the UTD’s president, Karla Hernandez-Mats, put out a statement condemning his order. 

“We are the fourth largest school district in the country with an on-boarding of almost 400,000 students and teachers in the epicenter of the virus in Florida,” she wrote. “Those parameters require a much more thoughtful approach which is why the school board voted to push back the reopening and implement a staggered start. We cannot risk suffering the consequences of a rushed return to class when we know our buildings are not yet ready.” 

Hernandez-Mats fears that if the reopening is rushed, the county could face another lockdown. She also fears that voting for the upcoming presidential election could be in jeopardy if there is another large outbreak. She was not the only official shocked by the state’s order. Miami-Dade’s school board president Perla Tabares Hantman told the Miami Herald she found Corcoran’s letter to be “strange.”

I think it took everyone by surprise. I’m very much in favor of opening schools but when it’s safe,” she said. 

What Happens Next?

Fears that opening schools could be unsafe are valid in the state of Florida. In early September, after many schools in the state had been forced to open their doors, The Washington Post reported that many schools had to temporarily shut down because of outbreaks. There was also a 34% increase in cases among school-aged children. 

The Miami-Dade School Board will hold an emergency meeting to discuss their next steps on Tuesday. Any letter proposing they keep their delay must be sent to the state by October 2. 

Miami-Dade was also not the only county to receive this kind of letter from Corcoran. Broward County, which also has one of the largest outbreaks in the state, received a similar order. School officials have already responded, writing in a letter that they plan to keep their reopening plans as-is for the safety of their community. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Miami Herald) (NBC Miami)

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Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains

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Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.


Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston

Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.

Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.

When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.

Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.

Signs That Went Unnoticed

The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.

On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.

Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.

I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.

She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.

Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.

Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.

“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”

Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges

According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.

After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.

At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.

Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.

ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.

On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.

Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.

See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)

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Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say

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The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.


COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card

Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.

Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.

On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.

The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.

Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.

Misuse of COVID Relief Funds

Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.

In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.

According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”

On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.

In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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