Senate panel advances DEI ban in colleges, book removals, college collective bargaining records and more

Senate’s DEI version: Amendments made Wednesday to the Senate bill that would effectively ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida’s university system delete a provision that would push schools to eliminate any major or minor tied to the study of critical race theory. S.B. 266 was then approved by the Education Postsecondary Committee. The House’s version specifically targets course studies in critical race theory, critical race studies, critical ethnic studies, radical feminist theory, radical gender theory, queer theory, critical social justice and intersectionality. Both bills have two more committee stops. Politico Florida. WFSU. Florida Politics.

Restrictions on books: A bill was introduced in the House on Wednesday and approved by the Education Quality Subcommittee that would require schools to remove access to books that are challenged for sexual content. H.B. 1069 would remove those books within five days of a challenge and make them off-limits until the challenge is resolved. Parents who disagree with the district’s ruling on the challenge would be allowed to ask the state education commissioner to appoint a special magistrate to hear the dispute. The bill would also restrict human sexuality instruction to grades 6-12, and all sex education materials would have to be approved by the Florida Board of Education. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Also in the Legislature: The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee has cleared a bill that would prohibit colleges and universities from accepting gifts from “countries of concern” and require reports of any ties to them. The nations are China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela, but the primary focus is China, according to the bill sponsor, state Rep. Jennifer Canaday, R-Lakeland. Florida PoliticsHouse Republicans’ interest in allowing 18-year-olds to buy long rifles is not matched in the Senate. No companion bill has been filed to H.B. 1543, which would roll back the age from 21. The age limit of 21 was instituted after the 2018 Parkland school shooting. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said Wednesday she doesn’t support the House proposal. Politico Florida. Sun-Sentinel. News Service of Florida

Around the state: State universities that had been ordered by the state to submit records of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and of gender-affirming health care are now being required to submit collective bargaining records, a book that was unavailable to Duval students for months as it was being reviewed for topics banned by the state has been recommended by Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. for students in grades 3-5 to read this month, student from Miami-Dade and Broward advance to the national spelling bee, a Citrus County charter school has raised $341,000 to make building repairs it needs to remain open, and a Palm Beach County teacher has been removed from the classroom for his involvement in a “racially charged” incident at a high school. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Monroe: Juan Rondeau, a 14-year-old 8th-grader at the Westminster Christian School in Palmetto Bay, has won the spelling bee for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties and will participate in the 96th Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Md., from May 30-June 1. It was Rondeau’s third consecutive win. Miami Herald.

Broward: Lancaster Gramer, an 11-year-old 5th-grader at the Franklin Academy charter school in Cooper City, correctly spelled succès fou, which means an extraordinary success, to win the Broward spelling bee. He also wins a chance to compete in the national bee May 30-June 1. Miami Herald.

Orange, central Florida: The state’s first Bezos Academy preschool for children 3 and 4 years old has opened near Pine Hills. It is tuition-free, is open five days a week year-round and will provide its 40 students with a Montessori-style education. Three more schools are expected to open within the next year in Orlando, Kissimmee and Poinciana. WESH.

Palm Beach: A Lake Worth High School math teacher has been removed from the classroom while the school district investigates what it calls a “racially charged” incident. Before being hired by the school district in 2020, Cary Altschuler taught in Broward, where he was also accused of making inappropriate comments to students. Broward officials forwarded complaints about Altschuler to the state, which concluded that he violated principles of professional conduct and penalized him with fines and two years of probation. WPEC.

Duval: A book that was unavailable to district students for months as it was being reviewed for topics banned by the state has been recommended by Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. for students in grades 3-5 to read this month. Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates, by Jonah Winter, and one about another baseball legend, Henry Aaron, were among 150 books put on restriction until a review determined in mid-February that they complied with state law. Florida Phoenix. A former teacher at New Beginnings Christian Academy in Jacksonville pleaded guilty to a charge of “offenses against students by authority figures” this week in a plea deal. James Rankin Johnson, 71, who had been accused of lewd or lascivious molestation, will serve four years in state prison. WJAX. WTLV. A former teacher at the Kiddie Academy of St. Johns in Jacksonville has been arrested and accused of aggravated child abuse and child abuse – personal/special weapon. Deputies said Aaryanna Gilmore, 21, injured a child. WJAX. WTLV.

Brevard: Just five people have applied for the superintendent’s job so far, district officials said. Applications are being accepted through the end of the month. In 2015, when Desmond Blackburn was chosen as superintendent, he was one of 106 applicants. Only one of the applicants currently works in Florida: Jesse L. Jackson, the senior director of educator prep at the Florida Department of Education. Florida Today.

Osceola: An IT specialist for the school district has been arrested and accused of possessing child pornography. Deputies said Jason Warren, 28, had stored files of child pornography in the software called Dropbox. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

Volusia: Sam Bell, a powerful member of the Florida House representing Volusia for 14 years who also was a children’s advocate and helped start the University of South Florida College of Public Health, died Tuesday at the age of 83. He was married for 34 years to Betty Castor, a former state education commissioner and president of the University of South Florida. News Service of Florida. WUSF. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Treasure Coast school district are offering mentorships, bonuses and moving expenses to get new teachers into their districts. “We have to create new tools to make us more attractive,” said David Freeland, president of the St. Lucie teachers union. St. Lucie currently has 75 openings, Martin 52 and Indian River 32. TCPalm.

Leon: The number of children involuntarily committee for observation through the Baker Act continues to rise in Leon, according to Ashley Anderson, the district’s coordinator of mental health services. “Kids are really struggling,” she said. “There’s a real lack of coping skills in general, as well as how to appropriately act with others.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Citrus: The Academy of Environmental Science has collected $341,000 since January in a fund-raising drive to make building repairs needed to keep the school open, school board members were told this week. Five phases of repair are scheduled, including an elevator replacement. Citrus County Chronicle.

Columbia: School officials are considering adding to school security by hiring “a separate person to be a single guardian.” The district rejected the possibility of arming teachers. “Educators are strictly educators,” said Judy Tatem, the district’s security director. “We need somebody that is trained as a guardian and has that mindset to prevent active assailants.” WCJB.

Flagler: School board member Sally Hunt has been recruiting former Flagler Palm Coast High School principal Dusty Sims to replace Cathy Mittelstadt as superintendent without the knowledge of other board members, according to reports. Mittelstadt’s contract is up for renewal or termination this month. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: State universities that had been ordered by the state to submit records of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and of gender-affirming health care are now being required to submit collective bargaining records. State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues is asking schools for details of their last round of negotiations with their two largest unions. Faculty leaders worry that the request will lead to restrictions on collective bargaining. Tampa Bay Times. A survey among University of North Florida students revealed that students had positive experiences with diversity classes and believe shutting them down would hinder their education. The survey was distributed to about 800 students by the student government. Miami Herald. The OneJax Institute, which promotes racial, religious and cultural tolerance in the Jacksonville area, is ending its 10-year relationship with the University of North Florida. The institute cited the current “political climate” enveloping state universities for its decision. Florida Times-Union.

Opinions on schools: Does universal school choice in Florida mean the end of public schools? The truth is simple: No it will not. Despite the constant repetition of this myth, school choice actually leads to improved public and private K-12 education. Danny Aqua, Orlando Sentinel. Almost every dystopian-themed novel, from 1984 to The Handmaid’s Tale, features a government that controls the spread of information, including the books that are allowed and the wiping of history it doesn’t want told. Today, Florida is looking more and more like a place where these fictional societies are becoming reality. Helen Lee Bouygues, Tampa Bay Times. In January, Gov. Ron DeSantis said that “Florida also ranks No. 1 in public higher education. This is a record we can all be proud of.” The governor was right then. And his subsequent wild claim that Florida’s universities have been overtaken by a “woke ideology” is a lot of hogwash. William Trapani, Sun-Sentinel. Florida students could soon benefit from the option to attend a blend of classes in public schools, home-schools and specialized schools as a part of their weekly schedule. John Ransom, The Lion.

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BY NextSteps staff

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