Tuesday afternoon, The Florida Board of Education met in an “emergency meeting” called by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. The subject discussed: The temerity of two local school districts (Alachua and Broward) to listen to the parents, children, teachers and staff they represent and impose a mask mandate. Corcoran has taken center stage in the state’s efforts to muzzle local autonomy, while the Governor focuses his attention on pitching Regeneron, like a cheap low-end C-actor pitch man who cannot find other work.
Full audio of meeting can be found here: https://thefloridachannel.org/videos/8-17-21-state-board-of-education-emergency-conference-call/
The meeting began with Commissioner Corcoran giving a classic hard-line demagogic speech which hearkened back to his days as Speaker of the House attacking Visit Florida and other spending programs (by the way, he wasn’t always wrong in those days). The speech attacked President Biden for meddling in Florida yet justified the State under the guise of an executive order by Governor DeSantis not only meddling in local governments but effectively muzzling them and threatening them.
Commissioner Corcoran also made it clear that the “law” (in this case an ideologically-motivated Executive Order that has yet to pass court scrutiny) must be followed by all local officials. This was similar to the rhetoric given during the debates on school segregation in this state, as was Corcoran’s anti-federal government rant he started the meeting with.
Let me remind readers at this point, Florida’s mitigation of COVID in previous spikes was down largely to local officials defying the Governor and imposing masking requirements. Now powerless to keep those ordinances on the books or to enforce them, we are setting record numbers for new cases and hospitalizations. New records for deaths could quite possibly follow in the near-term as well.
Board Chair Tom Grady conducted what can only be seen as a Kangaroo Court-style bullying of Alachua County Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon. The 50-minute interrogation was reminiscent of the sort of treatment women who accuse powerful men of sexual harassment get when facing the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Simon, who repeatedly called “Ms. Simon” by Chairman Grady held up well despite the constant lines of hypothetical questioning and “whodunit” scenarios she was asked to answer for.
Next up was Interim Broward Superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright. She was initially questioned by Board Member Ryan Petty who is from Broward (and whose daughter was killed in the MSDHS shooting), but when Petty wasn’t effective, Grady took over and started the berating again. What Dr. Cartwright said and did similar to that of Dr. Simon did not matter. This group of powerful GOP appointees had made their mind up. School Boards cannot respond to the desires of the people they represent they must at all times follow the ideology of Governor DeSantis in lock-step.
Dr. Cartwright was even chastised by the board for taking a phone call from the President of the United States. The implication was that speaking to President Biden is a partisan act that should not be undertaken by a non-partisan official.
The net takeaway from this meeting is that the autocratic rule with accountability of Florida Republicans has reached a new dangerous level. Governor DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran are individuals who unlike previous GOP leaders know exactly how to manipulate the levers of power and are unashamed by bullying individuals in public. Another takeaway is if I am an education professional why the heck would I want to work in Florida if subjected to this sort of badgering, bullying and loss of autonomy? Florida may be permanently damaged in terms of attracting talent by this meeting and the ongoing events related to COVID in schools.
Power is where power goes as we saw in the two years Corcoran was Speaker of the House, yet superseded Governor Scott as the most powerful public official in the state. In tandem with Governor DeSantis he is quickly building a new autocracy in Florida.
The meeting proved to be three hours that should chill the bones of every Floridian. But unfortunately, all too often the majority of citizenry does not pay close enough attention.
I encourage all concerned citizens if you can stomach it to listen to the archived record of the meeting linked above and draw your own conclusions. I am confident it won’t be particularly far from what I determined.