Some home-schoolers not interested in receiving vouchers, books removed, and more

Home-schoolers say no thanks: Several home-schooling organizations say they are not interested in being a part of the universal school choice bills introduced in the Legislature. S.B. 202 and H.B. 1 would make state scholarships available to all K-12 students, including those schooled at home. There are more than 150,000 home-schooled students in the state, and the bill would allow 10,000 to receive the approximately $8,000 a year from the state in the first year of the program, with the number expanding each year. But those students would have to take a national test and meet with a “choice navigator” adviser to be eligible. That’s too much state regulation for some home-school organizations. “We want home education programs to be treated separately and not be confused with families that choose to take the education savings account,” said T.J. Schmidt, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association. He said the current law has worked well for students who learn at home. “It has appropriate regulation. But it also has appropriate freedom for parents who choose to home-educate,” he said. Tampa Bay Times. Both the Senate’s and House’s school voucher bills will be considered by committees this week. S.B. 202 goes before the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee today, and H.B. 1 will get a hearing in the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix.

In the Legislature: A bill to allow people to carry guns without permits that is combined with some school safety measures was approved Monday by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Florida Politics. WJXT. Colleges and universities would be prohibited from using a person’s statements and actions regarding race or political ideologies to make hiring, promotion and admissions decisions under a pair of bills (S.B. 958 and H.B. 931) filed for the legislative session that begins March 7. Tampa Bay Times. State Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, has filed a bill that could fine and potentially jail fans who run onto or throw things on a field of play or space reserved for a performance before, during and after the event. Simon, who played football at Florida State University, proposes violators face as much as a year in jail and $2,500 fine. A companion bill, H.B. 319, was filed by state Rep. Taylor Yarkosky, R-Monteverde. Tallahassee Democrat.

Around the state: Escambia County School Board members vote to pull three books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters out of district school libraries, Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis makes his pitch for a school rezoning plan at a community meeting, the Orange County School District will soon start using six electric school buses to transport students, an Alachua school board member is calling for the district to address students’ escalating behavior problems, and Florida Atlantic University’s interim provost is apologizing for recently saying that the school treats everyone the same, regardless of whether they’re “purple” or if they have “sex with animals.” Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: Superintendent Addison Davis made a pitch at a community meeting Monday for his school redistricting plan. He said the plan moves about 15,000 students to different schools, starting in the 2024-2025 academic year, but would cut the number of very overcrowded or very undercrowded schools from 23 to 0 and save the district $14 million a year. “Any dollar that we save, my recommendation to the board is put this back into employee compensation. We have got to try to win the talent war here in Hillsborough County,” he said. More community meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, and the school board is expected to vote on the proposal Feb. 28. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS.

Orange: The school district is expected to become the first in Florida to use electric school buses to transport students. Six buses have been delivered and are being tested, and are expected to begin transporting students soon. The buses cost about $360,000 each, and were purchased with the help of a state grant. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WFTV. A 14-year-old Lake Nona High School student with spinal muscular atrophy is attending classes remotely with the help of a robot valled Vgo. “This robot gives me more freedom, it feels like I’m there,” said Shannon Hayes. “With Zoom it’s kinda more restricted. You can’t really move around, you can’t really look around. With the robot, I can look around, if I want to talk to my partner, someone sitting next to me I can do that, or if I want to ask the teacher questions. It just feels so much more interactive.” WKMG. A former training center in Orlando for the Army Reserves has been purchased and is being donated to the Cristo Rey network of Catholic schools. It will be renovated and is expected to open in the fall of 2025 for 125 9th-graders, then add a grade in each of the subsequent three years. reimaginED.

Duval: A parent is suing the school district, alleging his teacher abused him. Lachaundra Wilson said Southside Estates Elementary teacher Kerry Schwetz struck her then-4-year-old son in the head. Schwetz was not criminally charged but was placed under unvestigation, removed from the classroom and fired in February 2021. Wilson contends Schwetz should not have been in the classroom since she has a documented history of violent behavior and making insulting comments to students. WJAX.

Lee: School board members are expected to decide Wednesday on a name for the middle school being built to replace the old Lehigh Acres Middle. More than 400 names were suggested, and a naming committee forwarded six in a recommendation to the board: Arthur Middle, Central Lehigh Middle, Gerald Gould Middle, Lee Ratner Middle, Lemuel Teal Middle and Veterans Park Middle. Lehigh Acres was closed in 2021 and students were moved to a newly built school that took that name. The existing campus underwent an $18.6 million renovation and will reopen in August with 900 students. Fort Myers News-Press.

Escambia: Three books will be removed from school district libraries, the school board decided Monday. All have LGBTQ+ characters or themes, and were called “pornographic” or “obscene” in the complaint filed against them. The books are: All Boys Aren’t Blue, a novel about a boy growing up black and gay; And Tango Makes Three, a true story about two male penguins raising a chick together at a zoo; and When Aidan Became A Brother, a children’s picture book about a transgender boy becoming a big brother. WKRG.

Alachua: School board member Diyonne McGraw is pressing the district and the board to address what she called escalating student behavior problems, especially in grades 5-9. She cited an increase in verbal and physical aggression and substance abuse, and said it’s affecting students’ ability to learn and contributing to the widening achievement gap. WGFL.

Colleges and universities: Florida Atlantic University interim provost Michele Hawkins is apologizing for a statement she made recently at a faculty meeting that the school treats everyone the same, regardless of whether they’re “purple” or if they have “sex with animals.” In a subsequent e-mail to FAU faculty, Hawkins wrote, “When responding to an important question about supporting underrepresented groups, it was my intent to convey that I treat all people the same and believe all faculty deserve support. While trying to convey my beliefs, I inadvertently used regrettable language that was inconsistent with those beliefs.” Palm Beach Post. Gov. DeSantis has appointed three new trustees and reappointed another to the five-member Broward College District board. The new trustees are Fort Lauderdale lawyers Cindy Kushner and Alexis Yarbrough, and Mario Zanotti-Cavazzoni of Weston, an executive with CONMEBOL, the South American Football Association. Florida Politics. Sixteen cases of scabies have been reported in the past two weeks at the University of North Florida. Scabies is a skin condition caused by mites and is highly contagious. WJXT. University of West Florida student Maggie Brown, 19, will compete on Jeopardy! High School Reunion airing March 2. She also appeared in Jeopardy! Teen Tournament in 2018. Pensacola News Journal.

Opinions on schools: Are there, as Gov. Ron DeSantis said, probably other vendors who could do what the College Board does on both the AP program and the college entrance exam, the SAT, or maybe even a lot better? Would Florida’s high school physics teachers and students and even the professors at the state’s universities be just as happy without AP physics courses? Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff