Charlie Crist blames Ron DeSantis for Panhandle school Black hero controversy

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U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is blaming Gov. Ron DeSantis for the treatment of a Pensacola-area teacher who walked out after a district employee removed pictures of historic Black “heroes” from his classroom walls.

The Pensacola News Journal on Wednesday reported that O.J. Semmes Elementary School teacher Michael James emailed a letter to the Republican Governor and district leadership saying a district employee removed what the employee described as “age inappropriate” images. The images included depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver, James told the News Journal.

“This is the sad reality of Ron DeSantis’ Florida — a teacher, in a predominantly Black community, comes into their classroom to see posters of historically Black American heroes, including President (Barack) Obama, taken down for being ‘inappropriate,’ Crist said in a statement. “DeSantis’ culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price.”

The controversy comes as the first Florida schools, including Escambia County schools, begin their first academic year under legislation signed by DeSantis that targets “critical race theory.” Among other rules, the law prohibit lessons teaching students that they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin. It would also ban instruction that they are personally responsible and should feel guilty for the past actions of members of their race, color, sex or national origin.

Crist, a St. Petersburg Congressman and the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, hopes to deny DeSantis a second term on Election Day.

“Florida deserves a Governor that gives students the freedom to learn and educators the freedom to teach. Come November, Floridians will cast aside DeSantis’ divisive culture politics and bring back decency and respect to the Sunshine State.”

The incident occurred Monday and James officially quit Tuesday after emailing the letter the night before. Wednesday marked the first day of school in Escambia County.

This academic year, schools must also comply with legislation limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, a measure critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

DeSantis’ office says Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith has responded to the report and is looking into it.

“Florida has high quality education standards to ensure students learn about African American history. In fact, instruction in this subject is required under state law. Of course, it would be appropriate to discuss civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. in the classroom. Florida students have learned about the Civil Rights Movement for years and will continue to study it in every school district, in accordance with state standards. Anyone who asserts otherwise or pretends this is an unresolved question is either mistaken or misrepresenting the truth,” the Governor’s Office said in a statement.

“Critical race theory is a theory — not a fact,” the statement continued. “In Florida, schools will teach historical facts. That includes the history of the civil rights movement and Black leaders in the USA. This has nothing to do with CRT, the Stop WOKE Act, or any of the initiatives to ensure that students receive high-quality education rather than ideological indoctrination.”

Crist is squaring off against Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the Democratic gubernatorial Primary, slated for Aug. 23. The winner of that contest will face DeSantis on Nov. 8.

Polls and fundraising data have consistently shown Crist outpacing Fried in the Democratic Primary. Additionally, DeSantis leads both Crist and Fried in heat-to-head polling and fundraising.

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