School board members 'quite shocked' as they get sucked into DeSantis' complex political arena

About two weeks ago, Brevard County school board member Jennifer Jenkins got a call from U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign. It was about a potential running mate for Crist.

“They gave me a call and asked me if I would be willing to be placed on that list and considered, and, of course, I was super humbly grateful and — you know, if I’m being honest, I legitimately responded with ‘Why?'” she told the Florida Phoenix. “You know, I am just a regular person in my mind.”

This past week, Jenkins’ name appeared in a Politico article along with 17 other potential candidates on Crist’s list for Florida’s lieutenant governor. Crist, a former Republican governor, is running as a Democrat. He also served as Commissioner of Education.

But the days of being a “regular person” on a school board are essentially gone, swept up in new political wedge issues ranging from COVID-19 masks to what children can say about certain topics at public schools.

In an unusual move, Gov. Ron DeSantis has endorsed candidates in 10 local school board races, showcasing that the dynamics between state elected officials and elected school board members are getting increasingly close and complex.

Earlier this week, DeSantis’s Twitter page posted the endorsements, attempting to wield his influence on school board races in Alachua, Brevard, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Sarasota, and Volusia counties. Those were school districts that clashed with the executive branch over decisions affecting millions of students in Florida.

Andrea Messina, chief executive officer of the Florida School Boards Association, said it was the “first time” the organization has seen a governor endorse candidates in local school board elections.

“For some time now, the governor has been very clear that he is interested in local school board elections and he was going to play a role. So it’s not unexpected,” Messina said.

She said that endorsements for school board members have come from a variety of sources.

“It [a school board endorsement] has changed over the years, certainly. Fellow locals, fellow elected officials would do it. Citizens, prominent citizens. Sometimes industry leaders. You know, it evolves over time. As more and more segments of the population become interested and involved in public school issues and governance and races, then you start to see more types of endorsements coming out,” she said.

“Gosh, over the years we’ve seen civic organizations, churches, local homeowners associations — newspapers for sure, editorial boards. Things like that.”

She told the Phoenix that political parties or other statewide organizations will sometimes endorse candidates for local school boards.

“But typically they’re more focused on local leaders and local influence,” she added.

That said, the word local may be a misnomer. There are 67 school districts in Florida and many are massive in terms of geography and school enrollment.

“Collaboration” or “nonsense?”

DeSantis’ endorsements apparently came as a surprise to some of the candidates he endorsed. That’s what Hillsborough County school board candidate Aly Legge told the Phoenix.

“I learned about it when everybody else learned about it,” said Legge, a candidate for a school board seat in Hillsborough County. “I was very honored actually, and quite shocked. I think anyone would be. But definitely very honored and humbled.”

Legge supports many of the main tenets that DeSantis has pushed for over the past couple years, such as so-called parental rights. She also mentioned pushing for “religious, medical and educational freedom,” as well as supporting students with special needs.

Notably, Legge was brought up as a guest speaker with DeSantis when he signed a controversial education bill in April — HB 7 Individual Freedom, often referred to as the “Stop WOKE Act,” which limits certain teachings regarding race and gender in school classrooms and in the workplace.

Legge called the endorsements a “collaborative effort” from the governor.

“I think what this is doing is reinforcing the need to have a collaborative effort, so our local representatives are supposed to work with our state representatives and they’re supposed to represent the people that hired them in the first place, to sit as representatives,” Legge said.

“So it is a collaborative effort to work with everybody, in order for us to truly represent the people who we’re aimed to serve. So I think that Ron — our Governor, Ron DeSantis, is making a collected effort to do just that.”

But for Jenkins, from Brevard, DeSantis’ endorsements are “nonsense.”

“Now this recent week, I feel like DeSantis has turned up the fire for that culture war conversation in public education — the nonsense of all-of-a-sudden he’s endorsing school board members, making a nonpartisan race very clearly partisan,” said Jenkins, whose school district is in Central Florida, on the Atlantic coast.

Jenkins noted that some legislators in the 2022 legislative session pushed a bill that would make school board elections partisan, but the bill never made it to the finish line.

“It didn’t happen, and I think this is kind of their way to get around that and beating around the bush. Because how much more obvious can you get? Getting an endorsement from Ron DeSantis — literally turning a nonpartisan race into a partisan race,'” Jenkins said.

School boards and the Florida Constitution

The DeSantis administration has a complicated relationship with school boards, and has bumped up against several school boards over COVID policies during the past two years.

In fall of 2021, several Florida school boards were at the center of a heated debate about who should decide whether students wore masks at schools during a spike in the COVID pandemic — locally elected education officials or the students’ parents.

The state Board of Education sided with parents, citing a Florida law called the Parents’ Bill of Rights, claiming it gives parents the right to direct the medical decisions and upbringing of their child.

But the Florida Constitution grants local school boards authority to “operate, supervise and control” schools within their district and several school districts imposed mask policies to protect students and staff from COVID-19.

Over the course of the pandemic, the DeSantis administration has been testing just how much authority school boards actually have, from reopening schools in 2020 to the mask policy debacle. Subsequent lawsuits between local school boards and state education officials on the matter have sided with DeSantis.

“I think it’s, ‘Rules for thee and not for me. If the playing field isn’t working for me, I bend it,'” Jenkins said of DeSantis’ challenge to school boards’ constitutional authority.

Brevard was one of the districts that pushed back against the DeSantis administration.

Jenkins gained national attention when she wrote an opinion piece published in October by the Washington Post, which outlined some of her experiences of protesters gathering in front of her house to call her a pedophile and burning “FU” on her yard with weed killer.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

'DeSantis is scared': Florida governor getting blasted for refusing to state his views on all-out abortion ban

During a virtual press conference on looming threats to abortion access, Orlando Democrat Rep. Anna Eskamani said Gov. Ron DeSantis is “scared” to indicate whether he would support an all-out abortion ban if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

“I wouldn’t say we’re fearful, we don’t operate in a place of fear. We operate on a place of endurance and resilience. We absolutely expect there to be an all-out ban on abortions, whether it’s going to be during a special session, or in the general regular session. Now I will say that Governor Ron DeSantis is scared,” Eskamani said during questions Tuesday at the virtual press conference hosted by the Florida Democratic Party.

She added:

“It’s clear to me that Florida Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, are super awkward and uncomfortable talking about an all-out ban. They want to avoid it as much as possible, because they know the second they commit to it, it will wake up voters across the state of Florida and that is not what they want to do before a November election year.”

Eskamani has previously worked at a Planned Parenthood organization, including in Central Florida.

DeSantis’ spokesperson, Christina Pushaw said, “We are not going to respond to Rep. Eskamani’s comments.”

This is not the first time that reporters have asked about DeSantis’ stance on the potential for overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade case. But DeSantis has not answered questions directly on the issue.

However, he has focused on the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion indicating that the high court will overturn the right for pregnant people to access abortions. And DeSantis has said he is awaiting the final ruling connected to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi.

DeSantis is considered a potential presidential contender and is currently running for reelection in the gubernatorial race this year.

He recently signed legislation that implements a ban on abortions after 15-weeks of pregnancy, starting July 1.

Eskamani continued during the press conference:

“The fact that he tip-toes around it and pivots to other issues – every time he’s asked about abortion, he pivots to other issues. I mean, that’s not a coincidence, that’s a tactic, because he’s trying to avoid talking about (an) all-out ban so that he doesn’t alarm voters on where he actually stands.”

“But we need people to know that if he’s reelected, next on deck will be an abortion ban — an all-out abortion ban in Florida,” she said.

State Sen. Lauren Book, the Democratic Leader in the Senate, said that Eskamani was “100 percent spot-on” when it comes to the November election and a potential all-out abortion ban.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

NOW WATCH: Texas teacher slammed student for taking God's name in vain — then shouted out the N-word

Substitute Teacher uses Racial Slur in 6th Grade Classroom

Marco Rubio gets walloped for 'trolling' in response to Supreme Court abortion leak

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is tying anti-transgender rhetoric to efforts to ban abortions, according to new legislation he’s filed and a recent tweet.

This week, a leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion indicated that the high court will likely overturn the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.

Rubio has been commenting on the draft ruling and abortion rights protesters.

The senator tweeted Thursday morning:

“If we have ‘pregnant people’ then how can Roe be about ‘a woman’s right to choose’?”

Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando was not having it, and replied to Rubio’s tweet:

“It’s about bodily autonomy, our collective freedoms, and right to privacy — stop trolling trans people though I guess that’s the only thing you know how to do these days.”

Rubio’s tweet criticizes efforts by some Roe-supporters to use gender-inclusive language when discussing abortion rights. The term “pregnant people” works to encompass all those who may seek abortions, which would include cisgender women, transgender men and non-binary people.

Abortion rights advocates have been protesting in support of upholding abortions access, with some emphasizing the need to include transgender people, who do not identify as women but still may need abortions, in those discussions.

Not every pro-abortion advocate uses gender-inclusive language, and even those who use inclusive language may slip up and just refer to “women’s” right to abortions.

Rubio’s tweet tries to paint this as an inconsistency among pro-abortion advocates and their attempts to support abortion access through Roe v. Wade.

This isn’t the only target on transgender people that Rubio has tied to abortion.

This week, he filed a bill called the “No Tax Breaks for Radical Corporate Activism Act,” according to a press release sent out by his office Wednesday.

The goal, according to the press release, is to “prohibit employers from deducting expenses related to their employees’ abortion travel costs or so-called ‘gender affirming care’ for young children of their employees.”

The bill simply says that such deductions cannot occur for “travel for the purpose of obtaining an abortion,” but goes on for 6.5 pages on the specifics of the transgender care.

It defines gender as the “psychological, behavioral, social, and cultural aspects of being male or female.”

The bill defines a gender transition procedure as “any medical or surgical services which seeks to alter or remove physiological or anatomical characteristics or features which are typical for the individual’s biological sex, or to instill or create physiological or anatomical characteristics which resemble a sex different from the individual’s birth sex, for the purpose of gender transition.”

This includes puberty-blocking drugs and certain hormone replacement therapies, as well as various surgeries which are rarely recommended for trans kids under 18 years old.

But it makes exceptions for intersex people who have ambiguous sex characteristics or other physicians-diagnosed disorder of sexual development.

Transgender advocates have been highlighting the connection between bodily autonomy, access to abortion and transgender health care for some time.

LGBTQ Nation, a online news site, reported in March:

“As is often the case, the forces opposed to body autonomy for cisgender women also oppose it for trans people. It is clear that this is one fight, but for decades, there has been an over-emphasis on cisgender women in the reproductive rights movement and transgender people have been left out and left behind.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP's Matt Gaetz: Some pro-abortion protesters are ‘over-educated, under-loved’ women

Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz took to Twitter to discredit women who rallied Tuesday in support of abortion rights as “over-educated” and “under-loved.”

At 6:20 AM Wednesday, he tweeted:

“How many of the women rallying against overturning Roe are over-educated, under-loved millennials who sadly return from protests to a lonely microwave dinner with their cats, and no bumble matches?”

Bumble is a common dating app on smartphones.

Florida women and abortion-rights advocates gathered and protested across the state Tuesday following a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion indicating the justices at the high court will likely overturn a nearly half-century old landmark case of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Gaetz is a Republican who represents areas in the most western part of the Florida panhandle, a heavily-red voting district.

The U.S. Representative is currently under federal investigation for allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, in connection with former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, who has plead guilty to sex trafficking charges of a minor among other charges.

Gaetz was also accused by state Rep. Chris Latvala of creating a point-system game about House members’ sexual conquests within the Florida Capitol, according to the Sun Sentinel in 2020.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Protesters gather at the Florida Supreme Court steps in support of abortion rights

More than 100 protesters gathered on the steps of the Florida Supreme Court building in the state capital to rally in support of upholding abortion protections threatened by a looming U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Among the chants in the crowd: “Our body, our choice.”

“When abortion rights are under attack, what do we do?” a speaker shouted. “Stand up. Fight Back,” the crowd responded.

The group received many supportive honks from the cars, trucks, and even a UPS vehicle driving by.

The crowd held signs such as “I would rather be pro-choice than be left with no choice.” Another sign: “Defend Roe v. Wade.”

And protesters were not alone. The Tallahassee protest, organized by Florida Planned Parenthood, is one of several rallies scheduled Tuesday evening across the state.

The rally is a reference to a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion indicating the justices at the high court will likely overturn the nearly half-century old landmark case of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Overheard at the rally, a protester said: “Over 50 years ago, I had to travel out of state — can’t believe we’re going back to this.”

Delilah Pierre, an activist with a grassroots racial justice organization called the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, said that the potential overturning of Roe will lead to threats to other rights, including the rights to gay marriage and the right for transgender people to access medical care.

“I’m pissed off about constant, illegitimate attacks that are happening to working class people,” Pierre exclaimed, “that are happening to working-class women — that are happening to transgender people, to gender non-conforming people, to queer people.”

In mid-April, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a 15-week abortion ban. That was during the 2022 legislative session. The ban launches July 1.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Some math books were mysteriously rejected in Florida despite getting high scores

Go Math! Florida Reveal Math. Thinking Mathematically.

Those math textbooks and dozens more have been ditched by Florida’s Department of Education because some of the math books could indoctrinate students, according to the department.

So far, state education officials aren’t explaining why — to the media and even to educators and textbook companies.

The department claims that the books were rejected due to a variety of reasons, from not being aligned with new state math standards for schoolchildren to claims about so-called critical race theory.

But how can a math textbook “indoctrinate” students, and which textbooks were rejected for doing so?

The publishers of these textbooks don’t seem to know either, even through the department gave high scores to some of their mathematics books but the books were rejected as part of a state review on math textbooks in Florida.

Savvas Learning Company, formerly Pearson K-12 Learning, submitted 29 textbooks for the education department’s consideration, but 15 books were rejected.

“Savvas has a long and successful track record of working with the Florida Department of Education to ensure that our instructional materials deliver high-quality, research-based pedagogy designed intentionally to align with the current Florida standards for mathematics,” according to a written statement from the company.

The statement continues: “Like many other companies that submitted bids to the Florida DOE, Savvas has been notified that some of our math programs developed specifically for Florida have not been recommended at this time. Once we obtain additional information from the state as to the specific reasons why, Savvas will work toward an appropriate resolution.”

‘Inclusion of Special Topics?’

According to a new link from Department of Education, one of Savvas’s books, enVision Florida B.E.S.T Mathematics Grade 2, received a high score from the department for aligning to new state standards, but was rejected for “Inclusion of Special Topics.”

Which topics? The document does not elaborate.

The new link showed up Monday on the department’s website, outlining the 54 books that were rejected; a score indicating the books’ alignment to state math standards, and a “yes” or “no” response to the prompt “inclusion of special topics.”

Yet, a Friday Department of Education press release promoted the department’s rejection of “Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students,” reasons for which included “references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics.”

(Common Core is an earlier initiative that involved K-12 math and English standards for what students should know and would be considered consistent across states. The initiative became controversial. As to critical race theory, that originated in graduate level law studies decades ago, according to the American Bar Association.)

Another rejected Savvas math textbook, simply titled Precalculus, received one of the highest scores on the the list in aligning with state standards. Yet it also had “Inclusion of Special Topics.” It was rejected, according to state documents.

McGraw Hill, another textbook industry staple, had eight of their books rejected by the department out of 16 submitted titles.

One of their books, Florida Reveal Math, Grade 2, was also fairly aligned to state standards, and did not have so-called “special topics” included, but was not approved by the department, according to state documents.

McGraw Hill seems fuzzy on the details of their rejection too.

“We’re reviewing the matter and are seeking detailed feedback from the FL DOE process administrators,” a communications staffer with McGraw Hill said in an email to the Phoenix.

Meanwhile, for K-5 grades, the state department approved math textbooks from only one company, Accelerate Learning, even if the department found those textbooks were less aligned to state standards than the ones they rejected.

For example, Accelerate Learning’s STEMscopes Florida Math for fifth grade earned a lower score than Big Ideas Learning’s Florida B.E.S.T for Math, Grade 5. But Big Ideas Learning’s book did not make it on to the approved list, even though it did not include so-called “special topics” and had a higher score.

The mathematics textbook review is part of a transition into new Florida standards for public schools. The textbooks on the department’s approved list will be considered by Florida school districts to potentially adopt for school use.

Russell Bruhn, a communications staffer for the Brevard County school district located on the Atlantic Coast, told the Phoenix that some money is permitted for districts to use non-state approved textbooks, but Brevard probably will stick with the state-approved list.

“What we do is we follow state curriculum, we follow state book adoption criteria, and we would choose our books from the approved lists,” Bruhn said.

“In the past these books have been fine for our community and great for our schools,” Bruhn said of the state-approved textbooks.

Social-emotional learning and critical race theory

When asked by a reporter about the textbooks Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis, did not harp on the department’s claim of some textbooks incorporating critical race theory.

Railing against critical race theory is a regular talking point for DeSantis’ political platform.

“I think there was a number of reasons. So we got rid of Common Core, as you know. We have B.E.S.T. standards, which is a better way to do a lot of things but particularly math. I mean, one of the criticisms was the parents couldn’t help their kids with the math homework,” he said at the Monday press conference in Jacksonville.

DeSantis continued:

“So any of the books that don’t meet the best standards are not going to be appropriate for us to use. You do have things such as social emotional learning and some of the other things that are more political in there, in our view, on something like math.

“First, it doesn’t meet the standards. But second, you know, math is about getting the right answer. And we want kids to learn the things that they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem or to introduce some of these other things. It’s – there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. And we want all of our students getting the right answers.

“And so, most of books that did not meet Florida standards, for whatever reason, happen to be in the early grades. As you get into the older grades most of those books did meet the standards. But we’re going to continue to focus the education on the actual strong academic performance of the students. We don’t want things like math to have, you know, some of these other concepts introduced. It’s not been proven to be effective. And quite frankly, it takes our eye off the ball.”

A May 2020 article by the NWEA, a non-profit assessment organization, suggested that schools consider incorporating Social Emotional learning in math classes as most public schools, including Florida’s public schools, had shut down for the then-novel coronavirus.

The article says: “While SEL is beneficial in all curricular areas, the five SEL core competencies—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making—are natural components of an engaging, process-oriented, problem-rich math classroom. Explicitly incorporating SEL into your math instruction is a great way to both foster a growth mindset and undermine math anxiety.”

Here are the 54 textbooks that were rejected by the Department of Education:

Elementary school

  1. Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards for MATH Grade K, Big Ideas Learning, LLC
  2. HMH Florida’s B.E.S.T. Go Math! (Kindergarten), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  3. Florida Reveal Math, Grade K, McGraw Hill LLC
  4. enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade K, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  5. Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards for MATH Grade 1, Big Ideas Learning, LLC
  6. HMH Florida’s B.E.S.T. Go Math! (First grade), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  7. Florida Reveal Math, Grade 1, McGraw Hill LLC
  8. enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 1, Savvas Learning Company
  9. Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards for MATH Grade 2, Big Ideas Learning, LLC
  10. HMH Florida’s B.E.S.T. Go Math! (Second Grade), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  11. Florida Reveal Math, Grade 2, McGraw Hill LLC
  12. enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 2, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  13. Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards for MATH Grade 3, Big Ideas Learning, LLC
  14. HMH Florida’s B.E.S.T. Go Math! (Third Grade), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  15. Florida Reveal Math, Grade 3, McGraw Hill LLC
  16. enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 3, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  17. Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards for MATH Grade 4, Big Ideas Learning, LLC
  18. HMH Florida’s B.E.S.T. Go Math! (Fourth Grade), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  19. Florida Reveal Math, Grade 4, McGraw Hill LLC
  20. enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 4, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  21. Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards for MATH Grade 5, Big Ideas Learning, LLC
  22. HMH Florida’s B.E.S.T. Go Math! (Fifth Grade), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  23. Florida Reveal Math, Grade 5, McGraw Hill LLC
  24. enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 5, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  25. STEMscopes Florida Math Grade 4 Accelerated, Accelerate Learning
  26. Florida Reveal Math, Grade 4 Accelerated, McGraw Hill LLC
  27. STEMscopes Florida Math Foundational Grades 3-5, Accelerate Learning

Middle School

  1. HMH Florida’s B.E.S.T. Into Math Accelerated 6, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  2. Florida EdGems Math Course 2, EdGems Math LLC
  3. enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 7, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  4. Math Nation: Florida’s B.E.S.T. 7th Grade Accelerated Math, Math Nation (a division of Study Edge)
  5. Florida EdGems Math Course 3, EdGems Math LLC
  6. Florida Reveal Math, Grade 8 Pre-Algebra, McGraw Hill LLC
  7. Carnegie Learning FL Foundational Skills in Mathematics 6-8 Digital Student License, Carnegie Learning, Inc. dba EMC & Mondo Ed

High School

  1. Sofia (Alegbra I), Link-Systems International, Inc.
  2. Florida B.E.S.T Standards for MATH Algebra 2 with CalcChat and CalcView, Big Ideas Learning, LLC
  3. Sofia (Algebra 2), Link-Systems International, Inc.
  4. Math Nation: Florida’s B.E.S.T. Algebra 2 Honors, Math Nation (a division of Study Edge)
  5. Intensified Algebra I (Vol 2), Agile Mind Educational Holdings, Inc.
  6. Thinking Quantitatively: Communicating with Numbers, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  7. Carnegie Learning FL Foundational Skills in Mathematics 9-12 Digital Student License, Carnegie Learning, Inc. dba EMC Publishing & Mondo Ed
  8. Algebra and Trigonometry, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  9. Precalculus with Limits: A Graphing Approach, Cengage Learning
  10. Functions Modeling Change, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  11. Precalculus, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  12. Precalculus: Savvas Learning Company LLC
  13. Precalculus: Enhanced with Graphing Utilities, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  14. Sofia (Geometry), Link-Systems International, Inc.
  15. Math Nation: Florida’s B.E.S.T. Geometry, Math Nation (a division of Study Edge)
  16. Elementary Statistics: Picturing the World, Savvas Learning Company
  17. Stats In Your World, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  18. Statistics and Probability with Applications, Bedford, Freeman and Worth Publishing Group
  19. Stats: Modeling your World, Savvas Learning Company LLC
  20. Thinking Mathematically, Savvas Learning Company

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Florida LGBTQ students, parents, and advocacy group sue state over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

Statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Gov. Ron DeSantis, state education officials, and others over a new law aiming to limit conversations about LGBTQ people in classrooms.

The lawsuit arrived in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, claiming that the newly signed law, HB 1557, violates the U.S. Constitution, including discrimination protections under the First Amendment, which is related to freedom of expression, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which says no state can deprive any person of life, liberty, or property.

According to a press release, the plaintiffs include LGBTQ students and families who “face, and have already suffered, concrete harms as a result of this blatantly unconstitutional law.”

Other plaintiffs are Family Equality, a nationwide LGBTQ advocacy group based in New York, and Equality Florida.

The defendants include DeSantis, the Florida Department of Education, members of the state Board of Education, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, and the local school boards of Manatee, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, St. Johns, and Jackson counties.

The new law allows parents to sue if a school district withholds information about their children’s well-being or exposes them to classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity deemed not “age-appropriate.” The bill expressly bans such discussions for kids in kindergarten through third grade, but could capture instruction and counseling through high school.

The law’s official title is “Parental Rights in Education,” but LBGTQ advocates have dubbed HB 1557 “Don’t Say Gay.” Supporters of the legislation claim that the new law protects a parent’s right to direct the upbringing of their children and that some topics are best discussed at home.

“By design, HB 1557 constructs a statutory scheme in which any rational person who discusses or acknowledges any aspect of LGBTQ identity must fear running afoul of the law. The effect of HB 1557 is thus to chill the rights of teachers, students, and school officials, who, like any rational person, will avoid the danger zone created by a state-mandated censorship code,” according to the lawsuit.

Bar on enforcement sought

The suit asks the court to strike down the law and prohibit Florida’s education officials from enforcing it and to award damages where appropriate and attorney fees if the lawsuit prevails.

Equality Florida previously stated plans to sue should any student be harmed by the legislation when it cleared the Florida House and Senate during the 2022 legislative session.

The law firm representing Equality Florida is New York-based Kaplan Hecker & Fink, which posted on twitter Thursday: “We’re proud to represent our extraordinary plaintiffs in challenging Florida’s discriminatory and unconstitutional #DontSayGay law.”

The lawsuit arrived on the annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. One of the students in the lawsuit is a transgender girl in fifth grade.

According to GLSEN, an advocacy groups focused on protecting LGBTQ students, Transgender Day of Visibility aims to highlight transgender activism and the accomplishments of transgender people.

In recognition of the day, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has arrived in Orlando for LGBTQ-focused roundtables and discussions on the expected damage from HB 1557.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Insurrection-sympathizing QAnon supporter debuts on Florida’s State Board of Education

Two new women members of Florida’s State Board of Education made their debuts Wednesday, revealing a conservative to far-right bent that could foreshadow their priorities for the state’s public school system and its 2.8-million students.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Esther Byrd and Grazie Pozo Christie in mid-March, just before the 2022 legislative session was ending.

Byrd, from Duval County, used her first board meeting to signal to Floridians that she will be fighting “ideology” within Florida schools.

“I’m just a mama and the parent of two children — one’s graduated and one in second grade,” Byrd said Wednesday. “And we’ve seen the ideology that’s in our education system and it’s not okay. And I look forward to working with this board to make sure that we find those things and we tackle them.”

Her comments came during the Board of Education’s meeting in Naples, in Southwest Florida.

Byrd’s appointment in March sparked controversy, as her social media posts appeared to be supportive of far-right causes, such as the white nationalist group, the Proud Boys, and the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.

The Florida Times-Union media outlet, located in Jacksonville, reported in mid-March: “Byrd most notably landed in the public eye for her tweets supporting the Capitol insurrection as well as the QAnon conspiracy theory and defending the Proud Boys. A photo of the Byrds flying a QAnon flag on their boat was widely circulated last year.”

Byrd is the wife of Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd, and she currently serves as a legal assistant and office manager for his law firm, which appears to focus on Second Amendment cases, according to the office’s website. (The language in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution includes: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”)

She also served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2002 to 2010, according to a March press release from the governor’s office.

Byrd continued her remarks at the board meeting Wednesday:

“If I could just speak to the Floridians for just a second…I want you to know one thing: these people (the Board of Education) are not bureaucrats. They are not just here, you know, getting paid by taxpayer dollars. They care about what they do. They care about the kids, and serving Floridians, and through my orientation and the short time that I’ve been involved, I have been so impressed with all of the staff and how much they genuinely care about what they’re doing.”

The other newcomer is Grazie Pozo Christie of Miami, who is a radiologist. She currently is heavily involved with Catholic organizations such as The Catholic Association which describes itself in part on its website as “defending religious liberty, life, and the Church in the public square.”

Her Twitter account currently is comprised mostly of anti-abortion tweets or retweets. Christie posted a reference on her Twitter page, claiming that “late term abortion is never medically necessary.”

Outside of the abortion front, she also weighed in on divisive legislation now in law — the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay” measure — limiting the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

When White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said Tuesday that the bill will have “tragic impact,” Christie, who supports the bill, tweeted: “Tragic impact on child groomers and deranged ideologue kindergarten teachers.”

On Wednesday, at the state board meeting, Christie said she was “surprised” but honored to be appointed to the state Board of Education.

“Also I very much admire in the way that the governor and this board and the Department of Education has put a real focus on parental rights, on transparency, on doing for children and young adults, what they need, which is to educate them,” Christie said Wednesday. “To educate them to be ready for the great challenge of living a successful life out in the workforce and building great families. And I think that’s what education ought to be about and that’s what I feel this board is doing.”

Both newcomers expressed their disappointment of not being able to work with current Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who is expected to step down in late April.

“I’m sorry I wont be working with you, Commissioner,” Christie said.

Corcoran spent the first part of the meeting giving his farewell comments to the board, thanking the board members and department staff.

Though maintaining composure, Corcoran seemed emotional in his remarks.

“This is, in all likelihood, the last full board meeting I would participate in as your commissioner. It’s been a great run,” Corcoran said.

He added: “I’ve said it at the last meeting: I don’t think there’s a finer board in the state. I don’t think there’s a board that’s had more adversity thrown their way, more controversy. Our meetings are probably the most lively of any meetings in the state and you guys, you know what you believe, you know what your philosophy is and you have the courage to fight for it.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Feds monitoring Florida for civil rights violations after DeSantis signs so-called 'Don't Say Gay' bill

As he’d promised, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed what opponents call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law Monday, claiming it will protect a parent’s right to have a say in what children are taught and how they are treated in Florida public schools.

The legislation has drawn national condemnation, and the U.S. Department of Education warned that it will be watching for potential infringement of civil rights.

At issue is whether the legislation, HB 1557, unfairly targets LGBTQ students or teachers or even disallows mention of sexual orientation and gender identity in the name of allowing parents to dictate the education and upbringing of their children.

Following Monday’s bill-signing, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona released the following statement:

“By signing this bill, Gov. DeSantis has chosen to target some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families, all while under the guise of ‘parents’ rights.’ Make no mistake: This is a part of a disturbing and dangerous trend across the country of legislation targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals.”

(LGBQTI+ refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, transgender, intersex, and other “non-straight” orientations.)

“This comes at a time when we know lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning students are three to four times more likely than non-LGBTQI+ students to report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and even self harm — not because of who they are but because of the hostility directed at them,” Cardona continued.

“And we will be monitoring this law upon implementation to evaluate whether it violates federal civil rights law.”

The statement notes that students who feel they are experiencing discrimination can file a complaint with the agency’s Office for Civil Rights.

HB 1557 allows parents to sue if a school district withholds information about their child’s well-being or if their child is exposed to classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity deemed not “age-appropriate.” The bill singles out kids in kindergarten through third grade, but could capture instruction and counseling through high school.

While the official title of the legislation is “Parental Rights in Education,” opponents call it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill because of what they fear will prove its chilling effect.

Not ‘age appropriate’

Supporters of the bill argue that doesn’t directly target LGBTQ people, noting that the text does not mention the word ‘gay’ or ‘transgender’ and that certain conversations are best had at home.

The bill signing occurred at Classical Preparatory School in Pasco County, where DeSantis was flanked by young charter school students and holding signs reading, “Protect Children Support Parents.”

He highlighted materials that were inclusive of LGBTQ matters, repeatedly saying they were “not appropriate” for young kids.

This includes a enlarged printing of “The Genderbread Man,” an infographic designed to simplify concepts such as gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, and sexual orientation.

“This is trying to sew doubt in kids about their gender identity,” DeSantis said. “It’s trying to say that, you know, they can be whatever they want to be. This is inappropriate for kindergarteners, for first graders, for second graders.”

DeSantis deployed another prop at the ceremony — this time showcasing a page from children’s book, “Call Me Max” by Kyle Lukoff.

The page reads:

“When I was born, mom and dad said, ‘It’s a girl!’ When I looked in the mirror, I saw a girl. Kind of. But because I am transgender, I wanted to see a boy.”

“So, this is something you’re putting into classroom curriculum for 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-old kids,” DeSantis told the audience. “And again, that is not something that is appropriate for any place, but certainly in the state of Florida. And shouldn’t parents know if that is something that is in the curriculum?”

Participants in the event, including House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, and the House and Senate sponsors of the legislation, largely shot back at news coverage claiming that the legislation will chill classroom discussions of LGBTQ people and students.

DeSantis insisted those who disagree with the legislation either haven’t read it or have a secret agenda.

“It’s true, many of the people helped to whip this up never actually read the bill. They haven’t taken the time to do that, they would rather just further narratives,” he said.

“But, I must tell you, these leftist politicians, corporate media outlets, some of these activist groups, they actually have read the bill, and they’re sloganeering because they don’t want to admit that they support a lot of things that we’re providing protections against,” he continued.

“For example, they support sexualizing kids in kindergarten. They support injecting ‘woke gender ideology’ into second grade classrooms. They support enabling schools to, quote ‘transition,’ students to a, quote, ‘different gender,’ without the knowledge of the parent, much less without the parent’s consent.

“So what they’re doing with these slogans and these narratives, they’re trying to camouflage their true intentions.”

While DeSantis’s remarks focused on young elementary kids, the legislation could affect older grades, too.

HB 1557 reads: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” according to state standards.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County and is a part of the LGBTQ community, co-authored an opinion piece for the Washington Post to highlight other anti-LGBTQ efforts previously proposed in Florida in the name of protecting children.

Last minute-notification

Rumors circulated about a potential bill-signing ceremony for HB 1557 long before the official press conference was announced.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a gay House member who has been a vocal opponent of HB 1557, tweeted at 11:11 PM Sunday evening that DeSantis was expected to sign the bill the following day.

“It will be an anti-LGBTQ spectacle full of lies + dangerous rhetoric,” he tweeted, issuing a call-to-action for donations towards LGBTQ advocacy groups.

One of which was Equality Florida, which tweeted Monday 10:30 AM:

“Multiple, unconfirmed reports that @GovRonDeSantisis signing #DontSayGay bill today at a charter school, Classical Preparatory in Spring Hill. Has DeSantis chosen a location exempt from this bill while keeping the signing quiet to avoid student counter-protests?”

Throughout the recent legislative session that produced the bill, the measure sparked protests at Florida schools, inside the Florida Capitol building, and throughout the country.

The governor’s office released details about the place and time about an hour and a half before the event started — a rather short turn-around compared to other press conference notices.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Tension, condemnation rises in LGBTQ community as 'Don’t say Gay' bill nears vote in GOP-led Senate

On Sunday, a day before the Florida Senate was scheduled to consider a nationally-watched piece of legislation referred to as “Don’t Say Gay,” the organization Equality Florida posted a statement condemning “homophobic, transphobic” remarks from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary.

Christina Pushaw tweeted Friday in support of the bill that would restrict certain conversations on LGBTQ issues in Florida’s public school classrooms. That led to a scathing statement from Equality Florida:

“Governor DeSantis’ spokesperson said the quiet part out loud: that this bill is grounded in a belief that LGBTQ people, simply by existing, are a threat to children and must be erased. He chose Pushaw to speak his mind to the public. He owns this unbridled hatred.”

It’s just the latest salvo in a battle over HB 1557, which has drawn nationwide attention and protests across the state, and is considered one of the main “culture war” bills to be considered in the 2022 legislative session in Florida.

The bill is officially called “Parental Rights in Education,” but opponents have been referring to it as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill due to its potential chilling effect in Florida classrooms regarding LGBTQ issues and students.

The state House has already approved the bill.

In the final days of the 2022 legislative session, the Senate will decide on Monday whether to heed the concerns of Florida’s LGBTQ youth and their allies, or stick to supporting parent rights to lead discussions on sexual orientation or LGBTQ concerns rather than teachers or other school personnel.

Many supporters of the bill says that it simply furthers protection for a parent’s right to direct the upbringing of his or her child, extending efforts from Florida’s new law called the “Parents’ Bill of Rights.”

However, Pushaw’s tweet in particular on Friday didn’t highlight parents’ rights. Instead she tweeted:

“The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill.”

Her follow-up tweet says: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who represents part of Orange County and is gay, tweeted Sunday:

#DeSantis’ spokesperson openly accused opponents of #DontSayGay of being ‘groomers’— aka PEDOPHILES. Bigoted attacks like this against LGBTQ people are the worst of the worst. They’re disgusting and dangerous and have NO PLACE in the Guv’s office.”

Pushaw on Sunday said in an exchange from other Twitter users:

“A hit dog hollers.”

“Don’t say Gay” or “Parental rights?”

HB 1557 is sponsored by Rep. Joe Harding in the House. He represents Levy and part of Marion County. Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Senate sponsor, is a Republican representing counties in Central Florida.

The bill provides parents the opportunity to sue if a school district withholds certain information from them about their child’s well-being or if their child is exposed to instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity deemed not “age-appropriate.”

The required parental-access to information about a child’s welfare has fueled concern. The LGBTQ community, for example, is worried that students could be “outed” to an unsupportive family, potentially putting LGBTQ students in harm’s way.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has already signaled his support for HB 1557.

The governor said at a Friday press conference: “How many parents want their kindergarteners to have ‘transgenderism’ or something injected into classroom discussion?” DeSantis said. “I think those are very young kids. I think the Legislature’s basically trying to give parents assurance that… this stuff’s not going to be there.”

In addition: “It’s basically saying for our youngest students — four-year-olds, five-year-olds, six years and seven — do you really want them being taught about sexu—and this is any sexual stuff. But I think clearly right now, we’re seeing a lot of focus on the transgenderism, telling kids they may be able to pick genders and all that,” the governor said.

But that’s not quite what the legislation says.

The bill language actually says: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

The terms ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’ target LGBTQ students, families, and teachers, according to bill opponents.

In fact, two bipartisan efforts to clarify the bill language to instead prohibit certain conversations about “sexual activity” and “human sexuality” were shot down at previous points in the legislative session.

The bill language is vague on what is “age-appropriate” in higher grades, and has been a sticking point for LGBTQ advocates and some lawmakers, and could potentially lead to a chilling effect in Florida classrooms.

“The thought that educators and students are talking about sexuality in an inappropriate manor is not true,” Rep. Michele Rayner told the Phoenix earlier during session. “I think that there so many intended — some people say ‘unintended’ but I think it is intended – consequences that come with this bill.”

Rayner is a Democrat in the Tampa Bay area and is a gay woman.

She said that parents have a right to know what their children are being taught in school but that the bill language alienates members of the LGBTQ community.

“You are alienating children who have parents that happen to be of the same gender, you are alienating teachers who happen to love someone of the same gender, you are alienating children who are identifying as trans,” Rayner told the Phoenix.


Thursday, hundreds of high school students across the state organized protests against HB 1557, one of which took place inside the Florida Capitol building, where around a hundred students voiced their opposition to the bill and insulted DeSantis outside of the House and Senate chambers.

There will be more protests Monday morning, according to LGBTQ advocates.

Opponents also have concerns with what constitutes as “classroom instruction” and whether teachers having a discussion with students on matters regarding the LGBTQ community would be prohibited under the bill.

Emily Gray, a transgender woman who is with an advocacy group in Bay County, says that conversations around gender identity and sexual orientation should be a child-led discussion, meaning if a child wants to talk then a teacher should be able to engage in the discussion.

“Some children are more cognitive of their own being, and in this day-in-age they have the words,” she told the Phoenix last month. “I never had the words to understand the feelings that I had, so kids didn’t really talk about it. But kids these days do, and that’s what they’re (supporters of the bill) trying to prevent… I feel like they have the idea that if they don’t talk about it then their kids won’t know about it, and therefore they won’t become trans, or gay, or lesbian, or whatever.”

She continued: “I don’t think there should be a special teaching session at that age…but if a child identifies a certain way as child says ‘I like boys and I am a boy’ then a conversation should be had with them, to let them know that that its completely normal and okay…Their (a teacher’s) role should be what it is now, they shouldn’t talk about it unless the children talk about it. And if the children talk about it, they should be able to give a fact-based answer or discussion with the child if the child is trying to discuss it with them.”

National picture

The bill has garnered national attention. HB 1557 was dubbed a “hateful bill” by President Joe Biden on Twitter in early February.

The American Bar Association wrote on Feb. 17 that they oppose provisions in the bill because “they would undermine the well-being of LGBTQ students and chill beneficial faculty speech.”

Meanwhile, Log Cabin Republicans, an organization representing LGBTQ conservatives, are okay with the bill.

In a January 27 press release, Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran said about the bill: “All it does is reinforce the commonsense belief that teacher-led classroom discussions around sexual and gender identity do not belong in primary schools.”

HB 1557 would need to come to fruition before the end of the legislation session, which ends March 11.

Some senators have offered amendments addressing concerns about the bill, and the Senate will have the opportunity to approve or dismiss those changes.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Anti-‘woke’ and ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills clear Florida House following emotional debates

Florida House Democrats pushed back on legislation that would limit how topics such as LGBTQ people and racism is talked about in classrooms or the workplace, contending the bills will have a chilling effect on teachers and employers.

Yet two hotly-debated bills — HB 7, limiting conversations about racism and sexism in schools and at work, and HB 1557, restricting classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity — were both passed by the House on near-party lines Thursday.

“I feel like there’s a theme here, because we are passing legislation to censor our workplaces and our schools,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who represents part of Orange County, said on the House floor.

HB 7, which passed 74 to 41, would implement Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” initiative, which he announced in December while railing against critical race theory. DeSantis promised to provide parents and employees a vehicle for litigation if they are subjected to so-called “woke” ideology, often referring to conversations about race or sexism.

“This bill didn’t manifest out of thin air,” Rep. Fentrice Driskell said Thursday. “It is in the context of a concerted effort to suppress stories of communities of color and not teach our history, which is everyone’s history.”

Driskell is a Democrat who represents part of Hillsborough County.

Rep. Bryan Avila, a Republican who represents part of Miami-Dade County, the sponsor of HB 7, insisted the legislation affirms that people will not be judged by characteristics such as race or sex.

HB 7, a bill described as “Individual Freedom,” posits a handful of principles that students may not be subjected to in the classroom. This bill also applies to employees and the work place.

Such principles include:

  • ”A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
  • ”A person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.”
  • ”An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.

HB 7 gives employees the opportunity to sue if they are are subjected to these principles as a workplace requirement, and gives parents a similar opportunity if their child is subjected to them in schools.

Republican lawmakers say teachers can still teach touchy subjects as long as they remain objective and stick to the curriculum set by school districts and the state Department of Education. In fact, a change made to the bill earlier this week expanded preexisting required education on African American history.

Republicans in favor of the bill argued children should be taught history but should not be made to feel ashamed or guilt because of an act that they did not commit.

“We humans, as a species, have done all kinds of atrocities to each other throughout time, and there’s no one race, ethnicity, or sex that have cornered the market on any of those things,” Rep. Ralph Massullo said. He is a Republican who represents Citrus County and part of Hendry County.

He continued: “We’ve all done things to each other, but those children sitting in those classrooms aren’t responsible for those deeds. It is extremely, extremely important for our children know our history — the bad parts and the good parts. And to know that their lives aren’t responsible for that history.”

But the Democrats still see the bill as chilling honest discussion of racism in the classroom and in the workplace.

“This is a classic example of structural racism,” Rep. Ramon Alexander, a Democrat representing Gadsden and part of Leon counties, said. “When you use systems and structures to determine what is and what is not, that is structural racism.”

As for HB 1557, which LGBTQ advocates call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the legislation directly says that “sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through Grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Joe Harding, a Republican who represents Levy and part of Marion County.

Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican who represents part of Brevard County, said that the bill reflects a “fundamental debate of should children be protected from parents or should parents be protected from school districts or from bureaucrats.”

He continued: “I’ve heard you all say that we must protect children from their parents. You believe this, OK? I don’t. I believe it is our role to protect families from the government.”

The bill passed on a 69-47 vote, with some Republicans voting against the measure, although they did not speak against it during debate.

Smith, of Orange County, who is gay, said the bill “sends a terrible message to our youth — that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction.”

Both of these bills still need to be approved by the Senate and the governor before they become law.

Equality Florida, a LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a written statement Thursday:

“If signed into law, these bills will have disastrous impacts on classrooms and workplaces. They will turn Florida into a surveillance state and give the government broad license to censor conversations about American history, the origins of racism and injustice, and the existence of LGBTQ people.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

'Beyond outrageous': DeSantis’ ignites backlash after surprise call for special session on vaccines mandates

A sudden announcement Thursday from Gov. Ron DeSantis to call a special session to impose restrictions on COVID vaccine mandates pushed by President Joe Biden has blindsided much of Florida's political world.

It comes at a time when lawmakers are in legislative committee meetings leading up to the regular session just months away. That session starts Jan. 11. And Florida has already had a special session to handle details of a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Lawmakers also face a major task — mapping out new legislative and Congressional districts.

Meanwhile, the political campaigns are already in motion, with DeSantis in reelection mode.

And the COVID pandemic continues.

Christina Pushaw, a communications staffer for DeSantis, tweeted that: “Florida is fighting back against unjust and unscientific mandates."

Following the governor's announcement, Democratic lawmakers and other figures weighed in on DeSantis' call for the special session.

“This was a surprise to all of us," Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who represents part of Hillsborough County, said during a Zoom call with state House Democratic caucus. She was joined by Central Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani and Rep. Ramon Alexander who represents Gadsden County and part of Leon. which encompasses the state capital.

Driskell called the potential special session a “distraction" and said that she saw it as DeSantis taking a “direct swipe at the Biden administration."

President Biden has ordered his administration to prepare regulations requiring employees to become vaccinated or else face weekly testing, intending to curb transmission of the coronavirus.

“This move for special session is the governor directly putting the government in the way of our small businesses and their ability to earn a living, to put food on the table. And frankly it's just the wrong move and the wrong message for Florida," Driskell said during the Zoom call.

Here are some other reactions around Florida:

/U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist, a former Florida Republican governor who is running for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, tweeted:

“DeSantis is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on legal fights to tout his right-wing credentials for his presidential bid. And now he's going to waste more money on a 'Soft on Covid' anti-business special session. Everyone sees right through you Ron."

/Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an elected Cabinet who is campaigning for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial race, released a written statement:

“This is a purely self-serving political ploy by the governor, once again pulling out all the stops to appease – and encourage – extremist positions that fly in the face of science and public health instead of protecting our children, our communities, and our economy. It provides a dangerous platform for extremists who have been threatening those trying to do right to keep their communities safe, and creates a slippery slope by undermining public health policies supported by sound science and the medical community by instead promoting conspiracy theorists and risky unproven treatments.

/State Sen. Annette Taddeo, of South Florida, who recently got into the Democratic primary for governor, said in a written statement: “This is wildly out of step with the majority of Floridians and completely reckless. It speaks to the overreaches this governor will do to take control over private enterprise and health care decisions."

/Mark Ferrulo, executive director of the nonprofit Progress Florida, also weighed in through a written statement:

“While Florida's small businesses and local governments are doing all they can to keep people safe and allow our economy to rebound, our state's governor seems hellbent on continuing this pandemic for as long as possible no matter how many people he gets sick in the process. Today's announcement is another example by Governor Ron DeSantis of spreading medical disinformation and undermining public health in order to play to the far-right and anti-vax fringe."

/State Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat who represents part of Broward and Palm Beach counties, tweeted:

“This is beyond outrageous. When Covid first hit we asked for a special session to address among other things the horrible unemployment assistance system. When Floridians needed help, they said no. Now, for political expediency, we have a special session. Shows you their values."

/State Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat who represents part of Duval County, commented in a written statement:

“From businesses and schools, to our health care and front line workers, everyone except Florida's failed governor is shouldering the responsibility of keeping us free from sickness and economic disaster…He wants to light Florida's tax dollars on fire with this special session in order to put public health and livelihoods at risk in exchange for his own political ambitions."

/State Rep. Michael Grieco, a Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade County, tweets:

“Florida is an at-will work state. Your bosses currently can fire/hire you based upon how they feel about the color of your shoes if they want to…but apparently vaccination status doesn't fit the cozy corporate freedom model."

The Republican Party of Florida retweeted a sign seen at DeSantis's Thursday press conference, a parody of the Gadsden Flag with the silhouette of an alligator, reading “DONT TREAD ON FLORIDA."

Rep. Jason Fischer, a Republican who represents part of Duval County, retweeted the same picture adding that: “@GovRonDeSantis is a fighter and a champion of the people!"

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

FL allows 16-year-olds to withdraw from school with parent permission but most other states don’t

In the state of Pennsylvania, students are required to attend school until age 18.

That's the case for South Dakota too. And California. And Kansas.

In fact, 24 states and Washington, D.C., require students to attend school until the age of 18. And a handful more set that age to at least 17, according to data from the Education Commission of the States, a Colorado-based organization that tracks education policies throughout the nation.

But in Florida, students as young as 16 can decide to withdraw from school if they have parent permission. Florida is one of about 17 states — roughly a third of the states in the country — that still allow students who are just-barely driving to make substantial decisions about their education, impacting their careers and even their lives.

For the 2022 legislative session, two Florida House members want to change that.

HB 125 is co-sponsored by Rep. Kevin Chambliss, who represents part of Miami-Dade County in South Florida, and Rep. Susan Valdés, who represents part of Hillsborough in the Tampa Bay area. Both are Democrats.

Currently, Florida law says that a student age 16 or older is required to attend school until a “formal declaration of intent is filed with the district school board. The declaration must acknowledge that terminating school enrollment is likely to reduce the student's earning potential and must be signed by the student and the student's parent."

But HB 125 would only allow 18-year-olds to make such a decision, and would no longer require the parent to sign off on it.

For Valdés, the bill is in part an effort to bolster the Florida workforce, because a portion of the future workforce is dropping out before students can earn a high school diploma.

“When we're constantly hearing 'we can't find the workforce'… Well, here it is. You have a bunch of your workforce leaving the institution, that's helping to prepare that workforce, at the age of 16," Valdés told the Phoenix.

Valdés continued:

“So if I bump it up to 18…at least we'll have that child be in school working towards their career goals and be able to be a productive citizen."

Valdés is concerned about student prospects if kids do not complete a high school diploma that teens usually earn at the end of 12th grade. She spoke about scenarios such as a 16 or 17-year-old withdrawing from school to help out with family matters.

“If you have a predicament… where a child — and many are like that in my community – they feel like they have to go help their parents, they have to go work. Or they are a sibling that takes care of their little siblings while their parents go out to work," Valdés said. “All of those scenarios are very valid and very real. I see those scenarios every day. And what I constantly remind my kiddos that fall into that category is: 'just hang in there. It's tough, I know. And if you don't wind up getting a high school diploma, it's tougher when you really become an adult.'"

She said that students can't get a “good job" without a high school diploma.

“So if you drop out, you go work where? Taco Bell? McDonald's? Then when you turn 18, where's your high school diploma?" she told the Phoenix.

Valdés also noted that the effect of the bill, should it be approved by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, would also work to reduce what's called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I'm seeing a lot of children, when they do drop out, they go into the other system," Valdés said. “The prison system."

The American Civil Liberties Union described this phenomenon as “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems."

“This (HB 125) is just ensuring that students have every opportunity to be successful," Valdés said.

The Phoenix reached out to Rep. Chambliss and is awaiting a response.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar, of the statewide teacher union, supports increasing the compulsory school age to 18.

“It's a good thing. We have antiquated rules around kids being in school, and I think it's time that we really look at doing everything we can to keep kids learning and in school," Spar told the Phoenix. “It's antiquated in the sense that times have changed. You need to have more skill sets, you need to have more training to be able to be a successful contributor to our democratic society."

Spar says that students often drop out early because they doubt their success in the Florida school system.

“I think when kids do consider to drop out, they feel like they cannot be successful in school and they do not like that feeling. And so we've got to make sure, as a school system, we are doing everything we can to keep kids engaged and excited about learning," he told the Phoenix.

“I think we should focus on the idea that kids should stay in school, not just from an economic standpoint, but also from a moral obligation to our children, to our future, to our communities, in the sense that life-long learning is truly a human characteristic."

States vary greatly in what age range qualifies for compulsory school age.

Florida's required schooling starts at age six, so 5-year-olds don't have to start school yet, though many children do attend kindergarten.

Spar told the Phoenix that: “I wish we would make kindergarten compulsory in the state of Florida, and maybe even pre-kindergarten."

As for the upper limit, when students can decide to withdraw from school, the Education Commission of the State reports:

/17 states require students to attend school until 16;

/8 states, age 17;

/24 states, plus Washington D.C. schools, age 18;

/Texas, at 19.

Below is a spreadsheet of the range in compulsory school ages from different states, based on 2020 data from the Education Commission of the States.

Lower requirement Upper requirement
Texas 6 19
Arkansas 5 18
California 6 18
Connecticut 5 18
Washington D.C. 5 18
Hawaii 5 18
Indiana 7 18
Kansas 7 18
Louisiana 7 18
Maryland 5 18
Michigan 6 18
Nebraska 6 18
Nevada 7 18
New Hampshire 6 18
New Mexico 5 18
Ohio 6 18
Oklahoma 5 18
Oregon 6 18
Pennsylvania 6 18
Rhode Island 5 18
South Dakota 5 18
Tennessee 6 18
Utah 6 18
Virginia 5 18
Washington 8 18
Wisconsin 6 18
Alabama 6 17
Colorado 6 17
Illinois 6 17
Maine 6 17
Minnesota 7 17
Mississippi 6 17
Missouri 7 17
South Carolina 5 17
Alaska 7 16
Arizona 6 16
Delaware 5 16
Florida 6 16
Georgia 6 16
Idaho 7 16
Iowa 6 16
Kentucky 6 16
Massachusetts 6 16
Montana 7 16
New Jersey 6 16
New York 6 16
North Carolina 7 16
North Dakota 7 16
Vermont 6 16
West Virginia* 6 16
Wyoming 7 16

*The Phoenix found it difficult to verify West Virginia's compulsory school age as 16 or 17.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Ron DeSantis' campus 'intellectual freedom' survey has already spawned a lawsuit

Months ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a controversial law that would require Florida's colleges and universities to conduct a survey intended to gauge whether institutions of higher education promote “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity."
At the time, critics questioned what those surveys will ask, how intellectual diversity will be measured, and what will happen with the results.

Three months later, very few of those concerns have been answered or addressed and there's also a lawsuit.

In August, the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) joined a federal lawsuit against state education officials, arguing that aspects of the law threaten the right to free speech. The federal lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida by faculty members and students of Florida's college and university systems.

“Any law that relies on the good will of legislators and politicians over the protections of the Constitution is not a good law," said Andrew Gothard, the UFF president. “And that is why we are challenging HB 233 (now the law) in court and that is why we do not believe that these viewpoint diversity surveys have any place in higher education in this state."

Earlier this week, Marshall Criser III, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, updated lawmakers about the survey during a committee meeting leading up to the 2022 legislative session. However, Criser didn't provide many concrete details.

He did say that the survey will need to be designed, and it would be conducted in the spring of 2022. Results would be assessed over the summer to meet a deadline to publish the survey's findings by Sept. 1, 2022, as outlined in the law.

Criser said that the Institute of Politics at Florida State University is involved in the creation of the survey, but it's not yet clear to what extent.

The Phoenix reached out to the Board of Governors for more information about the institute's involvement, and is awaiting a response. The Phoenix also reached out to the Institute of Politics itself, and was told to speak to the Board of Governors.

“What I would describe is we are working with the political institute (Institute of Politics) at Florida State University. And when I say 'working with' – I have individuals on my staff who are very good at data and data analysis. They have people who are incredibly talented and do survey work," Criser told lawmakers.

The Institute of Politics was created by the Florida legislature in 2020, with certain goals such as becoming “a national and state resource on polling information and survey methodology."

Criser continued: “And so, we are trying to understand what the right questions are and what the right approach is and also getting some professional — I'd say they have some professional guidance to us about size and number of questions and the way you ask questions."

Rep. James Mooney, a Republican who represents Monroe and part of Miami-Dade County, asked Criser to specify the Board of Governor's decision on whether the Board of Governors will create the survey or contract another entity to create it.

“I'd think I'd say, generally, we are not contracting out, but we are working closely with them (Institute of Politics) to help develop this," Criser said.

Meanwhile, UFF President Gothard told the Phoenix on Friday that, “So far, very little has been said about how these, what they call 'viewpoint diversity surveys,' are going to be constructed."

“Sure, this survey could be innocuous if it's designed in the right way," Gothard said, “but there is no guarantee it will be innocuous."

He continued: “Unfortunately, we cannot imagine a scenario where the survey will go well. At its baseline it might be 'acceptable,' but there's really no reality where this survey could do anything useful or productive for the Florida higher education system…The real problem with… the survey is that there are virtually no limitations on the kinds of questions this survey can ask, and then what can be done with the results of that survey afterword."

The law says that the survey must be objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid. The law does not require the survey to be anonymous.

It also must consider “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the college community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom."

The new law also allows students to film lectures without permission of the professors, and forbids institutions from “shielding" students from opinions and ideas that they may find “uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive."

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

An escalating legal war could be on the horizon for Florida school boards

The school mask mandate controversy could involve more legal battles, according to school district officials, with Broward and Alachua discussing their legal options after the Florida Department of Education docked pay for the two local boards because they had implemented strict mask mandates.

This article was originally published at Florida Phoenix

The move by the DeSantis administration and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran — who believe that parents of schoolchildren, not school boards, should make decisions on mask-wearing — came after a judge ruled verbally Friday that local boards can indeed implement mask mandates.

“I'm very troubled by the state's action," Alachua County School District Supt. Carlee Simon said in a written statement on Tuesday. “Our School Board members made a courageous decision to protect the health and lives of students, staff and the people of this community, and a court has already ruled they had the legal right to do so. They deserve praise, not penalties."

She noted that the Alachua school district is looking into legal action.

“We believe this is a necessary step to ensure that Florida's districts have the right to act in the best interests of those they serve."

The statement did not provide further details on the legal front.

Alachua communication staffer Jackie Johnson said that Alachua and Broward, as well as the Orange County School District, are working with attorneys on the matter and awaiting a written court order from Circuit Court Judge John Cooper before pursuing any legal moves.

“We'll have more information on the specific arguments when there is a formal ruling, which should be in the next couple of days," Johnson told the Phoenix.

The Broward County School District also released a written statement Tuesday, saying that the board believes its mask policies are complying with state law and rules.

“We continue to receive legal advisement that we are in compliance to the rules as well as to the order," interim Supt. Vickie Cartwright said during a special school board meeting Tuesday morning. The comments were from a video from the Tuesday board meeting.

Alachua and Broward were the first two districts to implement strict mask mandate policies in response to the rising COVID-19 cases in Florida. Ten other school districts have since followed suit and implemented strict mask mandates. These districts could see similar punitive measures, but it's not clear yet.

Other than Alachua and Broward, the other school districts that have defied the DeSantis administration's mask policies are: Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Sarasota, Leon, Duval, Indian River, Orange, Brevard and Lee.

The Department of Education has been sending letters to those or at least some districts that could lead to punitive actions, such as docking pay for local boards.

A press release from the Florida Democratic Party responded to the Department “illegally" withholding the salaries of school board members.

“This announcement is shocking and outrageous," chairman Manny Diaz said in the written statement. “Just last Friday, a Leon County Judge determined that Governor DeSantis exceeded his authority when he signed an executive order blocking local school boards from enacting mask protocols.

“Yet Commissioner Corcoran has moved forward with these heavy-handed tactics to further the Governor's unconstitutional efforts to prevent school boards from enacting the health protocols they deem necessary to protect the lives of their students and employees."

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.