Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. June 4, 2021.

Editorial: Our kids’ education should be based on fact, not propaganda ' Editorial

It’s either chutzpah or hypocrisy, maybe both, that leads Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the Florida Board of Education to crack down on our children’s history lessons. First, they spread fear that our kids will actually learn that (gasp!) the United States has not always been purely mom and apple pie. Then, satisfied they’ve sufficiently whipped up hysteria, they require a civics curriculum that encourages children to be unthinking drones.

Chattel slavery, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow, the subjugation of Native Americans — our ancestors did a lot of things that we shouldn’t be proud of on the way to saving the world from fascism and communism in the 20th century. We’ve yet to atone for most of them, which is why much of our history cannot help but be looked at through the prism of race — one way of contextualizing American history that is called critical race theory.

Not that it’s the only way history should be taught in schools — not that it’s even taught at all in Florida classrooms in most cases. But our educational leaders, at the behest of our governor — who has said taking an honest look at history is “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other” — are mandating what teachers can teach in history classes in proposed rules that will be up for a vote July 14 at a board meeting in Pinellas County.

While loudly proclaiming to anyone who will listen that teachers are forcing “crazy liberal stuff” down our children’s throats, as Corcoran has termed it, they will at the same time force teachers to teach students that our laws came from the Ten Commandments. That “disorderly protesting” is a sign of “irresponsible citizenship.”

Our laws, of course, do not come from the Ten Commandments. Only three of them — bans against murder, theft and perjury — touch on our laws, and in general, killing someone, taking their stuff and then lying about it was frowned upon even before Moses came down from the mountain.

But when your education commissioner is a man with a law degree from Pat Robertson’s Regent University, perhaps this is the sort of education we should expect.

The Florida Board of Education should take a page from Florida Atlantic University’s Board of Trustees, which, upon realizing that a proposal on tenure was more controversial than members had originally thought, struck the item from its June 8 meeting, putting it off until November, if at all.

In the meantime, through June 10, you can give the Board of Education feedback on its proposed changes to Florida civics standards by completing a survey at https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/6360487/Civics-and-Government-Standards-2.

Our kids may not need to learn history through the prism of critical race theory — we’ll leave that up to teachers who know better than us or Corcoran how to educate children — but they do need to learn critical thinking. Forcing teachers to teach our children through red-white-and-blue tinted glasses serves no one.

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Miami Herald. June 5, 2021.

Editorial: DeSantis’ clash with Florida’s cruise industry over vaccine passports will cost us all

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ill-thought-out ban on vaccine passports is keeping Florida’s cruising industry in limbo, potentially costing the state tourist dollars and jobs.

But apparently that’s OK with DeSantis, as long as he scores political points with his GOP base. His ambitions — another term as governor and maybe even the presidency — are once again more important than the good of the state.

Last month, DeSantis filed a long-shot suit against the U .S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an attempt to force the agency to allow cruising to resume without any rules. Legal experts immediately labeled it a political stunt, because the federal government has broad control to regulate ports of entry and international commerce. A federal judge in Tampa now has the case.

But that’s just more hype from the governor. The real issue is the measure he signed into law last month that prohibits businesses from requiring that customers have vaccine passports in order to receive services. The law was passed without a carve-out for the cruise business, which has been shuttered since March 2020 because of COVID. And that has put the cruise lines, desperate to reopen, in a difficult position.

The CDC created a path forward for the industry, releasing a set of rules that allow ships to sail as soon as June 26. The rules — which recommend vaccines but don’t require them — allow cruise ships at U.S. ports to require at least 98% of their crew members and 95% of their passengers to be vaccinated. There’s also another option: Ships can restart after a two-day test cruise to make sure COVID-prevention protocols are working in the vaccine’s absence.

Those are reasonable safety measures (for those undaunted by memories of the ships filled with sick passengers). Some cruise lines have indicated they may go even further, requiring all passengers over 16 to be vaccinated.

But under Florida’s new law, which goes into effect July 1, cruise lines aren’t allowed to ask passengers if they are vaccinated. They could be fined $5,000 each time they require vaccination proof from a patron.

All of that has put DeSantis on a collision course with the cruise industry, a strange spot for a Republican who claims to be pro-business to be in.

And yet there was the governor on Thursday, holding a press conference in Key Biscayne where he tried to deflect attention from his own bad law and blame the CDC for not restarting cruises.

“Who’s the one suing the CDC to open the ports?” he said. “Under current Florida law, they are absolutely able to do it.. . . . The problem on this the whole time has been the CDC.”

We’re used to the governor’s grandstanding. But this time around, his politics-above-all attitude is hurting regular people. Before the cruise industry stalled, about 60,000 South Floridians worked for the cruise lines or in support jobs. Now, many have seen their hours cut or their jobs disappear entirely.

The cruise industry wants to go back to work. The CDC isn’t the issue here. The badly conceived vaccine passport law is.

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Orlando Sentinel. June 5, 2021.

Editorial: A week to remind us that LGBTQ bigotry is alive and well in Florida

Two years ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation marking the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shootings. But it omitted any reference to the LGBTQ community, the primary victims in the nation’s second-worst mass shooting in American history.

We’re starting to suspect that 2019 omission wasn’t an innocent mistake, as the governor’s office claimed at the time.

This week, the governor chose the first day of Pride Month to sign a divisive bill that bans transgender girls and women from competing on girls’ and women’s teams at public schools. He signed the bill in a ceremony at a taxpayer-supported private voucher school that, as of last year, excluded gay students.

Are we really supposed to believe it was a wild coincidence that DeSantis — whose every move these days is campaign choreographed — chose to sign a bill marginalizing the transgender community on the first day of a month dedicated to fighting for just the opposite?

The following day, DeSantis signed a $101 billion budget, but vetoed $150,000 in counseling for Pulse survivors and $750,000 to help build housing for homeless gay kids in Central Florida.

All of this as Orlando approaches the fifth anniversary of the second-worst mass shooting in American history, a massacre that took the lives of clubgoers who were predominantly young, Hispanic and gay.

If you ever wondered why there’s a need for Pride Month, this past week ought to answer the question.

State-sanctioned, institutional bigotry against the LGBTQ community is alive and well in Florida.

Not just because of these latest developments but because of how they fit in with the state’s long history of tolerating or even encouraging anti-gay bigotry every since Anita Bryant launched her anti-gay jihad more than four decades ago.

Taken alone, this week’s vetoes of money for LGBTQ projects might seem hardhearted but defensible. They were, after all, among dozens of other projects lined out by the governor, totaling some $1.5 billion.

The transgender sports restrictions, on the other hand, appeared wholly unnecessary, except to score political points. There’s no controversy here over transgender girls leaving other girls in the dust at track meets.

But these recent developments should not and cannot be viewed separately from Florida’s long history of bigotry toward the LGBTQ community.

Exhibit A was the state’s refusal, year after year, to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Florida’s 1992 Civil Rights Act.

The act bans discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on gender, race, religion, even marital status. Which meant a restaurant in Florida couldn’t refuse to serve someone because they’re divorced, but it could refuse to serve someone because they’re gay.

The Legislature’s unwillingness to ever right that wrong in the statute stands in direct contrast to its lightning-fast passage this year of a law to ensure businesses can’t treat someone unfairly by asking whether they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine.

Under that new Florida law, it’s illegal for a cruise line to turn away a passenger who refuses to get a COVID vaccination. But the Legislature was happy to let stand a law that made it legal to deny a berth to a transgender man or woman.

Lawmakers introduced bills many times over the years that would have made such discrimination against the LGBTQ community illegal under the state’s Civil Rights Act. And each year those bills got nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Other bills have been introduced to outlaw discrimination against gay children in private schools that accept taxpayer-funded scholarships, or vouchers. An Orlando Sentinel review of publicly available private school policies in 2020 found more than 150 schools prohibited gay kids, or kids with gay parents, from attending.

The proposed anti-discrimination law would apply only to private schools that take taxpayer money to pay for scholarships. Private schools that don’t accept money from the state would be free to continue hunting down and expelling gay kids.

The failure of those bills to get anywhere cannot be explained, except by the Legislature’s willingness to accept and perpetuate bigotry.

For decades, any progress toward equality — whether it was allowing gay couples to adopt or get married — came not from the state Capitol but from the courts, with Florida dragged along kicking and screaming.

Most recently, the Supreme Court ruled last year that discrimination based on sexual orientation violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As a result, the Florida Commission on Human Relations announced earlier this year it would begin investigating reports of all manner of discrimination because of sexual orientation, whether employment, housing or otherwise. The LGBTQ community viewed that as an enormous statewide victory.

We have little doubt the courts will again be asked to step in on Florida’s new transgender sports law.

So it goes in the nation’s third-largest state, where the judicial branch of government remains the first and only hope for LGBTQ equality.

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Palm Beach Post. June 6, 2021.

Editorial: DeSantis’ culture of dissembling

We’ve all heard of fake news. Florida has become a land of fake crises.

We’re a state without sanctuary cities that has passed a law to punish sanctuary cities.

We’re a state that had the best-run November election in its history, in which Republicans, including their standard-bearer Donald Trump, did very well. They reacted with laws making it more difficult for their opponents to vote.

After waves of mostly peaceful demonstrations demanded an end to racial injustice last summer, lawmakers answered with jacked-up punishments for rioters.

And now, Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing a new rule before the Florida Board of Education, to keep teachers from “indoctrinating kids with fad-ish ideologies.” Translation: teaching history that includes what Black Americans have been up against. He presented no evidence that schools are awash in any such “ideologies.”

This is the DeSantis style. Just as he rose to the Governor’s Mansion in 2018 by grabbing as much TV time as he could in front of Fox News’ conservative audience, he is conducting himself in office as though his most important constituency were not the people of this state but those Trump-leaning viewers across the nation.

Florida is far from the only Republican-led state obsessed with feeding conservative voters the red meat they crave. But DeSantis is doing so as an audition for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, staging a disingenuous drama at the expense of solving real problems that face citizens of his economically diverse and multicultural state.

And like his idol Trump, DeSantis has instituted a culture of dissembling that’s far beyond the range of normal politicians.

Take his boasts about Florida’s new, record-setting $101 billion budget, which includes $10.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds. Instead of anticipated cuts to education and health programs, DeSantis can tout raises for teachers, police and other first responders.

He claimed the good fortune was due to “sound...conservative” policies and “the fact that Florida has schools open, businesses open and people having the right to work.” Barely a word about the help provided by the federal largesse, for which not a single Republican in Congress voted.

And that portrait of Florida as a mask-less, liberty-loving “oasis of freedom?” Another fiction. One that DeSantis sold so often in front of so many TV cameras, the nation now thinks the Sunshine State was wide open when most of America was in lockdown.

Yes, DeSantis decreed the full reopening of bars and restaurants in the early month of September. And yes, DeSantis invited Spring Breakers to crowd our beaches in a jaw-dropping display of recklessness.

But for most of the pandemic, most Floridians in large counties like Palm Beach stayed home -- just as Americans elsewhere did. Schools shut down and kids got lessons over the internet. Folks who ventured out wore masks. Most Floridians put up with the same common-sense constrictions as Americans anywhere.

Now, the governor is pursuing a ridiculous battle with cruise lines by doubling down on his crusade to bar Florida businesses from requiring customers to provide “vaccine passports.”

The notion that producing proof of immunization is to submit to some sort of oppression is lunatic enough, considering the life-and-death stakes. But the cruise industry is one of the most important in this state. And having long fought the stigma of noroviruses and then the COVID horror of the Diamond Princess, no other industry could be more anxious to keep itself virus-free.

Yet here is DeSantis, in what one maritime attorney calls “political buffoonery,” picking fights not just with cruise lines but with the Centers for Disease Control. The tussle could keep ships out of Florida ports even though the CDC has given the green light to sail (provided 95% of passengers and crew show proof of vaccination).

“Political grandstanding 100%,” Miami-based maritime attorney Mike Winkleman told the Washington Post. “It’s kowtowing to a small minority that are a really vocal base for him.”

Because political grandstanding is what the DeSantis governorship is all about.

As we noted last week, he signed a constitutionally dubious bill that thrilled Trump supporters by taking aim at Twitter and Facebook for banishing the ex-president for mendacious posts claiming he was cheated out of reelection.

But then, DeSantis made the same false claims. In November, on Laura Ingraham’s Fox show, DeSantis called on residents of Pennsylvania and Michigan to ask their state legislators to override the popular vote and install slates of presidential electors loyal to Trump “if they’re not following the law.” (Which, of course, they were.)

Who knows if DeSantis truly believes that voting shenanigans — rather than his rejection by 81 million voters — denied Trump a second term. True, false, who cares? What counts to DeSantis is that he signaled — that he is always signaling — to the base.

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Tampa Bay Times. June 5, 2021.

Editorial: How can Florida’s schools keep partisanship from muddling the nation’s history?

Florida is considering a rewrite of its civics lessons in the school system, partly in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers, who say that students should be civically engaged and prepared to contribute to their communities.

Who can argue with that?

The state Department of Education’s draft of revisions includes language that could narrow these critical conversations in the classroom. The public is invited to comment through June 10 in an online survey. We have excerpted several of the proposals, which cover kindergarten to 12th grade, and identified some potential sticking points.

• First Grade: “Students will discuss how to respectfully demonstrate patriotism during patriotic holidays.” Will the discussion include how a nation founded on the ideal of self-determination does not require that citizens celebrate certain holidays?

• Second Grade: “Students will identify characteristics of irresponsible citizenship (e.g., disorderly assembly).” Isn’t “disorderly assembly” a phrase law enforcement often uses to justify breaking up a constitutionally protected gathering? How will that be handled with second-graders?

• Fifth Grade: “Students will explain how the application of checks and balances ... distinguishes the United States constitutional republic from authoritarian and totalitarian nations.” Does that requirement imply that America’s system of checks and balances is complete, functional and itself free from abuse?

• Seventh Grade: “Students will describe how religious ideas ... influenced America’s founding ideals.” Many of the country’s founders practiced deism, a belief that a supreme being created the universe, but then was absent from the world. They followed a philosophical belief in human reason as a reliable means of solving social and political problems. Will that be included in the curriculum?

• Grades 9 through 12: “Students will examine situations when individuals’ rights have been restricted for the public good (e.g., limits on speech or rationing of goods during wartime, enactment of the Patriot Act).” Will the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II be taught? How will opposition to the Patriot Act by Democrats and Republicans be handled?

“Students will identify various forms of propaganda (e.g., plain folks, glittering generalities, testimonial, fear, logical fallacies).” What is propaganda, and who decides?

“Students will analyze the disadvantages of authoritarian control over the economy (e.g., communism and socialism) in generating broad-based economic prosperity for their population.” Will this include examining the limits of market economies to serve the needs of large swaths of their populations?

“Students will explain how United States foreign policy aims to protect liberty around the world and describe how the founding documents support the extension of liberty to all mankind.” Does that aptly describe how America has balanced the promotion of liberty with its own interests in Iran, Central and South America, the Pacific or other places throughout history?

The purpose of the state’s efforts to rewrite the guidelines is to both instruct students on American civics and to encourage them to act. Every Floridian has a stake in what happens in the school system and an interest in getting this delicate initiative right.

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