Schools across Palm Beach County and most of America have been back in full swing for a few weeks now. Unfortunately, the school year has started with a bang, but a negative one. Florida is currently experiencing teacher shortages. Many have left the teaching field due to being underpaid and now having to follow new standards and new rules of teaching that are often inappropriate, constricting, and outdated. With the increase in school shootings teachers, parents, and children are experiencing anxiety about attending school in this new school year. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill” has also not only negatively impacted LGBTQ teachers but students alike and the community as a whole. Children are our future and our current education curriculums in Florida are not only miseducating students but also not setting them up for the best success.

A lot of situations have prompted teachers to leave their teaching positions in Florida and across the country. We are seeing similar occurrences in nursing and healthcare. People have reached a breaking point and it’s no longer worth it to work in these fields. It is alarming that some of our most important and influential jobs are not properly compensated. Many people in fields like teaching and healthcare get into these fields to be able to make a difference, shape a different future, and give back to their community. These are both “helping” fields. But at the end of the day, we are all working to survive and to build lives for ourselves. Now, many of these jobs are not worth the stress, destain, and PTSD when you cannot even pay your rent. Ironically both these jobs require a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. So teachers are starting their careers with a bucket load of debt. 

One teacher quoted to the Miami Herald “To be very honest, I am regretting my life decisions. I am looking into going back to school. I have friends who are bartenders or hair-dressers, and they make more than I do”. I can completely relate to this. I have my bachelors in Criminal Justice and spent 10 years serving the public in undercover security. Not only was I injured and constantly being put in harm’s way, but I was not compensated enough to stay afloat. My hairdresser made 8 times the amount I ever did and she had less education than me. This is not to say that bartenders, servers, or people in the beauty field shouldn’t be making their bags. On the contrary, we as a society need to better compensate for other roles and career fields. There is such an extremely disproportionate wealth distribution in our country when many are just trying to make it. Often being extremely wealthy is not the goal at all, just having a standard of living. 

Per the Department of Education, it has been reported that Florida is facing teacher shortages of approximately 9,000. Due to new rules teachers feel they are unable to properly teach, educate or support their students. One teacher was quoted saying that they feel like “their hands are tied. That we now have to stay so close to strict rules your now unable to be authentic and are even fearful that they are not teaching against new rules”. 

Don’t Say Gay Bill

Florida Governor Ron Desantis isn’t making it any easier for students and teachers. The “Don’t Say Gay Bill” is in full swing and is nevertheless completely barbaric and archaic. It seems DeSantis wants to go back in time and eradicate any progressive progress the state has made. Along with teachers being unable to talk about being LGBTQ and sexual identity, they are also stripped of being able to educate students on the truths of our history. This includes black history, racism, and sexual education.  This essentially creates completely false histories and narratives that will impact our children’s ideologies and education on the history of America. 

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill on the surface is completely insane, but when you learn about all the small details that encompass the bill it is downright shocking, barbaric, and sick. The law is filled with confusion and inconsistencies which is making it hard for teachers and students to understand and therefore follow. The “Don’t Say Gay” law bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity. The Parental Rights in Education law claims it is limited to kindergarten through third grade. However, some say this law prohibits this education that is “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” which leaves all teachers open to lawsuits if they explore the topic in their classrooms of all ages. This law also does not give specific ages that are age appropriate or that are not. It is extremely wishy-washy. 

The “Don’t Say Gay” law is also leaving LGBTQ teachers questioning what they can and can say about themselves. Many have been informed to keep their partners private and not disclose their sexual orientation. Teachers have also been asked to stop wearing rainbows or have rainbows represented in the classroom. The rainbow flag and often rainbows themselves represent the LGBTQ community. This is downright silly. Although it represents the LGBTQ community, gatekeeping rainbows in a classroom is idiotic. We all grew up with Lisa Frank and drawing rainbows and learning about Roy G Biv. We all turned out just fine even though we were “subject” to rainbows. Frankly, we have bigger issues to be worrying about  than banning the use of rainbows. 

Stop Woke Act

We should not have any right to change American history. We cannot just pretend that our country isn’t built on systemic racism. Another law DeSantis passed was eliminating the teaching of critical race theory. Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been proposing the “Stop Woke Act” in 2021. This act “protects employees against a hostile work environment due to critical race theory training”. “to give businesses, employees, children and families tools to stand up against discrimination and woke indoctrination.” This act would codify the Florida Department of Education’s prohibiting of teaching critical race theory to students K-12. Some things probably should not be taught to children with profound depth. Most things in life can be made kid-friendly and therefore appropriate. Keep in mind that 12th grade is your senior year of high school. This grade is your final and last grade of high school before college or just proceeding into the “real world”. 

The fact that DeSantis uses the word “woke” is comical in itself. If you are not aware of what being “woke” means, let me enlighten you. Urban Dictionary claims that woke means paying attention to what’s going on. If you don’t pay attention you will be left behind. I did omit a few swear words. It means you are awoken to the times. You are up to date with what is going on currently and you take the time to educate yourself on hot topics. Often woke can come with a negative connotation when individuals use it to extremes such as being “woke” or enlightened spiritually. But on its basic level, I would prefer to be more woke than not! 

What Is Critical Race Theory 

What critical race theory consists of is a current debate. It seems there is a divide in definition between different people with different political views. Like with most things anything can be warped into your interpretation. Critical race theory first began in the late 1970s and has been a part of curriculums for 40 years. It is meant to teach that race is a social construct and that racism does not just come from a person’s biases or prejudices but is also rooted in legal systems and policies. It has been noted that conservative Republicans are a particular issue with critical race theory and argue that it causes a divide amongst people, students, and teachers and can lead to volatile situations. They claim that it puts people in two groups; the “oppressed” and the “oppressor” which then causes conflict. 

This way of thinking is extremely damaging. Children are not born racist it is something they are taught, how they are formed and shaped for one reason or another. It is important to teach these things and the realities of not only our history but our current status with race and oppression. We should be teaching students factual historical events and how to become allies to not only people of color but queer individuals. A lot of students have been protesting DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill” with school walkouts and wearing the pride flag. These students should not have to protest for an inclusive learning environment. Although it is a positive sign that our youth care enough to attempt to make the changes they wish to see. 

Courts Pushback Against DeSantis’s Proposal 

The law has also impacted businesses, not just education. This act eliminates the need for diversity training and other social issue training in the workplace. It is targeting how organizations and businesses can address race, gender, and nationality. Yes, Michael Scott’s Oscar-worthy performance in The Office is exactly what they would be eliminating. However comical that scene was, it is not how diversity training should go and when successfully implemented it is an important component in the workplace. A Florida judge ruled the “Stop Woke” act unconstitutional in two cases brought by private Florida companies. One company was Honeyfund.com and a diversity consultant, Collective Concepts. They argued that the law infringes their freedom of speech and limits appropriate discussion. 

Judge Mark Walker referred to the Individual Freedom Act as a concept one would find in an alternate universe like “Stranger Things”. The judge was referring to the “upside down” which is a parallel and extremely distorted universe. Walker was quoted saying “Now, like the heroine in ‘Stranger Things, this court is once again asked to pull Florida back from the upside down.” This was a perfect analogy when referring to Florida. Florida can be one of the strangest states in America with DeSantis driving it straight into insanity. Instead of being progressive the state is going back in time and attempting to re-adapt problematic policies and ways of thinking and living. Walker sided with the plaintiff deeming the Individual Freedom Act in this case, unconstitutional. This is a positive win for Florida. 

The Impact On Parents

The new exclusive school policies also put a lot of pressure on parents to teach their children about sexuality and accurate history. Not all parents are open and accepting of the LGBTQ community and many members that are teenagers and children are often in unsafe situations or at minimum non-supportive family units. School should be a haven where they can be themselves and comfortably learn about sexual health and sexual orientation. There should be accurate and all-encompassing education where youth can learn about not only themselves and others. 

Classroom Safety

Many classrooms and schools are looking and feel more like a jail than somewhere to receive an education. They are not wrong to do so, and it is telling as to where we are at in society. One Palm Beach elementary school now has an entire fence around the school building. This fence is locked the entire time during school hours. One mom went to drop off her child a few minutes late and was unable to get in. She of course was able to get in after taking different protocols to access the building. 

It is devastating that this level of security is necessary at an elementary school. One mom went viral on TIKTOK last week because she was showing how she has taught her son to respond to an active shooter. The mother created a scenario of an active shooter and asked the boy to respond accordingly. The boy had a bulletproof backpack and he proceeded to the corner of the room and shielded himself with his backpack. He also informed his mother he would not speak or alert anyone that he or his classmates were hiding in the classroom. These are now necessary steps families have to take to ensure their child’s safety. Like with most things, not even can afford a bulletproof backpack. A true “bulletproof” backpack will run you between $100 and $300. As a response to this, people have run experiments testing how many books it takes in a backpack to stop a bullet. Unfortunately, you cannot experiment with every single gun out there. But the average riffle takes about 3 large textbooks to stop a bullet. 

Our children deserve a safe, comfortable, and educational school year. Students deserve to know the truth about America’s past and present. Students also deserve to learn about the world around them and how diverse their country is and all the people in it. Teachers and students deserve to have their identities validated and supported and they deserve to be safe. Ignoring that some events have and our occurring will only lead to confusion and an inability to make change. Change is exactly what we need right now! Florida needs to stop going back in time and needs to “wake up”. We can only hope that our government will start listening and give our teachers the appropriate creative leeway and support in the classroom. In the clever words of Ron DeSantis; make sure to stay “woke”.