Opinion: Florida legislation endangers youth education


Mia Risolia

The Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee, FL.

We live in a world where teachers are afraid of being fired for teaching basic education. One where children are targeted based on their sexual preference. One where people are discriminated against due to their identities. 

Since last year, there has been a continuous increase in bills and bannings that have started to restrict education in the state of Florida. 

On July 1, 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education Act, legally known as HB 1557. This bill gives parents (and even non-parent voters) full rights into being allowed to control what their children are being taught, and what information they’re given at school. 

Though parents should be able to contribute to what their children are learning at school, they shouldn’t have full jurisdiction. Parental complaints and requests shouldn’t scare or negatively affect the teachers.

At the beginning of the school year, parents and teachers in Palm Beach County were sent an email from the superintendent. The email included a link to the Florida Department of Education site for any concerns that parents might have, or any information about the new policies regarding the HB 1557 bill.

When clicking on the FLDOE link, the first recommended choice of where you should report concern is through the Florida Department of Education. The FLDOE issues teacher licenses, so reporting a teacher directly puts that teacher’s license at risk of being taken away. It isn’t until recommendation number four that contacting the school’s principal is recommended. 

If a parent feels uncomfortable with topics, such as slavery, and the parent expresses what the teacher says is inappropriate, then the teacher is at risk of getting their license revoked. 

I, and many of my fellow writers on the War Cry staff, have experienced how much this bill affects our learning environment. 

War Cry, a student-led publication protected by rights, was turned by laws and policies into a school newspaper discouraged to cover opinion pieces and certain subject matters. Opinion pieces like this very one.

One of my classmates was writing an opinion piece on discrimination at our school, and the article was flagged for review by the district over whether parental consent was needed because a student was self-identifying in a quote related to gender identity. 

Even when First Amendment protections exist, student writers can feel intimidated when the laws and policies imply a teacher or administrator could be punished.

During our article planning meetings, certain articles were shut down for fear of our teacher being fired. All of a sudden our First Amendment right feels no longer protected.

The bill doesn’t stop here. It continues to affect what teachers say about certain subjects and what details they fully address. Throughout the school year, teachers will make comments such as “this isn’t my opinion but I’m just informing you” or reiterate “this is part of the curriculum.”

Although DeSantis states that this bill is only to give parents more rights to their children’s lives and not restrict history or teachers, this isn’t what plays out. Even if the bill doesn’t directly say a teacher can’t talk about certain factors on issues like slavery, teachers are still afraid of saying something that would anger a parent.

Slavery was real. It is history. There is no downplaying the crimes that have been committed by ancestors of the past. This doesn’t mean that I’m saying all white people are bad or that they should all be persecuted for the actions of others: it’s simply history. It is part of our education and this bill shouldn’t be able to change that.

The Parental Rights act isn’t alone in making it problematic for a teacher to teach a certain curriculum. 

On the Florida Senate website, Democratic Senator Bobby Powell states that the “Stop Woke Act…prohibits instruction on race relations or diversity that imply a person’s status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin or sex.”

The Parental Rights and the Stop Woke acts help prevent teachers from covering certain key issues to developing youth education. This whitewashes history and gets rid of relevant moments in our nation’s past that deserve to be addressed, and deserve to be talked about.

The acts and bills don’t stop there. Another bill was passed on July 1: HB 1467. This bill requires teachers to only have district-approved books in classrooms. 

Books are challenged in school for topics that people deem aren’t ‘age appropriate.’ If a teacher has a book that was not approved in their classroom library, they are at risk of losing their license and/or being charged with a felony. 

At Jupiter High School, teachers have cleared their bookshelves, locked their books away or covered their books away from student use. 

Books are education. Books are meant to introduce subjects on race and sex. As high school students who are about to be introduced into the real world, we can’t be sheltered from factors that are reality. If we hide things like this from high school students, they are going to grow up not knowing how the world works. 

Already, the state has made action to limit the perspectives students are exposed to. Conservative fears and political agendas play a key role in the implementation of new laws and practices. 

According to NPR, the state’s Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine passed rules that will ban gender-affirming care. This includes “puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, as well as surgical procedures, for new patients under age 18.”

This motion was encouraged by DeSantis, and continues to be encouraged by his administration. 

Personally, I don’t see how students’ rights to gender-affirming care affect other people. Having access is not forcing someone to become transgender, it’s broadening their viewpoint and giving them the freedom of choice. 

If you want true freedom, you can’t pick and choose who you decide to give it to. 

It is not the state’s decision whether someone is ready to go through a transition. It is the child’s decision. These rules are preventing students’ freedom of expression. 

It is heartbreaking to see how easily new bills, acts and rules are being passed in the state of Florida. Citizens in Florida also lack information about the bills and the consequences that come from them. Just because a bill does not blatantly state what the governor is going to do or encourage, all you have to do is read between the lines and see how much freedom Florida government officials have, to continuously change the lives of students and teachers for the worse. 

The Sunshine State isn’t as welcoming and accepting as people think it is. We need better morals, and to stop following extremist views. I am a straight, white girl who grew up in a financially stable home, and even I am scared to be a student in Florida. We have to do better.