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Exclusive: DeSantis education board trying to quietly add severe punishments to “Don’t Say Gay” and CRT laws
A scoop on the latest assault on Floridians
Welcome to a Monday evening edition of Progress Report.
Tonight, we’ve got an exclusive scoop on the next step in the Republican Party’s war on education and individual freedom. Once again, the news comes out of Florida, a state that has been at the forefront of the bigoted assault on public schools. Let’s get right to it.
As millions of Floridians evacuated their homes and braced for the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Ian, the state’s Board of Education took a major step toward unleashing new chaos on already-beleaguered public schools across the state.
Posted on September 26th, the BoE’s proposed new code of conduct for educators would make violating parts of Florida’s bigoted “Don’t Say Gay” law a fireable offense. Specifically, the new rule proposes that public school teachers face the revocation or suspension of their teaching licenses should they provide “classroom instruction to students in kindergarten through grade 3 on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
As it stands, the law gives parents the right to sue a school district if they suspect that the purposely vague decree has been violated. The update, should it pass, would put teachers themselves firmly in the crosshairs, with little guidance on what the law does and does not allow.
Since its implementation in July, the dictate has forced school districts, fearful of the hyper-litigious right-wing parent-activists that pushed DeSantis to sign the law, into proactive censorship. School administrators have banned books, torn down Pride displays, and put a chill on LGBTQ+ teachers displaying family photos on their desks.
While equality advocates have pointed out that the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are broad enough to forbid mentioning any kind of pronoun or relationship, including heterosexual marriages, the governor and his supporters were clearly to silence queer communities, and classroom adjustments have reflected as much.
“The proposed rule by the Board of Education takes further aim at teachers, which will only chill the state further, isolate LGBTQ students more, and ultimately make schools less safe,” Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida, tells Progress Report.
The Florida Board of Education is made up largely of DeSantis nominees, including Esther Byrd, a far-right reactionary who has voiced support for QAnon, the militant racist Proud Boys, and the January 6th insurrectionists.
The BoE’s proposal would also make it a fireable offense for teachers to provide any instruction that would promote concepts banned in the Florida Educational Equality Act. That law is best known for its prohibition on lessons that might make children feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” over historic wrongs committed by “other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.”
Though technically broad, that provision is best understood as a way to whitewash history lessons that don’t reflect well on white people, Christians, and conservatives.
Together, those two laws have prompted Florida’s Board of Education to reject textbooks and create curriculum with the help of Hillsdale College, a far-right private university in Michigan that has been at the center of the conservative education movement.
The Board of Education did little to publicize its proposed new rule, with no press release or social media update. Its text is buried in a Microsoft Word document attached to one of many mundane-sounding proposals listed on the website for the Florida Department of State’s Administrative Register. It was first noticed by Jen Cousins, the co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which was formed in response to DeSantis’s censorship regime.
Floridians have until October 17th to submit comment on the rules, after which there will be a public hearing that is destined to be combative.
Fueling a teacher shortage
The new rules have been proposed at a time when Florida is already facing a historic shortage of qualified educators.
At the beginning of the school year, the state was down 9,500 teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff and facing a further exodus due to egregiously low compensation — Florida ranks 48th in the nation for teacher pay — and exhaustion from both new regulations and DeSantis-led attacks.
Teachers and advocates told Progress Report at early in the school year that the uncertainty and hostility have continued to wear on educators, who have even been barred from providing students with bandaids without prior parental consent.
In many ways, the severe teacher shortage has played into DeSantis’s anti-public school agenda. In 2021, he signed a massive $200 million expansion of the state’s private school voucher system, which funnels state money to private and religious schools at the expense of public education. This summer, he signed a bill that authorized military veterans to teach in public schools without their certification or even bachelor's degree.
The new law, ostensibly designed to help allay the shortage, replaces well-credentialed professionals and dues-paying members of the Democratic-aligned teacher’s union with military veterans that answer the call from a deeply conservative governor. The program is unprecedented in the United States.
DeSantis has also targeted specific school districts in liberal counties. He sought to withhold funding from districts that defied his ban on mask mandates during the worst of the Covid pandemic, and more recently, he has unilaterally fired elected members of county school board members and replaced them with conservative loyalists.
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