TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Sen. Alexis Calatayud (R-Miami) introduced legislation to create a “Teachers’ Bill of Rights,” aimed at changing the rules around how teachers are certified, disciplined, and investigated by state officials.

Calatayud’s Senate Bill 244 creates the Teacher Apprenticeship Program, introduces new eligibility criteria for Florida’s Dual Enrollment Educator Scholarship, makes new requirements for the Florida Department of Education’s Board of Governors to administer the new scholarships it created, and among other provisions, provides new regulations for teachers’ mentorships.

The Heroes in the Classroom program for retired military and first responders who become full-time teachers would also be established by the bill, if it passes.

Additionally, SB 244 changes how the FDOE manages its various duties. It creates the Office of Inspector General within the Office of the Commissioner of Education, to investigate “allegations or reports of suspected violations of a student’s, parent’s, or teacher’s rights.”

The Teachers’ Bill of Rights was proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January as part of a promise to protect teachers from being disciplined by school districts for following state education laws.

For students enrolled in a state-approved teacher preparation program, which the bill creates, a state university will be able to waive 100% of tuition and fees for the equivalent course if the student is a Florida resident and has earned at least 60 credit hours toward a degree within two academic years of enrollment in a public Florida postsecondary institution.

The Board of Governors would also adopt eight Programs of Strategic Emphasis in science, technology, engineering, or math. Two programs will also be focused on analyzing the “critical workforce gap” that a student can be eligible for authorized tuition and fee waivers.

Those waivers are applicable only to upper-level courses, according to the bill, and cover up to 110% of required credit hours the student is enrolled in for a baccalaureate degree.

Students benefiting from the proposed program would need to be a certified teacher for grades 9-12 in Florida public school districts, as well as be accepted into or enrolled in an approved graduate program in a subject area of their certification.

Dual Enrollment scholarship recipients must agree to complete a graduate degree program with additional credentials within three years of receiving the award. After, they have to teach a general education course in Florida and remain in the district, or another eligible district, for at least three school years.

Scholarships would cover the full cost of tuition and fees as well as a book stipend each semester. Those who do not finish teaching the required number of years after receiving scholarships would owe the funds back to FDOE, though they can be given additional time to meet the service requirement if there are “circumstances beyond the control of the teacher” that contributed to the failure.

Similar rules would apply to Teacher Apprenticeship Program participants. The program is set up to make “an alternative pathway for individuals to enter the teaching profession,” and is to be administered by FDOE.

Eligible participants must have an associate’s degree from an accredited institution, earn at least a 3.0 grade point average, pass a background check, and receive temporary apprenticeship certification.

If they take part in the program, teachers would have to finish two years of apprenticeship and earn a professional certificate. They may also serve as mentors for the program afterward, and would require at least seven years of teaching experience to be an eligible mentor.

The Heroes program is also set up for creating teacher certification options for retired first responders and military veterans. To be eligible, applicants must have supportive documentation showing they have not been subject to disciplinary action during the most recent five years of their service or employment, including suspensions, dismissals, and involuntary demotions. To be involved, they have to commit to employment with a district or charter school for at least two years.

Participants are eligible for bonuses based on program completion, but if they leave their teaching employment early, they must reimburse the state of Florida for the bonus amount they received.

Concerning protections for teaching staff, SB 244 sets up new rules for discipline of Florida educators.

“A teacher, except in cases of excessive force or cruel and unusual punishment, may not be held civilly or criminally liable for actions carried out in conformity with State Board of Education rules,” the bill reads. Additionally, “a teacher shall have access to liability coverage, subject to the General Appropriations Act, through the educator liability insurance program.”

Teachers can get reimbursed for legal fees if they are charged with civil or criminal actions for the performance of their responsibilities. As written, the bill also makes it so all Florida students and employees of public K-20 institutions, essentially kindergarten through college, are protected from discrimination.

“All students and public K-20 educational institution employees, including teachers, have the right to be free from discrimination in public K-20 educational institutions,” the bill says. Pursuant to state statutes, those individuals “may bring an action for equitable relief, attorney fees, and court costs as determined by the court.”

Teachers will also be given the “right to control the classroom,” when it comes to disciplining students and creating rules of conduct for their classes. The rules will be established and implemented by teachers, and are “designed to change behavior,” as related to class conduct and infractions.

Disobedient, disrespectful, violent, abusive, uncontrollable, or disruptive students will be “removed from the classroom for behavior management intervention.” Additionally, those students will be directed to school or district personnel for information and assistance, and school rules will be enforced on school property, during school-sponsored transportation, and school-sponsored events, according to SB 244.

Educators and other school personnel will also be able to press charges if they believe a crime was committed on campus, or during school transport or activities. If a teacher faces litigation or sanctions for actions they take for those purposes, the bill sets up a “rebuttable presumption” that the actions were needed to “restore or maintain the safety or educational atmosphere of his or her classroom.”

Should a teacher be directed by district staff to “violate general law or state board rules,” they would be enabled to request the Florida commissioner of Education to appoint a special magistrate from the Florida Bar to investigate. A decision for resolution would have to be rendered within 30 days of the request. Afterward, the Florida State Board of Education would have to approve or reject the recommendation at the next scheduled meeting, with the costs to be covered by school districts.

If a district is found to have violated general law or state board rules, they can withhold superintendent salaries until violations are corrected. Should the bill pass the legislature, it would take effect July 1.