UPDATE: Clay County school board to discuss measures to comply with ‘parental rights’ law

Zoey Fields

Update: The Clay County school board did not discuss the new state law that prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade during their May 24 workshop.

The school board will postpone discussion of the new 'parental rights' law to a later workshop.

Workshop meetings begin at 9:05 a.m. in the District Multi-Purpose Center located at the corner of Walnut Street and Gratio Place in Green Cove Springs.

As board members prepare to discuss the ramifications of House Bill 1557, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28, there is little understanding yet of how the bill will impact the curriculum for the 2022-2023 school year.

Supporters of House Bill 1557 say the legislation reinforces parental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children.

Dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay bill,” it prohibits instruction that is not age-appropriate for students. The ambiguity of wording in the bill such as “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate,” has sparked national discussion.

School board member Elizabeth Clark and other school board members have voiced support for the new law and additional systems to keep parents informed and involved. Clark said when she was a child in kindergarten, she would not have understood a question or textbook about gender identity.

“Clay County already has some conservative people working to make sure this type of material does not make it into our schools,” she said. “But it is the liberal publications out in California, or other states we get supplements from, that may try to sneak in these inappropriate materials.”

A Florida Department of Education review of 132 math books recently led to the banning of more than 40 percent of them due to what the state calls “prohibited topics” including critical race theory and social-emotional learning.

“It is sad that something like this had to pass for material that most people would just consider to be common sense,” she said. “Some people consider discussing gender and sexuality at that age a form of pedophilia.”

Currently, curriculum and guidelines for Florida’s 67 school districts to follow are being passed down by the Florida Department of Education. School boards that do not adhere to the bill’s guidelines run the risk of being sued by parents, Clark said.

“Any time there is new legislation it will go through various incarnations while still in the draft form,” she said. “We [the school board] go through and make sure we implement the law, which Clay County has already been meeting a lot of those expectations.”

In addition to Florida-mandated regulations, Clark said that Clay County is looking into a library system that would notify parents each time their child checks out a book, so they can be aware of the content their child is absorbing.

“I surely hope this is a system that gets installed because some students will leave their books in their lockers or desks and parents never lay eyes on it,” she said. “We do our best to make sure nothing inappropriate ends up on the shelves, but this would be an added layer of censorship for our children.”

The library notification system is something that Clay County Chief Academic Officer Roger Dailey is looking into, but is not certain will be actively installed by the 2022-23 school year, he said.

“With any new legislation, we scramble to meet the requirements by the deadline – in this case, July 1,” he said. “Literacy and library contents are always being discussed, but extra bells and whistles are put on the back burner until after the bill reaches its final form.”

Clay County’s goal in dealing with the new bill is to provide a world-class education to students, while also supporting parents and guaranteeing a transparent relationship with them, he said.

As for textbooks and other educational supplements, Clay County District Schools will go through a curriculum adoption process in which the school orders books that are approved by the state of Florida in order to receive state funding for the books.

“We always give a bit of scrutiny to those items that are not state-approved because we have a razor-like focus to provide a standard-based curriculum to the children in our district,” he said.

Dailey said that, while Clay County is not perfect, its goal as a school district is to give a perfect effort for the sake of students and parents. Allowing the public to attend school board workshops is one way they intend to keep the transparency.

School board workshops are unique to Clay County and allow school board members to gather collectively to review upcoming agenda topics, rather than individually, Clark said.

“Originally, before workshops, we were each given the agenda and told to look over it on our own,” she said. “The workshop setting allows all members to be present together and review the draft agenda for regular school board meetings.”

School board members and Clay County District Schools superintendent, David Broskie, will review the draft agenda for the scheduled June 2 school board meeting. The agenda is not in its final form and topics for discussion are contingent on the most recent department of education updates.

For more information about the May 24 meeting, click here.

Clay County school board is preparing to discuss the new 'parental rights' law.Clay County District Schools

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Facebook Bulletin writer, reporter; The Learning Curve. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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