Florida Education Bill Causing Controversy

For the life of me, I don’t understand why a law that prohibits teachers from teaching about sexual identity and transgenderism in schools is controversial, especially when that law is targeted toward children in grades K-3.

Teachers are not qualified, nor is school the appropriate venue, to be teaching about such subjects. Sexual identity is a tremendously intimate and sensitive subject. Most teachers, in my experience with my own children, have difficulty trying to adequately address the academic needs of children with learning disabilities. I can’t imagine their trying to handle the most intimate subjects of a child’s psyche in a class of 30-odd kids. In fact, they won’t be able to. It will be an unmitigated disaster.

I attended public schools my entire life. My two oldest daughters graduated from public high schools (they were homeschooled for the first eight years). I remember my teacher calling my mother to report that I wasn’t doing well in a particular subject. We regularly receive updates on our youngest daughter’s grades and activities at her Catholic high school. For my childhood and for most of my young adult life and young parental life, schools were actively encouraging parental involvement in schools. Today, based on headlines, the opposite is true. Some schools and school districts seem to regard parents as the enemy, as a force to be opposed in their efforts to properly educate and/or indoctrinate their students in spite of the backward attitude and prejudices of parents. I don’t believe this is the attitude of most schools. I believe most schools still regard parents as partners in the education of children. I know that most teachers are dedicated to the academic progress of their kids though, like in every profession, you’re going to find those who are inadequate in what they do or whose attitude is unhelpful or worse. My wife and I have personally experienced educators who were very accessible and fully dedicated to our children, and we’ve experienced educators who, in our opinion and based on their actions, had no business teaching kids.

But no one can ignore the almost weekly headlines indicating that some teachers, schools, and school districts are dedicated to a political/social/cultural agenda, and that that agenda too often takes priority over the traditional mission of schools to teach the essential subjects and skills that will help prepare children to navigate the sometimes-troubling pathways of our sometimes-troubling society. The examples are too numerous to recount here. But they seem to be summarized in the effort to pass in the state of Florida what proponents call the Parental Rights in Education bill, and what opponents are calling the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. I read of one mother who identifies as sexually non-binary that passage of the bill makes her uncomfortable about sending her five-year-old daughter off to school for the first time next fall. She wonders how her daughter will be treated if she (the mother) starts dating a woman. I can’t recall when I was five knowing or caring who a fellow student’s parent was dating, or why parental dating would be a subject that would come up in kindergarten. I asked my oldest daughter, a first-grade teacher, if she is aware of the dating habits of her student’s parents. She said yes, she’s often told of such things, either by the parent or the child. That seems odd to someone my age, honestly. In my generation, a parent would never have shared that sort of information to their child’s teacher, and the child would have been instructed that such was a private family matter and no one else’s business. Why does a teacher need to know who a child’s parent is dating? My daughter tells me, “Sometimes it does help to know, especially if it affects their behavior at school. But yea, sometimes it’s definitely TMI.” It’s a different world!

Here is a summary of the Parental Rights in Education bill, as found on the FL Senate website:

“Parental Rights in Education; Requires district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with certain provisions of law for notifying student’s parent of specified information; requires such procedures to reinforce fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children; prohibits school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying parent about specified information or that encourage student to withhold from parent such information; prohibits school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification & involvement in critical decisions affecting student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being; prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels; requires school districts to notify parents of healthcare services; authorizes parent to bring action against school district to obtain declaratory judgment; provides for additional award of injunctive relief, damages, & reasonable attorney fees & court costs to certain parents.”

The most “controversial” part of the bill is that schools are forbidden to engage in classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3. Yes, that’s right. The bill forbids classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity for kids ages four or five to seven or eight. O the horror! It doesn’t prohibit individual discussions between faculty and staff and a student, or among students themselves (though I don’t imagine these subjects are all the rage among six-year-olds). The bill also prohibits schools from keeping parents uninformed about issues or decisions related to their child’s mental, emotional or physical well-being. That seems pretty sensible to me, though one school district has claimed that parents have no right to know if their child is transgender. Other schools and districts are being sued by parents for withholding such critical information from them. Schools claim that “confidentiality issues” prohibit their informing parents of these concerns related to their children. Huh? The schools’ attitude seems to be that they have a right to know about these children’s concerns, but the parents don’t. But when it blows up in their face, then it’s the parent’s responsibility to get her the medical and psychological help she needs, and the school claims no responsibility for the care of the child or for their role in messing up her head.

I think it’s possible to strike a balance between a particular student’s desire for confidentiality and a parent’s right to know. On balance, however, the needle points toward a parent’s right to know. The Parental Rights in Education bill prohibits classroom discussions on sexuality and gender in grades K-3. Those are absolutely ages where a parent needs to know about any concerns related to their child’s well-being. For older children, communication between the schools and the parents ought to be on-going, so there are no surprises and no attempts at obfuscation. When parents turn their child over to a school for education, the parents are putting their trust in the school, that the school will do all it can to care for the best interest of the child. That trust must not be broken. In the cases linked to above, there were egregious violations of a parent’s right to know committed by the schools, including one where school staff were regularly and secretly meeting with a prepubescent child about her gender identity and actually initiated gender transition by giving her a new name and changing her pronouns, all while keeping the parents uninformed because the school made the decision that the child’s Catholic parents wouldn’t approve. The parents were only informed of what was going on after the child tried to hang herself in the school bathroom.

Catholic teaching affirms that parents are the first educators of their children. Schools ought to respect that because it affirms the natural bond between parents and children, and because it affirms the fact that parents are far more invested in their child’s success than are schools or teachers. Is this always the case? Sadly, no. But the tragic exceptions are no justification for schools to assume the default position that educators are more invested in a child’s success and well-being than are that child’s parents. To assume that default position is to set up a hostile relationship with parents before even the first day of school. It’s also to encourage the development of a hostile relationship between parents and their children. No school, no teacher, no administrator, no school board rep has a right to do that. Most parents want deeply to do right by their children. Educators ought to acknowledge that, respect that, and do nothing to create a wedge between a child and his or her parents.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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