Florida school leaders grapple with state opposition to diversity, equity

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state
Hillsborough County School Board member Henry "Shake" Washington became emotional at a workshop about racial issues on Jan. 17, 2023.
Hillsborough County School Board member Henry "Shake" Washington became emotional at a workshop about racial issues on Jan. 17, 2023. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times staff ]
Published Jan. 18|Updated Jan. 18

The big story: Florida Department of Education officials have been clear in their opposition to diversity and equity policies within school districts, suggesting such rules advance indoctrination.

What exactly they mean has left many school district leaders baffled.

The Hillsborough County School Board spent 90 minutes Tuesday trying to decode the state’s message that the district equity policy might result in sanctions. Members spent much of the time focused on the words “institutional racism” within the policy, discussing whether they should remove them in an abundance of caution.

Board member Jessica Vaughn said that, without clarity from the state, the Hillsborough board should not feel compelled to take any action at all. “That, to me, is like our Miranda rights,” she said. “This, for us, is a defining moment. This is our Rosa Parks moment.” Read more here.

That’s not the only restrictive state law that has school districts confused.

Orange County School Board members expressed frustration as they discussed how to implement Florida’s law on library book selection, WFTV reports. The State Board of Education will discuss proposed new rules and training for that law when it meets Wednesday morning, WLRN reports.

Hot topics

Public comment: The Pinellas County School Board reversed its 2021 decision to stop livestreaming public comments on non-agenda items, saying it fostered distrust. The streaming resumes next week.

Parent rights: A Pasco County dad asked some pointed questions during a summer visit to a middle school his son might be attending. The principal called his boss to complain. Shawn Hayston is still awaiting an apology.

School boards: Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a private school guidance counselor to serve on the Miami-Dade County School Board, the Miami Herald reports.

Security: The Flagler County school district will survey its employees to see if they have interest in carrying a weapon and serving as a guardian, Flagler Live reports. • A Duval County School Board member asked for public feedback about whether to expand the armed guardian program in schools, WJAX reports. • Broward County school received an online threat, prompting law enforcement to seek removal of the threat-maker’s weapons. The “red flag” law might have protected the school from a shooting, the NY Times reports.

Superintendents: A newly elected Broward County School Board member has drafted a proposal to fire superintendent Vickie Cartwright, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • The Sarasota County School Board postponed selection of an interim superintendent to replace ousted Brennan Asplen, the Herald-Tribune reports. • The Collier County School Board is asking for public input on the qualities its next superintendent should have, WINK reports.

Teacher pay: Seminole County teachers are pushing for bigger raises than the district has offered, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

University presidents: Florida Gulf Coast University trustees restarted their search for the school’s fifth president, two months after its initial search failed to yield enough qualified candidates, WGCU reports.

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In Tallahassee

Name, image and likeness: A House subcommittee advanced legislation that would make it easier for universities to help student-athletes find compensation deals. They said the change would place Florida on more even footing with other states.

Standards: Florida Department of Education officials told lawmakers they seek increased transparency for parents as the state shifts to different academic standards, Florida Politics reports.

State funds: The Florida State Board of Administration barred Florida’s Prepaid College Fund from considering social, political and ideological issues when deciding where to invest, Politico Florida reports.

Virus pushback: Gov. Ron DeSantis called on lawmakers to permanently ban mask mandates in schools.

From the court docket ... A federal judge dismissed the Leon County lawsuit that gave rise to Florida’s law limiting instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

On the calendar ... The State Board of Education meets at 9 a.m. today in Nassau County. • The House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee also meets at 9 a.m. • The Senate Postsecondary Education committee meets at 10 a.m.

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

Before you go ... James Earl Jones was trending on Twitter. Don’t worry. It was just celebrating his 92nd birthday. May the force be with him.

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