One hundred and two years ago, when women gained the right to vote, the League of Women Voters was founded to empower voters and defend democracy. The League’s first convention in 1920 voted on 69 separate items as statements of principle and recommendations for legislation. Not surprisingly, education, child welfare, and public health were among our top topics then and now.
This last year, more than ever, our public education has been and continues to be under attack, which is a threat to democracy. High-quality public schools are vital to preserving democracy, which requires an educated citizenry who votes thoughtfully and responsibly, discerning fact from opinion and acknowledging reliable sources of information. High-quality schools engage our children to become critical thinkers and critical consumers of information. We want all of our students to grow up to be active participants in democracy, enabling them to examine our country’s past, think critically about our present, and make informed decisions about our future.
The League supports our school board and thanks them for maintaining high standards for the health and safety of the students, teachers, and staff they were elected to protect. Like many others, we have been alarmed when groups with names like “Mothers for Freedom” reprimand our board members for requiring masks during the early days of the COVID pandemic as recommended by science and health experts.
We are concerned and disappointed by efforts to withhold funds and salaries from public school districts for putting students, teachers, and staff ahead of misguided political theater that puts “freedom” before responsibility. The latest salvo is the “Put Parents First Adjustment,” which imposes financial penalties as a punishment for school districts that put the safety of their students first by maintaining a COVID mask mandate. And of course these sanctions eventually trickle down to the students.
Another misguided legislative initiative is the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which gives parents the right to deny another parent’s child the opportunity to receive a comprehensive curriculum based on research and science. We are concerned that this version of parental choice will replace professionally trained educators who spend years studying learning theory, testing and measurement, curriculum design, classroom management, and effective pedagogy.
Where is the Student Bill of Rights, to ensure Florida’s constitutional guarantee of a free, high-quality public education for all students? Every student deserves a highly effective certified teacher, a research-based curriculum, and a healthy and safe school that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion. We believe we must continue to expand the conversation about how to best meet the needs of our children and students together, without rancor, with facts, and by putting the needs of our children front and center.
The League encourages more members of the community to participate in this conversation, to show support for our community leaders who serve as school board members, and to participate in ways that create positive outcomes for the future of our community, not political careers.
Lanelle Phillmon, President and Linda Mann, Education Policy Chair, League of Women Voters Jacksonville First Coast