ORLANDO, Fla. – Supporters and critics filled a meeting Wednesday as the Florida Board of Education gathered to approve new rules for the upcoming school year.
The meeting was held at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando and there was emotional testimony on both sides as the board took up 32 agenda items.
The first action item on the agenda was approving new course standards for social studies covering African American History.
The move received backlash from some and it came after the state rejected an AP African American history test earlier in the year.
“We don’t see how our founding fathers wanted to continue some of the slave actions. How the people of the South, the Civil War, how they demanded we keep slavery in America,” one commenter said.
Among the other agenda items were topics that included student pronouns and bathroom choices.
“It’s time we let kids be kids by ensuring schools remain what they were meant to be in the first place—places of education not indoctrination,” Brevard County Schools teacher Matthew Woodside said.
The board approved the expansion of the Parental Rights in Education bill.
“Under this new rule, students will not learn the fullness of folks like Bayard Rustin or Sally Ride,” said one Florida educator opposed to the new rules. “Gay people are more than our sex lives in the same way heterosexual people are.”
The board also approved the prohibition of using pronouns outside of a student’s biological sex in schools. That means male students will be referred to as “he/him,” and female students will be referred to as “she/her.”
“Denying pronouns and eliciting fear and making everyone afraid is not going to give you more cisgender kids, it is going to give you more dead queer kids,” said a person opposed to the new rules.
Additionally, the board accepted a rule requiring people to use bathrooms and changing facilities based on their biological gender.
“This rule is wrong at its core because it attacks transgender students, faculty and staff,” a Central Florida mother opposed to it said at the meeting.
She said if the state isn’t going to let transgender people used their preferred bathrooms, there should be more protections in place.
“I suggest requiring schools to have specific plans in place for prevention, monitoring and a proper response to bullying, harassment and violence in this context,” the mother said. “Also, increase the number of single occupant unisex bathrooms on campuses. Bathrooms that transgender people should be able to access easily.”
Those in favor of the rule, however, thanked the board for approving the measure.
“One hundred years from today, when someone wants to examine our remains, they will be able to determine if you were born a man or a woman based solely on your X and Y chromosomes,” a supporter of the new rules said. “It will be based on actual science, not your feelings.”
Those opposed to the new bathroom requirements said it’s an invasion of a child’s sense of privacy.
“When you willingly set up a system that advocates discriminatory behaviors and attitudes, you are creating an opportunity of violence and segregation to occur,” another person in opposition said.
Those in favor of the measures said teachers need to leave their personal beliefs at the door.
“If they aren’t willing to do this, they they should find a different vocation in a state with similar values of their own, like California and New York,” another supporter said.
Several current and former students also came out to Wednesday’s meeting and were pleading with the board to reconsider.
“The expansion of this harmful exclusion of basic human decency puts both LGBTQ teachers and students at risk,” a local student said. “Please don’t fire my teacher for giving me an inclusive environment.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis supports the rule changes and spoke about them at a presidential campaign event in South Carolina earlier this week.
“It is wrong to tell a second grader that they may have been born in the wrong body, or that their gender is a choice,” DeSantis said.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani spoke against the new rules and said they would be harmful to the families of LGBTQ students.
“As people perpetuate this philosophy of parents’ rights, we should respect the rights of every parent, not push our perspectives and ideologies onto everyone else,” Eskamani said. “We’re seeing children struggle to focus on things like reading, yet here we are having a debate over pronouns. It’s just the complete disconnect between what our kids actually (need) to focus on versus culture wars that have just taken over this entire educational system in Florida.”
For further details on the State Board of Education agenda, click here.
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