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Child labor law changes advance, proposed fee for excessive book challenges softened, and more

Loosening child labor law: A bill relaxing work rules for students 16 and 17 years old began moving through the Senate on Tuesday. SB 1596 would allow those students to work up to midnight when school is scheduled the next day, instead of the current limit of 11 p.m. It also proposes to revise a ban on those students working more than eight hours when they have school the next day, allowing it if the work day is a Sunday or holiday. Senate sponsor Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, said the bill takes a “very surgical approach” and doesn’t repeal the state’s child labor law. Thursday, the House takes up its version, which also lifts the ban on students working more than eight hours on a day before school is scheduled, though it would keep the 11 p.m. work limit on school nights. And it would allow students to work more than 30 hours a week. News Service of Florida. WFSU. WPLG.

Also in the Legislature: A proposal to assess a $100-per-book “processing” fee against certain people who file more than five book challenges was amended before being approved Tuesday by the House Education and Employment Committee. Now the fee applies only after someone files five unsuccessful challenges. People without a student at the campus are the only ones who could be assessed the fee. The proposal is part of a larger bill that aims to cut regulations for public schools. Politico Florida. WKMG. News Service of Florida. Teacher training programs would be prohibited from “distort(ing) significant historical events” or teaching “identity politics” under a bill approved Tuesday by the House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Subcommittee. Politico Florida. A proposal to allow school districts to have volunteer school chaplains provide services to students was approved Tuesday by the House Education and Employment Committee. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Hillsborough’s superintendent said a new discipline strategy has helped cut the number of referrals this year, some parents in Collier County are protesting school rezonings that would put about 1,800 students in new schools in the fall of 2025, the number of students home-schooling in Wakulla County is up 135 percent in the past six years, a religious school in Lake County tells a mother to drop her children off across the street because she has an ad for OnlyFans on her car, and an Orange County sophomore invents a headset for the visually impaired that vibrates when it detects nearby objects. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A fine arts teacher at Ronald W. Reagan/Doral Senior High School has been arrested this week and accused of making a sexually explicit video in a school bathroom and posting it to the social media site Snapchat. Wesly Alvarez, 45, will be fired, district officials said. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Disciplinary referrals are down 11 percent so far this school year, district officials told the school board Tuesday. In 2022-2023, 66,313 referrals were written through mid-year. That’s dropped to 58,963 this year, and the number of times students have been caught skipping class declined by 2,400. Superintendent Van Ayres gives some of the credit for adoption of a new discipline strategy, Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports, which calls for consistency in disciplinary practices while addressing students’ emotional issues. Still, noted board chair Karen Perez, a disproportionate number of the referrals are still given to black, Hispanic and multi-racial students, which she calls “unacceptable.” Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: A 16-year-old sophomore at a STEM-focused charter school has invented an electronic headset for the visually impaired with sensors that detect when objects are close to the user. “Those sensors are replicating human vision,” said Tiffani Gay, who attends the Orlando Science Schools. “So if someone is getting close to an obstacle, it will start to vibrate in that region of their head.” She’s working on getting a patent and wants to manufacture her device and sell it for under $200. WKMG. School lunch food waste from 21 schools that used to be thrown in the trash is now being picked up by a local composting business under a test program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal of the program is to see if separating food from the trash for composting for two years will save money by reducing the number of trash pickups, and the composting would then be used to fertilize school gardens. Since August, the schools have reduced trash pickup by 65,000 pounds. WFTV.

Pinellas: A 13-year-old student at Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg was arrested Tuesday and charged with having a weapon on campus. Police said the student had an airsoft plastic gun and real rounds of ammunition. WFLA. WTVT.

Pasco: A school bus driver who was accused by parents of randomly and deliberately slamming on the brakes after warning students to stay in their seats and behave has resigned. Parents reported the driver in December, but district officials said a review of the bus video didn’t support the claim. After another complaint in January, the driver was questioned and resigned. WFLA.

Brevard: One of three people killed in weekend shootings in Palm Bay was a retired Catholic priest who once taught at Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando. Father Robert Hoeffner, 76, his sister, Sally Joan Hoeffner, 69, were shot to death in their home Sunday. Also shot at another residence in the city were William Michael Kapas, 78, and his grandson Brandon Kapas, 24, the suspect in the three murders. Palm Bay police have not established a motive, or any relationship between Brandon Kapas and the Hoeffners. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Today.

Collier: A proposal to rezone some school boundaries to deal with overcrowding and enrollment growth is drawing complaints from parents. Among their concerns are traffic, students changing schools for their senior year and the disruption of routines and children’s friendships. Thirty-two schools would be affected by the changes, with about 1,400 elementary students, 400 middle school students and 32 high school students scheduled to move in August 2025. WINK.

Lake: A mother whose children attend Liberty Christian Preparatory School in Tavares has been told to drop them off across the street because other parents are complaining about the ad on her car for the online site OnlyFans, which is known for its sexually explicit content. Michelle Cline, who goes by the name “Piper Fawn” online, defends her work, saying, “My husband and I had this, you know, behind closed doors lifestyle that we’ve now decided to share.” She also said if the school persists in refusing to use the main entrance to drop off the kids unless she removes the ad from her car, the least it can do is help the kids get across the street safely. WFTV.

Wakulla: The number of school district students who have switched to home-schooling has soared 135 percent in the past six years, from 171 during the 2017-2018 academic year to 401 during the last school year, according to Florida Department of Education data. Jennifer Counce is one of the parents who made the move even though she said she didn’t know anything about home-schooling. “I would’ve never thought I’d be something I’d even consider, but as I learned more about it and met more home-schoolers it made more sense for our family,” she said. WTXL.

Colleges and universities: Students from Florida Polytechnic University, University of Florida and the University of North Florida have the least amount of student loan debt when they graduate, according to U.S. Department of Education data. On average, Florida Polytech grads have $14,250 in debt, while UF students owe $15,000 and UNF students $15,531. Everglades University students had the highest level of debt, at $38,996, followed by Bethune-Cookman University grads at $31,000. Palm Beach Post. Even though the state has banned universities from using public funds for diversity, equity and inclusion programs, the awarding of scholarships for descendants of victims of racist attacks in Rosewood and Ocoee to attend college for free will continue, said Cassandra Edwards, communications director for the State University System of Florida. WLRN.

Funds for day school security: More than 130 Jewish day schools are sharing $25 million in grants from the state to improve security, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday. The money was approved during a 2023 special legislative session. Florida Politics.

Catholic enrollment booming: Catholic school enrollment is up another 4 percent this year, according to the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, to 91,539 from 88,031 last year. Since the 2020-2021 school year, enrollment in Catholic schools is up 15 percent. Much of the credit is being give to the state’s adoption of a bill in 2023 that extends scholarship eligibility to all students regardless of their family’s income. NextSteps.

Opinions on schools: Despite the increasing popularity of online learning and the success of full-time online public schools in the state, including through the state’s own Florida Virtual School, Florida’s education scholarship programs have not extended to support full-time enrollment in online private schools. Will lawmakers heed the warning of national advocates and fix this exclusion for families? Ed Dean, Florida Daily. Florida’s New World Reading program, created in 2021, has already helped hundreds of thousands of Florida students who were struggling with reading. Shaunte Duggins, Tampa Bay Times. By enacting vague and sweeping bans of concepts disfavored by the state, passage of a bill imposing restrictions on teacher training would undermine the academic discipline of teacher education entirely, disregarding time-tested educational standards in favor of ideological doctrine. Sam LaFrance and Katie Blankenship. Sun-Sentinel. Indian River County school leaders did what they had to do when they installed metal detectors at Vero Beach High School, but it’s still sad to see. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm.

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BY NextSteps staff

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