History and Gender Identity Policies Cause Tensions
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlights the tensions that have arisen from new policies. The article discusses the state’s introduction of policies related to history curriculum and gender identity, leaving teachers uncertain about how to navigate these changes effectively.
In an attempt to shape the narrative around historical events, these policies have raised concerns about potential censorship and the omission of certain topics. “I really resent being forced into a position where my role as an educator is all of a sudden somebody who is in charge of censorship,” said Cleaver, who teaches at Ferry Pass Middle School. “That’s not my role as an educator.” Educators are grappling with striking a balance between imparting accurate historical knowledge and adhering to these new guidelines. Moreover, gender identity policies have sparked debates about creating inclusive environments for all students while respecting varying viewpoints.
Those changes in the state have created a sense of unease among many teachers, who now find themselves cautiously tiptoeing around subjects they had more liberty to address in the past. Some educators are retiring early or moving out of state in part because of the changes, according to the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
Permission Required for Nicknames: A Surprising Regulation
As the Orlando Sentinel article “Back to School: Parents Must Give Permission for Teachers to Use Kids’ Nicknames” outlines: A new Florida law passed this spring says that schools cannot be required to use a pronoun that does not correspond with a student’s biological sex nor can employees ask students about their preferred pronouns. The State Board of Education adopted a rule that requires school districts to use legal names unless parents provide permission to do otherwise. This law and subsequent rule were aimed at transgender children but affect any student who prefers to be called by a different name, i.e. Rob instead of Robert. While on the surface it might seem trivial, this rule points to an unexpected level of micromanagement within classrooms. The need for formal parental approval for something as simple as using a student’s nickname further diminishes the role of the educator as a professional and impacts the natural rapport between educators and students, potentially hindering the positive learning experience that personal connections foster.
The Legality of Curriculum and Instructional Materials
Unclear rules around the selection and use of instructional materials have caused fear and confusion for educators who are potentially at risk of the loss of employment or even arrest for the use of “illegal” books or materials. With laws that lack specificity, educators are left unsure about the types of materials they can incorporate into their lessons. This ambiguity negatively impacts the teaching process, as educators may opt for caution to avoid potential legal repercussions.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, “The recent dispute over whether high schools may offer the Advanced Placement psychology course, which includes a unit on gender identity, is but one example. Education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. issued a statement saying the course could be offered in its entirety, but in adding the qualifier that the lessons must be age appropriate, many school officials expressed continued reservations.”
As a result, several districts have deleted the AP course. The Duval County school district will no longer offer AP psychology and Palm Beach County’s superintendent apologized for pulling the course, but said he couldn’t risk teachers getting arrested, the Palm Beach Post reports.
Decisions over which books schools may use in courses and place in libraries is another example. Actions have hinged on worries over how the state will interpret the law that restricts “sexual conduct” in materials. Students return Thursday, but the state has yet to clarify its rule on the subject.
Aiming to avoid conflict, the Hillsborough County school district announced it would pare back its use of William Shakespeare’s works to excerpts. On Tuesday, the department attempted to get in front of the debate, declaring it does not support removing Shakespeare from course work. State written rules remain unavailable.
The Power of Advocacy
Florida’s recent education laws have cast an intentional shadow of uncertainty over its public schools. The issues and scare tactics surrounding history and gender identity curriculum, the rules about nicknames, and the vague and often scary regulations regarding school materials have created an environment where educators are looking over their shoulders, parents are concerned about the quality of their children’s learning experiences, and students are caught in the crossfire of political ambition.
Florida should be building a robust and well-rounded education system ready to produce the economic workforce of tomorrow. Instead, these confusing laws will stifle critical thinking, creativity, and rich, high-quality instruction in the classroom. Educators, parents, and students must work together to advocate for changes and demand lawmakers treat educators as professionals and remove these harmful and restrictive laws. It is up to all of us to advocate for the public schools we deserve.