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It’s facts vs. feelings in Florida’s debate over race lessons in schools

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Florida Sen. Tina Polsky is among lawmakers raising concerns about legislation to restrict discussions about race in schools and businesses.
Florida Sen. Tina Polsky is among lawmakers raising concerns about legislation to restrict discussions about race in schools and businesses. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published Jan. 19|Updated Jan. 19

The big story: Florida senators on Tuesday dug into a bill aimed at curtailing what some have called “wokeness” in schools and job sites. Bill sponsor Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican, started the discussion by stating the goal is not to eliminate factual discussions about history.

“There are things that occurred,” Diaz said, listing topics such as the Civil War and Jim Crow. “Those are facts in our history, we know that.”

The point, he argued, is to prevent attacks on people because of their race or gender. When asked for examples, he didn’t offer any but said the state should ensure they don’t happen.

“What we cannot do is hit the students with an automatic, just because you are from this group you are sexist or racist,” Diaz said.

The legislation yielded plenty of criticism.

“This is a most authoritarian bill,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat, who called the measure an attempt to chill important dialogue in the classroom and in businesses.

Read the full story here. More from the Associated Press, USA Today Florida Network.

The argument is making its way into local school board meetings, too. Some Pasco County residents accused the district administration on Tuesday of sending some staff to a “woke, racist” national mathematics conference where workshops on equity will be offered. District officials said the staff was going to the conference to learn about math, noting the sponsor helped craft Florida’s new academic standards. • In Brevard County, some residents took issue with plans to send staff to a workshop on social-emotional learning, saying the sponsor had an “extremist social agenda,” Florida Today reports.

More Tallahassee action

What’s in the water? Two state lawmakers have filed legislation to take steps ensuring lead-free water in schools, Florida Politics reports.

The red flashing lights on school buses mean stop. A bill to equip buses with cameras to record drivers who pass as students board or exit passed its first Senate committee, Florida Politics reports.

Today in Tallahassee ... The House Early Learning and Elementary Education subcommittee meets at 1 p.m. • The House Secondary Education subcommittee meets at 3:30 p.m.

Superintendent searches

The Pinellas County School Board kicked off its search to replace retiring Mike Grego. Members hired the Florida School Boards Association to lead the effort, stressing their desire for someone who understands Florida and Pinellas County.

The Miami-Dade County School Board has come under fire for its superintendent search. Members had a tense, lengthy discussion about their process while reviewing the candidate list, which they narrowed to three, the Miami Herald reports.

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Other hot topics

Book bans: The Flagler County school district has crafted a policy that would allow parents to prevent their own children from accessing certain materials, without affecting other peoples’ children, Flagler Live reports.

Coronavirus concerns: Palm Beach County’s superintendent has COVID. As he recovers, other officials who worked with him are testing to find out if they were infected, the Palm Beach Post reports. • Volusia County teacher union leaders said their district faces a crisis as its staffing shortage is worsened by the pandemic, WFTV reports. • Twenty Lake County schools had 5 percent or more of students and staff test positive in a two-week period, the Daily Commercial reports.

Fired principal: A Palm Beach County principal who caused a stir by denying the Holocaust has asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in on whether his firing was legal, the News Service of Florida reports.

Rowdy board meetings: Sixteen Sarasota-area organizations have formed a coalition to support public education, reacting to hostility they’ve seen at recent local school board meetings, the Herald-Tribune reports.

Don’t miss a story. Here’s the link to yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... Funny or Die is making a Weird Al Yankovic biopic for Roku. Cast into the main role is Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. Don’t think he has the chops for it? Check out this performance.

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