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This week’s highs and lows from across Tampa Bay and Florida
Lessons in teaching, pandering and where local governments fall short
Brandt Robinson teaches history at Dunedin High School.
Brandt Robinson teaches history at Dunedin High School. [ Courtesy of Brandt Robinson ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 22

Just the facts. At a time Florida lawmakers are politicizing the teaching of race, Dunedin High School history teacher Brandt Robinson has a message for his colleagues: Get your facts straight. Then stand your ground. Last year, Robinson urged the Pinellas County School Board to take a stance against the backlash of a field of study known as “critical race theory,” which explores institutional racism in America. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida Republican leaders have mischaracterized the theory, which is not taught in Florida’s K-12 schools, as a process for indoctrinating school children to “hate” America. “We’re not here to indoctrinate students. We’re not here to teach students to hate America,” Robinson told the board. A Pinellas parent later challenged Robinson’s position before the board, and filed an objection to the syllabus he assigned to his course in African American history. Robinson defended his case to a review committee, which found unanimously that the text met state academic standards. Even a spokesperson for DeSantis acknowledged that a fact-based education “on the good and the bad in American history is required in Florida public schools.” It may be tough and time-consuming to separate fact from ideology in the current partisan environment. But as Robinson showed, the effort’s worth it, and it’ll help improve the critical thinking skills of this and future generations alike.

A selfless patriot. Florida Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, who moonlights as a state senator, is pushing another silly piece of legislation that is bad for business and the First Amendment but great for pandering politicians. The bill, SB 1298, would require Florida professional sports teams and organizers receiving government money to play the national anthem before every home event. Never mind that Gruters couldn’t recall during a committee hearing this week of any such cases in Florida where “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t played. “This is just to make sure,” he said, “that people continue to play it.” Where would NASCAR fans be without this patriot from Sarasota? To put some teeth into the law, the party of freedom and liberty would impose penalties, which could include forcing teams to repay public money or barring them from future state contracts. Can Florida Republicans finally quit claiming they are the party of small government? And by the way, the First Amendment bars the government from not only restricting speech, but compelling it. Can Gruters get on the loudspeaker and explain that one away?

Kill the messenger. There’s a saying that’s about, oh, a million years old: Be careful what you ask for. For the last several months, a citizens group appointed by Pasco County has analyzed locations in northeast Pasco to determine where commercial growth might be appropriate. This month, at the urging of the county commissioner from that district, Ron Oakley, the committee’s work came to an abrupt end. As the Tampa Bay TimesBarbara Behrendt reported, the commission voted unanimously to disband the advisory committee, which included large landowners, activists and others, because Oakley said their input had been too negative. “We haven’t gotten any real good advice from this committee, to say the least,” Oakley said. “Most of the answers coming from it are negative or ‘no, we can’t do that.’” Oakley said he was especially riled that the committee chairwoman complained that Oakley told them they could not discuss a planned RV resort to which Oakley has personal ties. Advisory boards exist to offer feedback, not to serve as laundering devices for whoever’s in charge. Commissioners could use a seminar on civics, and maybe a tougher skin.

Not a locker room. It’s good that the city of Clearwater finally looks serious about addressing the turmoil inside the city’s Marine and Aviation Department. As the Times’ Tracey McManus reported, multiple investigations in less than a year pushed the new city manager to hire a law firm to further examine an array of workplace misconduct allegations. Among them: the use of threatening and racist language and the distribution of a sexually explicit photo of a city employee. Clearwater officials were right to hire the Tampa-based Allen, Norton & Blue law firm to investigate. Two big questions: Why was any misconduct tolerated for so long, and who allowed it to continue? Those answers are essential for reshaping this department into the professional operation that taxpayers expect.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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