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In Florida, teachers are quitting over anti-LGBTQ laws

Daffne Cruz and Anita Carson left their jobs at Polk County Schools over the Parental Rights in Education law and other anti-LGBTQ legislation.
Danielle Prieur
Daffne Cruz and Anita Carson left their jobs at Polk County Schools over the Parental Rights in Education law and other anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Across the US, teachers are quitting. This year more than a third of K-12 teachers who responded to a Merrimack College Teacher Surveysay they’re planning to quit within the next two years.

While the reasons given range from pay to safety, here in Central Florida, for some it’s concerns over anti-LGBTQ laws.

Daffne Cruz never imagined she'd leave teaching

Daffne Cruz taught for 10 years in Polk County Schools before quitting this spring. Her last job in the district was as a middle school assistant principal.

She says she never imagined she’d leave teaching. As a Queer Latina she says she wanted to be the role model for her kids because growing up, she didn’t have one.

Cruz said since HB 1069 passed last session, the environment at her school changed for the worse.

“Like I had parents, that stated, I don't want to speak to the gay one, when it came to me as an administrator. And I went to school like everybody else did for this position," said Cruz. "I am advocating for these students. It’s more than just hurtful. I feel like hurtful isn’t an accurate enough word.”

The new law largely prohibits discussions of gender identity and sexuality for all grades, and it makes it easier to challenge books that depict or describe sexual activity of any kind.

Cruz says she started to feel like she could do more good for her community, outside the school environment so she left.

Anita Carson says new laws criminalize teachers

Cruz’s friend Anita Carson is an LGBTQ ally. She left teaching at the end of the 2022 school year over objections to limits on what kids can be taught when it comes to LGBTQ topics. Carson now works for Equality Florida, advocating for kids.

“Is teaching that other people exist in the world worthwhile? Yes. How do you get around that? Without losing your license? I don't know," said Carson. "And if one parent complains to the Board of Education, you're now under investigation.”

Carson and Cruz aren’t alone in quitting. Nationwide, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows there were nearly two times the number of job openings in teaching as there were new hires in April. 59,000 teachers quit in April alone. 

The Florida Education Association won’t have new vacancy numbers until August, but the most recent numbers from January show more than 5,200 vacancies.

Anti-LGBTQ laws top reasons teachers are quitting

Angela Griner is an education professor at Rollins.

She said teachers are leaving the profession for various reasons, including concerns about pay, school safety, workplace culture, and yes, new laws that reduce their autonomy.

“You know, I lose autonomy and creativity so that I lose my purpose," said Griner. "I lose my sense of respect, then that's where it goes out the door.”

At a Florida Homeschool Convention in Orlando last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis said parents should decide what is taught in K-12 classrooms, especially when it comes to LGBTQ content.

“It is wrong for a teacher to tell a second grader that they may have been born in the wrong body or that their gender is a choice.”

Will increasing pay solve the problem?

Former Polk County middle school science teacher Anita Carson says parents have always had a say in their kids’ education. She said these laws are making it harder for teachers to do their jobs.

“And it's not just a risk of losing this one job, the way the laws are written, you're risking your license, which means you can't teach anywhere in the state," said Carson. "And if you try to go to another state, every state questionnaire asks if you have ever lost your license in a state before. So you’re not just risking that school, you’re risking your career.”

In an effort to attract more teachers to the state, the governor has approved more than one billion aimed at improving teacher pay, in this year’s budget.

Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Danielle Prieur