June 19, 2023

Kathryn Joyce: Florida’s Laboratory for Far Right Education Policies

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Kathryn Joyce wrote for Hechinger a long, deep look a Sarasota schools, a Ground Zero for right wing anti-inclusion policies. While the area is famous for its anti-LGBTQ stance, there’s plenty of racist policy in action as well.

Over the last three years, the school district has experienced waves of chaotic unrest, beginning in mid-2020. That August, amid the tumult of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the presidential election, Tom Edwards, a silver-haired former New York businessman, won an upset race for school board on a platform of public health precautions and fighting school privatization. Already that year, two sitting board members had left the Republican Party in disgust over its far-right shift. The election of Edwards — a self-described moderate Democrat who’d moved to Sarasota shortly after selling his second business and had quickly grown restless with retirement — meant the board suddenly had a 3-2 moderate majority.

The day before the board next met, Bridget Ziegler — originally appointed to her position by then Governor Rick Scott in 2014 — posted to Facebook an educational cartoon about BLM, created by a company whose products the district licensed. Although the video was never shown in Sarasota classes, Ziegler’s post — ending with the admonition, “Our job is to educate, not indoctrinate” — triggered a movement. The following day, and for months to come, the board meeting was packed with angry speakers, including local Proud Boys, charging the district was indoctrinating children.

“They were vicious,” recalled Nora Mitchell, now a senior at Booker High, Sarasota’s most racially diverse high school, who spoke at her first board meeting during the controversy when she was just 15. Afterward, she said, she was followed into the parking lot, with one man demanding to know whether she considered him racist because he was white and a woman calling her a Marxist. Online, conservative activists argued that she couldn’t have written the speech herself.

“The insinuation,” said Mitchell, “was that I’m Black, I go to Booker, so obviously I’m some sort of plant for my white teachers.” (This August, Mitchell leaves for Harvard too.)

That battle “was the first, pre-CRT thing, before that became a buzzword,” said Carol Lerner, a retired public school social worker and researcher who cofounded the progressive advocacy group Support Our Schools. “That’s how the whole thing started nationwide.”

Read the full article here. 

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