Polk County, Florida- On Tuesday, April 20th an email was sent by the Dr. Joshua Lutz, Assistant Superintendent of Learning Support, for the Polk County School Board. The email consisted of a directive from the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) regarding how schools should observe the National Day of Silence. The “Day of Silence” in 2021 will be this Friday, April 23. Here is the email which was sent out:
“The National Day of Silence is Friday, April 23rd, 2021. This a day when LGBTQ staff, students and their allies may take a valve silence to protest the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination LGBTQ individuals face specifically in schools. When observing the national Day of Silence students and staff may go through the school day without speaking unless an emergency arises. Some teachers have planned lessons and activities in advance so that they may continue to teach while also honoring the Day of Silence. Some students May respectfully choose not to answer a question allowed if called upon. Staff and students may also come together after school at the end of the day to break the silence, sharing stories and suggestions for how schools can be more inclusive. Please be aware that this is not an act of insubordination; but an act of civil protest by a community often subjected to persistent bullying and harassment and discrimination. To learn more about the National Day of Silence, please visit https:www.gslen.org/day of silence“
This had some parents questioning what was being considered or condoned by the Polk County School Board. One parent on social media commented “Is this county wide and in every school? Please tell me this will not be happening at my 1st grade son’s school!!! If it will be he will be absent that day! I am all for love who you love! But this should not be allowed at any school!!! ” And another wrote “Just gonna say it….. this is stupid!”
Parents and a new local group called County Citizens Defending Freedom of Polk County (ccdfusa.com) reached out to the school board. This appears to have made it clear to the Polk County School Board officials a clarification was needed.
At approximately 2:45pm the Deputy Superintendent John M. Hill put out the following email:
“Good afternoon Principals,
I wanted to provide some clarification regarding Friday’s National Day of Silence.
Regional assistant superintendents recently provided you some guidance regarding this event.
Polk County Public Schools celebrates the rich diversity of our community and encourages everyone to be tolerate and compassionate. Our highest priority is to create a safe learning environment for all.
To be clear, the National Day of Silence is not a part of curriculum, but we do anticipate some level of participation at our schools.
School will be in session on Friday, and during instructional time, teaching and learning should take place. Teachers and staff should be mindful of students who wish to participate and accommodate them to the extent consistent with teaching and learning.
If they choose, students are permitted to participate at school in such freedoms of expression during non-instructional time, such as the breaks between classes, before and after the school day, lunchtime, and any other free times during the day.
Organizers of the National Day of Silence have included guidance to participants advising them that students who are able to speak do not have the right to remain silent during class time if a teacher asks them to speak as part of class participation. However, we are confident that our teachers will be thoughtful and considerate of those who choose to participate. Ultimately, teaching and learning will be our focus.
Likewise, school district employees, if they choose, are permitted to participate at school in such freedoms of expression during any duty-free time, such as breaks, before and after the school day, lunchtime, etc.
I hope this provides the clarity necessary to provide a wonderful school environment. If you have any questions, please contact your regional assistant superintendent or myself for clarification or assistance.
Thank you for your leadership.
Editors note: We have not been able to reach out to parents or others regarding this latest update by Polk County School’s.