Once again, the leader of the local Moms For Liberty group has accused our three most competent, conscientious and civic-minded School Board members of breaking the law – this time because they haven’t yet repealed a racial equity policy that contains verbiage the state says is verboten.
That’s what Jennifer Pippin does when the board doesn’t obey her command.
It’s all the chair of the county’s Moms chapter can do, since few of us take seriously any of the concocted culture-war propaganda she and her followers spout from the podium during the School Board’s monthly meetings.
The Moms group here is small in numbers and has little credibility in the mainstream of our community, where it remains mostly irrelevant because its take-no-prisoners agenda doesn’t connect with the educational positions of most residents – as was proven in last year’s School Board races – or those of an overwhelming majority of parents whose children attend the district’s public schools.
Indeed, without the backing of their political allies in Tallahassee, Pippin and her desperate-for-attention fringe group have no real clout in this county.
So Pippin relies on Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education to fight her battles, alerting them to any board decision or action that might not fully comply with the deluge of new state laws.
In so doing, she and the Moms have placed targets on School Board Chair Peggy Jones and Brian Barefoot – both have been publicly identified by DeSantis as incumbents he wants to see defeated in 2024 – and unnecessarily put our district under as much scrutiny as any in the state.
Neither of those actions, however, has served any useful purpose in addressing the quality of education provided in our public schools, improving students’ academic outcomes or enhancing opportunities for disadvantaged children to succeed in the classroom.
But that’s not what the Moms are about.
Contrary to the claims they make on the national stage, they’re not about parental rights, either – not the rights of all parents, anyway. They care about only the parents who agree with them and their dystopian agenda.
The morning after the School Board’s meeting last week went deep into the night, Pippin sent an email to the governor and state education department to tell them the district’s Racial Equity Policy – which includes a few state-forbidden words and terms pertaining to race – had not yet been repealed and that no further action was scheduled until June.
Of course, Pippin conveniently failed to mention in her email that a common-sense majority of the board members agreed to postpone the vote because they want to simultaneously repeal the existing policy and replace it with one that complies with new state law.
Somehow, her email also omitted the fact that our school system remains under a 1967 federal court desegregation order, and that our School Board is caught in the middle of a legal tug-o-war between a U.S. district judge and the state.
“How do you think it’s going to look to this court,” Barefoot said last week, “if we repeal our equity policy, which responds to some of the issues in the order, without simultaneously replacing it with a new policy that still addresses those concerns?”
A better question: How do you think it would look to parents in our Black community, which already has genuine concerns about the state moving in the wrong direction on racial issues, if the board repeals the existing policy and doesn’t replace it?
The Moms don’t care about any of that. Nor does board member Jackie Rosario, their puppet on the dais.
Not only does Rosario want the existing policy repealed – even though she participated in its unanimous approval two years ago – but she said she will vote against the replacement policy proposed by Jones.
You can’t blame local NAACP chapter president Tony Brown for complaining that the county’s Black community has no “seat at the decision-making table” in the school district, which is about to repeal its once-celebrated equity policy and replace it with a new policy that lacks the necessary references to race.
“It is clear that the culture war is at hand,” Brown told the board, adding, “We must understand that you are violating the civil rights of our children by not teaching them who they are.”
Rosario, though, doesn’t stand alone on this matter: Board newcomer Gene Posca also voted against delaying the vote, saying the postponement was a “violation of the law.”
“If the board voted to not repeal the existing policy, that might be considered breaking the law,” Schools Superintendent David Moore said. “But that’s not what’s happening.
“The state notified us in November that the wording in our policy didn’t comply with the new law, and we’ve been addressing it, but it takes time,” he added. “The board is moving forward, following its process for repealing a policy, and taking into consideration the local landscape.”
State education officials know the landscape includes the desegregation order that continues to embarrass our community. And, by now, they also know the board has scheduled a special-call meeting for May 23 to move up its vote on the repeal and replacement of the equity policy.
“The state knows we are taking action,” Moore said, “so as long as we are in the process of addressing the issue, we are in good standing.”
That was something else Pippin failed to mention in her email.
Pippin was sure to include, however, how each board member voted last week on Vice Chair Teri Barenborg’s motion to postpone action on the repeal, reporting that Jones, Barefoot and Barenborg provided the margin needed to approve the delay.
She also noted both Jones and Barefoot were “on DeSantis’ List already” and that Rosario was a “DeSantis endorsed candidate” last year.
Yes, her email was as petty as it was pathetic, another feeble attempt to curry favor with the state by wrongly accusing respected board members of breaking the law, merely because they possessed the character, compassion and courage to ignore the Moms and act in the best interests of our school district, our community and our children.
But that’s what Pippin does – because with no real support here, that’s all she and the Moms have.
Let’s not ever allow them to seize control of our public schools.