Florida students are a little over a month away from starting their next school year, with some school districts planning their first day of the 2022-23 school year for as early as Aug. 10.
But the 2022 legislative session brought in a swath of highly controversial laws that could reshape Florida’s education system, for better or worse.
Such new measures include laws that prohibit certain lessons in history from being taught, limit class discussions on matters involving the LGBTQ+ community, and even remove books from school libraries.
Each of these bills, plus some others, go into effect on Friday. So, when Florida students walk into class on their first day of the 2022-23 school year, they will enter a new, more restricted educational environment.
Andrew Spar, president of the statewide teacher union, the Florida Education Association, said these wedge-issue education bills are creating “a lot of questions, a lot of confusion, and a lot of unknowns” for the school year.
“And that is never good for trying to plan,” Spar told the Phoenix.
During several press conferences since the session, Gov. Ron DeSantis has insisted that these new laws are making sure the Florida education system is focused on “education, not indoctrination,” and that parents should have a say in what their children are exposed to in Florida schools.
Here’s the run-down of some of those new laws, effective July 1.
- HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education. The law, signed by DeSantis on March 28, prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools for kindergarten through third grade, or in a manner that is not age- or developmentally appropriate under state standards. LBGTQ+ advocates call it the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law, worrying that the bill’s vague language will stifle discussions about LGBTQ+ matters in the classroom.
- HB 7: Individual Freedom. The law, signed April 22, restricts how workplaces and classrooms discuss race and gender, and prohibits teaching concepts such as: “An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” Sometimes referred to as the “Stop WOKE Act,” the new restrictions will lead to watering-down of discussions about the history of the United States, including on matters of race, critics believe.
- HB 1467: K-12 Education. The law, signed March 25, is marketed as a way for parents to get more involved in how school districts approve library books and instructional materials. During public testimony during session, supporters of HB 1467 referenced removing material involving LGBTQ+ issues, leading some critics to believe it is another attack on that community and to refer to the legislation as a “book ban.”
What will happen in Florida schools?
School districts are having to interpret the new laws in preparation for the school year.
On Tuesday, the Leon County school district went through hours of public testimony before ultimately approving new guidance on how to accommodate LGBTQ+ students, particularly transgender children, while still complying with the new laws such as HB 1557.
Some speakers thought the new guidance isn’t not considerate enough of parents who don’t want their child to be around transgender students. Others, including some LGBTQ+ students, thought it didn’t go far enough to protect some of the most vulnerable kids.
The Orange County school district has had to reference court documents from a legal challenge against HB 1557 to help define what’s okay, according to WTSP in the Tampa Bay area.
“I know school districts have been trying to figure it out. I know a lot of our members are trying to figure out what they can and can’t do,” Spar told the Phoenix.
“We have seen school districts across the state of Florida trying to issue some guidance, then reversing that guidance or pulling back from that guidance. And I think that just continues to show how much confusion there really is around these new laws,” he said.
What makes the situation more murky is that some of these policies have been challenged in court, meaning their implications remain unresolved.
How will students be affected?
It’s not clear whether the school year will be drastically different from previous years, Spar believes.
“What we continue to tell our members is that, as educators, we have an ethical and moral responsibility to make sure that we are protecting, loving, supporting students who come onto our school buses or on to our school campuses,” he said.
He advised teachers to continue supporting their students “until the Department of Education puts out guidance otherwise.”
However, Lakey Love, a non-binary activist who is a co-founder of the Florida Coalition for Transgender Liberation, noted that some students may be more sensitive to changes than others. Love uses they/them pronouns.
“I think it’ll depend on who the student is,” they told the Phoenix. “HB 1557 (Parental Rights in Education) and HB 1467 (K-12 Education) were set up to keep white and privileged, straight, cisgender students aloof and unknowledgeable about their privilege so that systems of discrimination can continue.”
“So, if you are blind to white privilege and what you’re doing to continue a structure of racism, then these bills are not gonna impact you like because you’re not going to notice. But if you’re Black, brown, immigrant, or LGBTQ you’re gonna feel — you’re already feeling the oppression and marginalization and that now, it’s going to expand.”
The legislation will “destroy public education,” Love said.
“It’s doing so by targeting the most vulnerable and marginalized population of students within the public school system — that being Black, brown, immigrant and LGBTQ+ students,” Love said told the Phoenix. “It’s wiping out the ability to teach critical thinking and to teach students about diversity, inclusivity, and the truth about our history and our political system as it exists today. ”
Spar said the new laws contribute to some teachers feeling unappreciated or disrespected.
“The fact is that a lot of these laws really do start on a premise of an accusation against teachers — that teachers are teaching kids to be gay. That teachers are teaching sex education in grades K through 3. That teachers teach white kids to hate themselves. That teachers are ‘groomers.’”
He added: “These are things that have been said by people all over the state, and even some of these comments by our governor. And so, that has certainly put a drain on the profession.”
“I know dozens of teachers who’ve left the school system,” Love told the Phoenix. “They don’t want to be complicit with the system that is upholding hate and and preventing them from doing their actual job.”
–Danielle J. Brown, Florida Phoenix
It’s only parent’s choice if you’re white, Christian and cisgender. Rainbows? Don’t look outside after the rain. This is, in all seriousness, how the Nazi’s started. They started small – local level and then once they infiltrated all areas pushed Hitler on the majority. They killed not just Jewish people but LGBTQ people as well and POC. This is so ridiculous. I’m just glad my birth certificate was issued from a forever blue state because that may be my only out of here one day.
For starters, I’m not sure that anyone is teaching sex ed to K-3rd graders, and really shouldn’t. Little kids aren’t ready for that. Fourth graders, however, are a different story! There’s a big change between the third and fourth grades.
I’m a very logical person, maybe to a fault, but things just have to make sense to me. I don’t buy the Lakey Love thing about “white privilege” being a reason to discriminate LGBTQ folks. Why? Are all LGBTQ folks people of color? Not logical. People are not happy unless they are categorizing someone.
Parents not wanting their children around trans kids is absurd. It reminds me of a time when white people didn’t want black kids in their school as if the color was going to rub off on them. Not only not logical, but stupid. Some people believe that being gay is a choice. Then I ask you, when did you choose to be straight? Do you remember the day? Seriously, do you think by reading a kid’s book, they are just gonna go trans? Again, not logical.
Limiting education is not saving children from indoctrination (whatever DeSantis thinks that is), it is limiting education. It is also incredibly cruel to those kids who are *different.* It is so sad that politicians, not only will sell their country down the river, but also do incredible damage to our children FOR A JOB!
I’m sure our schools can handle this and the far right parents who are afraid of every damn thing just stop trying to run everyone else’s lives.
Thank God I’m a retired teacher already, I couldn’t work under these restrictions, this is totally big brother. I’m sure they’re going to lose some of the best educators in the state of Florida.
Not every Republican is an extremist to say the least, I think most are pretty moderate and many of my friends and family are Republicans. Absolutely moral and decent human beings that would never support this kind of agenda.
I really hope people won’t vote Republican given the list of candidates, if they won’t vote for a Democratic or independent candidate I hope they won’t vote at all, because this extremest agenda has got to stop. It’s so shocking that the wealthiest country in the world is moving towards the dark ages. Most reasonable people believe women should have choices with their own bodies, that children should be told the TRUTH of EVERYTHING and let them come to their own conclusions, that any lunatic shouldn’t have access to a loaded gun that they can walk around with with no restrictions. This whole movement towards fascism sickens me.
Deirdre: As an Independent, here’s what I wish: that Republicans would take back their party. The thing is, people, for the most part, are followers. They crave leadership, and the small group of far right wackos are just nasty enough to be disingenuous and vindictive to bully their way in, so the followers follow. Democrats, on the other hand, are just way too nice and too fair, so they lose a lot, even when in power.
Here’s what I don’t get: that the followers like nasty, vindictive leaders. I know they see it, they do, but they don’t care as long as they can gather around in a group and high five each other in acceptance. As an Independent, I don’t give a flying fig about acceptance, therefore my mind is clear to see. So, the only way we can get back to normal is for the Republicans to take back their party, risk losing their jobs, tell the truth so that their followers can see again…
…or just vote ’em all out.
You thought Trump was a want to be dictator and crave power you ain’t seen nothing yet with DeathSantis. Look how he ignored all the deaths on Florida with the Covid out break. Look how he attacked Disney for supporting their employees staight or gay. Telling teachers and students what they can do and read. Fasten your seat belts for the next want to be dictator in the White House.
They/them is plural term. Kids struggle with using correct grammar as it is.
More “small government” from our wannabe dictator. Playing to his base. And he wants us to believe this is called “freedom”.