In Florida, the Question is WHOSE Parental RightsBreaking News
tags: Florida, education, critical race theory, Parental Rights, LGBTQ Issues
One afternoon a few weeks ago, Alicea Hotchkiss’s 14-year-old son, Eli, came home from his high school in Tampa with a question about something a classmate had said to him. He’d heard the student use the word “gay” as an insult, so Eli responded the way he always does when this happens. “Hey,” Eli said, “my dad’s gay.” But this time, Eli told his mom, the other kid offered a startling rebuke: You’re not allowed to say that at school.
In a nearby community in central Florida, Barbara Mellen attended a recent open house at her son’s elementary school and asked her child’s teacher to suggest a few titles or authors that might help her second-grader develop more interest in reading. The teacher looked anxious, she says, and told her he couldn’t recommend any books.
In the Facebook group Brittany Minor created five years ago for Black mothers like herself in Orlando, discussions among the 2,800 members have reached new depths of frustration and fatigue. These moms are watching what is happening in Florida, the shifting of the political and cultural environment around them, “and they are tired, they feel helpless, they feel hopeless,” Minor says. “The common thread is that people feel broken.”
Adding to the members’ sense of distress and disorientation, Minor says, is the knowledge that so many of their neighbors supported the state’s pivot from purple to solid red. Under Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who won reelection in a 20-point landslide in November and is poised for a potential presidential run, Florida has become the “center of gravity” for conservative policymaking, as James Nash, of the bipartisan ROKK Solutions public affairs strategy firm, has previously told The Washington Post. Florida families are now facing a slew of new laws and policy proposals that touch nearly every stage of parenting — from the reproductive health care a pregnant mother can receive, to the books available for an elementary school student to read, to the diversity and social culture awaiting students on college campuses.
What’s happening in Florida has made fighters of parents who did not expect to be at the center of such high-stakes political battles, and rallied some who never before considered their politics to be particularly “progressive.”
Seth Stottlemyer, a father of a 5-year-old daughter in Sarasota, has always described himself and his wife as political moderates. They’re both registered under “no party affiliation,” he says — his wife is a former Republican — and they have friends, neighbors and business associates from across the political spectrum. But their daughter is starting kindergarten this fall, and Stottlemyer is increasingly concerned about what is happening to the public school system that awaits her. He’s become more vocal about his views, connecting with other parents who feel the same. He started writing letters to the editor of the local paper, putting his opposition to DeSantis’s laws on record.
“It feels like there are certain elements that are trying to turn the clock back on America, and turn the clock back on our state. The banning of books is a big concern for us,” Stottlemyer says, as is the “whitewashing of American history.” He is also distressed by the targeting of LGBTQ children: “As a parent, and especially with a 5-year-old, I just don’t know what path my daughter’s life is going to take, and it’s scary to think that there are people who are wanting to try to marginalize her.”