'Protecting our students’ freedom to learn': Crist endorses slate of Florida school board candidates

ORLANDO, UNITED STATES - 2022/01/26: U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) delivers a speech during a press conference at the Hillcrest Hampton House, an independent senior community in Orlando. Former Gov. Crist, a current gubernatorial candidate, made a c

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist on Wednesday endorsed a slate of school board candidates in several parts of Florida, as he looks to counter Gov. Ron DeSantis’ backing of candidates in school-board races

A news release from Crist’s campaign described the candidates he supports as prioritizing "keeping politics out of the classroom, protecting our students’ freedom to learn, and truly defending parental rights." 

The seven candidates endorsed by Crist include three current board members running for reelection: 

  • Lee County board Chairwoman Debbie Jordan
  • Marion County board Chairman Eric Cummings
  • Hillsborough County board member Karen Perez

And four new candidates:

  • Polk County candidate Sara Jones
  • Indian River County candidate Cindy Gibbs
  • Pinellas County candidate Brian Martin
  • Hillsborough County candidate Damaris Allen

"Governor DeSantis is politicizing our classrooms, taking away parental rights and limiting Florida students’ freedom to learn," Crist said in a statement. "Florida deserves dedicated public servants on our school boards that won’t inject politics into the classroom, but rather work every day to fight for the best interests of our students and educators." 

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In an unusual move, DeSantis has placed significant emphasis on endorsing school-board candidates after a series of high-profile clashes with boards over issues such as mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

DeSantis highlighted his efforts Friday during a conference held by the conservative Moms for Liberty group in Tampa. 

"I think what’s happened over the last couple years is parents now realize that these are really significant elections," DeSantis told the group. 

The governor’s campaign in June launched an online questionnaire designed to gauge school-board candidates’ alignment with his educational priorities.