Saturday, April 1

Dueling conferences offer distinct messages on future of Florida education

The big story: It was almost surreal.

Commingling in the same downtown Tampa hotel complex were Moms for Liberty, the Florida Democratic Party, the Federalist Society and, just for a variety, Metro-Con attendees dressed like Sailor Moon, Loki and the like.

The speeches and counter-spin, marked with the occasional protests, highlighted how pivotal education policy is becoming as Florida’s 2022 elections approach.

The Moms group, sponsored by conservative influencers such as the Heritage Foundation, rallied eagerly attendees with talks about preventing schools from indoctrinating children in areas such as gender ideology and social-emotional learning. The audience had plenty of “amens” to offer as it took notes on how to effectively spread the message back home, while also angling to win majorities on their school boards.

The effort is playing out in real time in Pinellas County, for example, where one District 2 candidate who attended the summit is attacking the conservative incumbent as not conservative enough, while the third protested outside. Read more about the background of Moms for Liberty from the Miami Herald.

Rose Jamieson, 64, St. Pete for Change cofounder, sits outside the Moms for Liberty National Summit Friday, July 15, 2022 in Tampa. [ LAUREN WITTE | Times ]

The Democrats brought a distinctly different world view, vowing to fight book bans, bias and bigotry. They raised hopes that the Moms’ positions on school lessons won’t appeal to moderates and independents.

Who left with the political momentum remains to be seen.

One possible hint did come out over the weekend: A new national teachers union poll indicated that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education policy positions, which the Moms for Liberty endorsed, has voter approval, NBC reports. Meanwhile, a new organization called DeSantis Watch argued that the governor’s policies are exacerbating Florida’s teacher shortage, Florida Politics reports.

hot topics

School security: The Clay County school district authorized a 21% increase in premiums to cover active assailant insurance, WJXT reports. • The Lake County School Board is asking voters to renew a local-option property tax that helps pay for school safety measures, the Daily Commercial reports. The tax, first approved in 2018, supports initiatives such as having officers in every school, the Daily Commercial reports.

Teacher shortage: Noting that many teachers struggle to find a place to live in Collier County, the School Board is exploring an affordable housing plan using district-owned property, Gulf Shores Business reports. • Alachua County teacher union leaders said students’ poor discipline is a leading cause of teacher turnover in the district, the Gainesville Sun reports. • Okeechobee County school district officials said their struggle to hire enough teachers is worse than in the past. They’re turning to long-term subs to fill gaps, WPEC reports.

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Public comment: A judge dismissed a case alleging the Brevard County School Board discriminated against conservative parents with its public speaking policy, Florida Today reports.

Gender issues: The Palm Beach County school district removed an LGBTQ support guide from its website amid concerns it might violate Florida’s new law regarding instruction on gender identity, WLRN reports.

Intellectual freedom lawsuit: A federal judge said former education commissioner Richard Corcoran doesn’t have to testify in the case, the News Service of Florida reports.

College entry tests: A South Florida former high school football coach was disciplined for helping players with answers on their SAT exams, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

From the police blotter … A Hillsborough County middle school teacher’s aid was arrested on accusations of possessing child pornography. • The Marion County school district’s technical services department caught fire over the weekend. An investigation of the cause is ongoing, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

From the court docket… The sentencing of the Parkland school shooter begins today. Families of the victims are calling for the death penalty, the Associated Press reports.

Before you go… Always try to enjoy Steve Martin when you can.

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