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Flag restrictions bill stalls, teaching about communism, book challenges, teacher pay, and more

Flag restrictions bill stalls: Just hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis said he supported a bill that would restrict what flags could fly at schools and other public buildings, a Senate committee adjourned Tuesday without taking a vote on it. “The (Senate Governmental Oversight Committee) is not scheduled to meet again,” said Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. “If a bill remains in a committee that is no longer meeting, it is procedurally very difficult for the issue to advance.” It’s the second time the bill has stalled in a Senate committee in the past week. SB 1120 would prohibit flying any flag that “represents a political viewpoint” including any “politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint.” In an appearance in Orange City on Tuesday, the governor said, “If you take a position that, we’re going to fly the American flag and the state of Florida flag, and that’s it, it’s not targeting anybody. … So I think that’s totally fine.” News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Communism lessons: Students as young as kindergartners could be taught the history of communism under a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate Committee on PreK-12 Education. Currently, those lessons don’t begin until 7th grade, and some committee members questioned what such instruction would look like for a kindergarten student. SB 1264 would authorize the creation of a task force to study ways to “refine” education about communism, and bill sponsor Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, “I don’t think we’re teaching our kindergarteners anything on that right now, nor should we be. I do believe that what we can do is look at what we have going on, how it’s addressed and refine that to make sure that it actually meets the standards that are aligned with our values as a state and this nation.” News Service of Florida. WKMG. WJAX. Florida PhoenixFlorida’s Voice.

Also in the Legislature: Students convicted as adults of certain offenses would not be permitted to play high school sports under a bill approved Monday by the Senate Committee on PreK-12 Education. Florida’s Voice. That committee also advanced a bill that would allow schools to have volunteer chaplains meet with students. Associated Press. With most subcommittee meetings having ended, several bills appear to be dead or dying. Among them are ones banning nearly all abortions (HB 1519), allowing open carry of firearms (HB 1619), and the so-called “Kamala Harris Truth in Slavery Teaching Act” (SB 1192 and HB 1139) requiring any teaching about the history of slavery to include “which political parties supported slavery by adopting pro-slavery tenets to their party platform.” Florida Politics.

Around the state: Broward teachers and the school district reach a tentative contract agreement boosting compensation and starting pay, Pasco schools have their first formal book challenge, singer Taylor Swift is threatening to take legal action against a University of Central Florida junior who tracks her private flights and posts the information on social media, a Hillsborough middle school custodian is credited with saving a choking student, Monroe and Nassau schools select their teacher of the year winners, and a Christian school in Lake County has expelled children of a woman who drove them to school with an OnlyFans decal on her back windshield. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: After seven months of bargaining, district officials and teacher union representatives reached a tentative agreement Monday that would raise teacher compensation by an average of 3.96 percent and increase starting salaries from $48,925 to $50,266. Only 2.7 percent of the increase would be in salaries, with 1.26 percent in the form of bonuses. The deal must be approved by union members and the school board. Sun-Sentinel. WFOR. Three public hearings have been set to get community feedback to the school district’s proposal to close or repurpose five schools, starting in the fall of 2025, due to declining enrollment. Thursday at 6 p.m. at Fort Lauderdale High, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. at J.P. Taravella High, and Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. at Charles W. Flanagan High. WLRN. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: A custodian is credited with saving a choking student Friday at Mulrennan Middle School in Valrico. Mohammed Hammad, called Mr. Moe, was in the cafeteria when he saw a 7th-grader slam down his phone and run to a garbage can. He followed, saw the student choking and performed the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a chip that was stuck in his throat. “It was scary,” said Xzavier Wilson. “Mr. Moe is my hero. He saved my life.” WFLA. WTVT. WFTS. Two schools are getting new principals Feb. 19. Ann-Marie Russo Gonzalez, who had been an assistant principal at Grady Elementary School, will be the new principal at Ballast Point Elementary School, and Cara von Ancken was promoted from the assistant principal’s job to the role of principal at Roland Park K-8 in Tampa. Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: A Gulf Middle School committee will review the book The Letter Q, which consists of essays supporting LGBTQ+ youth, after it was challenged for its sexual content and for a reference to a group that works to prevent suicides among LGBTQ+ children. “Children should not be given a resource to contact a 3rd party, TrevorSpace, where they can talk to unknown adults about their sexuality,” said parent Rebecca Yuengling in her complaint. It’s the first formal book challenge in the district. A public hearing is scheduled Feb. 26. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School board members voted 3-1 Tuesday to remove the fantasy novel A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas, from district school libraries over its sexually explicit content and use of profanity. The district’s book review committee had recommended the removal of the book. WKMG.

Manatee: Warrants have been issued for the arrests of a special education teacher and aide who are accused of tying a nonverbal autistic 7-year-old student to a chair for an hour. Teacher Carina Chindamo, 31, and aide Taylor Internicola, 39, who work at G.D. Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School in Bradenton, are accused of false imprisonment. WFLA. WTVT. WFTS. WWSB. Bradenton Herald. The state attorney is considering filing charges against a former Bayshore Elementary School teacher who was allegedly drunk at school in December. Authorities said they found alcohol and drugs in the bag of Brandi Lee Snyder, a 3rd-grade teacher, and that Snyder’s blood alcohol content exceeded the legal limit. She was fired, and she could face a charge of child neglect without great bodily harm. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: The children of a woman who drove them to a Christian school in Tavares in a vehicle with an OnlyFans ad in the rear window have been expelled. Michelle and Randy Cline received a letter from the school this week ending the children’s enrollment for “producing and distributing pornography via a pornographic website” and “creating additional disruption” by talking to reporters. WOFL. WFTV.

Sarasota: Tuesday’s school board meeting was again marked by public comments calling on board member Bridget Ziegler to resign for hypocrisy over having a three-way relationship with her husband and another woman while backing measures targeting the gay community. Others supported Ziegler, calling the incident a distraction. WWSB. WFLA.

Alachua: School board members voted 3-2 Tuesday to extend the contract of Superintendent Shane Andrew and raise his pay. Andrew would be paid $180,500 a year through June 30, 2026, and receive a $5,000 raise if he is judged to be effective or highly effective in his annual board evaluation. And if grades for Lake Forest, Rawlings, Shell or Metcalfe elementary schools are raised to a C this year, he would also get another $2,500 per school. Andrew, who has been serving as the interim superintendent since March 2022, still has to accept the offer. Main Street Daily News. WCJB.

Citrus: A second candidate has filed to run for the school superintendent’s job that opens at the end of the calendar year when Sandra Himmel retires. Lecanto High School principal Jason Koon joins assistant superintendent Scott Hebert in the race. Citrus County Chronicle.

Nassau: Ashley Taylor, a 1st-grade teacher at Callahan Elementary School, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year and will now compete for the statewide honor. Nassau County Record. Fernandina Beach News-Leader.

Monroe: Caitlin Sullivan, a 4th-grade teacher at Gerald Adams Elementary School in Key West, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year and is now eligible for the statewide competition. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Singer Taylor Swift is threatening to take legal action against a University of Central Florida junior who tracks her private flights and posts the information on social media. Jack Sweeney also has tracked the air travels of Elon Musk and other celebrities. Swift and Musk say posting the information poses a security risk for them and their families. Washington Post. CNN. Eastern Florida State College trustees have extended President Jim Richey’s contract to 2029 and raised his salary from $368,609 to $381,144. Florida Today. The University of Florida ranks second in the nation for its online bachelor’s degree program and online master’s degrees in education, according to ratings released today by U.S. News & World Report. It was the only Florida school that earned a top three ranking in any category. Palm Beach Post.

Around the nation: U.S. Department of Education officials said this week that they will provide colleges with additional personnel, funding, resources and technology to help them process the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which helps determine financial assistance for students. The rollout of the form has been delayed by various problems. CNBC.

Opinions on schools: Customization will be public education’s primary guiding principle in 2075, and we will spend the next several decades grappling with how to implement that principle. Doug Tuthill, NextSteps. Expensive legal battles are almost certain with any culture war laws that Florida may pass this legislative session. Woke wars have become stale and a continuing embarrassment for Florida. It’s time lawmakers let them finally die. Miami Herald. Presenting arguments for and against removing the passage of state algebra and language arts exams as a requirement for high school graduation. Florida Phoenix. Restricting what parents of home-schooled students can buy with personalized education programs funds sends a bad signal to all of the understandably nervous parents, providers, and prospective providers about the Sunshine State’s commitment to education freedom for the long haul. William Mattox, Florida Politics.

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BY NextSteps staff

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