Get Schooled: race, sexuality and gender identity in classroom

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Race, sexuality, and gender identity are social issues that had many of us are talking this summer, but whether this conversation belongs in the classroom depends on who you ask.

Grandfather of nine Mirtin Silbiger would like to see these topics work their way into social studies or history classes in schools.

“It’s critical to our young people understanding the problems,” Silbinger says.

His Tampa neighbor Tara Stryker doesn’t see it that way, telling News Channel 8, “parents should be handling it at home.”

Many kids were already exposed to race-related protests and controversies surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation on television and social media this summer but don’t expect the subject matter to appear in their textbooks. Hillsborough School District officials explain current events don’t affect the African-American studies program, and LGBT topics are not studied in the classroom because they aren’t part of the Florida Standards.

Stryker agrees with the omission. “I don’t think that these kind of issues should be interfering with children’s education in the school, in the classroom.”

Still, Silbiger doesn’t see it as an interruption, rather an education in real life. “It’s a fact. it’s reality. Anything that’s real should be talked about.”

Students in Pinellas County schools can address the subjects in special programs lead by Community Tampa Bay with parental permission. The non-profit organization leads on and off-site programs on diversity that include current events.

“We know kids are talking about these things and it’s important to them,” says Community Tampa Bay Executive Director Jennifer Yeagley Russell.

Russell tells News Channel 8 that sometimes parents call with concerns about the material their child will be exposed to, and the organization is happy to explain it to them. They are touchy topics, and student age can make a difference. While he doesn’t want it discussed with his third-grader, Tampa resident Theodore Thomas sees the value in discussing these topics with older students.

“They’ll get to learn how to treat others and be productive citizens,” Thomas explains.

Valuable education or classroom distraction, Russell explains, for now these social issues remain off the official curriculum.

“Getting curriculum changed and curriculum that’s responsive to current events can be really difficult,” says Russell. “There’s a lot of red tape in school districts and we recognize that.”

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