Florida schools are for government messaging, attorney general says

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, shown at a 2022 press conference, has argued that public schools are designed to convey a government message, not to create a forum for free expression.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, shown at a 2022 press conference, has argued that public schools are designed to convey a government message, not to create a forum for free expression. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Dec. 5, 2023|Updated Dec. 6, 2023

The big story: Florida Republican lawmakers and government officials consistently tout the importance of freedom of thought and speech in education, as well as the critical role of parents and the need to avoid indoctrination.

In an August legal filing, state Attorney General Ashley Moody described a different reality when it comes to public schools.

“Public-school systems, including their libraries, convey the government’s message,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody wrote in a legal brief. Additionally, she wrote, public school libraries are not a “forum for free expression.”

Her arguments, made in friend of the court briefs on two book challenge lawsuits, had experts saying Moody was advocating for authoritarianism, not parental rights. “If government speech determines what books can be in the library, the government is essentially saying your children can only see the ideas that the government has approved,” Ken Paulson of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee University told the Tallahassee Democrat. Read more here.

Hot topics

Transgender student athletes: The mother of a Broward County transgender teen who was allowed to play on the school’s girls volleyball team has criticized officials who outed her child, the Miami Herald reports. • A debate continues over whether transgender students should be allowed to participate on women’s athletic teams, WUSF reports.

Superintendents: Alachua County teachers are asking the School Board to reject a proposed $50,000 pay raise for the district superintendent, WCJB reports.

Safety: The Osceola County Commission approved placing speed detection devices in public school zones, WMFE reports.

Religion in schools: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County will remove a church advertising banner from its property after a political activist requested equal treatment for a banner promoting the “Church of Satanology,” Parkland Talk reports.

Hurricane Ian aftermath: Newly renovated Fort Myers Beach Elementary in Lee County will reopen to students, some of whom have been commuting to other schools more than 15 miles away, WFTX reports.

Calendars: The Flagler County school district is rearranging its school days so students will not attend on voting days or the full week of Thanksgiving, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

Budgets: Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled to unveil his budget proposals at 9 a.m. today, in advance of presentations to lawmakers on Wednesday, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

Book challenges: The Alachua County school district, which had not received any book challenges before September, now has a dozen, Main Street Daily News reports.

From the police blotter ... A former teacher at a Miami-Dade County charter school was arrested on accusations of inappropriate contact with a student, WTVJ reports.

From the court docket ... A Palm Beach County high school principal is fighting to have charges dismissed that he failed to report a suspected sexual assault of a student, WPTV reports. • An engineering firm is suing the Broward County school district, claiming it is owed millions of dollars, WLRN reports.

In higher ed

College football: Florida elected officials are demanding answers as to why Florida State University was left out of the final four playoffs. • Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would set aside up to $1 million in state funds to pursue any available legal options, Florida Politics reports.

Community colleges: Enrollment in Florida’s community colleges is up 4.4% from a year ago, Center Square reports.

Free speech: A University of Florida fraternity is under fire over a distasteful banner it displayed outside its house before the UF football game against Florida State University, the Gainesville Sun reports. The banner depicted a “hangman” with a stick figure of FSU’s injured quarterback.

Today in Tallahassee ... The Senate Postsecondary Education Committee meets at 11 a.m. to hear a report on articulation agreements between state colleges and universities. • The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets at 4 p.m. to hear a presentation on funding and spending from the Board of Governors.

Don’t miss a story. Yesterday’s roundup is a click away.

Before you go ... History raps beyond Hamilton. Who wins this Epic Rap Battle?

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Spotlight on education

The public is invited to a community conversation about the future of Florida public schools on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the Tampa Theatre, hosted by the Tampa Bay Times. In the second installment of the Spotlight Tampa Bay series, Times journalists will moderate a discussion by experts, followed by a panel featuring students. Tickets are $20; $10 for students. Proceeds benefit the Times’ Journalism Fund. To purchase tickets, click here.