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Florida debate over school race lessons nears boiling point

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Children march around Vinoy Park during a Black Lives Matter children’s rally on Sunday, July 19, 2020 in St. Petersburg. The question about how children learn about race in schools has surfaced as a political debate in Florida.
Children march around Vinoy Park during a Black Lives Matter children’s rally on Sunday, July 19, 2020 in St. Petersburg. The question about how children learn about race in schools has surfaced as a political debate in Florida. [ JONAH HINEBAUGH | Times ]
Published Jun. 1
Updated Jun. 1

With his declaration that Florida schools must not teach “critical race theory” — an approach to discussing the role of race in U.S. politics, history, culture and society that currently is not in the standards or curriculum — Gov. Ron DeSantis has put public education in the crosshairs of the nation’s ongoing culture wars. The debate is expected to hit a boiling point over the coming two months, as the State Board of Education is scheduled to take up a rule on teaching state standards without “indoctrinating” on June 10, and then to consider civics standards revisions on July 14. Read on for the latest on this story and more Florida education news.

The governor’s broadside against teaching race comes as many schools have sought to improve equity and diversity among students and staff. In Pinellas and Pasco counties, concerns exist that the political pressure might hinder initiatives that emerged after the murder of George Floyd.

What exactly is DeSantis after? He says he wants schools to focus on facts in history lessons. Critics suggest he’s courting conservative votes by limiting the facts that may be taught, the Herald-Tribune reports. Already, some deep divides are emerging at school board sessions, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

He has rejected the notion that his administration is seeking to restrict information. Some have noted, though, that the proposed civics standards rewrite don’t mention slavery, among other shortcomings they see, Florida Phoenix reports.

The Department of Education is taking public comment on the proposed standards in advance of the State Board’s action. There’s a virtual rule development workshop set for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. To register, visit https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7989725902807458832. Also on tap are hourlong town hall forums scheduled for 6 p.m. today at Miami Jackson Senior High School, 1751 NW 36th Street, Miami; 6 p.m. Thursday at Tohopekaliga High School, 3675 Boggy Creek Road, Kissimmee; and 6 p.m. June 9 at Macclenny Elementary School, 1 Wildkitten Drive, Macclenny. You can review the proposed standards here, and also submit comments in writing here.

Top of the Times

How susceptible are government networks to computer hacks? A 17-year-old took down the Pinellas County school district’s systems for two days in the spring.

The University of Tampa told too many new students they could have on-campus housing. It’s come up with yet another financial incentive to try to appease the angry students and their families.

A rising star in the Hillsborough County school district’s administrative ranks faces accusations of race and gender bias. Officials are investigating. Some observers have questioned how much politics is at play.

Hot topics

Altered yearbooks: The editor-in-chief of an Escambia County high school will get to participate in graduation after all, as officials reversed position that she be banned for changing the photo of a student accused of rigging the homecoming election, NorthEscambia.com reports.

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Transgender athlete ban: The legislation that would disallow transgender girls from competing in high school sports has landed on Gov. DeSantis’ desk. He’s said he will sign it, Florida Politics reports.

Renaming schools: The Duval County School Board is scheduled to vote on renaming six schools that currently recognize Confederate soldiers, WJXT reports.

Mask mandates: The Miami-Dade County school district and teachers union reached a deal to allow optional masks for outside activities, WPLG reports. • The Manatee County School Board voted to repeal its mask requirement, one day after classes ended, the Herald-Tribune reports. • The Orange County School Board will review a proposal to ease its mask policy, WKMG reports. • Some Duval County parents are poised to protest against masks in schools at their next School Board meeting, WJAX reports.

Coronavirus concerns

Dozens of Citrus County students went missing during the pandemic. The district’s teachers and staff whittled the number down to a fraction over the year, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

The Class of 2021 did not have a usual senior year. Some south Florida seniors shared their experiences with WLRN.

Vaccinations of young people are lagging in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Health officials hope to collaborate with local schools to increase the numbers, the Herald-Tribune reports.

Other school news

Does it matter whether an college applicant has ever been arrested? Some faculty members want Florida Atlantic University to stop asking the question on its application, WPEC reports.

It’s not your money. A former Gulf County high school’s band boosters official was arrested for stealing from the group, the Port St. Joe Star reports. The organization’s treasurer was arrested on similar charges a few days later, the Star reports.

‘Homelessness is everywhere.’ Polk County schools help more than 4,000 homeless students each year with their housing and other needs, the Ledger reports.

Don’t drink the water. Some Palm Beach County schools have closed off their water fountains and will distribute bottled water after the county issued a toxin alert, WPTV reports.

A Clay County school custodian helped build the school where he’s worked over four decades. The community honored him by naming the road leading to campus after him, Clay Today reports.

Before you go ... Happy June. It’s National Say Something Nice Day. We can all use it. Here’s Stephen Colbert to show us how it works.