JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – High school and college students across Florida walked out of their classrooms on Friday to protest the state’s rapidly changing education policies.
Students at more than 300 Florida high schools and colleges signed on to participate in the initiative. In Duval County, students at two schools had planned campus protests but they were not allowed to stage a walk-out Friday because they didn’t provide principals with notice or get approval from the superintendent, both of which are required for students to protest on a school campus.
Supporters around the state called the demonstration “Walkout 2 Learn,” and said that the latest education policies censor school curricula involving race, sexuality and gender.
Organizers told News4JAX they’re also encouraging their classmates to become more engaged and take action.
Cameron Driggers is a senior at Flagler-Palm Coast High School and has had a hand in organizing student activism throughout his time there.
“Students have to take it into their own hands to learn outside of the classrooms, which is exactly what we’ve done today,” Driggers said. “Students are not only showing up, but they’re actually accomplishing tangible steps to make their voice heard and make sure action is taken.”
Zander Moricz heads the Social Equity Through Education Alliance.
“Students are terrified and our administrations are terrifying them. And that’s disgusting. And it’s the fault of Florida’s government and our board of education,” Moricz said. “This action is recognizing that, while most protests and walkouts are incredibly helpful to put pressure on a legislature that cares about the wants and needs of its people, ours is not. Our legislature is currently listening to our governor. And no matter how much we plead and beg they’re ignoring us.”
The end goal of the demonstration is to get the laws changed.
Four later rallies are also planned across the state, including one Friday night at A. Philip Randolph Heritage Park in Jacksonville.
On Thursday, legislators joined the activist group “Walkout to Learn” to protest the Parental Rights in Education Law known by critics as the ”Don’t Say Gay Bill” at the Florida State Capitol.
The proposed legislation would expand the current law banning lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity to include all grade levels, a move that has already been implemented by the State Board of Education.
Several Democratic leaders supported Friday’s protest, including Jacksonville Rep. Angie Nixon.
“Republicans…claim that they hate cancel culture,” Nixon said. “However, they are literally the ones trying to cancel cultures. They’re trying to cancel our communities. They’re trying to cancel the ability for our students—our babies—to learn, to be taught true history, Black history, LGBTQ history, trans history, our history, American history.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis commented on the Parental Rights in Education Law on Wednesday at an event in Charleston, S.C.
“Gender ideology has no place in our K through 12 school system,“ DeSantis said. “It’s wrong for a teacher to tell a student that they may have been born in the wrong body or that their gender is a choice and so we don’t let that happen in Florida.”
The Individual Freedom Act, previously the “Stop W.O.K.E Act,” and the ban on DEI programs at state colleges are the other two pieces of legislation that are also under scrutiny by the groups.
The Individual Freedom Act limits how public schools and businesses can discuss race and gender. The ban on DEI programs at state colleges prevents schools from funding programs on diversity, equity and inclusion.
After the school day, students and parents came together for a rally at A. Phillip Randolph Park.
State Representative Angie Nixon shared a message for Generation Z.
“I want you all to know that we’re proud of you, that you all are demonstrating that you have the power to defend your identities to demand we respect your pronouns, to take back your education influence, who creates the laws in this state,” Nixon said.
LaVilla School of the Arts students said they attended the rally because they wanted to spread awareness.
“I kind of want to spread awareness and kind of convince more people, especially young people to come out and really use the voice and practice. Because if you want this to work out, it’ll take a lot of people,” Nyah McLaughlin said.
“everybody deserves a fair education. Everybody is human, everybody deserves to be treated the same way,” Lydia Jones told News4JAX.