U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, currently campaigning for governor in 2022 as a Democrat, is creating his own coalition of parents to support his campaign.
A former Republican Florida governor and education commissioner, Crist said that the group will be “instrumental in helping to shape the education policy of the future Crist administration and end the toxic politicization of our schools that have left parents worried about their children.”
The group is called Parents for Crist, he said during a Zoom press conference Wednesday.
“As Florida’s families, children and teachers suffer under a governor who continues his reckless and politically motivated attacks on our schools, Parents for Crist will serve as an advisory board and an organizing force for our campaign and our mission to deliver an education system that values and protects all Floridians young and old,” Crist said.
He did not announce particular policies that would achieve these goals, but highlighted teaching accurate history in classrooms and maintaining healthy school environments amid the COVID pandemic.
The reference to teaching history likely comes as a response to several efforts from the DeSantis administration to limit how the topic of race is discussed in Florida classrooms.
Instead, several Florida parents relayed their experiences of sending their students to school under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ COVID policies.
Jabari Hosey, a Brevard parent of three who serves as president of a group called “Families for Safe Schools,” said, “This has been quite an experience during this pandemic because I did not expect so much politicization and polarization within our school districts around health and safety policies and protecting our staff and students,” Hosey said during the zoom conference.
He said that his oldest son, a third grader, and about 14 of his classmates tested positive for COVID at a time when Brevard County school district was not mandating masks in schools.
Eventually, the district did mandate masks.
Brevard County was one of eight school boards financially penalized by the state for placing a mask mandate on most students during the height of the delta variant surging through Florida earlier this school year.
State education officials said that these eight districts were breaking Florida law, claiming that it was up to parents, not board members, to decide if their students should wear a mask in school.
DeSantis later signed legislation to ensure that parents had the right to mask their children or not, even if the pandemic worsened. This law was created before the surge of the highly-transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19.
Hosey said that actions taken by the governor “undercut the legs of our local government” and “handcuffs the districts, putting parents into a very difficult space.”
“It was either take the risk of sending your kids to school and hope that they don’t get COVID or bring it home, or keeping your students home with you full time and teaching them, which is not ideal.”
Raegan Miller, a mother of two from Pinellas County, highlighted her daughter’s experience of having many substitutes in school.
“My daughter would come home at the end of the day and tell me that five of her teachers — five of seven — were substitutes. And this was happening multiple times at the beginning of the year,” Miller said. “One of her teachers quit, her English teacher, in September, and we had a substitute who was not certified to teach English for over two months, until they were finally able to find a replacement teacher.”
“She had another teacher that was out almost the entire first quarter of the year due to COVID. So we began to question ‘is this a quality education? What are we sacrificing here?’”
Ryann Greenberg, a Broward County parent of a middle schooler and a high schooler, said, “DeSantis is constantly discussing economy, economy, economy. Well parents cannot go to work and feel that their children are safe if there is not a stable school environment. If teachers are out sick or if staff is out sick constantly, our schools are not stable.”
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