Florida educational officials have threatened to revoke the teaching license of a publicly elected school superintendent and possibly remove him from office after he encouraged students and teachers to oppose Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s (R) infamous Don’t Say Gay law.
Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. sent a letter to Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna earlier this month threatening his license. The letter said that an investigation found several examples of Hanna defying DeSantis’ orders and the recently enacted anti-LGBTQ+ law.
Hanna allegedly issued a memo to teachers after DeSantis signed the Don’t Say Gay law. The memo reportedly told teachers, “You do You!” and instructed them to continue teaching as they always had without avoiding LGBTQ+ content in classrooms as the law demands, ABC News reported.
Additionally, Hanna allegedly told parents that their children could have an excused absence from school if they attended a February protest at the state capital against Desantis’s educational policies
“[A] free day off of school… is another example of [Hanna] failing to distinguish his political views from the standards taught in Florida schools,” Diaz said of his letter to Hanna.
Diaz also said that Hanna had defied DeSantis’ 2021 executive order banning schools from requiring masks during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hanna reportedly required face masks in district schools after a third grader died of the respiratory virus near the beginning of the school year. Hanna’s district was one of many that defied DeSantis’s order, though courts later rejected several districts’ legal challenges against the order.
Furthermore, Diaz also accused Hanna of ignoring a policy requiring every school to have an armed guard or police officer following the 2018 Parkland high school shooting. Hanna said the state education department absolved him of wrongdoing after he noted that there weren’t enough available guards or officers for the position.
Hanna believes the investigation against him began after a leader of a local Moms for Liberty chapter asked for his removal. Moms for Liberty is an anti-LGBTQ+ “parents’ rights” group that lobbied in favor of the Don’t Say Gay bill. The group has infiltrated school boards and supports the removal of LGBTQ+-affirming books, educators, and students from public schools.
Hanna is entitled to an administrative hearing about these allegations, a negotiation about his censure, or a voluntary handing over of his teaching license. He said in a statement that he is undecided about which action to take, but he added, “It’s a sad day for democracy in Florida, and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, when a state agency with unlimited power and resources can target a local elected official in such a biased fashion.”
He continued, “This investigation has nothing to do with these spurious allegations, but rather everything to do with attempting to silence myself and anyone else who speaks up for teachers and our public schools in a way that does not fit the political narrative of those in power.”
In August 2022, DeSantis removed another elected official, state attorney Andrew Warren (D), after Warren made statements signaling his unwillingness to prosecute people for providing gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.
Warren’s office didn’t actually have any cases pending on those two issues, but DeSantis suspended him anyway, calling Warren soft on crime and stating that Warren had violated his oath of office by choosing not to enforce these laws “based on his personal agenda.”
Warren said that in suspending him and replacing him with a crony, DeSantis effectively tried to overrule the will of the thousands of Floria voters who elected Warren to represent them. Warren sued to be reinstated, but a federal judge dismissed his lawsuit in January.