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Hillsborough County Schools to discuss policy changes amid 'Parental Rights' law

The Florida Department of Education wrote a letter to Hillsborough County in November alerting board members their policies aren't complying with new state laws.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — In November, The Florida Department of Education reached out to several school districts, including Hillsborough County, for not complying with new state laws.

The state alerted Hillsborough County it needs to make changes to comply with the Parental Rights in Education law, which has also been dubbed by critics as "Don't Say Gay."

In a workshop Tuesday morning, some board members expressed frustration that they’re not getting any guidance on exactly what needs to be changed.

"I don't understand why we're getting letters to just review something without much clarity," Jessica Vaughn, board member for District 3, said.  

The portion of the Racial Equity Policy that the state seems to have taken issue with is the purpose statement and that includes the term institutional racism.

"They identified the purpose statement. They didn't identify anything else in the policy, and the term institutional racism is only found in the purpose statement," Board Attorney Jim Porter said.

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis advised the district to comply with the state.

"My recommendation is to remove the purpose statement and continue to implement this policy which continues to protect our communities," he said. 

However, not all board members agreed. 

"We cannot sit on the sidelines and continue to write lines through wording to make us feel better," Karen Perez, board member for District 6, said.  

Some other people on the board said because the law is so vague, eliminating the purpose statement could be a slippery slope.

"First we take out the purpose, then we have to take out other words. And before you know it, our equity policy is completely gone," Vaughn said.

Porter said that refusing to comply with the state could come with consequences.

"From the past several years when we've been dealing with the Department of Education and the governor, they have been swift to take punitive action against school districts that don't follow what they believe the law is," he said. 

The Department of Education is expecting an updated report from Davis Wednesday on the policies in question. 

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