Staff Editorial – HB 616 restricts learning and student engagement

Don’t Say Gay. 

It’s a commonly used tagline to describe House Bill 616 which was originally introduced in Florida. If enacted, the bill would ban any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades Kindergarten through 3rd and would restrict any discussion centered around these topics for all grade levels. Any topics deemed “inappropriate” would additionally be considered off topics for discussion, and if such discussion occurs, parents are given full authority to sue the school, with teachers even running the risk of losing their jobs if they indulge in any discussion.

These “inappropriate” topics are not specified within the bill and nor are the people who determine the topics, something that feels intentional given the controversy surrounding critical race theory as well as other race and LGBTQ+ related issues and efforts to reduce education on both topics in schools. 

Simply put, this bill flies in the face of everything that our school celebrates.

Schools were established to be a place of learning. A safe place where students can freely ask questions to learn more about themselves and the world around them. How can students feel safe in their learning environment when their school is under constant threat of being sued and how can teachers feel comfortable answering questions when their job is at stake?

More than anything, the bill is a restriction of our first amendment rights.

This bill’s entire creation and justification revolves around the idea that we, as students, need to be protected from topics that we are deemed not mature enough for, and as such, prevents us from getting any questions about these topics answered. But if schools are meant to prepare us for the “real world”, where there is no protection from such topics, how are we meant to handle discussion around those issues when we graduate high school? 

Addressing uncomfortable truths and topics is a core mechanic within our education system, and stripping us from these subjects will only make us more ignorant of important issues and their impacts on the LGBTQ+ community. By discussing these issues, we can have our beliefs challenged, even turned around completely, and learn valuable lessons about the world around us. If we aren’t learning about topics labeled controversial in a safe space, how are we expected to learn this information at all?

Discussion around these topics extends to class content as well. Passages from books that cover topics like slavery and other difficult topics are often used for prompts on national exams like AP tests and are discussed extensively in class curriculums due to this. Preventing us from exploring these texts in class would hinder students both for AP Exams and from dealing with difficult conversations in the future.

From the second we enter elementary school to when we proudly wear our cap and gown, we are taught the importance of asking questions. Our teachers tell us to question everything and learn from the questions we ask. This bill’s very proposal threatens the core ideals that Mason and every other place of education are built upon, and its implementation in our schools would have disastrous consequences.

Keep asking questions, MHS.