‘This is unfair and unjust’: diversity & inclusion is important for students

By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH, STAFF WRITER, The Daily Sun, Apr 25, 2023.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Jacqueline Williamson told Charlotte County School Board members that when she went to school decades ago, a governor had more important things to discuss than a teen’s menstruation cycle.

“I’m here to talk about girls,” Williamson said during public comment at the School Board meeting Tuesday. “There are more important things for a governor to do. He didn’t care about a girl’s period.”

Williamson said girls in Florida schools are losing their freedom. She was referring to a Florida bill that would ban girls before sixth grade from talking about their periods in school.

“This is unfair and unjust,” she said.

Williamson was among several in the crowd to make pleas to board members of Charlotte County Public Schools about changes for the 2023-24 school curriculum. She and others used their 3 minutes to speak about limits on teaching diversity, equity and inclusion; banning books in school libraries and revisions to how African-American history will be taught.

Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” discussions of critical race theory and identity politics in public schools will be limited, along with restrictions on African American studies. Some parts of the law, which would become law July 1, were ruled unconstitutional by a Tallahassee judge.

As school districts work to interpret the new law, the Florida Board of Education prohibits teaching “culturally responsive and social justice.”

Local activist and member of the NAACP Myrna Charry reads a statement from Ranee Phillips about diversity, equality and inclusion in Charlotte County schools. SUN PHOTO BY ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH

In response, Myrna Charry read a statement from NAACP member Ranee Phillips.

“All children are human beings and should be treated as such,” Charry said. “When the governor talks about taking away diversity, equity and inclusion, he is talking about taking away the bones of progress … Those who try to reframe these concepts as being woke or who use them as a weapon in a culture war will never serve the best interest of students.”

Charry acknowledged the burden this places on educators, noting Florida Education Association’s report of a statewide shortage of 10,000 teachers and support staff.

“The NAACP is committed to an educational curriculum rooted in trust, as I know all of you are,” Charry said.

After the meeting, Charry, a member of the NAACP, said she had great-grandchildren entering the Charlotte County school system.

“I want my great-grandchildren to learn the truth,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if history is dark. What matters is it’s factual. It’s how we learn from our mistakes.”

After the meeting, Phillips said she’s an activist for “all children, especially Black, brown and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) children in Charlotte County.”

Linda Richardson, an East Elementary School tutor in Punta Gorda, said volunteers are serving students here who have been displaced by natural disasters and wars in other countries.

“These students need books that reflect their culture and help heal their scars,” Richardson said.

Lauri Douglas, a retired clinical social worker, said there are challenges for teachers and students in schools today. They worry about school shootings, threats, fights and being judged for being different. She said students need “a safe and supportive space.”

“A few loud voices, without the whole, creates more risks and less safety,” she said.

Email: elaine.allen@yoursun.com

 Image Credits: Teachers and students head to the Punta Gorda Middle School main office on the first day of school in Charlotte County. SUN FILE PHOTO