A new bill filed by Senator Joe Gruters (Tampa) aims to require all school board meetings in Florida to be recorded and streamed live on a publicly available website as well as granting members of the public more freedom to participate in discussion.
Senate Bill 1300 (SB 1300) would mandate that a minimum of 30 minutes at the start of every school board meeting be allocated for individual members of the public and representatives of groups to freely speak on any topic relating to the meeting and its proceedings. Each speaker would be given at least 3 minutes to touch on each agenda item.
SB 1300 would additionally grant speakers the right to individually criticize members of a school board given that they maintain orderly conduct and actively contribute to the ongoing discussion of the meeting.
The bill is filed amid a rise in tensions at school board meetings not just in Florida, but nationwide, as crucial decisions regarding COVID-19 handling, school safety, and Critical Race Theory curriculums are discussed and voted on.
School board meetings grew to become a hotbed for political turmoil in states that recently held elections like Virginia where Republicans saw big victories across the board, with many voters citing school conduct during the pandemic as a persuading factor in their push to the right on ballots.
Gruters is attempting to bolster Florida’s ‘Parent’s Bill of Rights’ that Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law earlier this year, ruling that the state may not infringe on the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their child without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and that such action is narrowly tailored and is not otherwise served by a less restrictive means.
“All parental rights are reserved to the parent of a minor child in this state without obstruction or interference from the state, any of its political subdivisions, any other governmental entity, or any other institution, including, but not limited to, all of the following rights of a parent of a minor child in this state,” the text of SB 1300 states.
A proposal filed earlier this year that Gruters sponsored – Senate Joint Resolution 244 – seeks to make Florida school board elections partisan again, a regulation that has not stood since 1998. In December the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted to approve the measure 5 to 4 along party lines.
SB 1300 will be voted on during the forthcoming legislative session set to begin on January 11, and if enacted will go into effect on July 1, 2022.