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Lawmakers want to block teaching race relations in schools. Here’s a look at content that was banned last year

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Even before Gov. Ron DeSantis started pushing for a law that would block certain content about race relations from being taught in schools, South Florida schools saw a share of racially focused content being deemed problematic by various stakeholders.

Here’s a look at some of the cases in question.

A banned book during racial reckoning

Last year, fifth graders in a Coral Springs elementary school were assigned to read a book that critics said casts police officers as racist liars.

The fictional book “Ghost Boys,” by Jewell Parker Rhodes, tells the story of a Black 12-year-old Chicago boy with a toy weapon who is gunned down by a racist policeman. The policeman then goes on to lie about the fatal encounter on the witness stand. The story is reminiscent of the 2014 death of Tamir Rice, who died in Cleveland under similar circumstances.

The book was published in 2018, two years before the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, an incident that brought widespread international support to the Black Lives Matter movement. A California school district removed the book in late 2020, according to the National Coalition Against Censorship.

In May 2021, local Fraternal Order of Police Director Paul Kempinski wrote to Broward School Board members, asking that the book to be removed from classes.

The Broward County school district then suspended reading and assignments related to “Ghost Boys” as they looked into why teachers were using it.

During the investigation, the school district determined the book was “supplemental” and could be considered by teachers addressing the issue of police-community relations. However, the investigation claimed that the teacher involved did not utilize the district’s normal vetting process when deciding to have students read the book, the Broward County School Board said at the time.

That process should have included determining whether ‘Ghost Boys’ was appropriate for 10-year-old readers, informing parents about the potential for controversy and giving them a chance to opt out for an alternative assignment, according to the school district. In the end, the district suspended the class’s reading, but did not remove the book from potential curriculum.

For years, issues surrounding police use of force have formed a fault line in American politics, often with law enforcement and their supporters on one side and “Black Lives Matter” protesters and civil libertarians on the other.

A temporarily banned yearbook

A month after “Ghost Boys” was banned, the Broward County School District suspended distribution of West Broward High School’s yearbook to review “concerns” about a spread showcasing students’ participation at BLM protests.

The yearbook, called The Edge, was reinstated the next week, but only after a disclaimer was inserted explaining that the district did not sponsor any political content.

“The Edge Yearbook editors and staff are always working hard to provide the students with a book that accurately depicts the year and with the inclusion of the BLM page, we feel we did just that,” students from The Edge wrote on Instagram at the time.

The statement included a quote from one of the yearbook’s editors: “The BLM page is intended to give students a voice that is so often taken from them and allow them to discuss how important the BLM movement is to them as it has become a fight for their lives.”

An official statement from the Broward County School District explained that the district “supports and encourages students’ freedom of expression.” The district said the school’s administration paused distribution during the first week of yearbook sales to review concerns raised about the editorial content.

“As the yearbook is intended to highlight notable and newsworthy events from that year, student journalists exercised their freedom of speech in documenting the movement,” the district’s statement said. After the review, the district allowed students to distribute the book with an insert from the school’s principal, Brad Fatout.

The note reads: “Please note that as a governmental agency, the School Board of Broward County must maintain a neutral stance on all political views. As such, any political views expressed in the 2021 West Broward yearbook are not sponsored by the District.”

Anti-racism resources pulled from a district website

Only days later, the School District removed content from the Young Voices Matter page on the Broward school district’s website, internet archives show.

Internet archives show the Broward County School District's Young Voices Matter web page from September 22, 2020.

Internet archives show the Broward County School District’s Young Voices Matter web page from September 22, 2020. (Brooke Baitinger)

On June 12, 2021 — two days after Gov. DeSantis advised the State Board of Education to keep critical race theory out of schools — the web page was removed.

When it went back up on June 16, resources regarding race and racism were gone.

Among the content that the district removed were dozens of resources it categorized as anti-racism, from articles such as The New York Times Magazine’s The 1619 Project, books such as “How To Be An Antiracist” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and others about affirmative action and white fragility, to a dozen films and TV series such as 13th and When They See Us by Ava DuVernay, among others.

Internet archives show anti-racism resources that were available on Broward County School District's Young Voices Matter web page in September 2020.

Internet archives show anti-racism resources that were available on Broward County School District’s Young Voices Matter web page in September 2020. (Brooke Baitinger)

It’s unclear when exactly this happened, but the school district eventually rebranded the web page to Speak Up Speak Out, and removed any mention of bias, racism and oppression.

Previously, the web page stated the group’s purpose was to serve as a structured forum that would empower students to use their voices to understand, listen, and promote positive change in their communities.

“We believe in the courage of our young people to seek truth and justice in our country and take on our most pressing duties such as reforming our criminal justice system and changing the mindsets of bias, racism, and oppression,” a summary on the website had stated as the group’s goal.

As for the reason behind removing any mention of racism?

“The state is trying to put a law in place that prohibits us from doing it,” said Broward County School Board Member Rosalind Osgood. “It takes away the local School Board’s authority to address these issues. But we have all of this stuff going around the internet. Kids are on social media and they’re going to discuss it. But when there’s no adult guiding them through these conversations, they’re left to interpret it on their own.”

DeSantis and Critical Race Theory

During his State of the State Address on Wednesday, Florida’s governor briefly mentioned the curriculum he vaguely refers to as critical race theory: “We should provide parents with recourse so that state standards are enforced, such as Florida’s prohibition on infusing subjects with critical race theory in our classrooms.”

He’s pushing for a law to ban critical race theory from classrooms, but the state has yet to define publicly what CRT is. A news release introducing the law as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act cited examples of CRT in school districts across the country, including Philadelphia, Seattle, San Diego, Cupertino, Springfield, Buffalo and Arizona’s Department of Education. The governor has not provided examples of CRT in Florida schools.

Critical race theory is an intellectual movement and a framework of legal analysis usually taught in law schools. The idea stresses that racism is rooted within the major institutions of America. The concept has been around since the 1970s but has attracted renewed interest after George Floyd’s death.

DeSantis described how mothers across Florida are standing against what he called ‘divisive’ ideologies like CRT. “Our tax dollars should not be used to teach our kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” he said.

Osgood, who is Black, said she rejects that notion. She said the conversations are necessary to teach kids to think critically about the world they live in and how others may experience it differently than they do.

“We live in a diverse population in Broward County. People say critical race theory is teaching Black persons to hate white people,” she said. “I don’t think that’s truthful. If we don’t have the conversations and address this issue of racism as well as this violence taking place across the nation, we’re never going to solve the problem. We can’t continue to shy away from it, because it hurts all of us.”

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Joel Greenberg friend and former employee to plead guilty in federal court

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Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Orlando Sentinel.

Joe Ellicott — a close friend of disgraced Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg and a former radio talk show host — agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and distribution of a controlled substance, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Each charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and fines totaling more than $5.2 million.

According to court documents, Ellicott admitted to agreeing to pay bribes to a public official. He also pled guilty to illegally selling Adderall, an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prescription.

Ellicott has agreed to cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the investigation and prosecution of other people, according to the plea agreement.

This is a breaking story. Check back for more details.

mcomas@orlandosentinel.com

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Baptist Health South Florida names John P. Diaz, M.D., Medical Director of Robotic Surgery and Chair of the Robotics and Innovations in Surgery Subcommittee

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Gynecologic oncologist John P. Diaz, M.D., has been appointed medical director of Robotic Surgery and chair of the Robotics and Innovations in Surgery Subcommittee at Baptist Health South Florida. In his new role, Dr. Diaz will oversee the organization’s expanding robotic surgery program as new technologies and advances in the field continue to be developed at an exponential pace.

Dr. Diaz has extensive training and experience in robotic and minimally invasive surgery. In December, he was named chief of Gynecologic Oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, where he performs surgery and leading-edge research in gynecologic cancer, including endometrial, ovarian, cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer. He was one of five founding gynecologic oncologists at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health, when it opened in 2017.

“As our robotic surgery program continues to grow, we are fortunate to have a skilled leader and surgeon at the helm,” said Jack Ziffer, Ph.D., M.D., executive vice president, chief clinical officer and chief physician executive at Baptist Health. “We are entering a new era in robotic medicine, performing more and more complex cases with the assistance of robotic technology. Dr. Diaz has the expertise to ensure that our program maintains its excellent patient outcomes while encouraging innovation.”

The Center for Robotic Surgery at Baptist Health is designated as a Center of Excellence for Robotic Surgery (COERS) by the Clinical Robotic Surgery Association (CRSA) and a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology (COEMIG) by the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (AAGL). The Center specializes in general, bariatric, oncologic, colorectal, gynecologic, thoracic and urologic surgery, as well as ear, nose and throat surgery.

“Dr. Diaz is a world-renowned leader who is passionate about his patients and his research,” said Michael J. Zinner, M.D., CEO and executive medical director of Miami Cancer Institute. “We are excited that he will continue to use his outstanding leadership skills to lead and advance our gynecologic oncology program and clinical trials.”

Dr. Diaz helped pioneer fertility-sparing surgery for cervical cancer and sentinel lymph node mapping for gynecologic malignancies ― both of which are now standards of care. “Surgical innovation is fundamental to improving patient care,” Dr. Diaz said. “I’m enthusiastic about my new roles because as we explore new technology, devices and techniques, the people of South Florida and beyond benefit from our latest breakthroughs.”

Born and raised in Miami, Dr. Diaz earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Miami. He completed his obstetrics/gynecology residency at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital and his gynecologic oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, where he received the Department of Surgery Chairman’s Award. He then returned to Miami and served as an attending physician at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

He currently serves as an associate professor for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Florida International University. His research interests include novel surgical techniques for ovarian cancer and innovative cancer therapies, including hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy and immunotherapy. In 2019, Dr. Diaz was awarded a $1.8 million grant to investigate immunotherapy and PARP inhibitors for cervical cancer treatment.

Dr. Diaz’s research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed medical journals, such as Oncology, Gynecologic Oncology, the Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Gynecologic Oncology Reports. He is also a reviewer for Gynecologic Oncology, BioMed Cancer, International Journal of Gynecologic Oncology and the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

He has been an invited speaker and presented his research nationally and internationally at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Gynecologic Cancer Society and many others.

About Baptist Health South Florida

Baptist Health South Florida is the largest healthcare organization in the region, with 11 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties. For more information, visit BaptistHealth.net/Newsroom and connect with us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and LinkedIn.

About Miami Cancer Institute

Miami Cancer Institute brings to South Florida access to personalized clinical treatments and comprehensive support services delivered with unparalleled compassion. Selected as Florida’s only member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer (MSK) Alliance, Miami Cancer Institute is part of a meaningful clinical collaboration that affords patients in South Florida access to innovative treatments and ensures that the standards of care developed by their multidisciplinary disease management teams match those at MSK.


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Governor Ron DeSantis Highlights Florida’s Educational Leadership in “Florida School Choice Week” Proclamation

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Gov. DeSantis has issued an official proclamation declaring Jan. 23-Jan. 29 Florida School Choice Week. The proclamation from Gov. DeSantis comes on the heels of a year of historic school choice expansions nationwide, including the expansion of Florida’s voucher, tax-credit scholarship, and education savings account policies.

The proclamation highlights Florida’s nationwide leadership in offering families choice opportunities, including the funding of “more than 192,000 scholarships, more than 55% of which were funded with private donations, for students with special needs, students from low-middle income families, students who have endured bullying, and students who struggle with reading.”

In issuing the proclamation, Gov. DeSantis joins a bipartisan group of more than 30 governors and more than 400 state, city and county leaders across the U.S. who have recognized the Week. This year marks the twelfth annual School Choice Week, which will feature more than 26,000 events nationwide.

Families will celebrate Florida School Choice Week with more than 3,000 events and activities across the state, planned by parents, teachers, and other community members. These fairs, informational sessions, rallies, and more aim to inspire conversations about the school choices parents have or want for their children, and encourage families to play an active role in their children’s education.

“Florida families have shown time and time again how deeply they care about their children having access to diverse learning opportunities through different school types and scholarship programs,” said Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week. “We are grateful to Gov. DeSantis for officially recognizing the importance of educational choice, and we cannot wait to see pictures of all the wonderful events happening across Florida.”

National School Choice Week shines a spotlight on effective K-12 education options for children. As a not-for-profit effort, the Week focuses equally on traditional public, charter, magnet, online, private, and home education options. Every January, participants plan tens of thousands of events and activities –– such as school fairs, open houses, and student showcases –– to raise awareness about school choice across all 50 states. Year-round, National School Choice Week develops resources and guides to assist families searching for schools or learning environments for their children. The effort is nonpolitical and nonpartisan and does not advocate for legislation.

For more information, visit schoolchoiceweek.com/florida.


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