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School leaders grapple with new rules for upcoming year

Fox 4 Investigates’ review of Lee, Collier and Charlotte County’s district policy updates shows universally similar language in policy to the laws the Governor signed.
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Posted at 5:42 AM, Aug 08, 2022

Students will pick up their textbooks for the first time this week.

Meanwhile, teachers and school leaders have their own assignments.

A series of new laws that, among other things, ban certain history lessons, prohibit classroom instruction on LGBTQ issues and even remove some books from school libraries.

After local school boards have approved new rules, from the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which bans teaching critical race theory, to the Parental Rights in Education, what critics call the “Don’t say Gay” law, to changing standardized testing in the state, Fox 4 Investigates’ review of Lee, Collier and Charlotte County’s district policy updates shows universally similar language in policy to the laws the Governor signed.

Lee County, for instance, has a new rule that prohibits discussions based on the assumption that a person is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

While in Charlotte County, one of their new policies says “classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 is prohibited.”

The views from Lee County Board members varied from concerns.

“We need to follow the law. And yes, as a district we will follow the law. But yes, this undermines critical thinking, critical reading,” said Board Member Betsy Vaughn.

Meanwhile, member Chris Patricca believes the new laws won’t change much of what happens in the classroom.

“This is far more detailed than anything the state has required from us before. But everything that’s listed in here is things that my students have learned,” Patricca said.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest union, says teachers are being vilified under these laws.

“A lot of this legislation is based on false pretenses,” said Andrew Spar, President of the FEA.

“The idea that there’s something nefarious going on in our schools and we can’t trust our teachers. That’s just not the case.”

Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly denied he is attacking teachers.

Lee County’s new Superintendent tells Fox 4 Investigates the changes could present classroom challenges.

“I think if we’re not careful it could,” said Dr. Christopher Bernier when asked if the regulations could cause an undue burden on instruction.

“Parents and citizens and community members have to understand is that what teachers teach in the classroom is standards-driven. There’s nothing in our standards that would drive those types of conversations. So, what teachers have to do is stick to the standards and teach the way they always have done it.”

Collier County’s Superintendent, meantime, when asked about the Parental Rights in Education Bill, talked about potential discipline.

“So we don’t go down the punishment path right away. We want to support and ensure that they have those safeguards, but if we do have a concern, we have no problem that we want to make sure that we’re following laws,” said Dr. Kamela Patton.

This school year also brings a new form of testing.

Governor DeSantis signed new legislation ending the Florida Standards Assessment, the year-end high-stakes testing students have taken for years, in favor of progress monitoring, a series of tests three times a year.

Lee, Charlotte, and Collier County schools have all used progress monitoring for years.

The teacher’s union says this change will make things worse.

“Actually what we’re seeing right now is probably more testing than we had before,” said Spar.

“And it’s still unclear how we’re going to use this progress monitoring to help kids.”

Governor DeSantis calls it a big win for education.

“Allowing more time for teaching. More time for learning. Less time for testing,” DeSantis said.

“And more effective feedback for all involved.”