DeSantis wants to ban TikTok and other apps in schools, district rezonings and more

Social media curbs: Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a bill Wednesday that would cut off access to TikTok and other social media apps through Internet networks at public schools and universities. He said the ban is intended to counter potential influence or interference from groups tied to the Chinese government and “other countries of concern.” The proposal is part of a larger “digital bills of rights” the governor is proposing that he said would protect consumer privacy, curb tech companies from “surveilling” people and “protect the right to participate in online platforms without unfair censorship.” A 2021 bill that would have prevented social media companies from removing users and political candidates has been declared unconstitutional and is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. USA Today Florida Network. Tampa Bay Times. Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida. The Capitolist. Florida Politics. WPTV.

In the Legislature: A joint legislative committee agreed Wednesday to give New College of Florida $15 million to attract new faculty, provide student scholarships and more “to transition into a world-class classical liberal arts educational institution.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. News Service of Florida. A bill giving the governor the power to appoint the members of the Florida High School Athletic Association board and setting the size of the board at eight was approved Wednesday by a House subcommittee. The nonprofit FHSAA, which governs high school athletics, currently has 16 members, including the state commissioner of education or a designated representative, three people appointed by the commissioner, and 12 elected members: four from public schools, four from private schools, two school superintendents and two members of a school board. WKMG.

Around the state: Palm Beach school board members approve a school boundary rezoning plan that will affect thousands of students, Hernando school officials cancel a proposed rezoning for a K-8 school and instead say they will rezone the whole district for the 2024-2025 school year, a sexually explicity graphic novel that was called pornography by a Gov. DeSantis aide has been removed from three Broward high school libraries, Volusia school board members approve a contract with a firm that will supply the district with up to 25 international teachers a year, and black lawmakers and activists protest at the state Capitol against the state’s rejection of an AP African American studies court from the College Board. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A sexually explicit teen graphic novel has been removed from three high school libraries after a complaint was filed by the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty and a Gov. DeSantis spokesman called it “pornography.” Publisher Penguin Random House said the book, Let’s Talk About It. The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human, covers “relationships, friendships, gender, sexuality, anatomy, body image, safe sex, sexting, jealousy, rejection, sex education, and more.” It also includes drawings of naked bodies. A district spokesman said the book was removed when the complaint was received and will stay restricted until a review is completed. Sun-Sentinel. WFOR. Interim superintendent Earlean Smiley, whose $300,000 contract was approved Wednesday by the school board, said her top priorities for the district are school safety, making sure behavior threat assessment systems are working properly, getting teachers the resources they need, and ensuring that “students understand that we love them and their voices count.” Smiley is expected to be in the job at least until July 1. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. Miami Herald.

Palm Beach: A proposal by Superintendent Michael Burke on rezoning school boundaries for Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School, which opens next fall, was unanimously approved by the school board Wednesday. Some students from Palm Beach Central High, John I. Leonard High, Santaluces Community High, and Park Vista Community High will be reassigned to Garcia High. Juniors, seniors and their siblings have the option of staying at their current school. The plan fills the new school, which is expected to have up to 2,500 students by 2027, and relieves overcrowding at other schools. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: An audit from a firm hired by the school district to monitor its reporting of school crimes to the state reports that the district is complying and is developing a system of checks to ensure ongoing compliance. One area — gang-related activity — continues to be underreported, the state believes. Superintendent Diana Greene and district police chief Greg Burton said meeting the state’s request for reliable information has been difficult because gang members generally are absent from school and most of their illegal activities happen off-campus. WJXT.

Polk: A private school has added new programming since moving from a downtown building to a farm near Highland City. WonderHere owners Tiffany Thenor and Jessica Zivkovich said the relocation opens students from age 4 to the 5th grade to new experiences such as farm chores and outside activities. New programming includes a toddler farm school, nature workshops, working with animals, and afternoon extracurricular activities such as robotics, theater, Spanish and art for home-schoolers. Lakeland Now.

Volusia: Faced with an ongoing shortage of teachers, school board members this week agreed to hire TPG Cultural Exchange Services LLC to provide up to 25 international teachers a year to the district. The annual cost will be about $1.36 million for TPG to recruit English-speaking teachers from around the world, then arrange for them to get visas for three- to five-year stays with the district. Elementary teachers and those with expertise in math, science and special education will be prioritized. Chief human resources officer Mark West said the district will start small, welcoming 10 to 15 teachers for the next school year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV. A teacher at River Springs Middle School in Orange City was arrested this week and accused of slapping an 11-year-old nonverbal autistic student. Police said Kelly Falcon, 49, was charged with child abuse. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: School board members decided this week to put off the search for a new board attorney when they couldn’t agree on a job description. The board then discussed hiring an outside firm to help with the search before tabling the discussion. Earlier in the month, the board had decided to hire James Molenaar, but he withdrew in an e-mail Feb. 2. Molenaar later claimed that the district rescinded the employment offer on Feb. 4, two days before he was supposed to start. Naples Daily News. A Collier County woman is among five students at Michigan State University critically wounded in this week’s shooting. Guadalupe Huapilla-Perez, 21, a graduate of Immokalee High School, is a junior at MSU. Naples Daily News. WFTX.

Leon: A project to build 300 affordable apartments for teachers and first responders has been approved for a $7 million loan from Tallahassee’s Downtown Community Redevelopment Commission. Rents would be capped at 35 percent of household income. The next step is consideration April 27 by the Community Redevelopment Agency, which is made up of the five city commissioners. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Westin Martin, an 8th-grader at Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville, won the county spelling bee Wednesday and advances to the regional competition in Jacksonville later this month. Mainstreet Daily News.

Hernando: School board members agreed this week to cancel a proposal to rezone school boundaries for Winding Waters K-8 for the 2023-2024 school year, and also canceled a meeting scheduled for today to discuss it. Instead, the district will begin working on a countywide rezoning plan that would go into effect for the 2024-2025 school year. Suncoast News. For the first time in nearly three years, the district’s Student Delegation recently held an in-person meeting. The student delegates discussed safety, bullying and a lack of participation in school. Hernando County School District.

Flagler: Since the school district introduced an opt-out program for library materials last March, only 10 families have restricted their child’s access to books and only four currently have restrictions, according to public records. Setting levels of access became the district’s policy after a controversy in January 2022 over the book All Boys Aren’t Blue, which led to then-school board member Jill Woolbright filing a police report. School officials said the policy provides parents with family engagement and control, while still giving students access to quality materials. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Monroe: The school district has received an $8.9 million federal grant to bolster its counseling and wellness programs for students. More counselors will be hired, bringing the total to 15 throughout the district. “With the number of issues facing students today, school counselors play a vital role in helping our schools meet student needs,” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Richard Corcoran’s appointment as interim president of New College of Florida goes before the State University System’s Board of Governors next Wednesday. New College trustees chose Corcoran as the interim leader of the school Jan. 31, after firing Patricia Okker. News Service of Florida. New College students and faculty are reeling over the conservative takeover of their “tiny place of safety in this increasingly hostile state,” as a parent of an LGBTQ student put it. New York Times. Thomas W. Dortch Jr., a Florida A&M University trustee since 2016, has died at the age of 72. WTXL.

AP course protest: Black lawmakers, religious leaders and others marched to the Capitol Wednesday to protest Gov. DeSantis’ decision to reject an Advanced Placement African American studies course from the College Board. “If you would study history, governor, you would have known that to mess with us in education always ends to your defeat,” said civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said to the crowd of hundreds. “You’re gonna tell the whole story. … Our children need to know the whole story, not to only know how bad you were, but to know how strong they are.” State officials said the course was rejected because it was historically inaccurate and contained segments on critical race theory, black queer studies and reparations. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Florida Phoenix.

Assessing school guardian program: Five years after the Parkland school shooting led the state to create to a program to place armed guardians in schools, 46 of the state’s 67 school districts are doing so, and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. wants the program to expand to more districts and even to private schools. But is the program working? Yes, absolutely, say several prominent state sheriffs. “It’s working out well. We need more of them,” said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chaired the commission formed after the shooting that recommended the formation of the program. WFTS.

School board group relaunched: Conservative school board members around Florida have relaunched a statewide organization to serve as an alternative to the Florida School Board Association. The Florida Conservative Coalition of School Board Members will officially begin meeting in March, when the legislative session opens. Volusia County School Board member Jessie Thompson is the FCCSBM’s president. Florida Politics.

Opinions on schools: Trusting the science about the earliest appropriate school start times for teenagers, then setting rules to make it happen, makes sense. Those who argue against it are not fighting with the state. They are arguing with the science. Everything else is just an excuse. Tampa Bay Times. Technology is allowing parents and the public to use government data to understand what their public schools are spending on their children’s education and better understand the possibilities that school choice creates. Brandon Detweiler and Robert Bellafiore, reimaginED. A $699,000 job as president of New College of Florida is Richard Corcoran’s reward for masterminding the educational component of Gov. DeSantis’ intrusion into our lives to give conservatives their anti-black, anti-gay, anti-books, anti-woman curriculum, otherwise known as “parental rights.” Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. It can be difficult to grasp the scale and the ramifications of the changes Gov. DeSantis is rapidly ushering in for Florida public education. But he can’t force academia writ large to recognize those changes as legitimate or to sign onto his effort to turn Florida into a grand social studies experiment. Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union. If public schooling on average is so woefully inadequate, how can we take seriously the argument that if a family cannot afford or otherwise access private or home schooling, public schooling is a perfectly sufficient choice? The answer is that we cannot. Dixie Dillon Lane, Merion West.

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BY NextSteps staff