Candidates endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis include a councilman who promoted QAnon conspiracy theories and questioned the reality of the pandemic, and a teacher who opposes Critical Race Theory.
At a time when Florida school boards have become a battleground over discussions of race and gender in the classroom, Gov. Ron DeSantis is putting all his weight behind school board candidates who align with his ultra conservative political agenda.
In pursuit of this, the Republican’s website gives school board candidates in Florida access to a non-endorsement certificate that reads, “I stand with Governor Ron DeSantis and pledge to…” followed by a list of education priorities, including “Reject the Use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the curriculum,” “keep WOKE gender ideology out of schools,” and “support a robust civics education.”
The first “priority” translates as his “Don’t Say Gay Law, which prohibits talk of LGBTQ-related subjects in primary schools; the second refers to his ban on teaching schoolchildren the history of racial inequity in the US, which even DeSantis admits is not taught in Florida schools.
But it is the third “priority” that has been the focus of controversy, when considering that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative, which limits what schools can teach about race and gender identity, also promotes what some teachers in South Florida call “a very strong Christian fundamentalist way toward analyzing different quotes and different [historical] documents.”
For example, one slide used during the teachers’ training claims that it was a “misconception” that the “Founders desired strict separation of church and state.” The material also repeatedly mentions the influence of Jesus Christ and the Bible on the foundation of the country.
For their part, school board candidates fill out a survey that asks whether they support the concept of students being “locked out of school or subject to forced masking,” presumably due to COVID-19 safety measures, or the governor’s “increases in teacher compensation.”
Why School Boards Matter
School boards are a crucial part of students’ education, as they are responsible for crafting the overall educational vision of a district’s public schools, as well as setting a school’s curriculum, among other duties. Most importantly, school board members must be able to back up their decisions and actions with facts and data, something that some attendees to the trainings observed to be lacking in DeSantis’ Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative.
Despite this, candidates endorsed by DeSantis include Fred Lowry in Volusia County, who promoted QAnon conspiracy theories and questioned the reality of the pandemic, and Miami-Dade County’s Monica Colucci, whose platform includes opposition to CRT and protecting “female athletes and the integrity of female sports,” which fits into DeSantis’ playbook. The Sunshine State was one of the first in the nation to ban transgender women and girls from participating in women’s sports.
Boosting DeSantis’ agenda is the 1776 Project, the first national PAC specifically launched to boost school board candidates opposed to teaching Critical Race Theory CRT. The group plans to contribute around $300,000 into races in Florida, according to Axios.
“[Republicans] are uncomfortable with quite a few things, and the things they are uncomfortable with, they seem to be bold enough and just inhumane enough to try to make a law to keep it from existing in front of them,” Congressmember Yvonne Hinson, who represents Florida’s District 20, and an educator who for 14 years served as principal of an elementary magnet school, told Floricua.
And as DeSantis’ visibility grows across the nation, leaders from other states have called him out on what they see his regressive agenda, including Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of California, who said in a TV ad that “Republican leaders—they’re banning books… restricting speech in classrooms.”
But despite the criticism, DeSantis remains undaunted: “We need strong local school board members who are committed to advancing our agenda to put students first and protect parents’ rights,” he said. But whose parents’ rights? question his opponents. Assuming all schoolchildren are white and have opposite sex parents seems to be the governor’s criteria.
Because of this, according to Rep. Hinson, “We’re going back in time instead of forward.”