Senate to vote on social media ban that gives parents no rights, communism lessons and more

Social media ban bill: Senators continued on Wednesday to tweak the bill that would ban students under 16 from opening social media accounts. The most notable of the changes would require social media platforms to offer an anonymous age verification option. That may satisfy a concern expressed by Gov. Ron DeSantis about the age verification process, who said he’s opposed to “forcing adults” to “unmask themselves” in order to use social media anonymously. But the bill still doesn’t give parents the right to say if their children can access social media platforms, something Democrats say is inconsistent with Republicans’ emphasis on parental rights. A vote is scheduled today in the Senate, and if the bill is approved it will go back to the House for reconsideration. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WKMG.

Also in the Legislature: A bill requiring schools to teach the history of communism to all public K-12 students beginning in 2026 was approved by the House Education and Employment Committee on Wednesday and now goes to the House floor. Some lawmakers questioned the appropriateness of teaching kindergartners about communism, which is specifically detailed in the staff analysis of the bill, but one of the sponsors, Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, insisted that “you can’t find anywhere in this bill that says we’re going to teach this to kindergartners.” Florida Politics. The day before the House is expected to vote on a proposal allowing schools to have volunteer chaplains to provide services for public school students, representatives argued over the details and what Democrats called a lack of guardrails. Lawmakers favoring the bill said decisions about qualifications will be made by school districts. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: Students at a Broward school hit by a measles outbreak will have a temporary option of at-home learning, Orange school officials’ plan to build a bus depot in Winter Garden are put on pause after complaints, a Tampa middle school is working for NASA by testing whether food can grow on the moon, Polk’s school board is considering buying a school bus-tracking system, Pasco school board members approve a $1.2 million settlement for a former student who was hit and severely hurt by a school bus in 2006, an Indian River school board member resigns after moving out of his district, and school crossing guards from Seminole and St. Johns counties are named crossing guards of the year by the state DOT. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Students whose parents are reluctant to send them back to Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston after six cases of the measles were discovered there in the past week will have the option of at-home learning for 21 days. “We are in the process of developing how to ensure there’s continuous learning for families who exercise this option,” said Superintendent Peter Licata. “This will not be virtual learning. It will offer a bridge during the 21-day period.” Only 33 of the school’s 1,076 students are unvaccinated, Licata said, though it’s not known if that included any of the six infected students. On Wednesday, 174 students stayed home after more than 200 were absent Tuesday. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Stewart Magnet Middle School in Tampa is one of 10 schools in the state selected by NASA to participate in an experiment testing whether food can grow on the moon. Stewart students are planting beet seeds in a mixture of lunar soil simulant, then will test the effect of light on growth. It will take eight weeks to see if the experiment works. Spectrum News 9. A clock at Hillsborough High School in Tampa dedicated to alumni killed in World War II is working again after at least 10 years of being silent. An alumni group raised the $50,000 needed for the repairs. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Orange: The school district’s plan to put a school bus depot on the west campus of Orange County Technical College in Winter Garden after the school moves to a different site has been put on pause when residents of the neighborhood complained about the traffic the move would bring. Some residents also are angry that locating the depot on the site of a historically black school was another example of the underinvestment in their community. School and Orlando city officials said discussions are ongoing to find alternatives, and that all options will be considered. WFTV.

Duval: A school crossing guard for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been arrested and accused of child abuse. Theresa L. Mitchell was charged with child abuse without great bodily harm and fired by the sheriff. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Polk: Purchasing a $920,000 school bus-tracking system will be considered next Tuesday by school board members. The ReaXium system allows the district to see what students are aboard, where the buses are and provides turn-by-turn directions to substitute drivers. It also includes an app that would let parents track their children’s bus. After the first year, the district would pay $632,642 a year for the next four years. Lakeland Now.

Pasco: School board members have approved a $1.2 million settlement with a former student who suffered catastrophic injuries in a 2006 school bus crash. Marcus Button, now 33, suffered brain damage, partial blindness and several other life-altering ailments when he was hit by a bus on the way to Wesley Chapel High School. A jury found the school bus driver to be at fault. Spectrum News 9.

Seminole, St. Johns: Chris Howe, a crossing guard in Seminole County whose nickname is Queenie, has been chosen as one of two school crossing guards of the year by the Florida Department of Transportation. The other is Sandra Lazor from St. Johns County. WESH. Florida Department of Transportation.

Lake: Speed detection cameras were installed in school zones around Eustis Elementary School on Wednesday. They’re the first such cameras to be placed in the state. Starting today, drivers who go 10 mph or more over the speed limit in school zones will receive a warning ticket in the mail. After 30 days, speeders will get a $100 ticket. WESH.

Escambia: Ripley’s Believe It or Not books are being handed out for free after the school district banned three of volumes chronicling oddities of the world from school libraries. Through May 15, Ripley’s will send free books to Floridians who request them. Florida Politics. WEAR. A student at Bellview Middle School in Pensacola has been detained by sheriff’s deputies after after assaulting a school bus driver Wednesday. WEAR.

Alachua: The first of three community meetings is scheduled Friday on the proposal to turn the three public schools in Newberry into charter schools. A vote is scheduled in April, with support from at least 50 percent of teachers at each school and 50 percent of parents whose children are enrolled required for the change to become effective. At least two school board members have spoken out against the proposal, pointing out that charter schools are not required to provide transportation for students, and that current magnet programs at the schools may not be continued in a charter school. Gainesville Sun. Main Street Daily News. WCJB. School board members approved a new book challenge process at this week’s meeting. Challenges must be written and submitted to a school’s principal, who forwards them to a curriculum supervisor. A committee is then convened to review the book and make a recommendation that, if challenged, would prompt a hearing. The hearing officer’s recommendation goes the school board for a final decision, though if the challenger continues to object the state education commissioner could appoint a special magistrate to make a recommendation to the state Board of Education. Main Street Daily News.

Indian River: District 5 school board member Brian Barefoot has resigned, effective immediately, after he moved out of his district. Barefoot, who is in the final year of his first term, said he moved to “downsize.” TCPalm.

Flagler: School board members said they felt “blindsided” this week by the county’s suggestion that it could end funding for school resource officers. “If they really have a $200 million budget and the first things they want to cut is safety for children, I find that so completely out of touch, and I condemn that action absolutely,” said Christy Chong. County commissioners stressed that no decision has been made, and that they just want to have discussions about the funding. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: A contract extension for Florida Atlantic University interim president Stacy Volnick has been approved by the Board of Governors. Volnick will continue through the end of the year or until a successor is chosen, and receive a salary increase from $500,000 to $525,000. News Service of Florida. Florida State University’s College of Medicine will partner with Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare and the Apalachee Center to start a psychiatry residency program. The first four residents of the program begin July 1. Tallahassee Democrat. The first autonomous shuttle service at any college campus in Florida has been launched at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s downtown college. WTLV.

Workforce funding: Nineteen workforce development programs will receive $25 million in state grants, Gov. DeSantis announced Wednesday. The programs are in 17 school districts and at Tallahassee Community College, and the funding is part of the $100 million allocated to the Workforce Development Capitalization Incentive Grant Program. WPTV. WGCU. Office of the Governor.

Around the nation: Almost 153,000 student loan borrowers will have $12 billion in federal debt forgiven by the U.S. Department of Education. Borrowers will receive e-mails from President Joe Biden notifying them that “all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my administration’s SAVE Plan.” Associated Press. Politico. WOFL. School districts have long contended their dress codes increase academic performance, improve discipline, encourage good hygiene and help to limit distractions. But for many black students, those codes are racist attempts to deny them their cultural heritage. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: We all know how important reading proficiency by the 3rd grade is. However, we also know how important a student’s self-belief in their ability to succeed can be. Ted Hoskinson, Sun-Sentinel. Universities and colleges across the country allow students with financial aid to access course materials by the first day of class, whether or not our financial aid dollars have come through yet. But this month, the Department of Education is potentially gutting the Obama-era regulations that make these programs possible and advantageous. William Glover, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff