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Florida law blasted after permission slip sent to hear Black author’s book

A controversial “parental rights” law in Florida is facing renewed scrutiny after a rule about parental permission slips sparked confusion at a Miami elementary school when it asked parents to sign a slip allowing their children to hear a guest speaker read a book “written by an African-American.”

Charles Walter, a parent of two at Coral Way K-8 Center in Miami, shared a Miami-Dade Public Schools permission slip on social media Monday that described an in-school library event for his daughter’s first-grade class. The students would “participate & listen to a book written by an African-American,” while guests for the activity were described as “fireman/doctor/artist.”

“I had to give permission for this or else my child would not participate???” Walter wrote on X. He told The Washington Post in an interview this was the first parental permission slip he received since the policy took effect last fall but has since received others.

The state rule in question is an extension of a “parental bill of rights” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed in 2022. DeSantis touted the bill of rights and other education reforms as a way to help parents combat what he and other conservative figures claimed was “liberal indoctrination” woven through the K-12 and higher education system. Now, critics of the law are saying its vague language and the lack of clarification by state officials is sowing confusion and having a chilling effect on educators.

The Miami-Dade Public School District did not respond to specific questions about the permission slip protocols but in a statement acknowledged the description of the event “may have caused confusion, and we are working with our schools to reemphasize the importance of clarity for parents in describing activities/events that would require parental permission.”

“However, in compliance with State Law, permission slips were sent home because guest speakers would participate during a school-authorized education-related activity,” the statement continued.

Florida Board of Education Chairman Ben Gibson argued that Coral Way leaders misread the rule — and said the rule is so obvious that those advising Coral Way on the permission slip policy were “grossly misinterpreting” the rule or intentionally misapplying it for political reasons.

“Obviously, it is wrong to interpret the rule to require parental permission for students to receive ordinary instruction, including subjects required by state law and Department rule,” Gibson wrote in a letter to Coral Way’s principal.

While Gibson’s letter said Coral Way was the only school he knew of to misinterpret the state law and called the rule “obvious,” another Miami-Dade County school ran into similar confusion just one week earlier.

Parents at iPrep Academy in Miami were asked to sign a permission form if their child wanted to participate in “ … class and school wide presentations showcasing the achievements and recognizing the rich and diverse traditions, histories, and innumerable contributions of the Black communities,” Miami news station WPLG reported.

IPrep’s permission slip request similarly drew confusion and anger, while the Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. said in a statement that “Florida does not require a permission slip to teach African American history or to celebrate Black History Month.”

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education did not provided clarification on whether the department’s rule requires parental permission slips any time guest speakers are present, regardless of the activity, saying, “The Commissioner’s comments and the letter from Chairman Gibson speak for themselves.”

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, is among the law’s critics who believe parents have the right to guide their child’s education, but that Florida’s laws are hamstringing educators.

“The issue in Miami underscores the confusion created by the Governor and the Florida Department of Education — they have created a climate of fear in our state and districts are concerned that any education decision can be challenged,” Spar said in a statement.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones (D) took particular umbrage with Commissioner Diaz and other DeSantis-aligned leaders at the FDOE dismissing the confusion over a policy they crafted as a “hoax” or a media invention.

“Let’s be clear: it’s not a hoax, it’s a reality,” Jones said, noting DeSantis followed up the parental bill of rights with the “Stop WOKE Act” that limits how concepts about race can be taught in schools.

“And if it’s a hoax in [Diaz’s] opinion, I’d like to have any leader clarify what does the law say? What should admins in school districts be doing? It was presented by the legislature, by the governor, through the Department of Education. So if it’s not true, the commissioner should clarify.”

Walter, the Coral Way parent, believes most parents were surprised to get the parental consent form. He praised Coral Way’s principal as doing a “great job” at navigating confusion created by the school district and the state.

And while Walter said he welcomes strong communication between parents and schools, he sees clear flaws in the permission-slip policy, including the fact that it’s opt-in, meaning by default, students can’t participate in a designated activity unless their parents have given written consent.

“I commend the school for continuing to offer enrichment activities in light of additional policies that are being requested,” Walter said. “My only concern is how this gets rolled out statewide, and if it might discourage other schools from offering extracurriculars.”

Walter also worried about what the permission-slip policy means for student’s getting exposure to activities their parents dislike, regardless of merit. He never learned specifically which book “written by an African American” was read at his daughter’s library activity on Tuesday but said none of the parents opted out.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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