After an outcry from students and parents over yearbook censorship, a Florida school board canceled its superintendent’s plan to cover a page showing students waving rainbow flags and a “l ‘love is love’ during a strike against the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay Law’.
The superintendent told the board that the page violated his policy by appearing to endorse a student walkout. Stickers to cover the entire page had already arrived and would be added before the yearbooks were distributed this week, she said.
Seminole County School Board members rejected that plan Tuesday night, voting 5-0 to order smaller stickers that don’t cover the page’s words and images while explaining that the The march against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill outside Lyman High School was not authorized.
“I’d be happy to pay out of pocket for different stickers to say this wasn’t a school-sponsored event,” board chair Amy Pennock said to cheers from the crowd.
Florida’s bill, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in March, bans classroom teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
Students at Longwood School near Orlando reacted to the censorship plan by creating a “#stopthestickers” hashtag on social media.
This caught the attention of lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Carlos G. Smith, Florida’s first Latino LGBTQ lawmaker, who tweeted that “censorship is a direct result of the law these students were protesting against.” #WeWillNotBeErased in this so-called “free state”. »
The governor frequently refers to “the Free State of Florida” in his press conferences.
“We’re all over the world now on this,” complained board vice-chairman Abby Sanchez, who offered to help pay for the little stickers. “It’s the most ridiculous thing. These are our children! We have to do what’s right for them.”
More than 30 students, parents and teachers spoke out against the sticker plan. “It silences the LGBTQ-plus community and the journalistic community,” Sara Ward, a student yearbook staff member, told the board.
“I want to make it clear to every student that this was not the administration of Lyman High School trying to target any student, trying to silence any voice,” he said. Superintendent Serita Beamon said as she tried to explain her decision.
She denied that the full-page coverage would violate the First Amendment or board policy, which she says allows pre-restriction of school-sponsored postings.
“There are speeches that are prohibited. And that includes speech that is likely to cause substantial disruption or materially interfere with school activities or the educational process,” Beamon said.
The board didn’t have it.
Board member Karen Almond said she personally witnessed the student walkout, which was peaceful, and said there was nothing wrong with the yearbook page.
“We all make mistakes. … We recognize that and try to do what we can to fix it,” Sanchez said. “As students, I’m proud that you brought it to our attention.”
Danielle Pomeranz, an academic advisor, said her students were just doing their jobs by documenting an event that happened on campus. She assured the board that the small stickers could be ordered and added in time for pupils to receive their yearbooks this week.
Yearbook staff Skye Tiedemann summed up the evening as a clear victory for student speech.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up,” Tiedemann said, “because students, they have a chance to make a difference.”