MILTON— The July 6 Santa Rosa County School Board meeting included a visit from Jessica Janasiewicz, a lobbyist who discussed multiple education-related bills that Gov. Rick Scott recently signed.
House Bill 293, which Scott signed June 2, directs the Florida Department of Education to issue a competitive solicitation for a contract to study states with high-performing sixth- through eighth-graders in reading and mathematics. The study must include a review of academic expectations and instructional strategies, attendance policies and student mobility concerns, teacher quality, middle school administrator leadership and performance, and parental and community involvement.
Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said he believes HB 293 will be beneficial; that the county needs to see what these successful schools are doing; this could help improve local schools.
HB 293 also deletes the requirement for middle school students to complete the career and education-planning course; middle schools may still offer this course as an option, but it is not mandatory. Wyrosdick said this is beneficial because the course was taking up a credit that students could be earning in other advanced courses, or remedial courses if needed; it allows for more flexibility.
Senate Bill 436, signed June 9, relates to religious expression. This bill allows students to express religious beliefs in written and oral assignments, free from discrimination; wear faith-based jewelry to the same extent as secular types of jewelry are permitted; and engage in and organize religious groups before, during and after the school day to the same extent that secular student organizations and groups are permitted.
SB 436 also allows school personnel to participate in student-led religious activities on school grounds before or after the school day, as long as they do not conflict with their duties and responsibilities.
HB 989, signed June 26, relates to instructional material and gives rights to county residents that were previously held by students’ parents only, according to Janasiewicz. It allows parents and county residents to provide the district school board evidence that instructional material for adoption by the district meets the state criteria; contains prohibited content; or is otherwise inappropriate or unsuitable. It also allows county residents to contest the adoption of the instructional material and object to the use of a material made available to students.
HB 989 also requires the process for contesting adoption of an instructional material to provide for an impartial hearing officer and to provide certain procedural protections. It requires school districts to provide access to library materials upon written request, and requires school districts to maintain a current list of purchased instructional materials on their websites.
Scott on June 26 signed HB 1109, which relates to high school athletics; this bill revises private school eligibility by allowing a private school student to participate in sports at the school where the student could choose to attend pursuant to the district’s controlled open enrollment policy, provided the public school has not reached capacity. Private school students were previously permitted to play sports at a school they were zoned for, but now they can choose where they go as long as they are eligible.