Free speech debate arises at Florida universities over pro-Palestine group

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state
Students gather at the University of Florida Turlington Hall for prayer after a teach-in organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine to talk on the the Israel and Hamas conflict on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023 in Gainesville.
Students gather at the University of Florida Turlington Hall for prayer after a teach-in organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine to talk on the the Israel and Hamas conflict on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023 in Gainesville. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 26, 2023

The big story: Freedom of speech on Florida’s public university campuses again rose to the forefront this week, as the DeSantis administration ordered the removal of a student group that has protested against Israel and on behalf of Palestinians.

Citing materials from Students for Justice in Palestine’s national organization, which say the group is “part” of the resistance, university system chancellor Ray Rodrigues said the group is aligned with terrorists and said it must be deactivated.

As a state senator, Rodrigues championed measures aimed at promoting “intellectual freedom” on college campuses, to allow for a wider array of viewpoints. That effort targeted what Rodrigues deemed a “cancel culture” silencing conservative voices.

Leading the university system, the Estero Republican deemed it necessary to silence Students for Justice in Palestine. Its supporters argued the move violated their rights and called it a “disgrace.” Read more here.

Hot topics

Armed teachers: Brevard County schools are considering whether to expand their armed guardian program to include teachers, Florida Today reports.

Book challenges: Volusia County schools will not remove the Bible from shelves, dismissing a parent’s challenge, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

Corporal punishment: A Broward County teacher’s aide has been removed from her post during an investigation into allegations that she spanked a student with a ruler, WSVN reports. Broward County schools do not allow corporal punishment.

Enrollment: Student numbers have rebounded from a pandemic dip in Palm Beach County schools, the Palm Beach Post reports. • The St. Johns County school district plans to build five new schools in the next three years as enrollment continues to rise, WJXT reports.

High school football: An Orange County high school will get an on-campus football stadium after a decade of requests, the Orlando Sentinel reports. All but one other Orange high school have campus stadiums.

Parent involvement: P.S. 305, an education non-profit, is teaching Miami-Dade County parents how to better advocate for their children in schools, the Miami Herald reports.

School board politics: A Broward County School Board member will not face ethics violations over an complaint that she touched the buttocks of an 18-year-old student, the Sun-Sentinel reports. A review determined that any contact appeared unintentional.

Student funding: Some Polk County residents complained that non-citizen students are benefiting from federal workforce grants, CITC reports.

Superintendents: Collier County superintendent Leslie Ricciardelli was assessed a $1,000 fine by the state ethics commission over a complaint that she failed to disclose part of her personal finances, the Naples Daily News reports.

Teacher pay: The Citrus County School Board approved raises for teachers and other employees during a special meeting, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

Transportation: Some Bay County parents are upset that state law does not provide funding for their children to get bus rides to school, WJHG reports.

Vouchers: Florida is one of four states to have demand for school vouchers outstrip funding this fall, the Associated Press reports.

From the police blotter ... Investigators found a second “suspicious mail item” at Pasco County’s Land O’Lakes High School a day after closing the campus because of a similar discovery. It was not hazardous. • The Broward County school district is investigating whether a district police officer acted appropriately in arresting a longtime volunteer at a recent school board meeting, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • Osceola County deputies are investigating a fight between two moms on an elementary school bus, WFTV reports.

From the court docket ... A former Volusia County high school teacher faces up to 180 years in prison after pleading no contest to unlawful sexual activity with a minor student, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

Before you go ... It’s the middle of college football season, and the marching bands are in peak form. Ohio State offered a Led Zeppelin medley this past weekend. It actually works.

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