Scholarship expansion bill filed in Senate, later school start times proposed, CDC survey and more

Senate choice bill: A Florida Senate version of the House’s “universal school choice” bill was filed Friday that would make all K-12 students eligible for state scholarships, regardless of income and including home-schooled children for the first time. But S.B. 202, filed by state Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, goes beyond the House bill by proposing to loosen regulations public schools are bound by that private schools are not. “We’re not looking at stripping away or getting rid of public schools,” said Simon. “What we’re saying is we’re giving parents more of a role and responsibility in choosing what’s best for their student. … We want to make sure we’re providing a clear, even playing field.” Among the bill’s provisions are giving teachers five years to earn certification instead of three, providing districts flexibility on how to use state money to raise teacher pay, allowing schools to transport students in vehicles other than buses, and requiring the state Board of Education to review education laws and recommend changes “to reduce regulation on public schools.” The 60-day legislative session begins March 7. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Senate.

Also in the Legislature: Later start times would be required for most of the state’s middle and high schools under a bill filed Friday by State Rep. John Paul Temple, R-Wildwood. It calls for middle schools to start no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m., and would take effect in July 2026. Temple, who heads the Sumter County School District’s professional learning department, filed the bill a day after hearing testimony about the benefits of later school start times on the academics and health of teenagers. Tampa Bay Times. A bill allowing colleges and universities and their representatives help student-athletes find deals paying them for the use of the names, images or likenesses was approved Friday in the Senate. The bill was previously passed in the House, and now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature. News Service of Florida. Politico FloridaTampa Bay Times. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Senators voted 13-6 along party lines Friday to transfer control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District from the Disney Corp. to a five-member board of supervisors appointed by DeSantis. The bill was initiated after Disney criticized the Parental Rights in Education law, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. It now goes to DeSantis to sign into law. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. The special legislative session ended Friday. Legislators passed seven bills. Politico Florida. Miami Herald.

Around the state: Duval’s school district will no longer participate in the CDC survey on youth risk behaviors at the urging of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., the Department of Education clarifies that the word “reparations” can be used by teachers but didn’t specify what is an acceptable use, the state is questioning Broward schools’ use of an anti-hate program after receiving a complaint that it violates state law, none of the state’s 12 public universities spends more than 1 percent of its budget on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and teachers of the year have been named in Duval and Manatee. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A preschool teacher in Miami has come under fire for using blackface to teach a lesson about Black History Month. Three children at the Studio Kids’ Little River day-care center had what appears to be brown paint covering their faces for the lesson. School director Patricia Vitale sent a message to parents saying, “We have not intended to offend anyone, and we are very sorry about any inconvenience. The parents that know us, know that we have never had a bad intention in our institution.” She later told a newspaper, “The issue is resolved already; 80 percent of the families are okay,” and said further questions should be directed to her lawyer. Miami Herald.

Broward: Florida’s Department of Education is asking the school district for “information and clarification” about its use of the “No Place for Hate” program from the Anti-Defamation League. Mike Blackburn, inspector general for the DOE, said the office had received a complaint that the program covers topics that violate state law. “The correspondence alleged that the ‘No Place for Hate’ curriculum provided by the ADL contains topics such as critical race theory, sexual orientation and gender identity ideology,” Blackburn wrote in his Feb. 3 letter to the district. Sun-Sentinel.

Duval: District officials are being “strongly urged” by state Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. to end their participation in the annual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey on youth risk behaviors. In a letter to Superintendent Diana Greene, Diaz wrote, “The CDC survey asks leading questions phrased in a way that may actually introduce risky behaviors to students, prompting them to engage in potentially detrimental activities. … This letter serves to share my grave concerns with your continued participation in this survey, as such an inflammatory and sexualized survey is not in the best interest of Florida students.” Greene said the district will comply and cancel participating in the 2023 survey. Diaz said the state is developing its own survey. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Julia Mayeshiba, a math and physics teacher at Andrew Jackson High School in Jacksonville, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJAX.

Brevard: School bus drivers and at least one school board member say the “unattractive starting pay” of $15 per hour, an aging population of both drivers and equipment, and a shortage of drivers and aides has reached a crisis point for the district. “We have to focus some serious attention toward our bus drivers and making sure that we’re adequately paying them because right now, we’re losing them,” said board member Megan Wright. The transportation department typically has 400 workers, but currently has 115 openings for drivers. Florida Today.

Volusia: A physical education teacher and football coach at Atlantic High School in Port Orange has been arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. Police said Arin Hankerd and the 15-year-old girl began the relationship in January. WKMG. WOFL. WESH.

Manatee: Kelly Smith-Williams, an honors anatomy and physiology instructor at Lakewood Ranch High School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Other finalists were Tiffany Barrett-Greer, 2nd-grade teacher at Braden River Elementary; Kendall Carrier, band director at Parrish Community High; and Michelle Dowell, biomedical science teacher at Palmetto High. Also honored was Brianna Hall, a clerical worker at Lincoln Memorial Middle, as support employee of the year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

St. Johns: School officials have removed 23 books from school libraries, and more reviews are pending. Criteria has been grouped into categories reviewers use. “An example could be an elementary book that is about gender identity and sexual orientation. That’s the law it can’t be there,” said Superintendent Tim Forson. “Doesn’t matter the nature of the way the story is developed or anything else that has to be removed.” That frustrates teachers like Creekside High School English teacher Lloyd Savage. “For all the books that I’ve ever taught we’ve never had graphic sexuality, graphic violence, graphic profanity,” he said. “Non-teachers making decisions or non-literature people making decisions for the classroom doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” WTLV.

St. Lucie: A custodian at the Dale Cassens Education Complex in Fort Pierce has been arrested and accused of being in possession of drugs at the school. Sheriff’s deputies said they received information that Gary Henderson, 19, might have been selling such drugs as LSD, MDMA and Xanax to students, prompting the search that led to the arrest. Henderson is charged with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Leon: A 14-year-old student at Fairview Middle School in Tallahassee was arrested last week for allegedly having a loaded gun on campus. School resource officers got a tip from another student, and said they found the gun in the boy’s book bag. The boy said he brought it from home. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Bay: Florida State University Panama City is making plans to open the county’s first collegiate high school this fall. If approved by the school’s board of trustees later this month, it will be a developmental laboratory research school for up to 100 9th-graders, mostly students from military families. WJHG.

Walton: A 52-year-old school resource officer at the Walton Academy has been arrested and accused of inappropriate conduct with a 14-year-old student. Deputies said Artie Rodriguez was trying to engage in a sexual relationship with the student both in person and through text messages by showing explicit photos, touching them inappropriately and providing them with a vape pen. Rodriguez has been fired, according to the sheriff. WEAR. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: Every one of the state’s 12 four-year universities spends 1 percent or less of their budget on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, according to reports compiled for the state. Gov. DeSantis’ office had ordered the reports on universities’ spending on those initiatives and their courses on racial issues. WGCU. A Florida Tech presidential search committee has chosen five finalists for interviews with trustees: Jennifer Sinclair Curtis, former dean of engineering at the University of California-Davis; Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University; John Nicklow, president and CEO of the University of New Orleans; John Wiencek, provost and executive vice president of the University of Akron; and Wolf Yeigh, chancellor and professor of engineering at the University of Washington-Bothell. A decision is expected in April on the replacement for interim president Robert King, who took over when president T. Dwayne McCay resigned in March. Florida Today.

Reparations instruction: The Florida Department of Education said last week that teachers may use the word “reparations,” though he would not say what the state would consider an acceptable use of the term or the movement to pay black Americans for survivors of racial violence. When the state rejected an Advanced Placement African American studies course offered by the College Board, officials said it objected to the topic in part because “all points and resources in this study advocate for reparations. There is no critical perspective or balancing opinion in this lesson.” Miami Herald. On Saturday, College Board officials accused the DOE of having a politically motivated agenda when it rejected its AP African American studies course and contended that portions of it were “historically fictional.” Tampa Bay Times. Politico.

Education podcasts: Eric Oglesbee, director of the Founders Program for the Drexel Fund and a cofounder of the River Montessori High School in South Bend, Ind., talks with Step Up For Students senior writer Lisa Buie about how he made the switch from college professor to education entepreneur, offers advice to others who are considering a similar move, discusses the biggest challenges they will face, and more. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: There’s a level of tone deafness in requiring a young person to give up her medical privacy as a condition to play a sport, especially when that information is about her reproductive health. Miami Herald. The best reforms create new options while strengthening old ones. This is exactly what transferable funding does. Even for students and teachers who choose to remain in public education, school choice is a winner. Alexander William Salter, Miami Herald. When even books about Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente and other longtime American sports heroes are deemed a danger, it’s not about protecting kids. It’s about controlling the narrative. And it won’t stop with books. Nancy Armour, USA Today. Gov. DeSantis’ attempt to roll back diversity, equity and inclusion is doomed to fail. In the meantime, his political ploy will do lasting harm to our state universities and colleges and undermine the competitiveness of our college graduates. Ben Wright, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff