Governor Ron DeSantis believes he should control everything, not just state government. He has made schools one of his top issues, by promoting a medley of policies.

He ridiculed mask mandates. He got the legislature to pass a bill banning “WOKE” activities and “critical race theory” in schools, colleges, and the workplace. Federal courts have already struck down parts of this law (e.g. demanding that college professors teach only the views approved by DeSantis). He got the legislature to pass a law called “Don’t Say Gay” that prohibits any teaching about gender in K-3 and throws into question the legitimacy of any mention of gender in other grades. He stands in opposition to any workplace training in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Have you ever heard of a state governor endorsing candidates in local school board elections?

At the last election, DeSantis endorsed 73 local school board candidates who share his hard-right views. More than half won. Most of the same candidates were endorsed by the fringe group “Moms for Liberty.” Where the DeSantis candidates won a majority, they wasted no time in firing the superintendent. Teachers in DeSantis-led counties must be very careful in teaching about race, racism, gender, American history or anything likely to offend the ideologues who control the board.

Politico reported on the swift actions taken by DeSantis-endorsed school boards:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis put his weight behind dozens of conservative school board candidates across Florida during the midterms. Now they’re in office — and are purging some educational leaders who enforced Covid-19 mandates.

New board members in two GOP-leaning counties essentially sacked their school superintendents over the span of one week. The ousters were spurred by how the superintendents carried out local policies like efforts to support the rights of parents, an issue inflamed by schools imposing student mask mandates last fall in defiance of DeSantis.

And while not tied to the 2022 election, the school board in Broward County earlier this month fired its superintendent through an effort led by five members appointed by DeSantis. All combined, school boards with ties to DeSantis pushed out three superintendents in November alone — and each of them served over districts that implemented student mask mandates.

“We had a wave in school districts that spit in parents’ faces,” said state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay), who earlier this year sought to punish schools with mask mandates. “And now the people who did that are gone.”

In Brevard and Sarasota counties, embattled school leaders have faced immediate pressure from newly-installed board members and offered to leave voluntarily rather than risk a vote on their terminations.

The boards in both counties now have conservative majorities who sought a change in leadership immediately after the midterms. Although school boards are nonpartisan posts, lines between Democratic and Republican candidates were drawn in many counties through endorsements from each party as well as outside groups. The newly-elected board members in these cases support parental rights while opposing critical race theory and teaching gender orientation in schools.

DeSantis in particular used his clout to endorse more than two dozen school board candidates during the 2022 election cycle, a rare move for a Florida governor that came with $1,000 cash contributions from DeSantis and other GOP lawmakers. Most of the candidates DeSantis endorsed won their elections and are now transforming the make-up of school district leadership and will have huge influence over policies affecting hundreds of thousands of students in the state.

Both Sarasota and Brevard’s school boards put the superintendents on the chopping block the same day that new members endorsed by DeSantis and conservative organizations like Moms for Liberty were sworn into office.

A poster helping those who want to run for a school board position is seen in the hallway.
A poster helping those who want to run for a school board position is seen in the hallway during the inaugural Moms For Liberty Summit at the Tampa Marriott Water Street on July 15, 2022 in Tampa, Fla. | Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Sarasota board members called Superintendent Brennan Asplen’s job into question at a meeting Tuesday night specially called to discuss his contract. After fielding about four hours of public comment, mostly in support of the superintendent, board members vented criticisms over student performance in reading, how he handled masking students and a perceived lack of transparency from Asplen.

Understanding he may not have a job much longer, Asplen offered up his resignation on Monday night — the day before the board met to weigh his ouster. But the superintendent also fought at the meeting to keep his job by attempting to punch holes in the critiques from board members.

“I have a feeling I’m going to be fired after tonight because I just can’t hold this back,” Asplen told the board from as a preface.

Asplen said that some of the board’s comments were “ridiculous” given that he had been at the school since 2020, a timeframe that included the Covid-19 pandemic. And yet despite the coronavirus uprooting education, Sarasota earned “A” grades from the state both years. The superintendent also claimed he was being shut out by board members since the election and noted that he enacted a mandatory student masking policy for only three weeks, and that was due to Sarasota’s board voting 3-2 in favor of the mandate.

Here is an account of the firing in Sarasota, where the superintendent revealed that he is a “conservative Republican.”