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DeSantis says Florida has barred a Palestinian student group, but Rodrigues says that's not the case

Man in suit wearing glasses and name tag speaks at a microphone
The Florida Channel
State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues told the FL Board of Governors Thursday that the state has not disbanded two state chapters of the group, Students for Justice in Palestine, despite Gov. Ron DeSantis saying otherwise at the Republican Presidential debate a day earlier.

At a meeting Thursday, State University System of Florida Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at USF and UF remain active.

At the Republican presidential debate Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida has banned a pro-Palestinian student group.

But a top state education official said that's not the case.

"I already acted in Florida. We had a group, Students for Justice in Palestine, they said they are common cause with Hamas. They said we are not just in solidarity — this is what we are. We deactivated them. We are not going to use state tax dollars to fund jihad, no way," DeSantis said to applause Wednesday night.

But at Thursday's Florida Board of Governors meeting, State University System of Florida Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said chapters at the University of South Florida and the University of Florida remain active.

He said the groups told the state that they are not part of the larger, national movement.

In a letter sent last month to school officials at the state's public universities, Rodrigues said the national group has violated the state's anti-terrorism statute by providing a "toolkit" to its chapters, as well as by calling the Hamas-led attack on Israel "the resistance" and saying that “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.”

On Thursday, Rodrigues told governors that officials at USF and UF sought legal advice and have not deactivated the chapters.

"We have reviewed those opinions and, in short, they raise concerns about potential personal liability for university actors who deactivate the student-registered organizations," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union is among groups saying that universities disbanding Students for Justice in Palestine would violate the students' right to free speech.

"Political advocacy — which these Palestinian students are engaged in — as raucous as it might be or as offensive as it might be for some people, does not constitute incitement to violence, and does not constitute 'material support for terrorism,'" ACLU Florida interim director Howard Simon told WUSF.

As a result, Rodrigues said the state is taking two steps.

"First, the board is seeking our own outside legal counsel on this matter," he said. "And two, we are working with the two universities to see an expressed affirmation from their campus Students for Justice in Palestine.

"Within that affirmation will be three components: that they reject violence, that they reject that they are part of the Hamas movement, and that they will follow the law."

Rodrigues said he would follow up with the presidents of USF and UF by the end of the week to make sure that the chapters address those questions.

WUSF reporter Meghan Bowman contributed to this report.

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.