Florida teachers union president says new laws, training creating ‘chaos’

Published: July 7, 2022 6:22 AM EDT
Updated: July 7, 2022 11:28 AM EDT

The president of Florida’s largest teachers union says educators are concerned about state legislation and recent education training possibly threatening the bond between educators and their students, as well as the separation between church and state.

After a recent civics training session which Gov. Ron DeSantis paid educators to attend, Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, tells WINK News that several state educators called him. He says they told him that at the training they were told they “needed” to teach the Christian religion in school.

Spar says this situation, along with HB 1557—known officially as the “Parental Rights in Education” law, referred to by critics as “Don’t Say Gay”—creates chaos. He says the grades referenced by the law, kindergarten through third grade, consist of children who wouldn’t even be receiving sexual education anyway.

“We continue to see so many challenges with the amount of regulation on public schools—what we teach in the classroom, how we teach it—and now you add on top of it these false, false, false attacks, outright lies that are being spewed by the governor and other extremists in the state of Florida [that] are certainly driving teachers out of the profession,” Spar said. “And, let’s make no mistake about it, these issues are meant to divide us.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about state legislation regarding education. Credit: WINK News

Spar says when you come into the education profession, whether as a bus driver, a teacher or a cafeteria worker, your goal is to help and support children. But the union president believes recent legislation, comments from state leaders and the accusations of religiously motivated civics training show that teachers in Florida are under attack.

“What we’re seeing right now from the Department of Education, from the governor’s office, is certainly a lot of chaos and confusion,” Spar said. “For people to be vilifying teachers, who get paid extremely poorly in the state of Florida, who dedicate so much time and energy to kids and helping kids and families, it’s just… it’s sickening, in a lot of respects. And it goes to show the state of where we are, I think, in this country right now, which is a sad state.”

WINK reached out to DeSantis’ office and the Florida Department of Education for comment regarding Spar’s concerns. The governor’s office said DeSantis would not be commenting: “The governor doesn’t respond to every partisan critic. His achievements in education speak for themselves.”

Spar says low teacher pay and the severe teacher shortage should be higher priorities for Florida legislators, specifically the governor.

While FDOE did not initially respond to WINK’s request for comment, the department’s director of communications, Alex Lanfranconi, sent the following statement in response to Spar’s comments following WINK’s publication of this story:

“The Parental Rights in Education law reinforces parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children. Contrary to Mr. Spar’s erroneous comments, HB 1557 prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Grades K-3. One would think the president of the Florida Education Association would be able to accurately read and understand legislation, especially when conducting interviews and providing information to the media.

“The voluntary Florida Summer Civics Professional Learning Series does not teach “the Christian religion in school.” It teaches accurate history, not any form of indoctrination. It was created by Florida educators with Florida students in mind and we partnered with public universities like the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida. I’m happy to send you every slide we use in the presentations if you’d like to view them yourself.

“Regarding teacher pay, Governor DeSantis has made this issue a top priority. The 2022-2023 budget included a historic $800 million for the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation, an increase of $250 million from last year, to continue raising the teacher minimum base salary, as well as salary increases for veteran teachers and other eligible instructional personnel. With this investment, Florida has committed over a record $2 billion in new funding to teacher pay since 2020.”