Contentious education laws take effect today; how will they shape the 2022-23 school year?
‘A lot of questions, a lot of confusion, a lot of unknowns’
Students protesting on the 5th floor of the Florida Capitol Building. Mar. 3, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown
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 preventing them from doing their actual job.”
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