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First Challenges of the School Year: Masks, Technology & Political Opinion in the Classroom

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With the complexity of current world events, a bumpy start to the school year is to be expected.  Teachers and students experienced much frustration with technical issues relating to digital in-home learning platforms; On-campus students are adjusting to mask and social distancing requirements; and political turmoil surfaced through social media.  These issues were all topics brought to the Hernando County School Board on Sept. 8, 2020, just as schools stepped into their second week of instruction.  Despite the challenges though, there were many expressions of support for the hard work and dedication of school district teachers and support staff.


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Citizens spoke both for and against the use of masks.  Some commenters stated that the school district had no legal right to force students to wear masks.  Parents reported that their children are coming home dizzy, are experiencing nose bleeds, or even passing out.  

One mother said that the district should be liable for the health problems caused by masks.

Haley, a Weeki Wachee High School student remarked that the use of masks and isolation during school is also inducing depression.

“School is a major place for socialization,” she said. “We should be able to sit with our friends in groups because collaboration group work is important, especially in advanced placement classrooms.” She said that they no longer have a 15-minute social period.

She says it’s difficult to walk up and down stairs while wearing a mask and some of her friends have experienced panic attacks in class because something is covering their face.  The mask causes some of her classmates to break out in a rash on their face.

Several citizens praised the mask policy.

Amber, a Spring Hill mom said, “I feel much better knowing that we are taking all the precautions to keep them safe.  I know that all of the teachers I’ve spoken to appreciate it.”

Parents have contacted the Hernando Sun, advising that they will again be speaking on the school district’s mask policy at the Sept. 22 board meeting.


Technology Challenges

The 2020-2021 school year has begun with approximately 50% of their typical 22,000 students attending on campus.  One third of the student body chose to begin the school year learning remotely (as digital home learners) according to the district and the remaining students are learning through Hernando eSchool. However, there are students who have not checked-in to any of the district learning options and school staff are reaching out to those families.

On the first day of school, digital home learners were unable to login to their classrooms which left parents, students and teachers frustrated.

Expressing her frustration in a lighthearted way, Hernando County Schools teacher Charity Simpson, remarked, 

“Superintendent Stratton, I’d like to thank you for your pep talk voicemail that I received before school started to remind all of us to remain flexible as we learn all of these new systems. I just didn’t realize how flexible I was going to have to become.”

She said that on the first day of class, the Teams software didn’t work.  

I couldn’t expect just how unexpectedly I’d have to rearrange all of my plans with that issue.”

However she explained how teachers and staff worked together to address the problems and develop workable solutions.

 “I’m thankful for the professional community of teachers in this county that pulled together to find those workarounds to support each other. I’m thankful for administrators that are calling at 8 pm to ask if you know how to do something on Teams that you need to do for the next day. That was an amazing experience.


Social Media & Political Turmoil

On Sept. 2, 2020, State Representative Blaise Ingoglia posted a photo he said was taken by a student on the second day of class.

I’m pretty sure this is NOT part of the curriculum in Hernando County Schools. This is totally unacceptable. This picture was taken by a student on the second day of class. Let me be clear…I don’t care if I you’re a Republican teacher who doesn’t like Obama or a Democrat teacher that doesn’t like Trump. Our children are there to LEARN not be indoctrinated. Keep your political views and divisive topics out of our classrooms!!” wrote Ingoglia.

The photo showed a slide projection on a whiteboard in a Hernando County School District classroom.  A Hernando County Schools URL address was written on the board above the slide.  On the left side of the image is an illustration of a teacher waving.  There is a text box with a common quote used by “Black Lives Matter” supporters.  A search on the internet shows this quote to be anonymous.  It is used to explain why people say “Black Lives Matter” as opposed to “All Lives Matter.”

The quote is as follows:

I say “Black Lives Matter” because “All” didn’t cover Black when they said “All men are created equal.”

I say “Black Lives Matter” because “All” didn’t cover Black when they said “With liberty and justice for all.”

I say “Black Lives Matter” because they’re still struggling with the definition of “All.”

Surrounding the text box is a heart that says “Meet the Teacher.”  Another says “Course Map & Syllabus.”

The meet the teacher detail is an important detail because the heart which states “Meet the Teacher” would indicate this to be the teacher was introducing herself. 

Whether one agrees with that viewpoint or not, according to school district bylaws, teachers are prohibited from expressing their political or religious views.

On Sept. 3,  Hernando Schools posts the following statement on their official Facebook Page: 

“It is the position of the Hernando School District that staff are not to promote their political views, advance their religious beliefs or assert personal views on controversial topics that create disharmony in the workplace or classroom.

For more information, please refer to Hernando School Board Policy 3210 and 3231.””

As is common for political topics on social media platforms, comments about this issue on the Hernando Schools Facebook page became heated and disconcerting so the school district eventually removed the comments.

The discourse continued, but in a more civil manner at the Sept. 8 school board meeting with several citizens expressing their opinion on the slide in question.

With limited context, there was speculation on whether or not the teacher was expressing a political viewpoint.  Commenters said that policy on sensitive subjects should be discussed by school board members. 

Thomas Sciole, a parent with a daughter in Hernando Schools, told school board members that race equality should be in the school board curriculum.  He doesn’t believe the teacher should be fired, but there should be more investigation on what this teacher was teaching in context.

But that needs to be in the curriculum. It needs to be discussed by the school board members. It needs to be something that’s agreed upon before it’s discussed. When you start putting up blanket statements you know that’s where a lot of the uproar for parents came from.

Most of the teachers here are doing an amazing job. This school district here is excellent, my daughter has been here since kindergarten. For the greater good of it,  the teachers are doing an amazing job and with everything going on right now, they’re working three day weekends, they deserve to be respected. I don’t want any of this to take away from what they’re doing and as far as that teacher, I’m not calling for the teacher to be fired. I don’t know the whole context of it except what I read, but I think that should be brought to light so everybody can see the context of what it was that was being taught.

Commenters defined Black Lives Matter in different ways.  For some it is a dangerous political doctrine, for others, it’s a simple decree that black lives matter and a way to show support for African Americans.

 Many like Sciole take offense with the organization Black Lives Matter because of their political actions.

First and foremost they’re a Marxist, anti-police, political hate group. Their co-founder is a self-proclaimed trained Marxist, who idolizes the American communist party and the black panthers. They march in our streets chanting phrases  “What do we want? Dead cops!” and  “Pigs in a blanket fry them like bacon”  Another leader in their organization threatens to burn it down if they don’t get what they want,”  Sciole remarks.

Parent Tyrick Grooms acknowledged the political leanings but still feels it should be embraced by the school district. “Unfortunately the fight being waged by the black lives matter group has been heavily politicized but that does not negate the fact it is still a historical movement within our country and the historical movement our children are privy to whether we like it or not. And I believe the black lives matter movement should be taught without bias and discussed in every classroom.

Isaiah Haddon, a county commissioner candidate, remarked that after listening to citizen comments there is an agreement that “Yes, black students’ lives do matter.” The discrepancy he stated is whether the teacher supports an organization or she is supporting the phrase.  He said that he believes she is supporting the phrase.

“Hearing that my life matters is what I need sometimes, whether it’s because I’m black and being discriminated against or whether it’s because I’m white and I’m told I can only jump half as high…”

Another commenter Lisa Boccoci said, “It’s a current issue.  We all know this and black lives do matter. So that teacher has every right.  It’s not political.  It’s not a personal stance.  It is reality.  These minorities need to have people to back them up.”

Latoya from Spring Hill said, 

I’m a parent of two African-American young girls. We came from Pasco County.  We moved to Spring Hill maybe a year ago and they started at Westside Elementary. I was proud to see my kids learn a lot. The whole thing with the black lives matter is — I have a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old– I don’t want their minds corrupted.  I teach them every day to love people no matter what.  My seven-year-old came home last year to say ‘Mom, this little boy called me black’ and I said ‘What did you mean they called you black?’ She said, ‘Well I told him his mom didn’t teach him the colors in the crayon box because I’m brown.’ 

I don’t know anything about this organization. I don’t want my seven-year-old, my nine-year-old tainted. Let’s teach history about Rosa Parks… about Martin Luther King that not just wanted justice for black people but for everybody.  That’s what kind of history I want to be taught.”

She said that if Black Lives Matter is taught in schools, “I will pack my bags and I will move because I’m not going to show my kids that you love a person for their color, you love people for what’s inside their heart.” 

She tells her children, “If you be a good citizen of the world, and you do right by people, you’ll be blessed and you’ll continue to live your life accordingly.”

Following citizen comments, Superintendent Stratton commented, 

“A lot of comments in this last week or so about a picture, a singular picture without context- the observer takes from what they want and some people definitely took things and ran with it to an inappropriate level for sure- to the point we closed down comments- it got too out of hand. 

“I remind everybody that this came from a picture, this perception that there’s a systemic curriculum, that’s now being infused everywhere. We put out our policy for that purpose to let everybody know and to protect our teachers. But it is a current event. And that is in our (curricular) standards.  It’s certainly in our civics, government and history classes, so current events will be discussed in a civil manner, but the rules (are) pretty simple: the teachers remain non-biased and don’t interject their own personal views. Doesn’t mean that tough conversation might not happen amongst our students and again we temper where we need to; we squash whatever becomes disrespectful- it’s just like what was an example here tonight- nobody got out of line and everybody got their viewpoint across respectfully. So I just want the public to know, I want my teachers to know that I support them.  These conversations need to happen and will happen.”

Sciole, and a group of citizens opposed to teachers expressing personal political viewpoints will be present at the Sept. 22 school board meeting.

“The school board and superintendent have not been very transparent through this process, and we will continue to speak on this matter until they assure us that this will be left out of the classroom and teachers indoctrinating our children with their political and or social beliefs will be held accountable,” Sciole remarked.

Taking to social media following Stratton’s comments Ingoglia stated, 

The superintendent said teachers can introduce this subject if it is presented in an “unbiased way”. This is an amazingly naive statement. The problem is that it is already inherently biased. BLM has a political platform (it raises money and gives to one political party). It’s has a policy platform including removing cops from our schools, defunding the police, among others. Some connected to the movement are rioting, looting, burning cities and even targeting police for death. You cannot separate these two realities.

Nobody has a problem with teaching civil rights, racial equality and being kind to everyone regardless of skin color. If you are like me, you hate racism. We are ALL equal under the law and we are ALL equal in the eyes of God. Period. Do I think we can do better? Yes, but bringing this divisive issue into our classrooms and further dividing us is not the way to do it.”

Karen Jordan, School District Public Information Officer, informed the Hernando Sun late last week that an internal investigation on the slide presentation in question was conducted and the investigation closed on Sept. 15th.  The Hernando Sun has requested the results of the investigation and slide presentation details once it becomes public record.


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