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Faced with new state education laws and policies, many teachers are distrustful

Even before this year’s legislative session, teachers in Sarasota County had a tough job. In addition to working on educating young students, in recent years they have taken responsibility for distance learning, managed public health policies launched due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the new It is entrusted with dealing with security measures. Adding to the stress of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was the shooting in Uvalde, Texas earlier this year.

Now, as the new school year begins, some teachers say they feel like the proverbial guinea pigs about the new statewide measures signed this summer, and morale is down. This is according to a recent anonymous survey by the political group We the Parents. 351 Sarasota County teachers participated in the survey, which began on his July 24th and closed on August 5th. In it, teachers expressed feelings that they were being framed as enemies and that public education was being attacked.

In addition to regular prep work, this year’s teachers will be working on controversial issues such as the Parental Rights Act in Education (commonly known as the “Don’t Say You’re Gay” bill) and the Stop WOKE Act (recently enacted). We must comply with unverified new laws that threaten Judge Mark Walker of the United States District Court of Tallahassee blocked it from entering into force, saying it violated the First Amendment and was “unacceptably vague.”)

The Parental Rights Act prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade. The law also requires school officials to warn parents of “important decisions that affect the mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being of their students.”

Critics say the law’s broad language could expose school districts and individual teachers to lawsuits from parents who believe conversations about LGBTQ people and issues are “age-appropriate.” They said the measure could harm students, especially regarding the use of preferred pronouns and names.

Booker High School teacher Gail Foreman has been teaching for 29 years.

“It’s insulting,” she says. Parental permission is required if you wish to change your name. But what if the student’s parents won’t accept and they can’t come out unless they get hurt? How do you comply with the law and treat your students with the dignity and respect that all students deserve? It is the job. ”

Stop WOKE, on the other hand, places limits on how racial issues are taught and allows parents to sue teachers and school districts who violate them. According to Sarasota County Schools spokesperson Kelsey Wheeley, school district leaders have not received “training or guidance issued regarding the Stop WOKE Act” and “because the school district is awaiting further clarification from its attorneys.” , the item is still in development. The Florida Department of Education.” (A request for an interview with Katherine Kokoza, director of high school education and curriculum at Sarasota County Schools, was denied.)

Theoni Soublis, a professor of education at the University of Tampa and a former high school teacher in Sarasota County, said that under the WOKE law, “students are not offended by history they are not participating in. But immigrants are terrifying. War. War is horrific Slavery is disgusting Much of history is scary and disgusting

“Teachers are nervous because historical depictions often make children ‘uncomfortable,’” she says. “By deliberately blurring the rules of what is ‘unpleasant’, we are adding to the uncertainty of how we define it.”

This new school year will see a new review of media, including books, movies, and even guest speakers in the classroom, as well as a pause on book donations and book orders.

Meredith Spanelli, reading expert at Bay Haven School of Basics Plus, an elementary school in Sarasota, said: “From the perspective of a highly literate team like ours, it feels like we are very under the microscope and that the public doesn’t trust us. , has a reading recommendation and a master’s degree, and is highly qualified to do the job well. That’s why it’s uncomfortable to be questioned about the stories we’re reading, what we’ve been doing, and how well we’ve been doing for a long time.

As a result of the new rules, Spanelli, who has taught in Sarasota County for 16 years, can no longer order reading recovery books that the district has ordered in the past. These books were intended for literacy libraries that teachers would use to check out for instruction in small groups.a title like seagulls are smart, lion and rabbit When lion and mouse It replaces a previous book that may have been lost or was a student favorite so multiple students can take it home for reading practice at once. She says her colleagues have encountered similar obstacles.

Under the new guidelines, books must first be approved by a school board-approved local media professional. The district is now trying to fill that job again.

Meanwhile, Whealy wrote in an email: [Florida Department of Education] We will provide the rules and the school district’s curriculum team will provide interpretation of the law and additional guidance.” Willie said the freeze was only “temporary” and could last until January 2023. .

Other practices affected relate to book fairs, book ordering and classroom reading. Book fairs already scheduled for the fall will continue, but new fairs may not be set until next spring, Whealy said, and orders placed through Scholastic Book Clubs will not be processed until the student order form is completed. It will continue to be processed as long as it is reviewed by the principal. Parents and books are not used in classrooms or libraries. Teachers are advised to contact authorities and parents about titles they plan to read to students, Whealy said, but no one has said they can’t read to students.

Florida currently has about 10,000 teacher vacancies, which is about 6% of all teacher jobs. “The number of vacancies isn’t bad considering everything is going on,” he says Soublis. “But I think the solution to low morale, perhaps through elected officials, is if we can find a mechanism to elevate them not with intimidation, but with increased benefits, solutions to housing, and messages of trust. increase.”