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Various bills likely to impact Lee schools

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Apr 28, 2022

The School District of Lee County got an update this week on recent state legislative actions along with notice that there are an avalanche of legal issues with many of the passed bills.

Ashley Stacell, legislation consultant for Capital Strategies Consulting Inc., went over six bills this week that she sai will likely have has an impact on education.

Among them was House Bill 7, the Individual Freedoms, or the critical race theory, bill which had a lot of debate.

According to Capital Strategies Consulting 2022 legislative final report, “the bill specifies that instruction and curricula may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principals of individual freedom or state academic standards.”

Stacell said it was hotly debated in the House and every Democrat got up and spoke against it.

“It was just signed into law just this week. That goes into the curriculum with students talking about history, particularly history of African Americans and the way teachers can broach those topics and what they can say and not say,” she said. “As far as material goes, there is language in the bill. The State Board of Education has to have curriculum stories of inspiration that they have to develop.”

These stories “must consist of stories of American history that demonstrates important life skills and the principals of individual freedom that enabled individuals to prosper in the most difficult circumstances,” the report stated.

There has been a new trend taking place during legislation sessions.

“What has been happening in the Senate is they will pick up the House bill. They are taking the House’s legislation and debating that bill without their own legislation that has been vetted,” she said.

The debate becomes the process, Carole Green, legislative consultant for Capital Strategies Consulting, Inc. said, which takes away from actual debate on the bill.

Board Attorney Kathy Dupuy-Bruno said the bill will definitely be litigated.

“This is definitely a brand new area that is untested,” she said. “We know there is going to be tests of this specific law. We will make sure that staff is completely informed and understand changes and minimize risks as much as possible. It is going to be extremely impactful and we are monitoring the legal landscape.”

Dupuy-Bruno said at this point staff and the district need to assume that they are always on camera.

“These are major legal issues that we are going to have to face. An avalanche of legal issues are coming our way for sure. Let’s not lose sight of the vastness of this bill. It’s talking about education, labor and employment and training. This is a vast bill. We have to tread cautiously,” she said.

There was also discussion about House Bill 497, which addresses an elected, as opposed to appointe, superintendent of schools in Lee County. Stacell said there were members against the bill, as they were concerned it would trickle into their school district.

“There was debate in the House,” Green said, adding that because there was push that it was a local bill, it passed. “It is going on a referendum in the General Election. The referendum piece helped it pass. The local people get to make the determination. That is where the education, if you will, of the electorate becomes a very important issue for individuals.”

Dupuy-Bruno said the bill would not change the obligations of both the superintendent and school board.

“What does change is the elected superintendent does have a political office. The only person that can remove an elected official is the governor”” she said, adding that there would be no term limits for the superintendent.

Another bill, Senate Bill 1048, Student Assessments, was also discussed as it changes Florida Standard Assessments testing to coordinated screening and progress monitoring tools for ELA grades third through 10th and math third through eighth grade. Stacell said there would be smaller tests throughout the year as benchmarks.

“They are giving a year transition. The changes start 2023-2024,” she said.

House Bill 1557, Parental Rights in Education, Stacell said is the bill prohibiting classroom instruction on gender identity for kindergarten through third grade.

“My children have never been talked to about sexual orientation or gender identity,” she said of her four children. “My twins are in fifth grade. I went online and looked up materials and it was mostly about puberty and showering. Nothing about gender identity.”

The report also stated that the “bill requires each district school board to adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in services, or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health, or well-being.”

If the governor approves this bill, the provisions will take effect July 1, 2022.

Dupuy-Bruno said there is a creation of legal remedies, specifically for bills 7, 1557 and 1467. She said the legal team is meeting with academic services and coming up with some guidelines to provide them with a path to move forward.

House Bill 1467, K-12 Education, includes such items as school board member term limits and public participation in instructional materials review process.

“Staff is concerned about this is rightfully so. We are going to refer to sister districts, see where everybody is,” Dupuy-Bruno said. “Legal is definitely on top of this. We know that law is there and we are working with staff and guide the district as best as we can. Our legal recommendation is always to follow the law and as the law changes make sure we are abiding.”

She said there are a lot of fact patterns that they are going to have to walk carefully in this minefield.

“Prior to the Parent Bill of Rights, arguably there was an absence to the law where was the obligation to notify a parent about certain things,” Dupuy-Bruno said. “Specifically the legislation is looking at LGBTQ, gender identity and transgender issues. The Parent Bill of Rights came into effect. Some felt it was not strong enough. 1557 talks a lot about responsibly of parents to educate their child. It talks about the well-being, emotional and physical. The parents are the ultimate decision maker in terms of morality and certain things being taught.”

She said part of the bill states the district has to encourage conversations between parents and students when LGBTQ issues arise. The absolute requirement of what that looks like is still being discussed.

“The big deal is when you have a student that goes to school and is relaying information about gender identify and where they fit in and ask for assistance,” Dupuy-Bruno said. “There are certain things we have never had to disclose.”

She provided an example of a student who goes to a counselor and says this is where they belong, what their gender identity is, while saying in the same sentence I don’t want my parents to know because “my dad is going to kill me.” That was not reported and then the child turns 18 and is graduating and finally reveals to the parents what their gender identity is.

“The kid is in ICU for two weeks because the dad beats him up. This is the dilemma,” Dupuy-Bruno said.

They will present a legal and factual equity guide to the board on May 24, Dupuy-Bruno said.