30+ Florida school districts closed today ahead of storm, legislative session opens, and more

Districts close for storm: The likelihood of severe weather from a storm system moving north through the Gulf of Mexico has prompted the closing of dozens of Florida school districts today. Shuttered today are the Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Escambia, FAMU Lab School, FSU Lab School, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Glades, Gulf, Hamilton, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Marion, Nassau, Okaloosa, Pasco, Santa Rosa, Taylor, Union, Wakulla, Walton and Washington school districts. Citrus County schools will be in session a half-day, and Lake, St. Johns and Hernando schools will release early. Florida A&M University, Tallahassee Community College, North Florida College, the College of Central Florida, Pasco-Hernando State College and Chipola College also are closed today, while Florida State University, the University of West Florida, Northwest Florida State College, Pensacola State College and all campuses of Gulf Coast State College have abbreviated hours. Heavy rain and sustained winds of 40 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph and a chance of tornadoes and flooding, are forecast to hit the the central and northern parts of the state during school hours. All the districts are expected to reopen Wednesday. USA Today Florida Network. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WTXL. Pensacola News Journal. Gainesville Sun. Northwest Florida Daily News. Port St. Joe Star. Clay Today. WJHG. WMBB. WEAR. Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville Today. Ocala Star-Banner. Tampa Bay Times. Citrus County Chronicle. Hernando Sun. Spectrum News 9. WJXT. WJAX. WKMG. WOFL. Florida Department of Education.

Day 1 of session: The 60-day session of the Florida Legislature gets underway today at 9 a.m. Gov. Ron DeSantis will present his annual State of the State address at 11 a.m. to a joint session of the Senate and House, and committee meetings are scheduled from 2:30 to 6 p.m. The Committee on Education Postsecondary is gathering from 4:30 to 6 p.m., when members are expected to discuss a handful of proposed bills and confirm appointments to the board of trustees for seven state universities. Florida Politics. Politico. New York Times. Associated Press. Florida Senate.

Also in the Legislature: In addition to a bill that would restrict access to social media for anyone under 16, Florida Republicans are proposing a bill requiring pornography websites to “perform reasonable age verification” that visitors are at least 18 years old. Orlando Sentinel. At least 14 bills have been filed that would place new restrictions on LGBTQ+ and transgender people. USA Today Florida Network. Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Palm Beach County, has filed HB 1193, which would create a task force to consider accountability measures for state public schools that accept vouchers and require them to return funds for students they disenroll. Florida Phoenix. Democratic legislators have filed bills (SB 1414 and HB 1355) to repeal the Stop WOKE Act that prohibits schools from teaching students that they are inherently discriminatory or oppressive because of their race, sex or national origin. They would also require LGBTQ history to be taught, restrict book challenges to parents only, and repeal a ban on diversity, equity and inclusion programs on state college and university campuses. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Speed detection cameras in Miami-Dade school zones could be a financial windfall for a vendor and the county, another debate about book restrictions dominates a Duval school board meeting, school board races are shaping up in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, Martin County School Board members are discussing the feasibility of year-round schooling, the University of Florida announces plans to create a space-related research institute, and Seminole County schools name three finalists for the teacher of the year award. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: If speed detection cameras are placed in public school zones later this year, the company installing the cameras is projected to collect up to $12 million a year by issuing almost 600,000 citations. The tickets will cost drivers $100, and the Chicago company RedSpeed will receive $20 per ticket. A Miami-Dade County Commission committee approved the proposal Monday. Members said they’re more interested in making school zones safer for children than they are in how many tickets are produced.  Miami Herald.

Broward: Shakira “Kira” Mozie, the Discovery Elementary School teacher who disappeared from a Christmas Eve party and was later found dead along the Florida Turnpike, had injuries consistent with falling out of or off a moving car, according to Broward deputies. Her boyfriend, Duane Hawkins, has been charged with driving with a suspended license. The investigation is continuing. WPLG. Miami Herald.

Duval: Book bans again dominated the discussion at Monday’s school board meeting. Protests against book bans were held outside the meeting, and at the meeting parents spoke for and against restricting books. “Please remove any books in school and online that don’t meet the statute,” said Pat Villa, while Erin Sharer argued that “due process exists for a reason and I implore our elected board members to do their part in maintaining a just and equitable environment for all students and not cater to the interests of extremist political groups pushing for unconstitutional policies.” WJXT. WTLV.

Polk: A $55 million project to modernize Southwest Middle School in Lakeland is expected to be completed this spring, district officials have announced. Construction began in September 2022 and includes several new buildings and almost 300 more seats for students, raising capacity to 1,350. The project was financed by impact fees and the half-cent sales tax renewed by voters in 2018. Lakeland Ledger.

Seminole: Three finalists have been selected for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Terri Holton, a kindergarten teacher at Goldsboro Elementary School in Sanford; Vita Holguin, an 8th-grade science teacher at Indian Trails Middle in Winter Springs; and Kim Dansereau, a science teacher at Hagerty High in Oviedo. The winner will be announced Feb. 9. Seminole County School District.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Two school board seats are on the ballot this year in both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. In Escambia, voters will elect board members for Districts 4 and 5. District 4 incumbent Patty Hightower has not yet filed for re-election. Two who have are Richard Holzknecht and Brian Ranelli. District 5 incumbent Bill Slayton also has yet to file. There are four declared candidates for the seat: Thomas Harrell, Joshua Luther, Andy Taylor and Scott Taylor. In Santa Rosa, districts 2 and 4 are on the ballot. In District 2, incumbent Elizabeth Hewey is being challenged by Oscar Locklin and Jennifer Tapley. Current District 4 board member Charles Elliott has one opponent so far, Angie Straugh. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Hartsfield Elementary School in Tallahassee is becoming the first International Baccalaureate elementary school in the district. Hartsfield joins the IB pipeline to Fairview Middle and Rickards High. The IB curriculum is taught in the project-based style to develop inquiry-based learning. Tallahassee Democrat.

Martin: School board members are expected to discuss the feasibility of year-round schooling at today’s meeting. The district has applied to the state to be considered for a year-round pilot program, but has been getting community feedback about the idea before deciding whether to move ahead. WPTV.

Citrus: A five-year plan for work projects at school district facilities, such as renovations, maintenance and more, will be considered by the school board at today’s meeting. Included are ongoing renovations and expansion at Floral City Elementary School, HVAC, electrical and fire alarm upgrades, and reroofing at several schools. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida officials have announced they will use $2.5 million in grants from the state to help create a space-related research institute. The Space Mission Institute will be managed by UF Research. Gainesville Sun.

Around the nation: How Hillsdale College, the small, conservative Christian college in Michigan that Florida Republicans are trying to replicate at New College in Sarasota, was drawn into the effort by former President Donald Trump and his associates to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election. New York Times.

Opinions on schools: The Florida Legislature should provide Florida A&M University with the appropriations it needs to start Ph.D. programs in science fields that are critical to national security. Larry O. Rivers, Tallahassee Democrat. A pilot program to add 6th grades to Cordova Park and West Pensacola elementary schools aims to make a substantial academic and behavioral impact, as well as positively influence the middle schools they feed. Escambia Superintendent Keith Leonard, Pensacola News Journal. The proposed deregulation bills for public schools can streamline processes, reduce bureaucratic constraints and foster innovation, allowing public schools to adapt quickly to new educational trends, technological advancements and the diverse needs of students and families. Sarasota Superintendent Terry Connor, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff