Right now, school districts in our area are getting ready for the school year, which is coming with a lot of changes brought about by new state laws.
Among them is the Parental Right in Education law. What the new laws will mean for teachers this year is still to be determined.
Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Kamala Patton said the district is still waiting for guidance from the Florida Department of Education as to whether it will be required to call parents when teachers and staff notice same-sex dating.
That clearly was not the focus of this day, though. It was an all-hands-on-deck celebration to ring in the start of a new school year.
Collier County school leaders and staff packed Golden Gate High School’s auditorium to listen to one last opening of school speech from retiring Superintendent Patton.
“A great day to day to be able to kick off our 12th opening of schools kickoff meeting. It’s just great to have the energy in the room,” said Patton to the teachers on Thursday.
Patton said every new year comes with new challenges. One of them is the Parental Rights in Education law, better known by its critics as the ‘don’t say gay’ measure.
The law bans classroom instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. After that, it must be in an age-appropriate manner in accordance with state standards.
“We fully believe when a law is a law, you follow that,” said Patton.
Part of the law says teachers must notify parents of any decision affecting a student’s mental, emotional or physical well-being.
“Absolutely, because part of that law is exactly that. If we see anything like that, we want to ensure that those students feel safe to tell us, but then we also need to take that extra step and ensure parents know,” said Patton.
If the state decides teachers and guidance counselors must inform parents about a student’s dating, Collier County schools will likely comply.
While Patton is looking forward to her final year, she can’t forget about what COVID-19 did to education.
“I think sometimes we lose sight because the pandemic was so big,” Patton said.
It created a learning gap that teachers and students must work to close.
Then there are kids like Mason Lyba. He and his fellow club members, “Created products to benefit those affected by COVID, such as mask bands that keep your masks off of your ears and go round your head,” said Lyba.
Soon teachers and students may have to cope with COVID-19 again. The CDC is expected to issue new COVID-19 guidelines for schools.
During the height of the pandemic, the CDC wanted kids in masks and quarantine. This school year, reports say the CDC won’t go that far.
WINK News asked Patton if the CDC’s guidelines put the schools at odds with the state.
“So the whole CDC guidelines, we’ve been at odds with the state many times, but again, what we always choose to do is follow the law,” said Patton.
In the end, CDC guidelines are just that; guidelines. Not all school districts deal with them the same.
Patton said in Collier County schools, “Whether the state would, or the CDC would say, well, masks need to be or not need to be. We follow our laws and then also the best practices of that we do always get with our health department.”