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Almost half of state students now attend a school of choice, social media bill advances and more

1.7M choice students: Nearly 1.7 million Florida K-12 students attended a school of choice last year rather than their assigned school, according to enrollment data from the Florida Department of Education. That’s 49 percent of all state students, and about 42,000 more than the previous year. Charter schools continue as the most popular choice option for students, with 382,367 students in 2022-2023, followed by 272,570 using open enrollment in 54 school districts, 166,502 in choice and magnet programs at district schools, 162,413 in private schools, and 135,372 being home-schooled. NextSteps.

Social media bill advances: A Senate version of the bill banning students under 16 from having social media accounts was approved Monday by that chamber’s Judiciary Committee after some provisions in the House bill were added. SB 1788 would also require social media companies to terminate current accounts for those under the age of 16, and use independent organizations to verify ages when accounts are created. Gov. Ron DeSantis and others have raised questions about the legality of the proposal, and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said there will likely be changes made to the final bill so it can withstand legal challenges. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Parents in Miami-Dade are being asked to sign permission forms for their children to take part in Black History Month events, a review of new Duval textbooks by two parental rights organizations yields no challenges, Marion schools are proposing uniform start and end times next fall at each level of school, Pensacola State College is offering a money-back guarantee to students if they can’t get a job in certain occupations, and the teacher and rookie teacher of the year are announced by St. Johns County schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Some parents of public school students said they were surprised when being asked by the district to give written permission for their children to take part in Black History Month events. The form asks parents if they want their children to participate in “… class and school-wide presentations showcasing the achievements and recognizing the rich and diverse traditions, histories, and innumerable contributions of the black communities.” Parent Jill Peeling said, “I was shocked. … Something feels very off here, and the fact that the school needs to cover themselves against the state feels even worse.” School board member Steve Gallon said, “We have to follow the law.” WPLG.

Broward: A 10-year-old boy walking to school in West Park on Monday morning was hospitalized after being struck by a hit-and-run driver. The injuries are not thought to be life-threatening, and police are searching for the car, described as an older, black Toyota Corolla. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: A district student was hospitalized after an accident between a school bus and a sports utility vehicle in Tampa. Police are investigating the cause of the crash. WTSP. WFTS.

Palm Beach: An experimental private school is using art to help teach science, social studies, math and reading to its students. The Foundations School in West Palm Beach opened in 2020 with a plan for smaller classes, teachers working year-round and the integration of art into core classes. It seems to be working: 89 percent of students read at grade-level, and district Superintendent Michael Burke is planning a visit with an academic team. WPEC.

Duval: Proposed textbooks for social studies and science have drawn no objections from the parental rights activist groups Moms For Liberty and Public School Defenders. Last month, school board members approved spending $13 million for the new textbooks, which hadn’t changed in at least eight years. Jacksonville Today. A Beauclerc Elementary School student was detained Monday and accused of having a gun at the school and threatening a classmate. School employees were tipped that the student had a gun. Principal Matt Walker said the student is in the process of being arrested and also faces discipline from the school. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV. A 13-year-old student at Charger Academy in Jacksonville has accused a substitute teacher of sexual and verbal assault, and his family said the school didn’t call the Florida Department of Children and Families, law enforcement or the boy’s family. District officials said they are investigating. WTLV.

Brevard: About 100 students are expected to protest the district’s book review policy at today’s school board meeting, where board members will consider whether to remove or restrict A Court of Thrones and Roses book series. Dozens of books are being challenged and in the review process. “I think it really speaks to the moment where, you know, students are saying they’ve had enough,” said Cameron Driggers of the Youth Action Fund, a student-led organization planning the demonstration. WMFE.

St. Johns: Tina Hemby, a math teacher at Mill Creek Academy in St. Augustine, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year and is now eligible for the statewide competition. Also honored was Aimee Monie, a science teacher at Tocoi Creek High School in St. Augustine, as rookie teacher of the year. St. Augustine Record.

Marion: School board members will consider a proposal that would align start and end times next fall by level of schools throughout the district. All elementary schools would start at 7:30 a.m., middle schools at 8:30 a.m. and high schools at 9:30 a.m. The proposal would also put the district in compliance with a state law taking effect in 2026 that mandates the earliest times middle and high schools can begin. WKMG. A Dunnellon High School resource officer has been arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a then-15-year-old student in 2019. Deputies said Christian Linan, 34, has been charged with lewd or lascivious battery on a juvenile victim. He has resigned from the sheriff’s office. WKMG. WOFL. Ocala Star-Banner.

Sarasota: Three electric school buses made their debut Monday. The buses cost about $450,000 each, but the district is getting a subsidy of $290,000 per bus through a federal settlement with Volkswagen for violations of the Clean Air Act. Data on the cost-effectiveness and performance will be collected before the district goes ahead with the purchase of nine more buses. Charlotte Sun. WWSB.

Santa Rosa: A West Navarre Primary School student was taken to a hospital for treatment after two district school buses crashed Monday morning. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said one of the buses struck the other as it made a right turn onto U.S. 98. The cause of the crash is under investigation. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Hernando: School board members have approved the first part of a plan for expanding schools. Construction of an additional 20 classrooms at Eastside Elementary School, costing $12.7 million, and 30 at Winding Waters Elementary at a cost of $25.5 million, is expected to be completed by January 2026. A year later, 20 new classrooms would open at Weeki Wachee High, at a cost of $20.7 million, as well as 10 classrooms at Endeavor Discovery Academy and 10 at Central High, which share a campus, costing $17.4 million. Hernando Sun.

Flagler: The school board has released the termination letter it issued to board attorney Kristy Gavin when she was fired for cause last month. But it didn’t contain any specifics about the cause, which board member Will Furry said were not required. His colleague, Cheryl Massaro, called the letter incomplete and said the cause should have been noted. “It’s very vague,” she said. “We’ve been told we’ll get a follow-up explanation, but we have not received anything.” Gavin said, “I’m really not commenting in the public at this time because I have 21 days in which to file a petition on the matter and also to pursue other avenues.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: Pensacola State College is offering to refund tuition to welding, registered nursing and paramedic students who finish the programs and don’t get a job. Pensacola News Journal. Interim Florida Atlantic University president Stacy Volnick’s contract could be extended when the board of trustees meets Thursday. The proposal would continue Volnick’s contract through 2024, and increase her rate of pay from $500,000 a year to $525,000. News Service of Florida. A Senate committee has approved the appointment of five trustees to the Florida Polytechnic University board. They still have to be approved by the full Senate. News Service of Florida. University of South Florida professor Kyle Reed has developed a therapeutic shoe that helps stroke victims relearn how to walk. WTVT.

Around the nation: A recent poll of single black mothers with school-aged children indicates that they’re more likely to vote for candidates who support school choice. “We are a force to be reckoned with, and we want to have our thoughts and feelings and opinions not just heard, but acted upon. … Trust that black single mothers know what is best for them and for their families,” said Alisha Gordon, who founded the nonprofit The Current Project, which advocates for single black women’s economic and social interests. Politico. The proposed Title IX regulations detailing how schools must respond to sexual misconduct allegations and protect transgender students are being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, a step required before the rules can be made public. Politico.

Opinions on schools: While I am proud Florida is leading in the effort to protect the next generation of Floridians, I have serious concerns that our lawmakers’ approach is stripping away rights from those who know how best to protect children and teens online: us, the parents. Frima Enghelberg, Miami Herald. Unless and until federal and state policymakers acknowledge the very real ways transportation issues undergird chronic absenteeism and invest in proven solutions, the wheels of some buses will keep going ‘round and ‘round while many students are left behind. Mike Martin, The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff

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