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Rule bans DEI funding on college campuses, bill restricting flags at schools advances, and more

Rule bans DEI funding: A rule was approved Wednesday by the Florida Board of Education that bans use of public funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs on state university campuses. DEI was defined by the board as “any program, campus activity, or policy that classifies individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation and promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals on the basis of such classification.” The board also removed Principles of Sociology from a list of core courses that students could take to complete coursework in the social sciences. Instead, the board added a history course titled Introductory Survey to 1877. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said the sociology course teaches theories, which takes it out of compliance with the state’s requirements for core courses. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. USA Today Florida Network. Tampa Bay Times.

Flap on flags: A bill restricting the types of flags that could be flown at schools and other government buildings was approved by the House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee on a 9-5 vote along party lines. While the bill doesn’t specify what flags would be barred, it prevents flags that represent “political viewpoint, including, but not limited to, a politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint.” It wouldn’t affect the U.S. or Florida flags, or the POW-MIA flag, but it is expected to prevent flags representing the LGBTQ+ community and the Black Lives Matter movement, among others. The Senate companion has not been heard by any committees. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Also in the Legislature: Even as a bill allowing 16- and 17-year-old students to work longer hours and later in the day is moving through the House, the Senate has rewritten SB 460 to bar those students from commercial sites and jobs with scaffolding, roofs and ladders over 6 feet. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics. The House Judiciary Committee has approved HB 1, which would prohibit anyone under 16 from having a social media account and require social media platforms to verify the ages of users. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. That same committee also advanced a measure requiring publishers of material “harmful to minors” to verify the ages of users and limit access to minors. Florida Politics. WKMG. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget is $4.4 billion under what state agencies and the Legislature have requested, including a $500 million reduction for the Department of Education, setting up a potential standoff. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: Miami-Dade’s school board enacts some reforms on the use of district credit cards by board members, Hillsborough’s school board adds the Hindu religious holiday of Diwali to the list of days that students can take off as an excused absence, no charges will be filed against an Orange County church leader who whipped 16 students from the church school with a belt for “disruptive and disrespectful behavior,” faculty members at New College voted 25-1 for a resolution opposing the college’s recently announced online degree program that starts Jan. 29, and halfway through the Florida school year there are still about 4,000 teaching jobs and about 3,500 positions for support staff unfilled. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board members moved Wednesday to reform the use of district credit cards as a reaction to former board member Lubby Navarro’s arrest on fraud and theft charges for using her card to spend at least $100,000 on personal items. Auditors will review credit card expenses for past and present school board members back to 2019, have been asked to prioritize credit card audits this year, audit senior district leaders more often and train current school board members on the credit card use rules. Miami Herald. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. County commissioners have approved the purchase of speed detection cameras to be placed in hundreds of school zones before the start of the 2024-2025 academic year. WTVJ. A charter school teacher has been arrested and accused of sending explicit pictures to a 17-year-old student. Police said Alberto Hernandez, 37, who taught at Mater Bay Academy in Cutler Bay, began a conversation with the student on the WhatsApp over the holiday break, which led to Hernandez then sending a photo of his genitals. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. WPLG.

Broward: A 3-year-old boy was left unattended for two hours on a Broward County school bus last month, and his parents said they aren’t getting answers from the district on how it happened. The boy was supposed to arrive at Indian Trace Elementary School at 7:15 a.m. but didn’t get there until 9:15. His parents said they met with the school principal and transportation officials, but weren’t allowed to see the video from the bus. District officials said the boy fell asleep on the bus, and that they are “investigating this situation and will take any appropriate disciplinary measures for the employees involved.” WPLG. An 18-year-old student was arrested and accused of having a handgun and ammunition on the campus of the Henry D. Perry Education Center in Miramar. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: School board members unanimously decided this week to add the Hindu religious holiday of Diwali to the list of days that students can take off as an excused absence. Diwali is a festival of lights and a celebration of victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. It will be celebrated Nov. 1 this year. WTSP. County commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance that will suspend new vape shops from opening up within 500 feet of any public or private school in the county. The suspension will last until the Land Development Code is amended to regulate vape shops. WTVT.

Orange: Prosecutors have decided that no criminal charges will be filed against a senior leader at the Saint Mark AME Church in Orlando for whipping 16 students with a belt for “disruptive and disrespectful behavior” at the church’s Alpha Learning Academy in November. An investigation was begun after parents complained, but prosecutors said previous versions of the school’s parent handbook contained a provision for corporal punishment as an alternative to a home suspension. In their report, officers said it’s unclear which version of the handbook parents received. WKMG. WFTV.

Santa Rosa: The district’s first new school in almost 25 years is now officially known as Soundside High School. Midway High and Soundside High were the top two choices in preliminary voting, and Soundside was the preference in the second round of voting. School board members then chose Soundside. When the $110 million school opens in the fall of 2026, it will be able to accommodate 1,800 students. WEAR.

Taylor: District officials and the union representing teachers are at a stalemate over a new contract. Union officials want a $1,200 raise for every teacher, but district officials say that’s not possible because it would have to be accompanied by performance raises. “It was an exponential cost — one that we couldn’t afford,” said Superintendent Alicia Beshears. “We’ve just been hit with Hurricane Idalia (and) our major employer just closed. We’re not in a place right now where we can do that.” No date was set for the next bargaining session. WCTV.

Colleges and universities: Faculty members at New College voted 25-1 for a resolution opposing the college’s recently announced online degree program that starts Jan. 29. The program is a joint project between the school and Republican donor Joe Ricketts. Faculty was not consulted before the announcement of the program, but their disapproval is not to expected to affect its implementation. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida State College at Jacksonville has narrowed its choice for a mascot to a kraken, manta ray or sea dragon, and is asking the public to vote online for one by Feb. 23. Jacksonville Today. WJAX. WJXT.

Teachers still needed: Halfway through the Florida school year there are still about 4,000 teaching jobs and about 3,500 positions for support staff, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers still unfilled. That’s better than the situation in August, when districts needed 7,000 teachers and 5,000 support staff, but the shortages are especially acute in English language learners and special education classes. WMFE.

Opinions on schools: A proposed ban on social media for children under 16 is Florida politicians’ latest assault on the parental rights they claim to respect. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Apparently standing up to the highly visible LBGTQ crowd is a lot easier, and gets more TV publicity, than dealing with rising hurricane insurance rates on Florida’s coasts or sinking reading and math scores in our schools. Bill Cotterell, News Service of Florida. Celebrate the empty bookshelves. You’re living in Florida, the book-banning citadel of normalcy that flags dictionaries for their sexual content. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff