Election 2022

“Groomer”-obsessed Gov. Ron DeSantis partied with students as a 23-year-old teacher

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)Photo: Shutterstock

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has made “protecting” the state’s school-age children from the “woke left” a major policy priority for his administration. His press secretary Christina Pushaw has gone so far as to suggest that anyone who doesn’t support the state’s Don’t Say Gay law is “probably a groomer.”

But a recent New York Times investigation suggests that DeSantis himself behaved questionably when he taught at a private Georgia boarding school during the 2001–2002 school year.

According to the Times, several former students recall the then 23-year-old DeSantis frequently attending parties with seniors while teaching history at Darlington School.

“As an 18-year-old, I remember thinking, ‘What are you doing here, dude?’” a former student said.

Former students remember DeSantis attending at least two post-graduation parties where alcohol was served.

“It was his first job out of Yale, he was cute,” one former student said. “We didn’t really think too much about it.”

Last year, the blog Hill Reporter unearthed a 2002 photo of DeSantis with three female Darlington students. One of the young women in the photo appears to be holding a beer bottle, and the photo was reportedly taken prior to graduation.

Another former student remembers seeing a memo reminding teachers that fraternizing with students was inappropriate. “‘That’s got to be about Mr. DeSantis!’ That’s what I remember everyone saying,” recalled 2003 Darlington grad Gates Minis.

DeSantis also made waves as a history teacher. His counter-factual views on the Civil War were so notorious that students made a clip for the school’s video yearbook mocking them. In the clip, a student imitating DeSantis says, “The Civil War was not about slavery! It was about two competing economic systems.”

“In history class, he was trying to play devil’s advocate that the South had good reason to fight that war, to kill other people, over owning people — Black people,” Danielle Pompey, a 2003 graduate, said. Pompey also alleges that during her time at Darlington, DeSantis was “hostile” toward her because she is Black.

Passed earlier this year, Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill bans teachers and schools from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation with students in third grade and under and restricts such discussions in older grades. Opponents of the law cite high suicide rates among LGBTQ youth as a reason LGBTQ identities shouldn’t be treated as shameful, and they also said that students being raised in LGBTQ households shouldn’t be forced to hide what their family is like.

In defending the law, DeSantis has said that schools should not “have pornographic materials.”

“Let’s focus on educating these kids. Let’s cut out the indoctrination,” he said in August. “Let’s not worry about all this stuff that’s inappropriate.”

While DeSantis has made education issues – including “critical race theory,” a term that has become a catch-all on the right for any discussion of the history of racism in the U.S. – central to his tenure as governor, his campaign website does not mention his time as a teacher.

Tina Kotek is a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights in Oregon

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