NewsEducation

Actions

Palm Beach County schools offer guidance to teachers regarding sexuality, race education

Educators concerned about new laws that ban certain topics in various grade levels
The School District of Palm Beach County's headquarters in West Palm Beach on July 28, 2022.jpg
Posted at 5:09 PM, Jul 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-28 17:09:23-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — When the new school year starts in less than two weeks, teachers and school districts in Florida will have some new laws on the books they need to follow.

The most talked about are the "Parental Rights In Education" law, which critics call the "Don't Say Gay" measure, as well as the "Individual Freedom" law, which supporters have nicknamed the "Stop WOKE Act."

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education

"I've been following it since it's preconception and I went to the Legislature," said Palm Beach County teacher Michael Woods. "My concern all along has been the vagueness of it and just the lack of guidance and how it's going to be interpreted."

Woods teaches high school and said perception is reality. That's his big concern when it comes to the controversial "Parental Rights In Education" law, which bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and allows parents to file a lawsuit if they believe a school district is violating the rules.

"We have curriculum guidelines that say you must teach this or that. So if you give us guidelines and we know what boundaries to stay in, we're good with that," Woods said.

The School District of Palm Beach County is trying to clear up some confusion on the new laws, sending out specific guidance to school principals.

For example, the guidance said restrictions do not include books that reference non-traditional family structures in kindergarten through third grade.

In addition, students may experience a range of emotions, however, teachers may not tell students they must feel guilt or shame for actions of the past.

READ: Instructional guidance for Palm Beach County teachers

"We talk about parental rights, parents have always had rights," Woods said. "We talk about curriculum, parents have always had rights on whether their kids can take certain things."

RELATED: Truth test regarding sexual orientation, gender identity in Florida schools

"It's our responsibility to hold the school districts accountable for this, having the transparency with the library books and the curriculum," said Jennifer Pippin, the chair of Moms For Liberty in Indian River County.

Pippin supports the new laws and hopes schools take them seriously.

"There is nothing in there that discriminates against the LGBTQ community," Pippin said. "It's talking about prohibiting the discussion of sexuality or gender identity for ages five through nine, and that's homosexuality, heterosexuality. It doesn't say specifically any type of group of people. It is just sexuality in general."

But Woods is worried about how this could impact his LGBTQ students and chill the conversation in the classroom.

"This is usually a time I'm really excited. I'm getting my school supplies ready. I have 3,000 pencils ready to go. Teachers are setting up their classrooms," Woods said. "And this is now the layer that seems to me is consuming conversations and thoughts."

But the 30-year veteran teacher said it won't stop him from making sure all of his students feel safe.

"If they come to me and say, can I talk to you about something? That is not going to change for me. But my question is, will it change for other teachers? And my worry is that it will," Woods said.

The School District of Palm Beach County previously had an LGBTQ Support Guide on its website. However, that has since been taken down while the district said the document is under review.

"I'm not an alarmist, but it's time to ring an alarm," Woods said. "It's a 10-alarm fire. It's not a one-year thing. This has been a year after year assault on marginalized people in the state of Florida."