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Polk County School Board Votes to Discontinue Proclamations, Sparks Controversy

Polk County School Board Votes to Discontinue Proclamations, Sparks Controversy

by James Coulter

A proposal by the Polk County Florida Public School (PCFPS) Board to discontinue the practice of issuing proclamations caused quite the uproar at their most recent meeting, with members of the public decrying the decision as “divisive” and “regressive.”

At their board meeting on Tuesday evening, Polk County School Board Members voted to discontinue issuing proclamations recognizing individuals, groups, events, and achievements. The decision was motioned by Rick Nolte, seconded by WilliamAllen, and passed with a vote of 5-2.

Nolte had requested discontinuing the issuing of such proclamations at the board’s work session on July 23. (Nolte had recently been fined for violating campaign-finance law, with one of the violations, a $5200 cash donation to his own campaign, being a felony, The Ledger reported.)

The proposal for the board to cease issuing proclamations received public backlash, with many people decrying the decision as flying in the face of diversity and equality and potentially violating the constitutional rights of residents.

Before their vote, for nearly two hours, teachers, students, and other local community members took to the stand during public comments either condemning the school board for considering the proposal and urging them not to discontinue proclamations, or praising them for the decision and encouraging them to make it.

Kai Moore, an LGBT activist who had spoken at the previous board meeting on the issue, insisted that proclamations were meant to honor, celebrate, and uplift different groups of people, and refusing to make these proclamations would only cater to “neo-Nazi groups” and “hate groups” like Moms for Liberty.

“Demands like this have the goal of silencing and erasing minority groups,” Moore said. “Do not recognize the demands of people who seek to hurt others.”

Raine Johnson, a local 10th-grader who had left class early to speak at the meeting, asked five questions: One, are you stupid? Two, what made you think this was a good idea? Three, why? Four, why can we open with prayer, but not acknowledge gay people? And, five, why was this ever a good idea?

She called out the hypocrisy of the board members, pointing out how they had no qualms with proclamations about national holidays like Memorial Day and President’s Day but felt hesitant about recognizing months like LGBT Pride Month that recognized marginalized groups. She accused the members of being “homophobic” and “transphobic” and said they had the collective intelligence of a “cell missing a nucleolus.”

However, a few other community members encouraged the board members to discontinue issuing proclamations. Royal Brown, a Winter Haven resident, claimed that such proclamations played into “identity politics” and pitted people of different values against each other.

Harry Pickle, a local father and grandfather with grandchildren still in school, felt that such proclamations attempted “to promote or espouse an agenda”, which missed the mark about the true purpose of education, which, quoting Noah Webster, was to instill the values and principles of liberty and virtue in children.

Kay Fields, one of the two only board members to vote against the proposal, claimed she learned so much about local issues from the proclamations they made.

“I have learned so much from these proclamations,” she said. “There are so many ways to embrace our differences. We are supposed to be a reflection of every student in our school district. I do not understand how making a proclamation takes away from learning. If anything, it gives students an opportunity to learn.”

Nolte, on the other hand, who had proposed discontinuing proclamations, and voted for the measure to do so, insisted that such proclamations diverted from the school board’s main goal of furthering education, “Let’s put our children first, their education,” he said.

Prior to the meeting, The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the oldest and largest Latino civil rights organizations, issued a press release condemning the decision and accusing it of violating equal constitutional rights.

“LULAC firmly believes that the planned actions to eliminate selective proclamations will compromise the protection of equal constitutional rights for all residents,” the press release stated. “The League of United Latin American Citizens stands united against any measures undermining inclusivity and equal recognition of all community members.”

Lydia Medrano, LULAC National Vice-President for the Southeast, was quoted in the press release, calling the decision “regressive” and claiming it was the duty of the school board and other government bodies to recognize the diversity and equality of their communities rather than shun them.

“LULAC urges Polk County Public Schools officials to act in the interest of all its residents and stakeholders. We must unify in acknowledging the many contributions of people representing all areas of our community. To do anything less is regressive and will only return our state to the past, something LULAC will not allow silently to happen.”

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