DOE finds ‘probable cause’ to punish Leon superintendent for ‘politically charged statements,’ tax-cut holidays, and more

Tax-cut package approved: A nearly $1.4 billion tax-cut package was unanimously approved Thursday by the Florida House. It includes two 14-day back-to-school tax holidays making purchases for such things as clothes, school supplies and computers tax-exempt. The holidays would be held before the fall and spring terms. The Senate version also calls for the back-to-school tax holidays, but only about $1 billion in overall tax breaks. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she expects Senate and House budget negotiators to finish their work today or tomorrow and have a final budget on the desks of legislators by Monday night or Tuesday. It will have to be approved by Tuesday for the session to end as scheduled May 5. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Once again this year, legislators have used a bill that started as one thing morph into another as a wide range of amendments were tacked onto it. This time it’s H.B. 1537, which began as a proposal focusing primarily on teacher certification and preparation but acquired another 20-plus amendments by the time it was approved in the House. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: The Florida Department of Education said it has found “probable cause” to impose sanctions against Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna that range from a reprimand to a revokation of his educator license, Miami-Dade school officials are asking state and federal officials for funding to handle an influx of immigrant students, 60 electric school buses are delivered to the Broward County School District, the three finalists for the Brevard County school superintendent’s job are interviewed, and some Florida parents say false threats reported anonymously through the FortifyFL mobile app used by most school districts are causing anxiety among students. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School district officials are lobbying lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington for additional funding to accommodate the recent influx of immigrant students. Since August, about 19,000 immigrant students have enrolled in county schools. More than 9,500 are from Cuba, up from just under 3,000 a year ago. Another 2,500 have come from Nicaragua and Venezuela. The growth has also outstripped the district’s ability to find teachers for those students who only speak other languages. CBS News. A Miami-Dade school resource officer who was rushing to an emergency at another school was injured when his car ran into another Thursday afternoon at an intersection in Hialeah. The officer, who was not identified, was airlifted to a hospital and is reported in stable condition. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Broward: Sixty electric school buses have been delivered and will be added to the school district fleet for the 2023-2024 school year, replacing diesel buses and making Broward the first district in the state to go electric. The $14.8 million project was funded by a grant from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, and the charging equipment is being supplied by Florida Power & Light. Each bus carries 72 passengers and has a range of 120 miles after a 3.5-hour charge. WFOR.

Orange: School board members are considering joining with eight other districts in Florida and elsewhere in suing Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok for damages to students who used the platforms. Social media exposes students to online bullying, harassment and threats that contribute to mental health issues, according to district officials. WMFE.

Brevard: Three finalists for the school superintendent’s job were interviewed Thursday by school board members, touching on organizational structure, achievement gaps, staff recruitment and teacher retention, career and technical education, and more. The board is expected to make a final decision next week. The candidates are Mark Rendell, the principal of Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High since 2019 and superintendent of the Indian River County School District from 2015 to 2019; Scott Schneider, the chief of schools for the Duval County School District since 2021; and Jason Wysong, deputy superintendent for the Seminole County School District since 2021. Florida Today. WOFL.

Leon: Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said in a letter this month that there is probable cause to “justify sanctions” against district Superintendent Rocky Hanna, a frequent and outspoken critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education policies. Possible penalties range from a reprimand, fine, probation, restriction of practice, suspension of no more than five years, revocation of no more than 10 years or a permanent revocation of his teaching license. Diaz cited several examples in claiming that Hanna’s “politically charged statements, when expressed by him to educators, have the potential of disseminating in the classrooms of those educators.” Hanna called the DOE investigation “overly political,” and said, “It’s a sad day for democracy in Florida, and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, when a state agency with unlimited power and resources, can target a local elected official in such a biased fashion.” Hanna can request a formal or informal hearing with the Division of Administrative Hearings, agree to a settlement or surrender his teaching certification. Tallahassee Democrat. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WFSU. Tallahassee Reports.

Monroe: School board members voted unanimously this week to move ahead with Phase 1 of a $20 million project to make extensive renovations to the Key West High School football and baseball stadiums. A new concession stand and larger press box for the baseball team were added to the project before the vote. Florida Keys Weekly. Key West Citizen.

Liberty: District schools are closed today after a severe storm swept through the county Thursday, causing property damage and power outages. Superintendent Kyle Peddie said several homes were destroyed in the area north of Hosford. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: The former executive vice president of Southeastern University in Lakeland was sentenced this week to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding the school out of $155,000 during a website redesign project. Brian Carroll, 47, must also forfeit proceeds from the crime and pay restitution. Associated Press.

False alarm threats: Some Florida parents say false threats reported anonymously through the FortifyFL mobile app used by most school districts are causing anxiety among students and risk desensitizing them in a way that could jeopardize their safety during a real emergency. “It’s like the boy who cried wolf,” said Rebecca Diotte, whose daughter attends Parrish Community High School in Manatee County. “When something really does happen, nobody’s going to believe it.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Around the nation: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys of high school students show that they are struggling with mental health challenges, widespread community, physical and sexual violence, and substance use. The 2021 surveys show that 1 in 5 high school students said they witnessed violence in their communities, 3.5 percent said they carried a gun, almost 9 percent said they’d been forced into sex in their life, a third of female students said they had considered suicide in the past year, and more than 13 percent said they’d attempted suicide. Politico.

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BY NextSteps staff