Florida K-12 students to learn lessons of ‘evils of communism,’ charter conversion fails, and more

Communism classes: Florida’s K-12 students will start learning about the history of communism in the 2026-2027 school year under a bill that was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. “We’re going to tell the truth about the evils of communism, about the unprecedented death toll at the hands of communist tyranny,” said DeSantis, who blamed the ideology for 100 million casualties over the decades. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. added that the age-appropriate lessons will ensure that history is not repeated when it comes to the “devil that is communism.” Miami Herald. USA Today Florida Network. News Service of Florida. Florida PoliticsWPLG. WTVJ. WFOR. Axios.

BOE puts onus on principals: A rule approved Wednesday by the Florida Board of Education places the responsibility of making sure K-12 students have access to “appropriate” reading materials in schools on principals. Those school leaders who violate the rule by removing books or allowing school employees to do so without assessing if the materials were inappropriate could have their educator’s certificate suspended or revoked. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. Broward’s school board has agreed to the state’s demand that it pay $80 million to charter schools over the next three years for not sharing revenue from a 2018 tax referendum. BOE officials said the first payment of one-third of the debt plus interest is due to 87 charter schools July 10, with half the remaining balance plus interest due July 10, 2025 and the balance plus interest being paid July 10, 2026. The board also put off levying penalties against the district for their previous noncompliance. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. Florida Department of Education. The BOE also approved the addition of three bachelor’s degree programs at St. Petersburg College and one at Florida Gateway College in Lake City. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: A proposal to convert three Alachua County schools in Newberry into charter schools failed in a vote by parents and teachers at the schools although one of the results is being challenged, non-teaching Brevard school employees may be allowed to carry guns in schools after the guardian program got the school board’s approval, the University of Florida has helped create an online school safety dashboard posting information on everything from violence in schools to mental health resources, Hillsborough county commissioners are asking voters in November to approve a community investment tax that benefits schools, and protestors in Escambia are demanding that 163 school books still unaccessible to students while they’re being evaluated for appropriateness be freed from “book jail.” Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: An information technology employee at Bob Graham K-8 Education Center in Miami Lakes who was arrested April 8 and accused of molesting students was found dead this week from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Martin Zaretsky, 50, was discovered in his Broward County home Monday. WPLG.

Broward: Newly named Superintendent Howard Hepburn steps into a job that will require difficult decisions to be made in a hurry. Enrollment continues to shrink, and that means a loss of millions of dollars from the state and tighter budgets. It also means many schools are underused and costly to maintain, and the district has begun to consider closing or repurposing them to save money. At Tuesday’s meeting in which they hired Hepburn, school board members also expressed impatience with the pace of the planning. Hepburn told school board members that the “May 14 workshop will include a lot of quantitative data that helps to defend the decision-making about why certain options were chosen, why certain school closures should be expected and also outlining next steps thereafter.” Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: County commissioners decided Wednesday to ask voters in November to renew the half-cent community investment tax that has helped pay for county and school projects for the past 28 years. If it’s approved, the school district’s share of the tax would drop from 25 percent to 5 percent. That 5 percent is projected to raise $187 million for schools over the 15-year life of the tax. WTSP.

Duval, Putnam: A school bus driver is being called a hero for protecting her students when the bus got caught in the middle of a shootout at an apartment complex Monday in Jacksonville. Carole Houston had just stopped to drop off students from the Young Kids in Motion K-12 private school when a bullet went through her windshield. “All I know is to get down and save my babies,” she said. “I had 30 babies on there, 31 including myself. I got down, the bus was still rolling, it was still in drive. I ended up getting all my babies down on the floor,” and then she drove off to safety. WTLV. A math teacher at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts has been removed from the classroom after his arrest in February. Chris Allen-Black is accused of exposing himself at Walt Disney’s Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista. He’s the fifth teacher removed from the school since March 2023. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV. The Duval and Putnam school districts are the latest to join a class-action lawsuit against major social media platforms for the impact they’ve had on the mental health of students. WJXT.

Polk: A 6-year-old student getting off a school bus Wednesday afternoon in Haines City was struck by a car. The student was taken to the hospital as a precaution, and the investigation is continuing. WTSP. WFTS. WFLA.

Pinellas, Pasco: These two school districts won’t be changing school start times for the 2024-2025 school year, as they continue to work on their plans to comply with a law that requires later start times for middle and high schools by July of 2026. Middle schools can’t start before 8 a.m. and high schools before 8:30 a.m. under the law. Clint Herbic, the Pinellas district’s chief operating officer, said making the changes is a “huge undertaking” that affects parents, students, school staff and municipalities. WUSF.

Brevard: Non-teaching school employees may be allowed to carry guns in schools after the school board approved the district’s participation in the state’s guardian program. Superintendent Mark Rendell said the next step is to establish a timeline for implementation, since the training is likely to take place in the summer. Florida Today.

Escambia: Dozens of protestors against book removals and restrictions rallied this week to demand that 163 school books still inaccessible to students while they’re being evaluated for appropriateness be freed from “book jail.” The books have been off-limits for much of the past two years. The district has averaged 11 book reviews a year, and at that pace it would take years to evaluate the remainder of the current reconsideration list. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: Proposals to convert three public schools in Newberry into charters schools have failed, Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton announced Wednesday, though the votes from Newberry Elementary are being contested. Votes from parents and teachers at each school were counted separately, and the initiative had to be approved by more than 50 percent of eligible voters from both groups to move forward. The vote from Newberry Elementary was the closest, with parents narrowly approving and teachers falling one vote short of approval. Oak View Middle parents and teachers overwhelmingly rejected the conversion, while Newberry High’s teachers approved it but parents did not. Advocates of the conversions said they will ask the state to intervene in a dispute over the elementary school vote. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. WUFT. Mainstreet Daily News. Alachua Chronicle. School board members have tentatively approved year-round schedules for Rawlings and Metcalfe elementary schools. The schools are taking part in a state pilot program to measure the effectiveness of year-round schooling. Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Martin: School officials are discussing the possibility of starting their own Florida Virtual School franchise this fall to give students more learning options. “Some learners love the online platform … and they feel more comfortable doing that,” said assistant superintendent Troy LaBarbara. “Some students, and we’re learning the majority, love a face-to-face teacher but we want to give our students the best of both worlds.” The only subjects offered would be driver’s education, physical education and K-12 Spanish. WPBF.

Flagler: District officials told the school board this week that they had recovered about $20,000 of the $719,000 stolen from the district in a phishing scheme last fall, and that they are preparing to file a lawsuit. The money was supposed to be a payment to a contractor working on the $22.6 million expansion at Matanzas High School. But the payment was wrongly redirected to someone other than the contractor. Flagler Live.

Gadsden: State funding for a proposed K-8 school in Quincy is in jeopardy if construction doesn’t begin soon, school board members were told this week. The project was approved in 2022, and the school district received $35 million from the state last August for Phase 1. However, the board and the county commission can’t agree whether to tear down James A. Shanks Middle School in Quincy, the property the district wants to use for the new school. A final meeting is scheduled April 23 to determine a location. WFSU.

Colleges and universities: The state’s latest survey on college campuses is asking students if they’re finding it difficult to maintain relationships with people who have different political views or voted for a certain candidate. Critics say some of the 52 questions don’t have enough options for answers, and that too many focus solely on the dynamic between liberals and conservatives. Fresh Take Florida. Tallahassee Community College trustees officially adopted the school’s new name, Tallahassee State College, this week and introduced its new academic seal. Tallahassee Democrat. The University of South Florida is the latest school to offer a course about Taylor Swift. Students taking the elective English class in the fall will discuss Swift’s impact and compare her music to the writings of Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Byron. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety dashboard: The University of Florida and the Safe Schools for Alex organization have collaborated to create a school safety dashboard that provides a single point of online information on everything from violence in schools to mental health resources. The goal is to “provide transparency around school safety metrics but also do it in a way that helps contextualize that data and use that data in conversations about how to make schools safer,” said Chris Curran, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at UF. WPTV.

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BY NextSteps staff