Candidate, Orange County School Board
Never held elective office.
Pastor, We Are One Ministries; Businessman
University of South Florida
Demensio Barton, a businessman and pastor who has aligned himself with Gov. Ron DeSantis on educational issues, is challenging incumbent Teresa Jacobs to head the Orange County School Board in the Aug. 23 primary. A third candidate, Carl Brewer, Jr., also a conservative, is in the race.
On his campaign website, Barton said he’s running for the seat because as “a Husband, a Father, a Pastor, a God-Parent and a Businessman,” he dedicated himself to helping and protecting people years ago and believes in their “Inalienable Rights.” “It is important that our schools fulfill their purpose in helping families to equip their children to achieve this purpose,” he said.
Barton has also displayed the “DeSantis Education Agenda Survey” on the site that says he stands with the governor on a number of pledges such as not locking down schools, upholding “parental rights” to “Keep Woke Gender Ideology Out of Schools” and rejecting critical race theory (CRT). He also supports increased teacher pay, school security and mental health programs and expanded workforce development and technical education. DeSantis’ political campaign launched the survey in June to measure “how closely local school board candidates align with the Republican leader’s educational priorities.”
Parental rights is code for a broad right-wing, conservative culture movement aimed at rolling back federal civil rights protections for Black, Brown and LGBTQ students, banning certain types of curricula and eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, among other items (see also this story and another story about the issue).
At a July 25 Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board interview with Barton and Jacobs (Brewer was not in attendance), Barton was asked twice about providing an example of CRT being taught in an Orange County school. Barton provided meandering responses, saying that “the real issue is whether or not parents want it taught to their kids.” Even if it’s not being taught, he wants “a safeguard” in case someone does teach it.
On “social-emotional learning” (SEL) — which Jacobs brought up during the interview, saying that the DeSantis administration provided two opposite directives on this concept — Barton in a winding response said that the administration and state Department of Education have directed textbook publishers from including CRT and SEL in instructional materials but also that it shouldn’t be taught in the school system.
On school safety, Barton said that he supported the “proper implementation” of the Guardian program, which requires that armed school employees or other personnel who volunteer to protect schools get a minimum of 144 hours of training. He said it’s important since the brunt of the shooting may occur within the first five minutes of the shooter being on campus as police are still responding. He also said that he learned that principals oversee safety at their schools, not school resource officers. However, Jacobs, who said she was against the Guardian program, said that’s not true and the SRO does not answer to principals. She said Barton was confusing it with another team that deals with threat response and who convenes a meeting.
In response to a question about making schools safe for all students, including those who are LGBTQ, Barton said the system should protect all students “regardless of race, or gender or religious affiliation.” But he said the system now undermines the belief systems of families and SEL isn’t the right approach. “It garners division and it undermines parental authority.”
Like Jacobs, Barton said he’s a big supporter of career and technical education and would implement magnet-style programs, which are schools that focus on a particular study such as science or performing arts.
In July, Barton and Orange County mayoral candidate Chris Messina objected to what they said was “misinformation” in a pre-election notice attached to voter registration cards that Election Supervisor Bill Cowles’ office mailed to all registered voters, including those identified as not registered with a political party, known as NPAs. The mailing said that a person cannot vote for someone in a party-primary race if that person isn’t registered as a voter of that party. Barton and Messina claimed that would confuse NPAs who may not vote in their races. In nonpartisan county races, Democrats, Republicans and independents can vote regardless of party affiliation or no party affiliation. Cowles said future mailings will ensure that the language is clarified, but said his agency’s website is “crystal clear” in the language.
In the nonpartisan school board race, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent on Aug. 23 then the top two finishers will have a runoff election on Nov. 8.