Governor Ron DeSantis and members of the Legislature who attended public schools have not complained that they suffered as a result. They may even concede that they owe a debt to the women and men dedicated to helping to shape the lives of those who pass through their classrooms. Yet, just because they could, the politicians deployed the power of the state to make it harder for these dedicated professionals to perform their jobs effectively. That is what the Parents Rights in Education Act has been doing.

The legislation requires, among other things, that teachers provide their students with blank permission slips to take home for their parents to sign “for activities, including club meetings and events, guest speakers, college advisor visits, tutoring or enrichment sessions and school dances,” according to The Miami Herald, which recently reported on the law’s impact on school districts especially during the observance of Black History Month.

At Palmetto Middle School, 7351 SW 128th St., Pinecrest, students were told that they needed their parents’ permission to attend a lecture by the renowned local historian Marvin Dunn. Mayade Ersoff, an eighthgrader social studies teacher, said she invited Dunn to speak to her class two years ago without having to jump through the hoops which are now in place.

Ersoff also told The Herald that, last year, a colleague who is a language arts teacher, arranged for a Holocaust survivor to speak to her class and invited her and another teacher to take their students to the presentation. However, the principal announced on the loudspeaker that only those who had turned in signed permission slips from parents or guardians could attend. The principal was following a mandate from Miami-Dade County Public Schools last November in an effort to comply with the law.

Ersoff said she did so for Dunn’s second visit but only a few students turned in signed forms, with some telling her “my mom forgot” or “it’s lying on the table, what’s the deadline?” She added, “Really, it’s such a deterrent. There’s no movement we can do without a permission slip — I swear that’s what it feels like, like you have these eyes looking at you all the time. It’s horrible.”

At iPrep Academy,1500 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, staff distributed a form to all students requesting parental approval for them to take part in all Black History Month activities, which were designed showcase the “diverse traditions, histories and innumerable contributions of the Black community.” Only one parent objected and someone, later identified as a Chuck Walter, posted a photo of the form online, with the comment, “I had to give permission for this or else my child would not participate?” The post had about 13 million views,16,000 likes and nearly 4,000 reposts, The Herald said.

Dunn told The Herald that he does not regard the parental permission form as discriminatory because it applies district-wide. But, he added, Palmetto Middle was probably “extra fearful” because African American history has become a divisive issue. “The tone has been set in Tallahassee that Black history is to be diminished so Black history programs are more vulnerable to this type of intrusion than any other type of program,” Dunn said. He added, “I would not expect the same level of parental interference during Hispanic History Month.”

Parental consent forms pre-date the Parents Rights in Education Act but, The Herald noted, it was used only sparingly in the past. “Now, even listening to a Holocaust survivor speak requires a parent’s signature” and that is “a stark example” of what has been happening “as local school officials try to comply with broad state regulations that seek to give parents greater control over their children’s education.”

The Florida Department of Education has denied that permission is needed to teach African American history, as in Dunn’s case, and insists that such reports are a “media-driven lie.” But the department acknowledged in a statement to The Herald that “there are concerns” whether Miami-Dade “is going too far and district officials are planning on asking the state for clarification.”

That statement wrongly shifts blame to educators for the havoc which the law is creating for them, rather than to officials, especially DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, who have described the chaos being created as a “hoax” and have said it is an “absurd” interpretation of the law to claim that students need permission to learn about African American history.

DeSantis and Diaz singled out what has been happening at iPrep Academy as an example of how, they said, some school officials have “politicized” state laws which were meant to empower parents to have more control over what their students learn in school. “You had this incident in Miami, where there was this permission slip thing. It was absurd. The State Board [of Education] immediately wrote a letter to the principal to say knock it off, stop with the nonsense,” DeSantis said at a press conference. Diaz posted on X: “Florida does not require a permission slip to teach African American history or to celebrate Black History Month. Any school that does this is completely in the wrong.”

But The Herald’s editorial board stated earlier this month, “It’s no ‘hoax’ that schools are doing exactly what critics warned they would do: overreact and self-censor to comply with vaguely worded policies.” The Herald said what DeSantis described as “absurdity” happened only because he and Republican lawmakers “instilled fear in principals that a parent may file a complaint that puts their jobs in jeopardy. While such complaints might turn out to be meritless, just their possibility creates a chilling effect. That’s why the governor’s public relations effort to paint the consequences of his own policies as a ‘hoax’ feels disingenuous.”

The self-censorship issue is well known, with critics accusing officials of encouraging the banning of books, which DeSantis has called another “hoax.” Earlier this month. he insisted that only pornographic material was targeted, not “classic books,” adding, “You can go and buy or you can use whatever book you want.” That answer, of course, did not address censoring books in the classroom, which is also wreaking havoc for teachers.

By last September, Florida was leading the nation in the number of book-ban incidents — 1,406 or 40 percent of the overall total, PEN America, which promotes freedom of speech and expression, reported. Texas was a distant second with 625. In a report, “Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor,” PEN America blamed it on new state laws and “hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric about porn in schools” coming from “conservative advocacy groups” such as Moms for Liberty. Incidentally, that organization, which has indeed been the driving force behind book bans, had its start in Florida. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) deems it “an anti-government extremist organization [that] has focused mostly on banning books and censoring school curricula, particularly materials surrounding people who are Black, Brown or LGBTQ+”

DeSantis refuses to acknowledge that he and legislators are to blame for the confusion they have injected into public education, insisting that the culprits are “activists who will go in and challenge almost anything” and that there were “bad actors” in school districts who were “making political hay out of book challenges.” The governor recently said he will support amending the law but only to respond to such people, not the banning of books itself.

DeSantis is not in the habit of admitting when he is wrong and he parlayed that stubbornness into a slogan for his failed presidential campaign: “Never Back Down.” He gets away with it in Florida because he has not faced serious opposition in the state. Educators, for example, should have resisted the assault on their profession from the beginning, even if it meant refusing to go into classrooms. Surely the teachers’ unions, besides advocating for better pay and working conditions, have a fundamental responsibility to defend the integrity of their profession from political opportunists.