DeSantis signs law targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs in colleges, New College ‘core curriculum,’ book challenges and more

New law targets DEI programs: Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three higher education-related bills into law Monday, including one that largely bans Florida’s public universities and colleges from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. “In reality, what this concept of DEI has been is an attempt to impose orthodoxy on the university,” said DeSantis. “And not even necessarily in the classroom, but through the administrative apparatus of the university itself.” He said the initials DEI better described “discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination.” State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, called the law “destructive,” and said it “suppresses academic freedom and inserts conservative political orthodoxy into the classroom.” One of the other bills signed by the governor prevents colleges and universities from requiring “political loyalty” tests for students and employees as a condition of admission or employment, and the other supports workforce education. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Phoenix. Axios. Florida Politics. Charlotte Sun. New York Times.

Around the state: Interim New College of Florida president Richard Corcoran said a “core curriculum” will soon be introduced at the school that will combine “virtue courses” with “the newest and most innovative technologies,” Duval schools ban an Australian children’s book that shows a main character taking a bath, Nassau’s school board changes its policy to allow any county resident to challenge school instructional materials, Brevard school board member Jennifer Jenkins said she’s considering running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Rick Scott, Manatee school board members are expected to select a new superintendent today, and a 13-year-old Avon Park Middle School student was struck and killed by an Amtrak train as he was walking home after school Monday. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward, south Florida: Last week, Broward school board members tentatively agreed to require students to have clear backpacks and bags for the next school year, and their counterparts in Palm Beach County voted to spend $2.5 million to place metal detectors that use artificial intelligence to catch weapons in every high school. A lack of research of the effectiveness of either has some security experts calling the moves “security theater” to give parents a sense of comfort, but a majority of board members defended their decisions. “We must take all necessary measures to create a safe learning environment for our future leaders,” said Broward board member Daniel Foganholi. Sun-Sentinel.

Orange: Orlando commissioners voted to allow the Catholic Diocese to close the sidewalks passing through the St. James Cathedral School near Lake Eola at midnight ahead of days with school activities. Sidewalks would have to be open to the public between 8 p.m. and midnight on those days. School officials said they need access to the sidewalks restricted for security, while the surrounding neighborhood association wanted some access. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WESH.

Duval: A children’s book by one of the best-selling authors in Australia has been banned by the school district. Mem Fox’s book, Guess What?, apparently violated the state’s Parental Rights in Education law with the inclusion of an illustration of its lead character, a witch named Daisy O’Grady, taking a bath. Fox’s agent said in a statement, “We have nothing to say on this issue. Duval County is a county of 997,000 people in Florida. It is not important.” WION.

Pasco: School board members are considering requiring students to wear shirts that extend to the waist. Board member Cynthia Armstrong said she had seen some girls wear sports bras as tops. “They should be dressing for school somewhat like they would dress for a job,” she said in proposing the change to the dress code. “They’re not going to the beach. They’re not out playing with their friends.” A vote on the proposal could happen in June. Tampa Bay Times. Dennis Alfonso, Pasco’s school board attorney since 1999 and also Hernando’s since 2011, died Saturday at the age of 59. He had battled cancer that returned after being in remission for nine years. “He gave very wise counsel,” said Pasco board chair Megan Harding. “He was always there to ensure that my questions were answered and that we were following the law.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: District 3 school board member Jennifer Jenkins said she’s considering challenging incumbent Rick Scott for a U.S. Senate seat. But the first-term 36-year-old also said, “I don’t believe there should be an intense battle for the primary for this seat in order for Democrats to be successful,” and that she “will support anyone who is willing to take up the fight.” Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. School ends May 26, and summer school begins June 5 by invitation only. Sessions will be held at all secondary schools and 18 elementary schools through June 30. Teachers report back to school Aug. 2, and students return Aug. 10. Florida Today.

Osceola: The parents group Citizens Defending Freedom want a Japanese sci-fi book series removed from high school libraries. It contends the Manga series Assassination Classroom is too violent. After the complaint, Superintendent Debra Pace said the books are being reviewed. WOFL. A dean at the Creative Inspiration Journey School near St. Cloud has been fired after posting TikTok videos that parents and students at the charter school considered suggestive. The videos, dating back to 2021, showed Daniel Rionda sticking out his tongue to suggestive music and twerking with a woman inside his home. “They’re pretty disturbing, so they speak for themselves,” said Sarah Hyde, who has two children at the school. Rionda said the situation was blown out of proportion. “I am guilty of not deleting my social media when I received a position at the school and that is the only thing I am guilty of and I am suffering the consequences of that,” said Rionda. WFTV.

Seminole: Bill Schult, the high school choir director and music teacher Oviedo High School for more than 20 years, died unexpectedly over the weekend, school officials announced Monday. Principal Trent Daniel said grief counselors will be available as needed. Schult was “an instrumental part of many lives,” Daniel said in a message to parents Sunday. WKMGWESH.

Manatee: School board members are expected to select a new superintendent at today’s meeting. The finalists are Doug Wagner, the district’s deputy superintendent of operations; Scott Schneider, the chief of schools in Duval County; and Jason Wysong, deputy superintendent in Seminole County. Superintendent Cynthia Saunders announced last October that she would be retiring June 30. WWSB.

Nassau: Any Nassau County resident will be able to challenge school books and other materials under a revised policy approved by the school board. Previously, only parents of students could file objections. “The parent or a resident of the county, as defined by Florida Statutes, may contest the district school board’s adoption of a specific instructional material by filing a written objection using the form that is available on the district website,” the policy reads. Florida Politics.

Highlands: A 13-year-old Avon Park Middle School student was struck and killed by an Amtrak train as he was walking home from school Monday afternoon. The crossing is less than a half-mile from the school. Police are interviewing 7th-grader Malik Pearson’s classmates who witnessed the incident. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. WWSB.

Colleges and universities: Interim New College of Florida president Richard Corcoran said a “core curriculum” will soon be introduced at the school that has been known for its “individualized curriculum.” He said the new curriculum will combine “virtue courses” with “the newest and most innovative technologies.” Florida Politics. University of South Florida professor Joseph Dituri has broken a record for living underwater for 74 days in a Key Largo lodge for scuba divers. He plans to stay 100 days, until June 9. Dituri is combining medical and ocean research along with educational outreach. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Some members of the Florida Atlantic University faculty worry that when trustees limited the search period for a new president to just three weeks, they increased the odds that a political supporter of Gov. DeSantis will get the job. In March, it was reported that state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Coast, had been approached about the job, and a DeSantis spokesperson later said, “Rep. Fine has been a leader on education issues and we think he’d be a good candidate for the role.” WLRN.

High school graduations: High schools around the state are holding graduation ceremonies. Here are reports and photos from some of them. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach Post. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The campaign for books: Two Florida women are at the center of a movement to stop book-banning in schools. Jen Cousins and Stephana Ferrell started the Florida Freedom to Read to confront parental rights groups. They track school board votes in the state’s 67 districts. They file public records requests, travel to Tallahassee to appear before the Legislature, enlist volunteers and try to find wins in a state controlled by a conservative Republican Party. “This is seven days a week,” said Ferrell. “I feel guilty at spending less time with my family. But I’d feel completely lost as a parent if I wasn’t doing this work. Someone has to push against the pendulum. It’s exhausting and empowering.” Los Angeles Times. Two groups of parents have been removed from a lawsuit over the state’s school library book selection law, leaving the Florida Education Association teachers union as the only plaintiff. WUSF

Around the nation: A recent series of school shootings has some U.S. school districts reconsidering their decisions to remove police officers from campuses, and their reluctance to turn schools into “prisons” by adding security measures such as fences, metal detectors, single-point entry and surveillance cameras. Politico.

Opinions on schools: Florida has taken crucial steps towards a demand driven system of schooling, while New York lawmakers can’t quite seem to embrace the concept. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Local leaders are not funding “classrooms.” They’re funding people. When viewed in this context, local leaders can begin to appreciate the logic, reward and fairness in transforming local “school funding” dollars into “child education” dollars. Jeff Yass, Forbes. I’m an educator and grandson of Holocaust survivors, and I see public schools failing to give students the historical knowledge they need to keep our democracy strong. Boaz Dvir, The Conversation. Every student has the opportunity to excel at every large high school in Seminole County. Unfortunately, that’s not true in every Florida school district. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The Fox-MAGA Florida government will not admit that inequality in America is baked into our institutions, from health care to the law to education — even though it’s as obvious as Donald Trump’s fake tan. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff