DeSantis signs bills to replace FSA testing and add records exemption, book challenges and more

Testing bill signed: The bill that replaces Florida Standards Assessments testing in favor of a periodic, computer-based monitoring system to measure student progress that will give parents faster feedback has been signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. “We come not to praise the FSA, but to bury it,” DeSantis said Tuesday at a St. Petersburg high school. Students will now take tests at the beginning and middle of the year but still sit for a more comprehensive test at the end of the year. Results should be sent to teachers within a week and to parents within two weeks. The tests begin in the next school year, and districts will get a one-year grace period before the results are used for accountability measures such as school grades. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. WPLG. WPTV. WJXT. WTVT. Florida Phoenix. DeSantis also signed the bill that creates a temporary public records exemption on information about applicants for college and university presidential jobs. Information about those applicants could be withheld until the end of the search process. Supporters said the law will attract high-quality candidates who otherwise might hesitate to apply because their employer would find out. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. DeSantis offered limited support for the bill that sets school board term limits at 12 years. “I’m a big believer in term limits,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “I think it should be eight years, two terms. They did three terms, which, you know, it’s fine and I wouldn’t veto the bill just over that. But if it were a standalone measure, I would have insisted on just two terms for school board members because I think that’s enough time to go, serve, get stuff done.” Florida Politics.

Around the state: Alachua’s school board has chosen district chief of operations Shane Andrew as the interim superintendent, Polk County School District’s book review committees recommend two challenged books remain on school library shelves, an Indian River parents’ group is appealing the school board’s decision to keep 151 of 156 challenged books in school libraries, Brevard’s Moms for Liberty want 10 books removed from school libraries, the Florida Supreme Court refuses to hear an appeal by the Collier County School Board of a ruling that it violated the state’s Sunshine Law, the University of Florida is receiving $3 million from the state budget to start a political think tank, and a private virtual school in Escambia is dropping its prohibition of dreadlocks as a condition for graduation. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: District officials said at Tuesday’s school board meeting that they plan to ask voters in August for a tax hike to help pay for improved school security, mental health services for students, and higher pay for teachers. Details are still being discussed. WLRN.

Polk: Two book review committees have voted overwhelmingly to recommend to the school board that The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Drama by Raina Telgemeier be kept in middle and high school libraries. The reviews were held after two advocacy groups complained that the books were inappropriate for school libraries because they contain pornographic descriptions of sex. The school board’s next meeting is April 26. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A retired firefighter whose 19-year-old daughter died of cardiac arrest in Illinois in 2014 said he’d like to see Florida amend the law the Legislature passed in 2021 that requires all 9th- and 11th-graders take CPR training to include training on equipment used. “There is no equipment included, and if a school does not have the equipment to train these children, all they’re going to do is watch a video,” said George Laman said. WINK.

Brevard: Ten books in local school libraries have been targeted for removal by the parent activist group Moms for Liberty, which alleges that they contain explicit sex scenes, graphic accounts of sexual assault, foul language and depictions of drug use or underage drinking. School officials are reviewing the books, some of which are available in middle school libraries. Florida Today.

Collier: A ruling that the Collier County School Board violated the state’s Sunshine Law by shutting the public out of meetings of committees that evaluated and ranked textbooks will stand after the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear the board’s appeal. An appeals court ruled in September that because “the textbook committees have been delegated decision-making authority … the Sunshine Law applies to meetings of the textbook committees.” News Service of Florida.

Escambia: School officials are working on a policy to ban all students from having guns in their cars on campus. There is no prohibition in state law against 18-year-olds having guns secured in their cars. But state law does give school districts the authority to adopt policies restricting such actions. “Every action we can take to make our campus safe, we want to do that,” said Superintendent Tim Smith. The school board is expected to consider adopting a policy at next week’s meeting. WEAR. Abeka Academy, a private, virtual school in Pensacola, is dropping its ban on dreadlocks as a condition for graduation. “Abeka Academy apologizes for the insensitive rule of ‘no dreadlocks’ in the dress and hair guidelines for our optional homeschool graduation,” read a statement posted on Facebook and Instagram. “As a provider of materials and services for homeschool families worldwide, this does not reflect our desire to respect and serve the broad diversity among ABA students. Therefore, we have removed this reference from our requirements.” The K-12 school is affiliated with Pensacola Christian College. WEAR.

Leon: Tracy Jefferson, a teacher at Rickards High School for the past four years and, with his wife Quinika were foster parents, died unexpectedly March 1. He was 49. His funeral was last Saturday, the same day a Rickards student was shot and killed. The Rickards community has experienced a lot of grief in a short period of time, said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Shane Andrew, the school district’s chief of operations and head of human resources, transportation and maintenance and construction, was selected Tuesday as the interim superintendent by the school board in a 3-2 vote. The presumed favorite for the job, acting superintendent Donna Jones, withdrew her name, citing family obligations and her pending retirement in August. That left Andrew and former executive director of student services Kathy Black, who retired in 2021, as the leading candidates. Board members Tina Certain, Leanetta McNealy and Robert Hyatt voted for Andrew, while Mildred Russell and Gunnar Paulson dissented. Andrew replaces Carlee Simon, who was fired two weeks ago, also on a 3-2 vote with Hyatt, Russell and Paulson in the majority. WCJB. WGFL. Mainstreet Daily News.

Indian River: The parent advocacy group Moms for Liberty is appealing the school board’s decision to remove just five of the 156 books that the group wanted taken off school library shelves because they claim they contain sexually explicit content and elements of critical race theory. Superintendent David Moore defended the decision to keep the 151 books. “They have been reviewed,” he said. “They have been vetted. They have been reviewed a second time and are, in fact, legally sound.” TCPalm.

Charlotte: The school district is using federal coronavirus relief aid to pay the Jesus Loves You Ministry to provide case management and temporary shelter for homeless students and their families, Superintendent Steve Dionisio said at a recent school board meeting. Some members of the community were asking why school funds were being given to a ministry. “We have over 400 homeless students right now,” said Renee Rebhan, the district’s homeless education liaison. “They (JLYM) do a really great job in providing services.” Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: The new Construction Academy at Citrus High School is expecting to receive $253,200 for equipment from the state’s budget. The money was approved by the Legislature and while Gov. DeSantis has line-item veto power, academy president Harold Walker is confident the school will receive the funds. “We feel our project is pretty safe,” he said. The academy opens this fall, and 125 students have shown interest in joining. Citrus County Chronicle.

Gadsden: The school district has received $1.7 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s emergency connectivity fund program to provide students access to the Internet at home for schoolwork. The grant was part of almost $3 million in federal aid announced this week. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida is receiving $3 million from the state budget to start a political think tank. It’ll be called the “Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education,” with a goal of supporting “teaching and research concerning the ideas, traditions, and texts that form the foundations of western and American civilization.” Politico Florida.

New BOE appointee: Esther Byrd, nominated to the state Board of Education last week by Gov. DeSantis, once asked conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh to donate books from his Rush Revere series to an elementary school in Callahan, where her husband Cord was speaking as part of his campaign for a state House seat. Esther Byrd is a former Marine who manages her husband’s law office. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: So much attention has been spent focusing on the harm that Florida’s lawmakers are heaping on the K-12 public schools that it’s easy to miss the harm they are inflicting on the state’s public colleges and universities. But under the scorched-Earth political landscape of Gov. DeSantis, no institution of public learning will be left behind as a target. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Florida’s governor promised less testing but what we are getting is new state progress monitoring and a different summative assessment tied to the very same accountability measures. Marie-Claire Leman, Tallahassee Democrat. Florida’s guidance on COVID vaccinations for children is all about politics, not health. Miami Herald. Public education needs to remain free of hatred, free of religious oppression, free of tyranny, free of restriction on intellectual freedom. And in Florida, that’s on the ballot this year. Judi Hayes, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff