DEI references dropped from higher ed bill, House’s $1.4B tax-cut package, flooding rains close Broward schools, and more

DEI references out of bill: Targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs was a primary part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to overhaul higher education. Now, references to DEI have been scrubbed from the bill that was approved Wednesday by a Senate committee. Instead, it limits spending on a broader set of themes, and universities would be required to ensure programs do not delve into “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political and economic inequities.” Also revised are state universities’ hiring practices and accreditation protocols, and a provision that would have allowed tenured faculty to be subject to review at any time. Despite the changes, the bill was still heavily criticized at Wednesday’s hearing by faculty members and students who say the law is too vague and would “chill and censor pedagogically relevant speech” on campuses. The House version has significant differences from the Senate’s, including as calling for the elimination of any majors or minors tied to critical race theory and specifically targeting “Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Radical Feminist Theory, Radical Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Social Justice, or Intersectionality.” Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. Politico FloridaFlorida Phoenix. WPTV. WCTV.

House’s tax cuts bill: The House has proposed a $1.4 billion tax-cut package that includes some, but not all, of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposals. They agree on creating two back-to-school tax holidays and permanently eliminating taxes on diapers, but the House is proposing to pause the tax on the purchase of gas stoves and on children’s toys and athletic gear for a year instead of permanently, and calls for a two-week tax break on pet food and household items instead of a year-long break as DeSantis proposed. The Senate hasn’t created its bill yet, but is expected to follow the House’s. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: Free period products would be made available in schools under a bill approved this week by a House committee. A companion bill is under consideration in the Senate. Florida Politics. A bill that would restrict the way operators of websites and applications used in schools can collect and use students’ data was approved Wednesday by the Senate. The House version has to clear another committee before a floor vote. News Service of Florida. Legal experts say a state legislator’s tirade this week against transgender people could provoke legal challenges if the bill that restricts bathroom use in schools and elsewhere by gender at birth becomes a law. USA Today Florida Network.

Around the state: Heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding this week is forcing the closure of Broward County schools today, Brevard sets a book review policy that does not give media specialists a vote on book challenges, 12 semifinalists have been chosen for the Manatee County school superintendent’s job, some Hernando parents want a teacher fired for remarks she made that launched an investigation and caused deputies to remove guns from her house, committee members have been chosen to search for a president for New College of Florida, the Florida Prepaid program has used TikTok ads to boost enrollment even as the state tries to outlaw the app in schools and universities, and a private school in Pinellas County lets students decide whether to hold classes, hire and fire school staff, and more. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Schools are closed today after heavy rainfall this week caused severe flooding throughout the county Wednesday . Several Broward cities are under a flash-flood emergency. A decision on whether schools will be open Friday will be made later today. Updates will be posted on the district website, on social media and through the parent portal. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: District officials are asking the school board to move ahead with two parts of the long-delayed plan to revise attendance boundaries as a way to save money and relieve overcrowded schools. Tuesday, the board is being asked to approve the closing of West Tampa’s Just Elementary School and the creation of a K-8 school in Carrollwood. Just Elementary’s enrollment is down to 300 and it’s the district’s only F-rated school. It would be “repurposed,” administrators said, and students would be moved to Booker T. Washington Elementary or Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary. Also on the agenda is turning Carrollwood Elementary into a K-8 by adding one grade in each of the next three years. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: School board members have struggled to make changes to the district’s equity policy that the state will approve. The latest version discussed this week promises “every child will be taught in an inclusive environment to develop their full academic and social potential to set them up for success in the classroom and after graduation.” But settling on a final statement has been difficult, said board member Alexandria Ayala, because the state has rejected previous proposals without explaining why. “We don’t have guidance from the Department of Education. So that’s what’s making this a bit tricky,” she said. WPEC.

Duval: New rules governing what bathrooms and locker rooms students can use and protocols for overnight trips were discussed by a school district committee Wednesday. Students will have to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender at birth, or use single-occupancy rest rooms, and parents must approve any overnight trips that include room assignments for one or more students who are not being separated by birth gender. The committee also proposed rules on renaming schools or school facilities. Any rules changes will have to be approved by the school board. WJXT.

Polk: Lori Cunningham, who has held the District 2 school board seat for nearly two decades, announced Wednesday that she will retire when her term ends in December 2024. Cunningham was the board chair through part of the pandemic when the district locked down schools, distributed more than 100,000 electronic devices to students so they could attend classes remotely, and imposed mask mandates. In August 2021, though, she criticized mask mandates, calling them “stupid” and saying she hadn’t seen any evidence that they worked. Lakeland Now. A student at Davenport High School was arrested Wednesday after allegedly bringing a Taser to school. Administrators said no students were threatened. WESH.

Pinellas: Among the private schools that could benefit from the state’s new universal school choice bill is one in Palm Harbor where the students hire and fire staff, decide whether to expel students or hold classes and what, if anything, they want to learn. Spring Valley School has about three-dozen students whose parents pay $7,389 in tuition and, generally, stay out of the students’ business. “It’s something we talk about when they enroll,” said school founder Diane Ballou. “They must learn to trust the student, and the environment, to figure it out on their own. And for some parents that is hard.” The school, which opened in 1997, is modeled after the Sudbury Valley School founded in Massachusetts in 1968. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: A district media specialist will chair the committee that will review books after a challenge is received, but will not have a vote on whether the book is removed or restricted. School board members will appoint the other members of the committee, who will have votes. The board decided this week to relaunch the review committee after it was put on pause in November. School board members also approved a policy restricting students’ use of cell phones and other electronic devices in class without permission. Florida Today.

Manatee: Twelve semifinalists have been chosen for the superintendent’s job that will open when Cynthia Saunders retires at the end of June. All but two work at districts in Florida, but only one is employed in Manatee County: Doug Wagner, deputy superintendent of operations. Finalists will be announced April 28. The new superintendent will be selected May 16, and start July 1. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

St. Johns: A short documentary by three students at Landrum Middle School in Ponte Vedra Beach won honorable mention in the national StudentCam competition sponsored by C-SPAN. Anna Dumitrascu, Vailoces Miller and Caroline Van Essendelft made Memorializing Black History, about black civil rights history in Lincolnville. It’s one of 150 U.S. student films honored. Florida Times-Union.

Escambia: More than 100 school library books have been challenged for inappropriate content and are under review. Here’s the full list of those books, why they’re being challenged, the submitted forms, the reviews, the district committee decision, any appeals filed and the school board decisions. Pensacola News Journal.

Hernando: Parents voiced their concerns at a school board meeting this week about recent comments made by a Fox Chapel Middle School teacher, and some called for her firing. What the teacher said to a colleague has not been publicly revealed, but it was concerning enough that district officials put the teacher on leave during the subsequent investigation and deputies confiscated guns from her home. Superintendent John Stratton said both the district and the sheriff’s office determined there was no imminent threat, and the teacher is back in the classroom. Spectrum News 9. WTVT.

Citrus: School board members have revised the district’s policy on dealing with objections to classroom instructional materials to align with state law. The board also renewed a contract with the University of Florida to supply athletic trainers for the district’s three public high schools and four middle schools during the 2023-2024 school year. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Fourteen people have been appointed to a committee to search for the next president of New College of Florida. Richard Corcoran was appointed as the interim president in late January after trustees fired president Patricia Okker. Trustee Matthew Spalding, a professor at Hillsdale College in Michigan that is the model for what Gov. DeSantis wants New College to become, will chair the search. Others on the committee include Bridget Ziegler, chair of the Sarasota County School Board, and state Sen. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota. WUSF. St. Petersburg College is launching a program that will allow 2023 graduates from Northeast, Clearwater, Lakewood, Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs high schools to earn an associate’s degree free of tuition and fees. Tampa Bay Times. Eckerd College in St. Petersburg held its 11th pet graduation this week to honor seniors’ pets with certificates. Each pet was called by name to the stage for a photo with President James J. Annarelli. Tampa Bay Times.

State TikTok ads: Even as state officials warned about the dangers of the TikTok app and tried to get it banned in schools, the Florida Prepaid program was spending $30,516 for ads on the platform to boost enrollment. The ads generated 9 million views and enrollment went up 7 percent over last year, when TikTok was not part of the marketing campaign. When asked for a comment, a spokesman for state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said, “The CFO believes Florida Prepaid should end their relationship with TikTok.” WFTV.

Opinions on schools: So here we are, with a Republican Party of Florida that apparently tolerates a state legislator calling transgender people “mutants, demons and imps” in a public forum. Maybe the GOP will prove us wrong and censure state Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, but we doubt it. Miami Herald. State Rep. Barnaby did accomplish something with his transphobic remarks. He exposed the uneasy silence of too many Republicans who may not hate or fear gay people, but who are passively going along with their leadership. Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff