Weeks after resigning from her job as a high school math teacher, Alyssa Marano appeared at a controversial school board meeting in Hernando County, Florida.
“Nobody teaches their kids to be gay!” Marano said on Tuesday. “Sometimes they’re just gay. I have to teach math. I literally don’t have time to teach your kids to be gay.”
“This gay teacher who accepts her students exactly as they are has beaten the county by 15% and the state by 10% in geometry,” she added. “And now a submarine will take my place in my cold, bare classroom.”
Hundreds of people had turned out for the meeting, largely due to an ongoing controversy over a fifth grade teacher who had done so showed her students a Disney movie that included a gay character. Armed police officers were present. The public comment part of the evening dragged on for hours. Many parents, teachers and students stood up and defended educatorsbut there were many other speakers who complained about “alertness” in schools.
For Marano, instead of focusing on education and students, the rush over culture wars was the nail in the coffin.
“I’ve had a fire burning inside me for a year,” Marano told HuffPost. “I love teaching, I love my students and I love my colleagues, but I know they’re on a witch hunt.”
And Marano felt like he had a target in his back.
“I accept people for who they are,” she said. “I believe all students deserve access to education and resources. And I’m gay.”
“I believe in education so much that I’m willing to give it up immediately in the hope that it will get better in the future.”
– Alyssa Marano, high school math teacher
Resigning after more than eight years as a teacher was partly a matter of self-preservation as she hopes to work in a classroom in the future. Marano feared being fired for violating Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which restricts teachers’ ability to speak out about gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom allows for the withdrawal of a teacher’s license when they break the law.
“I believe in education so much that I’m willing to give it up right now in the hope that it will get better in the future,” she said.
She is far from the only educator to leave her post in the district, which has about 1,000 24,000 students And 3,100 employees. Thirty three Teachers are stepping down and 15 others are retiring, a Hernando County Public Schools spokesman told HuffPost. Jenna Barbee, the teacher who showed her class Strange World, a film about climate change with a gay character, also recently resigned.
Under the guise of “parental rights,” elected officials and speakers across the US have worked to restrict what teachers can tell their students about gender, sexuality and race. Meanwhile, school boards have banned books for claiming LGBTQ+ or racial justice-themed materials indoctrinate children.
This is especially true in Florida, which under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who has announced a 2024 White House candidacy and cites the state’s policies as an example of what he would do as president — became the starting point for passing legislation and laws has become enforcement of strict educational policies. Hernando County is a deep red part of the state about 50 miles north of Tampa donald trump and DeSantis dominated their last races by a wide margin.
There is a culture of fear among teachers, Marano said, especially after seeing how quickly the Florida Department of Education began investigating Barbee. Shannon RodriguezA county parent and member of the school board supported by the ultra-conservative group Moms 4 Liberty reported Barbee to the department after learning last month that students had seen the film.
Marano said she was concerned that small gestures, like waving a Pride flag and teachers talking to students about their lives outside of school, could be grounds for disciplinary action under the Don’t Say Gay law.
“Giving students a rainbow flag doesn’t mean teaching kids to be gay,” Marano said. “The American flag was used as a tool for Republicans, and I have it hanging in my classroom. Am I a Republican now?”
“I’m living in the happiest, healthiest relationship I’ve ever had, better than when I was closed off and dating men, and I can’t share that,” she added.
For teachers, there is a lot to worry about in addition to educating their students.
“You can’t teach kids to be gay or straight,” Marano said. “I just want my kids to be able to solve for X.”