Public school deregulation bills advance in Senate, lawsuits moving forward, and more

School deregulation bills: Florida senators unanimously gave support Wednesday to three bills intended to cut down on regulations for public schools. Changes proposed in the bills (SB 7000, 7002, 7004) would include, among other things, removing high school graduation test requirements; expanding the time between school bus inspections; reducing the frequency of financial reports; and making it easier to meet teaching certification requirements. One provision that was deleted would have given parents the authority to override school decisions on retaining 3rd-graders with low reading scores. House members also began debating their version (PCB EQS 24-01), which “is very different from the Senate bill,” said House Education Quality Subcommittee chair Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. USA Today Florida Network. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Gray Florida Capitol Bureau.

Also in the Legislature: A bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work more hours daily and weekly was approved Wednesday by the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. WFSU. Florida Politics. Among the other notable education bills being considered during the session: SB 1344, which would make computer lessons mandatory for the 2025-2026 school year; SB 1044 and HB 931, which would allow schools to have volunteer school chaplains; SB 1472, which would require video cameras in self-contained classrooms that contain at least one nonverbal student; SB 432, which would require public schools to have at least one automated external defibrillator available; SB 344 and HB 1521, which would require instruction that “may not indicate or imply that an enslaved person benefited from slavery or the enslavement experience in any way”; and SB 136 and HB 13, which would set a minimum salary of $65,000 for all fulltime preK-12 teachers. USA Today Florida Network.

Around the state: A federal judge rules that a suit against the Escambia County School Board for removing books can continue, five dictionaries are among the 1,000-plus books that have been removed from Escambia school libraries, a Broward circuit court judge says a civil lawsuit against the school officer who took cover instead of engaging a shooter at a Parkland school in 2018 may proceed, St. Lucie County officials approve installation of speed detection cameras in school zones, Flagler school board members decide to proceed in dismissing the school board attorney, and hundreds of Florida schools were searched Wednesday after districts received idential bomb threat letters. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A circuit judge ruled Wednesday that a civil lawsuit can continue against a former school resource officer who took cover instead of engaging with a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Seventeen students and staff died in the attack and 17 more were wounded. Deputy Scot Peterson said he didn’t go after the shooter because he couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from, and he was acquitted of criminal charges last year. The lawsuit was filed by families of those killed and wounded. Associated Press.

Duval: School board voted unanimously this week to buy new textbooks for the district’s social studies and science curricula. The cost over five years will be $13 million. School parents and county residents can review the books, and may lodge a complaint by Feb. 7. Jacksonville Today.

Polk: A 20-year-old junior varsity basketball coach at Frostproof Middle-Senior High School has been arrested for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old student and threatening to kill her if she started a relationship with anyone else. Deputies said the girl told them she and Skylar Ready have dated since they were both students at the school. Ready has been a school coach since the 2022-2023 season. School officials said he “will no longer have any involvement with Polk County schools.” Lakeland Ledger. WTSP. WFLA.

Pinellas: School board chair Laura Hine has announced she’ll run for re-election to the District 1 seat she first won in 2020. She’ll have at least one challenger, Danielle Marolf, the founder of a local Christian school called Wellmont Academy. Florida Politics. A half-mill property tax first approved by voters in 2004 raised about $60 million during the last school year, with $44 million going toward improving teacher pay, according to a report from the Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee presented to the school board this week. That put an extra $5,734 a year into the pockets of all 6,851 district teachers. School board members said they plan on asking voters to renew the tax this fall. WUSF.

Volusia: School bus driver Mayrelyn Lopez is being credited with saving a student from choking during a ride after school last month. Lopez had just resolved a dispute in the back of the bus when she saw a boy choking on a piece of candy. She performed the Heimlich maneuver and dislodged the candy, then finished her route. WOFL.

St. Lucie: County commissioners voted this week to place speed detection cameras in eight school zones. The cameras, which are expected to be installed before the next school year, will automatically send tickets to drivers who go 10 mph over the speed limit. WPEC.

Escambia: A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit can proceed against the school board for removing 10 books about race and LGBTQ+ identities. The suit, which alleges the removals were a violation of First Amendment rights, was filed by the writers’ group PEN America, publisher Penguin Random House, banned authors and parents. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Florida Phoenix. More than 1,600 books, including five dictionaries, have been removed from Escambia school district libraries because they contain descriptions or depictions of sexual conduct and are therefore thought to violate the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, according to the Florida Freedom to Read Project. Pensacola News Journal. Vanity Fair. Popular Information. Huffington Post.

Leon: The school district will join others in the state and around the country in suing social media companies for the negative impact they have on students, the school board decided this week. “I just think it’s important that we take a stand on the fact that social media is really affecting our children,” said board member Rosanne Wood. The board also voted to change the district’s book challenge policy. Complaints that had been taken to a single hearing officer will now be reviewed by a committee that will make a recommendation to the school board. That committee will be made up of at least one parent, an instructional staff member, a media specialist, and someone familiar with the subject of the book. WCTV.

Citrus: School board members have approved a five-year work plan for such school projects as renovations and expansion at Floral City Elementary School, HVAC repairs, electrical and fire alarm upgrades, and reroofing at several schools. The board also approved a partnership with HCA Florida Citrus Hospital, Citrus County Education Foundation and Healthy Start to hand out “literacy bags” to the parents of newborns as a way to promote early literacy and childhood development. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: A majority of school board members are moving ahead to fire board attorney Kristy Galvin. She has been a target for Will Furry, Christy Chong and Sally Hunt for months. Superintendent LaShakia Moore has been negotiating with Galvin to move her into a job as an attorney for the district instead of for the board. But no agreement was reached before a deadline of Dec. 31, and now Furry is asking board members to submit just cause for firing Galvin so an official termination letter can be presented to her by the end of the week. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: Rita Bornstein, the first female president of Rollins Collins in Winter Park who held the job from 1990 to 2004, has died at the age of 88. Colleagues said she improved the ranking of the school and was well-known for her fund-raising ability. Orlando Sentinel. WMFE. WKMG. WOFL. The University of Florida is committing $2.5 million to the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and College of Design, Construction and Planning to help design and build resilient and affordable buildings. Gainesville Sun. Main Street Daily News. WCJB. A Bethune-Cookman University junior was arrested this week and accused of having a loaded gun on campus. Juvani Junior Roswell, 19, of Miami Gardens, said he had the gun for protection because his car was shot during last year’s homecoming, Daytona Beach police said. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Florida school absenteeism: An average of almost 21 percent of Florida students missed 21 or more days of school during the 2021-2022 school year, a record high, according to the Florida Department of Education. Putnam County had the highest rate, at 42.3 percent, followed by Okeechobee at 41.5 percent, Jefferson at 40.3 percent and Franklin at 39.5 percent. St. Johns County had the lowest rate, at 10.1 percent, followed by Gilchrist at 11.9 percent, Sarasota at 12 percent and Okaloosa at 12.8 percent. Palm Beach Post.

Florida’s permission culture: Under Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, students can no longer get a bandage, take a vision test or be called by their nickname without a permission slip from their parents. One of the unforeseen consequences of the law is the creation of a new bureaucracy that falls to school employees to enforce. New York Times.

Bomb threats to schools: Hundreds of schools in districts across Florida were searched Wednesday after they received an identical e-mail claiming bombs had been placed “inside of all the schools from your school district.” No bombs were reportedly found in any schools. Forbes. Fort Myers News-Press. Miami New Times. Patch. WTXL. Suncoast News. WPEC. WCTV. WTLV. WBBH.

Around the nation: About 9.5 million U.S. students won’t be eligible to receive free meals this summer because the states they live in have declined to participate in the federal program. One the 13 states not in the program is Florida, which opted out because officials said they already have summer food programs and weren’t interested in following the federal rules that come with accepting the money. Chalkbeat. With the end of federal pandemic funding, states are seeing their record reserve levels dwindle and are struggling to deal with lower revenues. “This is certainly the first year since 2020 where we’re seeing states with widespread budget problems,” said Josh Goodman, a senior officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts who scrutinizes state budgets. “The things that supercharged state tax revenues and gave states this direct boost are over.” Politico.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State speech was as notable for what it didn’t say as what it did. He boasted about his efforts to strip “woke ideology” from public schools and universities, about “protecting” children and expanding access to state vouchers, but didn’t mention that nearly two-thirds of 4th-graders are not proficient in reading and that the vouchers program has a $4 billion price tag that benefits many families that could easily afford private-school tuition on their own. Orlando Sentinel and Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff