Later start times for middle and high schools, phone and social media limits, and more

Later school start times: A bill that would push back school start times for middle and high school students drew bipartisan support in sailing through a House subcommittee Thursday. The bill, which would require middle schools to not start earlier than 8 a.m. and high school classes before 8:30 a.m., is following scientific studies showing that teenagers struggle to fall asleep before 10 or 11 p.m. and to wake before 8 a.m. “As educators, what are we there to do? It’s the academics,” said bill sponsor Rep. John Paul Temple, R-Wildwood Republican, who works as a Sumter County schools administrator. “Adjusting the start time will definitely have a positive impact.” Among those impacts are better academic outcomes, attendance and safety issues. If the bill is approved and signed into law, it would take effect in the fall of 2026. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. WFSU. Tallahassee Democrat.

Also in the Legislature: Students would be barred from using their cell phone during instructional time and access to social media sites such as TikTok would be blocked under a bill introduced Thursday in the House. H.B. 379 would require school districts to add code of conduct rules banning students from using phones during classes. “It’s kind of an uphill battle that a lot of parents are facing right now with social media impacts,” said state Rep. Katherine Waldron, D-Wellington. “This is going to help the parents a bit, I think.” Politico Florida. Charter school and Florida Virtual School students would be able to play sports at private schools under a bill that was approved Thursday by the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee. Only home-schooled students are granted that option right now. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Hillsborough school board members balk again at a rezoning plan and call for changes, the Duval official leading the review of school books resigns after saying gay characters in one book are “contrary to the design of humanity,” a gay Sarasota school board member is attacked and disparaged by a speaker at this week’s meeting, interim New College of Florida president Richard Corcoran said he has no plans to fire tenured faculty and current students will be able to continue to design their own courses, and a new survey suggests Floridians favor the proposed expansion of school choice but are opposed to partisan school board races and banning diversity programs on college campuses. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: School board members sent a message to Superintendent Addison Davis during a Thursday workshop meeting: They want to improve struggling schools, not close them. The district should consider adding K-8 schools, hold onto old schools instead of selling them, and send students to schools in their neighborhoods. Most of the ideas come with a cost, and cutting costs was one of Davis’ goals for his rezoning plan, which would move about 15,000 students to ease overcrowding at some schools and underenrollment at others, and close down a dozen schools. After spring break, Davis said he and other district officials will try to incorporate the ideas into yet another version of the plan. When the district began discussing the rezoning, the intent was to begin implementation in the fall. Now the target is August 2024. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Duval: The district’s supervisor of instructional materials and media services has resigned after calling gay characters in one book “contrary to the design of humanity.” Michelle DiBias was helping lead the district’s review of school books. In her review of Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, about an adult lesbian couple, she said that the book was “teaching a lifestyle contrary to the design of humanity” and “morally damning to a student,” and recommended it be removed from all shelves. Jacksonville Today.

Polk: A school bus attendant has been arrested and accused of striking an 11-year-old nine times with a belt in November. Loni Covington, 33, is charged with felony child abuse without bodily harm. A school spokesman said Covington resigned in December after the district began the process of firing her. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG.

Volusia: A former math teacher at Deltona Middle School has pleaded no contest to charges of child abuse and tampering for kissing a 15-year student in his classroom in 2022 and then asking another student to not say anything about it to law enforcement. Carlos Aguirre Rendon was sentenced to five years probation and is required to register as a sex offender. WESH.

Sarasota: School board member Thomas Edwards was denounced by a speaker at this week’s school board meeting, prompting an apology to Edwards from board chair Bridget Ziegler. Edwards, who is gay, was called an “LGBT groomer” and “a threat to the innocence of our children” by Melissa Bakondy, a former member of the conservative group Moms for Liberty. “That was wildly uncomfortable and inappropriate, and I apologize to Mr. Edwards,” Ziegler said. “Just as much as I do not believe anyone’s sexual orientation should be discussed in a classroom or in an office, I do not believe it’s relevant or should be discussed at this dais or in these chambers.” Edwards said he’s used to being verbally attacked, but said Ziegler should shut down hateful comments. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Clay: St. Johns Classical Academy is opening a school this fall in Orange Park. It starts as a K-4 school, and expands by a grade every year until it’s a K-12 school. According to the school’s mission statement, “St. Johns Classical Academy seeks to provide an excellent and distinctive education that pursues knowledge, promotes virtue and prepares scholars for civic responsibility. SJCA is committed to building intelligent, virtuous American citizens. St. Johns Classical Academy is a tuition-free, Hillsdale College member charter school dedicated to providing classical education for northeast Florida scholars.” Clay Today.

Martin: Ninety-two books have been pulled from school bookshelves or been restricted to certain age groups, school officials said this week, When a complaint about a book is received, principals have 15 days to respond. If the issue can’t be resolved at that level, the complaint is sent along to county curriculum leaders for consideration. WPTV.

Flagler: School board member Sally Hunt told an online publication Thursday that she had resigned her seat, then a few hours claimed in a text to the same publication that she hadn’t resigned. She also implied to others that she written a resignation letter to the governor, but didn’t follow through on mailing it. Hunt has been under fire recently for pushing to end Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s tenure. Flagler Live. A judge has granted a permanent injunction for a Matanzas High School teacher’s aide against a student who is accused of attacking her at school. Joan Naydich, 57, suffered two broken ribs and multiple bruises. The 17-year-old student, who has special needs, has been charged with aggravated battery. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WESH. WKMG.

Gadsden: Members of the community had harsh words for school officials at a recent school board meeting. Teachers aren’t being paid on time, schools need structural upgrades and the district has spent only 48 percent of federal coronavirus relief funds it has received, they said. In a statement, Superintendent Elijah Key wrote: “Although minor glitches may occur such as when employees receive stipends or change employment status, the district generally pays its employees on time.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Colleges and universities: Interim New College of Florida president Richard Corcoran said in an e-mail to faculty and students that he has no plans to fire tenured faculty and current students will be able to continue in the school’s unorthodox academic system, which allows students to design their own courses and doesn’t include grades. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Gateway College will open a building for students this summer in Bell. “We are a rural community within Gilchrist County, so we’re hoping and the college is also hoping to increase their presence here and just offer post-secondary for the students here without having to drive a tremendous distance,” said Dorota Micale, director of career and technical education for the county school district, which is partnering in the project with FGC. WCJB. Laura Rosenbury, dean of University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, has been named president of Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts college in New York City. Mainstreet Daily News.

Survey on school issues: Floridians support the bill that would expand student eligibility for state scholarships to attend private schools, according to a survey released Thursday by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab. About 53 percent say they back the bill, while 39 percent don’t. But 65 percent said they oppose a proposal to make local school board races partisan, and 61 percent are against a bill that would ban diversity, equity, inclusion and critical race theory programs on state college and university campuses. Florida Politics. Tallahassee Democrat.

Around the nation: President Joe Biden is proposing a budget that includes $90 billion for the U.S. Department of Education. That’s an increase of 13.6 percent over the current budget year. High-poverty schools and special education services are the two largest spending categories proposed, with $20.5 billion earmarked for Title I schools and $16.8 billion for pre-K-12 special education services. K-12 Dive. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved a bill that would mandate parents’ rights. It’s expected to be approved by the Republican-controlled House on March 20, and then move to the Democratic-majority Senate where its chances for passage are less favorable. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: The drive for education savings accounts is decades in the making, and advocates are preparing for the pushback from critics. Adam Peshek, Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Efforts to disrupt the state’s higher education system are troubling but also puzzling because by most measures, our universities serve our state extremely well. Elizabeth Strom, Tampa Bay Times.

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