Frank Cerabino: School announcement outside jail? High cost of politicizing school boards in Florida
Sitting on a school board in a Florida county used to be a non-political act of public service.
Board members have traditionally been seated in non-partisan elections, where party affiliation was irrelevant.
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That’s all been tossed under Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made the state’s public schools another stage for his hyper-partisan posturing.
“Parents and, I think, students and, I think, Floridians want our school system to be about educating kids, not indoctrinating kids,” DeSantis said.
By creating and cultivating political wedge issues in schools — usually revolving around the teaching of American history and marginalizing LGBT people — DeSantis has stoked condemnation of public education and used that condemnation as a way to groom and cultivate voters.
Using schools as political battleground
Meanwhile, radical voices, such as former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon, and disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, have called the political takeover of school boards a central organizing principle of political power.
“The path to save the nation is very simple. It’s going to go through the school boards,” Bannon said on his podcast in May.
And it’s being taken to heart in Florida, where DeSantis and Flynn have endorsed dozens of candidates in school board races across the state as if they were political contests.
“Our children’s lives and futures are at risk when our school boards here in Florida and around the nation shove (Critical Race Theory) and transgender nonsense down their throats,” Flynn posted in the lead-up to school board elections in Sarasota County, where three of his candidates were elected.
It’s still early to see the full scope of the damage that will come from putting radical political actors on school boards. But recently, we got an inkling of what’s ahead.
In Brevard County, the new politically-charged school board got to work quickly, getting rid of School Superintendent Mark Mullins during its first board meeting.
Six days after his ouster, the school district released a video announcement about the formation of a new school disciplinary policy.
The announcement of an emergency disciplinary plan was staged not at the school district offices, but in front of the county jail under the tagline: “It’s time to put discipline back in our schools!!”
Turning school policy over to sheriff
And it was announced by Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, who used the opportunity to lament that under the existing school disciplinary rules, unlike the “old days”, students are regrettably spared from having “the cheeks of their ass torn off for not doing right in class.”
By the way, Brevard County Schools are far from havens of permissiveness. While the school district is the 11th largest in the state, it ranks second in the expulsion of kindergarten students, second in the expulsion of general education students and seventh in the state in the expulsion of special education students, according to the existing district behavior plan.
That plan stressed improvements through positive classroom practices, social-emotional learning, positive school culture, and more mental health training — not a return to corporal punishment of minors.
Giving the local sheriff a leading role in school discipline is a nutty idea, like putting a middle-school physical education teacher in charge of SWAT raids.
To make matters worse, Sheriff Ivey is a world-class chucklehead.
Ivey formally calls himself “Constitutional Sheriff Wayne Ivey American Patriot.” He’s a supporter of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Organization, a group founded by an Arizona sheriff who was a board member of the delusional insurrectionist group the Oath Keepers.
Law enforcers who ignore laws
Self-described “constitutional sheriffs” imagine the local authority of the county sheriff is superior to any federal and state government authority. And that county sheriffs have the power to defy and disregard any law they consider unconstitutional.
Allowing Ivey to be the voice of the county’s public school system, and to use that voice to pine for a return of the days when adults could tear the skin off a child’s rear end, serves as nothing more than Fox News auditioning.
It's juvenile political theater, not responsible adult behavior. And it’s just a taste of what’s to come as Florida marches toward DeSantistan.
Frank Cerabino is a columnist at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.