New social media bill gets hearing today in Senate, education budget agreement, $1.3M scam, and more

Social media bill vetoed, changed: A revised bill to add restrictions on teenagers’ access to social media platforms will get a hearing today in the Florida Senate. HB 1, which would have banned accounts for students under with social media platforms that have “addictive” features, was vetoed Friday by Gov. Ron DeSantis as part of a deal with House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, to amend HB 3 by giving parents the option to consent for their 14- and 15-year-olds. DeSantis had been critical of HB 1, questioning its constitutionality and saying it infringed on parental rights. Renner called the new proposal a “product of compromise” and added, “We believe that we started out with a very, very good bill and now this bill is even better.” HB 3 could be sent to the House, approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor by the end of the day. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics.

Education budget: Senate and House negotiators reached an agreement Saturday on  spending $28.4 billion for public K-12 schools during the 2024-2025 fiscal year. Among the final compromises were allocating $10 million on a teacher bonus plan favored by DeSantis and $5 million for a Jacksonville charter school gym that was pushed by Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, the designated 2026 speaker of the House. Legislators now have today and tomorrow to finalize overall spending, which is expected to be about $117 billion, to comply with a state law requiring 72-hour “cooling off” period before a final vote can be taken on the budget and the session can close as scheduled Friday. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Also in the Legislature: A bill prohibiting colleges and schools from “distort(ing) significant historical events” or using “identity politics” in teacher training was approved 81-31 in the House on Friday and is now headed to the Senate for a vote. “This bill attacks the woke indoctrination in our schools,” said state Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Seminole. “It attacks the futures that are being robbed by telling little children that they somehow are victims, perpetuating victimhood over and over again based on identity politics, based on woke notions.” Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. Senators approved a proposal Friday that would require public schools to teach the history of communism and its “atrocities,” potentially in all grades, starting the fall of 2026. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Members of the House approved a bill Friday requiring a two-thirds vote by local school boards and other public governing boards to raise property taxes. The Senate version is stalled in committee. Florida Politics.

Principals on notice: Principals could be penalized for preventing students from seeing library books under a rule proposed Friday by the Florida Department of Education. The proposal states that “a school principal shall not prevent, direct anyone to prevent, or allow anyone to prevent students from accessing educational materials without legal cause to do so.” Its introduction comes two weeks after Gov. DeSantis asked for reforms in the book challenge process to deter “bad actors” trying to make political points. Members of the state Board of Education are expected to discuss the proposal at their April meeting.  Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: Seminole school district finance officials got scammed for $1.3 million in a “phishing” incident in December, University of Florida employees in diversity, equity and inclusion programs were fired Friday to comply with state law, a Monroe County high school basketball coach and middle school teacher was found dead at the high school Saturday in what district officials are calling a tragic accident, Orange County parents want changes to the notification process when a child is absent from school, and most Pinellas County students would have to keep their cell phones off and out of sight during the school day under a proposed policy. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: A 24-year-old man has been arrested and accused of firing a gun at students at Spoto High School in Riverview on Feb. 14. Deputies said Jahfahree Edwards, 24, is charged with attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault with intent to commit a felony with a weapon, being a felon in possession of a firearm and throwing a deadly missile into a vehicle. No one was injured. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Following the death of 13-year-old Madeline Soto last week, some parents are asking the district to change the way schools notify them when their children are absent from school. The girl didn’t get to Hunter’s Creek Middle School on Feb. 26, but the district didn’t notify her mother for 10 hours. Madeline’s body was found Friday afternoon, and her mother’s boyfriend is considered the prime suspect. District officials said their automated system notifies parents after the school day because they aren’t required to submit attendance reports until the end of the day. Sarah Terrell, the mother of another student at the school, started a petition Thursday that has been signed by hundreds of parents. “I don’t think that it would be so horrible that I get a call at 10 or 11 a.m. that my student was absent,” she said. WFTV. School board members meet Tuesday to settle an impasse on a proposed increase of 64 percent in health insurance premiums for teachers. WMFE.

Pinellas: Most students would have to keep their cell phones and related devices off and out of sight during the school day, starting next fall, under a proposed policy that will be discussed Tuesday by the school board. High school students would be permitted to use phones at lunch and between classes, and any student could use her or his phone with a teacher’s permission. Superintendent Kevin Hendrick created the policy after reviewing a survey of students, parents and employees. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: With metal detectors going into every public high school in the county, the school board meets Wednesday to review the district’s security policy. Additions include details on how the detectors work, what actions to take if a detector goes off, and handling what’s found during scans. WPTV.

Seminole: District officials have been scammed out of $1.3 million by an online “phishing” scheme, said school officials, the sheriff’s office and the Secret Service. Two school finance employees reportedly received an e-mail last December from what they thought was a district vendor asking the district to direct its bill payment to a different account. The employees didn’t verify the information and made the switch. BNN. WFTV. The Seminole County School District is again the top district in the state at preparing students to major in STEM subjects in college, according to the Florida Department of Education’s STEM Career Prep Index. The district has topped the index every year it’s been published. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Marion: Six students were hospitalized when their school bus collided with a minivan Friday afternoon on Highway 315 near Fort McCoy. The 16-year-old driver of the minivan was critically injured. Highway Patrol troopers are investigating the cause of the accident. WKMG. WFTV. WCJB. An elevator will be installed at Ocala’s Vanguard High School with a $750,000 grant approved by the school board. Construction is expected to begin at the end of this school year. WUFT.

Escambia: Superintendent Keith Leonard said Friday that higher school absenteeism is leading to an increase in school violence and can be attributed to a lack of parental involvement with their children. “Going to school is mandatory in the state of Florida for grades K-12,” Leonard said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they’re successful in this district. But if your child makes a decision that is outside the confines of what’s allowed at school, those consequences will be severe. And it will be your responsibility to make sure they get their education. We don’t ever want to get to that place.” WEAR.

Alachua: If three Newberry public schools are converted into charters, the city commission would serve as the school board for up to five years, and the new school operators would be responsible for building upgrades, renovations or new construction, transportation, substitutes, extracurricular activities and school reource officer costs, district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said in an interview last week. Gainesville Sun. Rawlings Elementary, Metcalfe Elementary, Hawthorne Middle/High and Howard Bishop Middle are getting new “calm” rooms today, school officials said last week. The rooms, which are being funded by United HealthCare, have low stimulation décor, special lighting and resting spaces and provide a space for students to calm down when they’re angry or frustrated during the school day. Other wellness rooms are located at Shell Elementary, Santa Fe High and Fort Clarke Middle. Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: County commissioners have granted a school board request to ask voters this November to approve an extra half-cent sales tax for school construction and repairs. If approved, the extra tax will be in place for 10 years. School board members are also asking voters to renew a 1-mill property tax. Hernando Sun.

Monroe: Dexter Butler, the Key West High School boys basketball coach and a teacher at Horace O’Bryant Middle School, was found dead outside the high school Saturday in what officials are describing as an accident. “His keys fell down the drain,” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “He was reaching for them, lost his balance and fell face first, then drowned in 18 inches of water in the drain. Really a tragedy on many levels.” Police said Butler’s death does not appear to be suspicious, but the investigation is ongoing. Florida Keys Weekly. Miami Herald. WPLG. The U.S. Sun. Key West Citizen.

Bradford: The school district will be without phone service today because of an issue with equipment. District officials expect the problem to be fixed sometime today. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: Twenty-eight University of Florida employees are out of a job after the school announced it was ending all programs and positions linked with diversity, equity and inclusion programs to comply with new state laws. Employees affected will be given 12 weeks of severance pay and will be considered for other jobs at UF. School officials said they will use the $5 million from DEI programs for faculty recruitment. Gov. DeSantis praised the decision, saying, “DEI is toxic and has no place in our public universities.” Politico Florida. Gainesville Sun. Tampa Bay Times. Fresh Take FloridaAxios. The University of Florida leads the state with a 97 percent retention rate of first-year students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Florida State University is second at 94 percent, with the University of Miami at 93 percent. Palm Beach Post.

Around the nation: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is no longer recommending the people with COVID-19 stay home and isolated for at least five days. Friday, the agency said children can return to school if their symptoms improve and they’re fever-free for 24 hours. Associated Press. Demand for seats in private schools is soaring in Florida with the universal voucher law, and in other states where vouchers are being offered and eligibility is expanding. Wait lists are becoming common, and Jim Rigg, superintendent of the Miami Archdiocese’s 64 schools, said, “We are moving into growth mode. We are actively discussing new schools, either opened or reopened, over the next several years.” Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Qualified chaplains belong in prisons, hospitals and military posts, whose residents can’t seek spiritual solace elsewhere. But not in public schools. Schoolchildren are at liberty to practice religion wherever else they and their parents choose — at a church, synagogue or mosque. They should not be prey for the evangelists this legislation invites into schools. Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff