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Florida schools rebut DeSantis’ claims of Chinese influence

4 private Central Florida schools are scrambling after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended their voucher programs and accused them of getting “direct ties” to the Chinese Communist Party. They adamantly deny the accusations but nevertheless must determine what to do with families depending on those vouchers and even provide increased security because the governor’s highlight creates safety concerns.

“Our schools are locally run, abide by local, state, and federal laws, and wouldn’t have ties to any government or political party, either foreign or domestic,” wrote a spokesperson for Sagemont Preparatory Schools in an emailed statement. “Our curriculum is accredited, standards-based, and academically rigorous.”

Sagemont Preparatory School’s upper and lower campuses in Weston were two of the faculties named by DeSantis in a Friday evening press release. They’re joined by two Park Maitland schools in Winter Park.

DeSantis, a candidate within the Republican presidential primary, says he directed the Florida Department of Education to take motion after a “thorough” investigation found CCP ties that “constitute an imminent threat to the health, safety, and welfare of those school’s students and the general public.”

“The Chinese Communist Party just isn’t welcome within the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We is not going to put up with any try to influence students with a communist ideology or allow Floridians’ tax dollars to go to colleges which are connected to our foreign adversaries.”

When asked for more information concerning the investigation and the findings, the FDOE directed the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida to its public records office.

But Communications Director Cailey Myers also pointed to an announcement on the faculties’ web sites: “Spring Education Group is controlled by Primavera Holdings Limited, an investment firm (along with its affiliates) principally based in Hong Kong with operations in China, Singapore, and the USA, that’s itself owned by Chinese individuals residing in Hong Kong.”

The colleges, together with greater than 230 others across the USA and internationally, are an element of Spring Education Group.

Spring’s CEO, Michael Collins, can also be currently an investment skilled at Primavera, in response to his LinkedIn profile.

Primavera has a 90-plus company portfolio. “Primavera seeks to capture the best opportunities from dynamic economic growth in APAC (Asian Pacific region), especially China’s historic transition from a ‘Middle-Income Society’ to an ‘Advanced Economy,'” its website states.

Included in its portfolio is Yum China, a by-product of the American Yum! Brands, which has the rights to operate the KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell brands in China.

Primavera didn’t reply to a request for comment before the deadline.

What’s next for the faculties? FDOE’s Myers said the faculties were notified of the suspension through Friday letters, and so they have 15 calendar days to appeal the choice.

“The Department is working with the non-profit scholarship funding organizations to help impacted students to find and enrolling in nearby eligible schools,” reads the Friday statement.

DeSantis and legislative Republicans expanded the state’s private school voucher program earlier this 12 months, making all Florida students eligible for taxpayer-financed vouchers to attend private schools – a roughly $7,775 per student award.

Additionally they passed a law blocking vouchers for schools “owned or operated by an individual or an entity domiciled in, owned by, or in any way controlled by a foreign country of concern or foreign principal.” That features China.

The Sagemont spokesperson said they weren’t contacted upfront of the choice and were attempting to get more information concerning the basis for it.

“Within the meantime, we will probably be working directly with our families to make sure they will remain enrolled in our college,” the spokesperson said.

In a letter to oldsters, Park Maitland officials said they were committed to helping families keep their kids at the faculties. DeSantis’ announcement and the following publicity have created safety concerns, and the faculties are partnering with local police and increasing security guard presence.

In an announcement to the Orlando Sentinel, Parkland Maitland denied any CCP connections. They didn’t reply to a USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida media request.

A mother of a Park Maitland student urged the state to make it clear that “the school, staff, students, and their families are NOT an ‘imminent threat to the general public.'”

“We placed our child in a non-public school for a lot of reasons, two of probably the most paramount being safety and a superb education,” Wendy Meyer said in an emailed statement. “I consider the statement within the press release jeopardizes these schools’ safety and undermines these institutions’ integrity.”

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, called the move “100% politically motivated.”

“That is nearly partisan politics, the governor attempting to appeal to a national base while hurting his constituents, and so lots of our kids who don’t should be caught up in any of this,” said Eskamani, whose district holds the Park Maitland schools.

More on Florida vouchers: DeSantis signs major school voucher expansion in Florida, amid cost questions

China laws controversy: Chinese influence bill passes Legislature, signed by DeSantis, despite discrimination concerns

DeSantis’ candidacy and hard line on communism: The announcement comes as DeSantis, who has campaigned hard on the tough measures he’s taken against China and other communist countries, continues to plunge within the GOP presidential primary polls. He’s far below former President Donald Trump’s commanding lead.

Despite discrimination concerns from Democrats and Chinese Floridians, the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a DeSantis-priority policy that targeted “foreign countries of concern,” including Russia, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela. It puts the largest highlight on China, carving out language specifically dedicated to how the laws applies to its government and people connected with it.

The bill, which was signed into law by DeSantis, prevents the foreign countries of concern and their officers from buying farmland in addition to property inside 10 miles of a military installation or critical infrastructure facility.

But nobody connected with the Chinese government or the CCP is allowed to buy real estate anywhere in Florida under the bill, nor can anyone who’s “domiciled” in China and never a United States citizen or lawful everlasting resident. Though, lawmakers added in an exception for non-tourist Visa holders, so long as they buy one real estate property that just isn’t inside five miles of one in all these installations and never larger than two acres.

This 12 months, DeSantis also signed a bill that puts into statute and expands Florida’s government device ban on TikTok and other foreign country of concern-created, maintained, or owned apps. He also signed a bill that bans state colleges and universities from accepting gifts from and making agreements with foreign countries of concern.

It is also the primary 12 months public schools must observe Nov. 7 as “Victims of Communism Day” and teach a 45-minute lesson “to show the importance of remembering those that have fallen victim to Communist regimes internationally,” in response to a memo from FDOE Chancellor Paul Burns.

FDOE provides examples for elementary and middle school lessons from the state’s social studies standards and include topics like learning about different types of governments and the USA’ checks and balances regarding the federal government.

A law passed last 12 months requires Florida highschool students in American government classes to study Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution; Joseph Stalin and the Soviet System; Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution; Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Revolution; Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge; and Nicolás Maduro and the Chavismo movement.

“Instruction must include how victims suffered under these regimes through poverty, starvation, migration, systemic lethal violence, and suppression of speech,” the memo states.

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