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Tampa Bay, let’s start the new school year off right | Editorial
Kids deserve a normal year at long last. Let’s help it happen.
School buses will be out and about on roads all around Tampa Bay's roads today.
School buses will be out and about on roads all around Tampa Bay's roads today. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Aug. 10

It’s the first day of public school in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, and kids deserve a chance at a normal year. It’s been so long. Yes, our politics can be corrosive, and the pandemic, deep into its terrible twos, just doesn’t seem to go away, but students deserve a classroom that is focused on education. They don’t need distractions. What they need is a happy start to a new year of learning. Let’s all help it happen.

Teachers are good at their craft. So as this new school year begins, let them teach. These professionals can navigate the new state laws, and they shouldn’t be deterred from doing their jobs by those who misinterpret or misapply them. The new ”parental rights in education” law — which opponents dubbed the “don’t say gay bill” — bans classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through grade 3 and more. But teachers weren’t doing that anyway. Teachers need not be afraid to let their students — whatever their age — talk about their mom or dad or their two moms or two dads. That’s not instruction in “gender identity;” it’s letting kids talk about their family. It’s perfectly natural, and thoughtful teachers know when to head off questions that are veering in the wrong direction for a classroom. So they shouldn’t second-guess themselves. Their students will be better off — and happier — for it.

Did teachers ever make their students feel personally guilty for American history in which they played no part? If not, then they also needn’t worry about the new “individual freedom” law that bans teaching students that they somehow bear ”personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin or sex.”

That new law should not intimidate teachers into failing to teach history head on. They still have the responsibility to cover the full story of the United States. Of course, students aren’t responsible for the errors of their forebears, but we all can and should learn from them. It’s educational malpractice not to teach the good and the bad of our history. It’s not a choice between whitewashing what we wish hadn’t happened vs. portraying just the unvarnished, hard bits of our collective past. The full spectrum of our history is the truest version. We are what we are because of the best and the worst of our history — our full history. It’s complicated. And That’s what students should learn.

Parents have new rights under new state law. But with rights come new responsibilities. They will need to make sure they are checking and signing all appropriate forms, lest their children miss out on services or opportunities — such as vision tests — that some districts might no longer provide without parental consent.

For parents who are able, find out how to volunteer. Teachers can use a hand, whether it’s mentoring a student or helping a child learn to read or to add and subtract. Find out what your child’s school needs, and become an advocate. Help however you can.

For all of us, the roads today will be full of school buses and kids in crosswalks. The Tampa Bay area is one of the most dangerous in the nation for bikers and walkers. So keep a close eye out for kids who are riding or walking to school, perhaps for the first time. Keep it slow in those school zones.

And, kids, masks won’t be required, but if you want to wear one to protect yourself or others such as an immunocompromised grandparent from catching the omicron variant you might bring home, please feel free to do so. Only a bully — or someone who doesn’t want you to have that choice — would tell you to take if off. But most of all, start off the school year in the spirit of learning and discovery. This is the closest to normal it’s been in a long time. Make it a special year, starting today.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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