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Florida Prepaid announces refunds and price cuts, FAMU students’ discrimination suit dismissed, and more

Prepaid price cuts, refunds: Hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have prepaid college plans with the state that they bought after 2008 will receive refunds or price reductions, Florida Prepaid officials announced Monday. Changes are effective for those who sign up between Feb. 1 and April 30, and are the result of tuition and fee increases being lower than forecast. About 280,000 people will get $1.3 billion in price reductions, and about 100,000 will receive refunds totaling $330 million. Eligible account holders will be notified about their options. WPLG. WKMGWPBF. WPTV.

Bill on amendments: A bill that would ask voters to make it more difficult to pass constitutional amendments advanced Monday on an 11-6 vote by the House Ethics, Elections and Open Government Subcommittee. Two-thirds of voters would be required to approve future amendments to the state constitution if the proposal clears the Legislature and gets support from 60 percent of voters in November. “I can’t think of a better way to protect our constitution than to raise the bar,” said the sponsor, state Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach. News Service of Florida.

Also in the Legislature: The proposal restricting what kind of flags can fly in schools and other public buildings stalled Monday, at least temporarily, when the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee adjourned without a vote on the bill. Flags representing a “politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint” would be banned. Critics say the measure is aimed at flags representing the LGBTQ community and political movements such as Black Lives Matter. News Service of Florida. WFTV. Adults who communicate with students under 16 in an attempt to sexually exploit them could be charged with a new “lewd and lascivious grooming” felony under a bill unanimously passed along Monday by the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. News Service of Florida. Republican legislators who want to ban students under 16 from having a social media account under the guise of protecting them but allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work longer hours on school days in sometimes dangerous circumstances are sending contradictory messages, critics of the bills contend. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: A class-action lawsuit brought by six Florida A&M University students that accused the state of discrimination against FAMU in issues such as funding and programs has been dismissed by a federal judge, Florida State University suspends a pro-Palestinian group for disupting a meeting of schools trustees, Broward officials cite three recent weapons-related incidents for a decision to test standalone metal detectors in some high schools, the number of home-schooled students in Volusia County was up 33 percent last year, Clay school officials are working on a new policy on handling book challenges, and Hernando school board members vote to keep four of six challenged books on library shelves while removing one and restricting another. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School district officials are partnering with the Feeding South Florida organization to set up food pantries at eight schools. Students in need receive food that is low in sugar, fat and sodium to take home to their families. WFOR. Feeding South Florida.

Broward: District officials plan to test walk-through metal detectors for some high schools after three incidents with weapons were reported in the past three school days. “It’s always alarming when students bring weapons to campus,” said Superintendent Peter Licata. “We want to make sure that everyone knows schools are safe but just to reinforce that we are going to expand our wanding this week, also our random checks as well.” WTVJ. Deputies detained two students Monday after finding two loaded guns, several loaded magazines and illegal narcotics inside a car parked in a lot at Deerfield Beach Senior High School. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ. WPEC.

Polk: An assistant principal from the Lincoln Avenue Academy in Lakeland was arrested Sunday after he was driving east in westbound lanes of Interstate 4 near mile marker 32, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Troopers said Craig Hilgenberg, 37, smelled like alcohol and was slurring his words. He’s been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and fleeing with disregard for the safety of persons or property. School district officials said Hilgenberg has been placed on administration leave pending the results of the investigation. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT.

Lee: The chair of the county Republican party said the school district will allow a Riverdale High School teacher to keep a classroom flag that says “hate has no home here” after agreeing to cover the Black Lives Matter portion. Michael Thompson lodged a complaint against the flag, saying it violated state law. District officials said only that “the district is aware and continues to work toward a satisfactory resolution.” WINK.

Volusia, Flagler: The number of students home-schooled in Volusia and Flagler counties was up last year, according to the Florida Department of Education. In Volusia the number soared 33 percent, from 2,980 to 3,957. Flagler students being home-schooled was up 2 percent, from 1,201 to 1,223. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Escambia: A 17-year-old Pensacola High School student was arrested Monday after a physical altercation with a school official and police officers. No one was seriously injured. The boy has been charged with battery on a school official, battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest and disrupting a school function. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. A former custodian at Beulah Elementary in Pensacola was sentenced to more than 16 years in federal prison last week for uploading child pornography at the school. Police said DeAntonio Jackson, 37, had more than 200 files of child pornography on his phone when he was arrested last June. He pleaded no contest to the charges in November. WEAR.

Clay: School board members are working a new policy to deal with book challenges. After collecting input from teachers, parents and county residents, board member Michele Hanson is preparing a policy that would have principals, with input from parents, making the decisions on how challenges are handled at each school even as they uphold the state law that prohibits books “depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement” without “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.” To date, the district has removed 171 books from school library shelves, said Superintendent David Broskie. Clay Today.

Alachua: A “calm” room has been opened for students at Shell Elementary School in Hawthorne. It has low-stimulation decor and a soothing atmosphere to give students a place when they feel overwhelmed or stressed and need to manage their emotions. UnitedHealthcare provided a $52,000 grant for the room design and a behavioral system. WCJB.

Bay: Mosely High School in Lynn Haven has opened a new music facility that, at 3,700 square feet, is more than double the size of the facility it’s replacing. The $4.5 million project was paid for with money generated by the district’s half-cent sales tax. WMBB. WJHG.

Hernando: One of six books challenged for content has been removed from school library shelves by the school board and another was restricted to high school-age students. Patricia McCormick’s Sold, which tells the story of a girl in Nepal whose father sells her into sexual slavery, was removed in a 5-0 vote by the school board. The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo, was restricted to high schools. Titles that remain in schools with no restrictions are Two Boys Kissing, Speak: The Graphic Novel, Eleanor and Park, and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Hernando Today. Board members also approved a proclamation supporting Israel in its war against Hamas, but only after a contentious debate. Hernando Today.

Indian River: Just a day after metal detectors were installed at Vero Beach High School, Superintendent David Moore said the district is considering expanding the use of the machines to middle and even elementary schools. “Based on the events last week, there’s no reason to let them sit idle during the day so we have put them in place,” Moore said. “At the end of the day, you don’t want to be the person who said I could’ve done more.” WPTV.

Colleges and universities: A pro-Palestinian group called the Students for a Democratic Society has been suspended at Florida State University for disrupting a Nov. 10 meeting of the board of trustees. It won’t regain its recognized student organization status before May 15, 2025. USA Today Florida Network. A University of Central Florida student has been arrested and accused of threatening to shoot three Jewish students during a pro-Israel demonstration on campus Jan. 23. Police said Seif Asi, 21, did not have a gun, and has subsequently apologized. WOFL.

Education and the courts: A class-action lawsuit brought by six Florida A&M University students that accused the state of discrimination against FAMU in issues such as funding and programs has been dismissed. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that the students had not proven that disparities between FAMU and other state universities were intentional discrimination and the result of segregation. Hinkle dismissed the case last year, but allowed the students to refile a revised complaint. News Service of Florida. Higher Ed Dive.

More on graduation rates: Florida’s high school graduation rate hit a record high of 88 percent in the 2022-2023 school year, the Florida Department of Education recently announced. Here are reports on graduation rates from school districts around the state. Duval. Hernando. Bay. Florida Virtual School. Florida Department of Education.

Around the nation: An FBI report released Monday said that the third-highest number of hate crimes in the United States are reported in U.S. schools, from pre-K through college. More than 1,300 hate crimes were reported at schools in 2022, about 10 percent of the total reported nationwide, and 890 happened at preK-12 schools. ABC News.

Opinions on schools: The rapid expansion of school choice has created fertile ground for more innovation in education. The country should be ready to embrace changes pioneered by those best positioned to know what works — most importantly, parents. Denisha Allen, The 74. Are students, parents and the nation getting a return on their investments in preparing students for success in college STEM majors? Of course they are. The only way to convince one’s self otherwise is to limit the definition of “usefulness” to a very narrow range of careers. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. By hastily creating the Great Books online program, the leaders of New College have once again shown they possess doctorate-level skills in the art of huckstering. Philippe Koenig, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Our lawmakers are convinced that public school teachers are crypto-Marxists determined to “indoctrinate” students into America-hating communism. That’s when they’re not trying to turn the youth gay or trans. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff

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