Bill that reshapes FHSAA, high school sports signed into law by Gov. DeSantis

Beachside and Tocoi Creek, St. Johns County's newest high schools, faced off in the Football Friday Game of the Week on Friday night. (Kevin Nguyen, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that shakes up the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board structure and gives control to the state, further eases restrictions on athletes in virtual and charter schools, and allows pregame remarks like prayer and state series games.

DeSantis signed HB 225 and four other bills — dubbed Let Kids Be Kids — into law late last week at Cambridge Christian in Tampa. The location was a not-so-subtle jab at the FHSAA, which didn’t allow a pregame prayer over the PA system before the Class 2A state championship game against University Christian in 2015. That prompted a legal fight, and the Florida Department of Education backed Cambridge Christian in the dispute.

“Florida is proud to lead the way in standing up for our children,” DeSantis said in a statement. “As the world goes mad, Florida represents a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy.”

Under HB 225, teams will be permitted to have remarks not to exceed two minutes prior to state series events like championships or semifinals. The FHSAA is not permitted to monitor or review the remarks. Those rules only apply to state series and not regular season events. Individual schools can decide whether to allow remarks before those games.

Among some of the notable changes for charter and virtual school students are the ability to participate in athletics in the public school in their assigned zone or come to an agreement with a private school that would allow them to play.

Students who transfer from a public school when playing a sport “must be allowed to continue to participate in the activity at that school for the remainder of the school year” if conditions such as grade eligibility are met.

Other notable items in the bill include a major change to the FHSAA’s board of directors, and the hiring of the executive director must be approved by the State Board of Education.

Earlier versions of the bill had the FHSAA board, which has 16 members, being trimmed to nine. The bulk of those appointees (eight) would have been selected by DeSantis. In a revision by the Senate, the new board has 13 members — eight appointed by DeSantis, four elected board members and the commissioner of education or their designee. It also struck the need for the board to be balanced for diversity.

The bill also says that should the FHSAA not comply, the education commissioner would then designate a nonprofit organization to govern high school athletics in Florida. The FHSAA has been in the crosshairs of state legislators for more than a decade. In 2012, then Gov. Rick Scott signed HB1403, a bill that loosened the association’s grip on transfer and eligibility issues, among other things.

HB 225 passed the Senate 28-12 on a straight party-line vote, with Republicans unanimously supporting it and Democrats against it.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.