Hey, students, put your phones away. Florida schools aim to reclaim attention.

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state
A sign is displayed inside a classroom that bans the use of electronic devices at Webb Middle School on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Tampa.
A sign is displayed inside a classroom that bans the use of electronic devices at Webb Middle School on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Dec. 6, 2023

The big story: Plenty of schools around Florida are talking about banning cell phone use before, during, between and after classes.

The Martin County School Board, for example, is exploring possible changes to its policies, WPBF reports.

One Hillsborough County middle school put the off and out of sight rule into practice three months ago.

So far, complaints have been few, and parents have thanked the administration. Even students have positive things to say about the change.

“Once it’s in the backpack, they just forget about it,” Aniyalis Díaz said. “My friend used to be on her phone all last year. And now that they told her to put it away, she’s getting A’s and B’s.” Read more here.

Hot topics

Absenteeism: Pasco County schools are adding four-day weekends to their student calendars, in hopes that families will use them for vacations rather than class days.

Budgets: Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his budget requests for the 2024 legislative session, including increases in teacher pay, early education and vouchers. • The Florida Education Association says the governor’s plan doesn’t do enough, WMFE reports. • Critics also noted that DeSantis proposed cuts in state employment while asking for $1 million to sue over FSU’s snub in the college football playoffs, News Service of Florida reports. More from Florida Politics. • See the budget highlights for additional information. • The Senate Education Appropriations Committee will hear a report on the recommendations at 4:15 p.m.

Library books: The Alachua County school district has again removed the graphic novel “Gender Queer” from its shelves after receiving a new set of challenges to the book, WUFT reports. The district recently returned the title to libraries after determining the initial challenge was improper.

Mental health services: Lacking adequate numbers of counselors, schools in several Florida counties are turning to teletherapy, the Associated Press reports. It’s turning into a lucrative business.

New schools: St. Lucie County is preparing for its first new high school in nearly 20 years, WPTV reports.

Sarasota scandal: Sarasota County School Board member Tom Edwards has called for the resignation of fellow board member Bridget Ziegler, calling her presence a distraction, the Herald-Tribune reports. • Ziegler’s husband, state GOP chairperson Christian Ziegler, has been accused of sexual assault by a woman who claimed to be in a consensual three-way relationship with the couple. • Top Republican officials also have called for Christian Ziegler’s removal as party leader, Associated Press reports. More from Florida Politics.

School board elections: A Crystal River City Council member has withdrawn from a special election to keep his seat, instead announcing his candidacy for Citrus County School Board, the Citrus County Chronicle reports. • Two candidates have declared they will seek the Flagler County School Board seat being vacated by six-term board member Colleen Conklin, Flagler Live reports.

School zones: Nearly 1,000 Volusia County students could be reassigned to different schools as the district redraws attendance boundaries to ease campus crowding, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

Superintendents: The Alachua County School Board delayed discussions about amending superintendent Shane Andrew’s contract, amid complaints raised by teachers and residents about some of the proposed terms, Main Street Daily News reports.

Testing: Florida is among several states where lawmakers are reconsidering student testing requirements, Politico reports.

Today in Tallahassee ... The House Postsecondary Education Committee meets at 11:30 a.m. to consider legislation renaming Tallahassee Community College. • The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 2 p.m. to discuss per student funding.

In higher ed

USF President Rhea Law will receive a $300,000 bonus after trustees praised her leadership during a "banner year" for the school.
USF President Rhea Law will receive a $300,000 bonus after trustees praised her leadership during a "banner year" for the school. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

University of South Florida president Rhea Law is getting a $300,000 bonus. Trustees praised her leadership in a “banner year.”

Whither the Tampa 5? Students arrested during a spring protest at USF took a plea deal that assigns them to community service and bars them from campus for a year.

USF trustees committed the school to respecting students’ free speech rights. They said allowing students to speak is not the same as endorsing what they say.

About that new football stadium ... USF officials said it will have to wait until 2027.

Don’t miss a story. Here’s a link to yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... Are you ready to geek out on some math?

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Spotlight on education

The public is invited to a community conversation about the future of Florida public schools on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the Tampa Theatre, hosted by the Tampa Bay Times. In the second installment of the Spotlight Tampa Bay series, Times journalists will moderate a discussion by experts, followed by a panel featuring students. Tickets are $20; $10 for students. Proceeds benefit the Times’ Journalism Fund. To purchase tickets, click here.