December 22, 2023

Jeff Bryant: The Community Schools Movement Is Running Headlong Into Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s Hard-Right Agenda

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Independent journalist Jeff Bryant looks at how community schools in Florida are swimming upstream against a steady barrage of anti-school activity led by flailing Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.

Under the leadership of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida lawmakers and state officials have enacted a raft of laws targeting schools for what DeSantis and other right-wing advocates charge is “indoctrinating” students in “woke ideology.” Proponents of this supposed anti-woke agenda seem at a loss to explain everything their cause entails, but in Florida, DeSantis and Republican lawmakers have set their sights on many of the things teachers do to attend to their students’ mental health and ensure classrooms are welcoming places, especially for students of color and students who identify as LGBTQ+.

As a result of these laws, Florida teachers who use learning materials, classroom signs, and flags to signal their support of racial, gender, and religious diversity have been told to remove these materials, and they’ve been subjected to investigation by the state, and targeted for firing as well. School librarians have cleared their shelves of any books that could possibly have racial or sexual content, and teachers have spoken openly about how their students increasingly “feel less safe and less heard in a place where they spend the majority of their time.”

Another target of the anti-woke attack is social-emotional learning (SEL), a practice teachers engage in to help their students develop essential mental health skills such as self-control, behavior management, and cultivating positive relationships with others. Teachers have always used SEL—whether it was called that or not. But right-wing advocates and politicians, including DeSantis and other Florida lawmakersclaim SEL is part of the woke agenda.

“It’s almost an embarrassment to be in education in Florida,” said Leto. Yet, her commitment to her students’ mental health is not just a personal preference; it’s a cornerstone of an approach to schooling that has been embraced by her entire school and other schools in the district. The approach, commonly called community schools, calls upon schools to act as hubs for students and families to access a wide range of services, including mental health services. Leto serves as the community school coordinator at Brandon.

Read about the courageous work of meeting students where they are with what they need, despite what the state says. The full article is here.

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